10 clues about the real Arthur’s Portsmouth links

Martin Clunes as Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
Martin Clunes as Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
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As Martin Clunes portrays Sir Arthur Conan Doyle in the new ITV series Arthur and George, here’s an insight into the author’s years living in Portsmouth.

1. Poor beginnings

Edinburgh-born Sir Arthur Conan Doyle arrived in Portsmouth in June 1882. With less than £10 (worth around £900 today) to his name, he set up a medical practice at Bush Villas in Elm Grove, Southsea, on what is now the site of a block of flats called Bush House. A plaque on the building commemorates his time there.

2. Name in the paper

Victorian doctors relied on the fees they charged patients, To boost his reputation - and earning power - Conan Doyle tried to make sure that his name was mentioned in The Portsmouth Evening News whenever he attended an accident.

3. The forgotten middle name

Many of Conan Doyle’s patients probably thought he had a double-barrelled surname, but in fact at some point Arthur Doyle had decided also to use his second middle name as well. He presumably liked it more than his first middle name - Ignatius.

4. An elementary move

In an effort to boost his income after a struggling start, Conan Doyle turned to writing. His earliest fiction, “The Haunted Grange of Goresthorpe”, had been unsuccessfully submitted to Blackwood’s Magazine, but in Portsmouth he hit pay dirt by creating Sherlock Holmes, who first appeared in A study in Scarlet in 1886. Ward Lock & Co gave him £25 for all rights to the story.

5. The inspiration for Holmes

Sherlock Holmes was largely styled on Conan Doyle’s former university teacher Joseph Bell. The resemblance was not lost on contemporaries. Writing from Samoa, Robert Louis Stevenson told the Southsea doctor: ‘My compliments on your very ingenious and very interesting adventures of Sherlock Holmes. ... can this be my old friend Joe Bell?’

6. Portsmouth’s own Dr Watson

Conan Doyle said that Holmes’ sidekick Dr. (John) Watson owed his surname, although not any other obvious characteristics, to his Portsmouth medical colleague Dr James Watson.

7. He never played for Pompey

A prized wicket - WG Grace

A prized wicket - WG Grace

It’s a common myth that Conan Doyle was Pompey’s first goalkeeper. In fact, under the name A.C. Smith, he turned out for a precursor of the club, Portsmouth Association Football Club, which was an amateur side.

8. A famous wicket

Conan Doyle played cricket whenever he could and was an accomplished batsman, good enough to play 10 first-class matches for the Marylebone Cricket Club (MCC) between 1899 and 1907

He was an occasional bowler although he managed only one first-class wicket, albeit that it was a prized dismissal of W.G.Grace.

9. Public talks

He joined the Portsmouth Literary and Scientific Society, and gave public talks on Edward Gibbon, Thomas Carlyle, and George Meredith,

10. A grand home

After leaving Portsmouth, he lived at Undershaw, the home he built just south of Hindhead. It was later used as a restaurant and hotel and the crumbling remains of the building now stand beside the A3 just south of the Hindhead Tunnel.