A Day in the Life of...A Sherlock Holmes Detective: 'The dream would be an actual Conan Doyle museum'

“They say I’m following in the footsteps of Sherlock Holmes because of my research, it is quite something to live up to.

By James Delaney
Thursday, 15th August 2019, 4:35 pm
Eleanor Docherty leads talks and tours at the Arthur Conan Doyle Centre

Detective in residence at the Arthur Conan Doyle Centre, Eleanor Docherty, 50, leads tours on the man behind literature’s greatest sleuth

“I was always a huge Sherlock Holmes fan, ever since the age of about 12 when I first started reading the books, I was totally hooked.

“I just remember thinking how clever those stories were. Nowadays, we have the benefit of science, of all these technological advancements, but all of that had to start from zero back then. They were pioneering these forensic techniques and Arthur Conan Doyle was right at the frontline of that.

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Among the items on display are a copy of Conan Doyle's original birth certificate

“When I first started here, I was volunteering as a receptionist and all of the information we had about Conan Doyle, his life, his work and his relationship with spiritualism was on one single A4 sheet of paper that visitors could come in and have a read through.

'It all started with my own little bit of research'

“I think it is remarkable that Edinburgh doesn’t have a proper Conan Doyle museum. The council knocked down his birthplace on Picardy Place years ago and even the Sherlock Holmes statue that used to be there is currently not there because of the roadworks.

“Last time I contacted the council, they didn’t know if or when it would be returning, but let’s hope it does.

The building on Palmerston Place was originally designed by brewer William McEwan

“So I decided to start doing a little bit of research into Conan Doyle and his entire body of work, not just the Sherlock Holmes side of it.

“People might not realise beyond Holmes, Conan Doyle wrote poems, plays, he co-wrote an opera, he was a war correspondent, he did so much, even later using his fame to overturn unjust convictions.

“Then you read into his earlier life, the struggle to make ends meet growing up in Edinburgh, his initial catholic upbringing, education by the Jesuits in Stonyhurst and by the end of his life, him turning to spiritualism and suddenly you have this amazing portrait of a remarkable man.

“Although we are a spiritualist centre, this is not a religious tour. Spiritualism was a big part of Conan Doyle’s life, but when you mention that aspect, you kind of see people recoil a little bit.

'By the time Holmes was killed off, Conan Doyle had come to hate him'

“This covers his whole life and we have been able to source some amazing materials, from his school reports to this incredible letter we have that Conan Doyle wrote to Dr Joseph Bell, the man who inspired the blueprint for Sherlock Holmes.

“Before he was a writer, Conan Doyle was a doctor and worked as Dr Bell’s outpatient clerk. Bell had these amazing powers of observation, he could basically tell you where you had come from, what occupation you had and nine times out of ten, what was wrong with you before he had even examined anyone.

“Conan Doyle scribbled all these mannerisms, these traits down, and you see them reflected in the Holmes stories.

“In this letter, her actually writes to Dr Bell ‘It is most certainly to you that I owe Sherlock Holmes’.

“By the time he came to kill off Holmes in The Final Problem, Conan Doyle had come to hate his greatest creation and I think that came from the fact that he was finding it all a bit too easy, he could just churn them out whenever he wanted, whereas he really put his heart and soul into these great historical works.

“For us, it is about painting this picture of the man behind that.

“We get a lot of visitors who come in because they think it was Conan Doyle’s house. Sadly, that is long gone, however the building was constructed by the brewer William McEwan and we do touch on his life and influence in Edinburgh too.

“People have all sorts of questions and I actually quite like it when they ask me something that I don’t know. It gives me a chance to go away, research something different and learn something new.

“The dream would be to create an actual Conan Doyle museum, but for now, we do what we can to shine a light on his incredible life.”