If you read my post about 31 geeky things to celebrate in March, you’ll have noticed that today marks the day that the fictional Sherlock Holmes took on his first case in ‘A Study in Scarlet’ – Arthur Conan Doyle’s debut novel. I thought it would be the perfect opportunity to tell you a little bit about an exhibition I recently visited, all about Arthur Conan Doyle’s life in Portsmouth.
Having lived in the city for quite a while now, I know a little bit about Portsmouth bookish past – Charles Dickens was born here, and both Rudyard Kipling and H.G. Wells lived here at different points in their lives. One of the most exciting things for a literary geek like me to discover however, is that Portsmouth is the birthplace of Sherlock Holmes.
Arthur Conan Doyle, fresh out of medical school, moved to the city in 1882 to set up his own doctor’s practise, and while it wasn’t an overly successful venture, he did have plenty of spare time to write – and write he did. He wrote the first two Sherlock Holmes stories – A Study in Scarlet, and The Sign of Four – right here in Portsmouth, paving the way for countless more Sherlock novels.
I headed to the Portsmouth Museum to find out a little more about his time here. They have an exhibition on called A Study in Sherlock, which holds the largest public collection of Sherlock Holmes memorabilia in the world. It was donated by British Scholar and Doyle expert, Richard Lancelyn Green, who co-wrote the first comprehensive bibliography of Arthur Conan Doyle, and had been collecting Doyle related items for over 40 years.
The exhibition explores Doyle’s early life in Portsmouth – his surgery and pastimes, as well as his marriage to Louisa Hawkins, whom he met in Portsmouth. There were about 8 different cabinets on display, filled to the brim with Arthur Conan Doyle memorabilia. One was dedicated to Conan Doyle’s creation, Sherlock, and another contained objects from Doyle’s Elm Grove practise, equipped with examination table and receipt books in his own handwriting.
There were various trinkets on display as well, like a cigar box with Conan Doyle’s initials embossed, a pair of his glasses and some boxing gloves. A few of the highlights of the collection were the various letters written by him, a first edition copy of A Study in Scarlet, and Doyle’s original grave stone – before he was moved to his final resting place in the New Forest.
I learnt a lot about Arthur Conan Doyle’s life in Portsmouth from the videos playing throughout the gallery – voiced by Stephen Fry. He joined the Literary and Scientific Society in Southsea for example, and played for the local cricket and bowls teams. He was also the first goalkeeper for the Portsmouth Football Club – which he helped fund. He even set up a Spiritualist Church in the city.
When he left Portsmouth in 1891, having spent almost 10 years in Southsea, he took with him a wife, a child, and a budding literary career which has made him one of the most famous authors in the world. I actually feel quite proud to be able to say that I live in that same city he once did – the city that inspired one of my favourite characters of all time.
If you want to find out more about Sherlock Holmes and the man who created him, I can’t recommend this exhibition enough. Portsmouth Museum is free to visit, and there are other exhibitions throughout the building as well. Game Over, where you can play video games on retro consoles dotted around the room, is definitely one worth checking out.
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