Grand plan unveiled for world-class Sherlock Holmes visitor attraction in Portsmouth

THIS is the year we showcase our '˜unique gem' to the world and turn our aspirations to create a Sherlock Holmes attraction into a reality.

Monday, 23rd January 2017, 6:00 am
Some of the items in Portsmouth City Council's Conan Doyle Collection Picture: Habibur Rahman (170004-59)

That’s the pledge from Portsmouth leaders as they seek to create a global ‘visitor experience’ boasting the city’s massive Arthur Conan Doyle Collection, thousands of items celebrating the author’s fictional detective and his exploits.

The News can reveal the city council wants to obtain formal planning permission in the coming months to build a tourist destination using the archive – described as Portsmouth’s hidden jewel – on land around the former Seafront Services Office on Avenue De Caen, in Southsea.

Then all efforts will be thrown into finding a major events operator to develop and operate a mecca for Sherlock fanatics from around the world.

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Benedict Cumberbatch playing Sherlock Holmes

There is an extra impetus this year as 2017 marks 130 years since the publication of the first Sherlock Holmes story, A Study in Scarlet, which was written in Portsmouth.

Portsmouth Tory culture official, Cllr Linda Symes said: ‘We want to make sure that planning permission is granted this year.

‘So we are not just about talking it, but doing it.

‘That would be our first step, and seeking permission would be a lot of money.’

Benedict Cumberbatch playing Sherlock Holmes

‘The important of this project is huge.

‘Ninety-eight million Chinese watched the last series of Sherlock, in just that country alone.

‘It’s a world-wide phenomenon.

‘It’s not just about England and Britain and it would be brilliant to do something that isn’t just a military offer; the navy or Royal Marines.

‘Sir Arthur Conan Doyle was a doctor here, he started to write here, so it’s all very valid.’

A key Sherlock strategy meeting in Portsmouth Guildhall on Friday will see cultural bosses discuss launching bids for lottery cash to cover all associated planning costs – thought to be in the region of £100,000.

A report to be considered by Cllr Symes, written by Portsmouth’s director of culture and city development, Stephen Baily, said: ‘Strategically the link between Sherlock Holmes and Portsmouth is very real, as the character was created during Conan Doyle’s time in the city.

‘We know that the collection is internationally a unique gem, and we need to initiate this new development to unlock the commercial potential of the collection.

‘Through this, we would also seek to challenge the perception of Portsmouth, making Portsmouth’s link with Sherlock Holmes a “legendary connection” in the way in which Stratford-upon-Avon is identified with the link to William Shakespeare.’

In a boost to the project, the Heritage Lottery Fund says it is keen to help bring the Sherlock spectacle to life.

In 2011, the HLF awarded the council £80,000 for its Sharing Sherlock project, which enabled items from the collection to go on tour.

Consultants including Tim Rusby, of Southsea-based Visitor Attraction Company, have been drafted in to work on the ‘delivery’ of the attraction and help sign up a full-time operator to run it.

A HLF spokesperson said: ‘As the residence of Arthur Conan Doyle during the time he wrote his first two long Sherlock Holmes stories, Portsmouth has a fantastic heritage link to the author and the lasting legacy of his great detective.

‘We have taken part in early discussions with Portsmouth City Council regarding further ambitions to celebrate the city’s links with Sherlock Holmes and will work closely with them if an application for National Lottery funding is made.’

Sherlock enthusiasts say they can’t think of a better place than Portsmouth for the attraction.

Roger Johnson, editor of The Sherlock Holmes Journal, the voice of The Sherlock Holmes Society of London, said: ‘The city of Portsmouth owns what is arguably the finest and most comprehensive Conan Doyle collection in the world, bequeathed by the late Richard Lancelyn Green.

‘It was in Portsmouth that Arthur Conan Doyle wrote the first two stories of Sherlock Holmes – a character who would rapidly become more famous than his creator.

‘So it seems to me that there could hardly be a more appropriate place for a Sherlock Holmes museum.’

A spokesperson for Arts Council England, which has had early discussions with the council over the plans, said it would not comment until formal funding bids were made.