Stephen Fry-supported Sherlock Holmes museum plan in Portsmouth halted as new location is hunted
Hopes were high a 14,000-piece Arthur Conan Doyle collection could be housed in the former records office in Museum Road, Old Portsmouth.
Comedian Mr Fry and 1,000 residents had urged Portsmouth City Council to save the Edwardian barracks from demolition as it would be an ‘ideal location’ for a museum.
But visitor attraction experts commissioned to assess the plans have ruled it is not suitable as it is too small and is in the wrong location. Now the hunt starts for a different home – with the old Debenhams in Southsea on the list of potential sites.
Consultants TVA said records office failed to meet all 15 requirements needed to make it success, and the disused building is a ‘complex warren of smaller rooms’ surrounded by homes too far from a transport hub.
The adjacent City Museum itself pulls in just 48,000 visitors a year - far short of the 150,000 needed to make the Holmes-Doyle collection feasible, it added.
Consultants from Faithful+Gould found it would cost £2m for remedial works as the building is in a poor condition, £2.5m to convert into a museum, or £331,000 to demolish.
Council leader Gerald Vernon-Jackson said: ‘Traditional museums in the wrong places close, and we’ve got experience of that in Portsmouth - we lost the Royal Marines Museum because not many people used to go to it.
‘We’ve got to create something people want to go to, that’s not stuff in glass cases anymore.’
Possible options include a floor in the former Debenhams building in Palmerston Road, Southsea, or in the redeveloped city centre, he said.
The TVA report suggests there is a ‘glimmer of hope’ and urges setting up a digital museum as a stepping stone.
The city council owns the collection compiled by Holmes expert Richard Lancelyn Green, and has expanded it in recent years.
University of Portsmouth academic Dr Christopher Pittard, who co-edited The Cambridge Companion to Sherlock Holmes, said: ‘I'm very keen to see a new Doyle museum in Portsmouth; the collection that the council own is one of the most significant in the world.
‘The collection’s present location in the history centre at the city library is a great place for researchers, but a dedicated building would raise the profile of the collection to the wider public.’
The records office suffers from subsidence and is set to be knocked down to make way for council homes.
Businessman Alvin Edyvane, 48, lives in Gunwharf Quays and spearheaded a petition signed by 1,000 people against the demolition.
He said: ‘It’s not going to happen whilst I’m alive and still breathing. There’s no way they’re going to destroy that building just to put some houses on it.
‘There’s no way in the world I’ll be allowing houses to go on that complex – no way in the world.
‘We had over 1,000 people agree on a formal petition.
‘If we can’t retain a building in our area that still has shrapnel marks from World War Two because it’s not very pretty and not very big, what a poor excuse to knock it down and have housing.’