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Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

This page may be referred to as: www.birmingham.gov.uk/doyle

Elementary, my dear reader (or Conan Doyle in Birmingham)

Arthur (later Sir Arthur) Conan Doyle, author of the Sherlock Holmes Mysteries and more, lived and worked in Aston (now part of Birmingham, but then a separate town) for several months each year, from about Spring 1879 to early 1882. He was 19 at the beginning of that period, taking up a temporary medical assistantship, as a dispensing assistant (what we might call an assistant chemist or pharmacist) while studying at Edinburgh University. His employer and landlord in Birmingham was Dr Hoare, and Doyle developed a close friendship with his family, whom he visited more than once subsequently. Family members (but not Dr Hoare, who had died in 1898) joined such noted guests as J.M. Barrie, Jerome K. Jerome and Bram Stoker at Doyle's wedding at St Margaret's in Westminster in 1907.

Doyle wrote in his "Memories and Adventures" (p 28-9) of 1924 that:

"Hoare was a fine fellow, stout, square, red-faced bushy - whiskered and dark-eyed. His wife was also a very kindly and gifted woman, and my position in the house was soon rather that of a son than of an assistant"
If you would like to read this, please visit the counter on Floor 4, Birmingham Central Library, to ask to view "Memories and Images" by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, shelved at A920 DOY.
Hoare was almost certainly the inspiration for Dr Horton on Doyle's "The Stark-Munro Letters". It seems that Doyle wrote stories - sadly lost to us - for Dr Hoare's children. During his first stay in Birmingham, Doyle published both his first story, 'The Mystery of Sasassa Valley', in Chambers' Journal (6 September 1879) and his first non-fiction work, 'Gelseminum as a Poison', in the British Medical Journal (20 September 1879). The latter describes how he experimented upon himself with the drug, in the name of medical research. Dr Hoare also wrote for the British Medical Journal.

He spent some time away from Birmingham, working as ship's doctor on a Greenland Whaler from March - October 1880, and on a ship touring the West Coast of Africa, ending in January 1882. On his return, he wrote about the second of these trips, for the British Journal of Photography, as well as stories such as "Bones" and "The Actor's Duel", and an article for the medical journal, "The Lancet" about his diagnosis and cure of the disease Leucocythaemia.

Despite such learned work, Doyle was not all serious, and was cautioned by the Aston Police for sending out fake invitations to a Mayor's Ball, as a practical joke. He also indulged his musical talents, buying a violin from a shop in, it is believed, Sherlock Street. It is thought that he took inspiration for the name of "The Hound of the Baskervilles" from John Baskerville.

He left Birmingham when he graduated as a doctor, adding the letters MB, CM(Edin.) after his name. Little of the Aston he knew survives. There was a clock at Aston Cross, but not the one which stands on the traffic island today. He would, of course, have known of, and perhaps visited, nearby Aston Hall and the adjacent Church. Another detective writer, and Holmes academic, Raymond Knox, lived in the Vicarage, when his father was Vicar at the church some ten years after Doyle's departure.

Doyle's time here is commemorated by a blue plaque on the front of the modern building which now stands on the site of his former home at 63, Aston Road North, near the northern end of Aston Bridge flyover. The current location of an earlier plaque, unveiled on the site in the 1950s, is not known. Please tell us if you can help find it!

John Baskerville