This week sees the return of Portsmouth’s annual Holmes Fest and organiser Matt Wingett reveals the real story of Arthur Conan Doyle in Pompey while challenging your knowledge of the famous author’s local life.
The first night of Holmes Fest, Three Cheers for Arthur Conan Doyle, takes place on 27th June, a night of storytelling, film, music and fun at The Square Tower, Portsmouth, and you can book your tickets here.
Countless stories go around about the great writer Arthur Conan Doyle’s life in Southsea – some true, some false. Do you know which is which? Scroll down past each’s question picture to find out.
1) Arthur Conan Doyle played in goal for Portsmouth Football Club.
FALSE-ish. Arthur Conan Doyle lived in Portsmouth between 1882 and 1890. PFC was founded in 1898. By 1898 he was living in Hindhead, and his footballing days were behind him!
That said, he did play as a goalie for the amateur Portsmouth Association Football Club. He played under the false name of A C Smith, because gentlemen shouldn’t be seen to be playing with the lower classes!
2) Arthur was so poor, he swapped consultations for food.
TRUE. In his early years in Portsmouth he struggled to build up a client base. With little money, he offered services for goods. He was particularly grateful for one grocer who had recurring epileptic fits, meaning that he at least got a regular supply of food!
3) Because Arthur Conan Doyle was a scientist, he was just like his creation, the super-rational Sherlock Holmes.
FALSE. Arthur was certainly a scientist, and he experimented in all manner of things – but he was very different from the sometimes arrogant sleuth. Arthur also wrote horror stories – but he wasn’t a monster either!
4) Arthur started believing in ghosts while he lived in Southsea.
TRUE. After seeing a medium called Mr Horsted in Portsmouth, he became convinced by the reality of spirit communication and wrote about his belief to Light magazine in 1887.
5) Arthur Conan Doyle created The Mummy story which has been a staple of Hollywood to this very day.
TRUE. Conan Doyle wrote two Mummy horror stories, Lot 249 and The Ring of Thoth, the latter bearing a marked resemblance to the 1932 movie. Conan Doyle was never credited for these stories, but it’s safe to say he created the Mummy genre.
6) Arthur Conan Doyle was an atheist in Southsea.
TRUE and FALSE. When he first arrived, Conan Doyle was filled with rational beliefs, especially after his medical degree. However, after meeting Southsea resident Major General Alfred Wilks Drayson, he started to investigate ghosts and later changed his mind.
He did, however, argue with the Reverend Charles Russell Tompkins of St Jude’s Church, writing later: “I have no love for the cloth… Just as cotton, which is in itself the most harmless substance in the world becomes dangerous on being dipped in nitric acid, so the mildest of mortals is to be feared if he is once soaked in sectarian religion.”
7) Arthur gave a talk demonstrating the many birds he had shot in the Arctic during his time working as a surgeon on a whaler.
FALSE. He was asked to give a talk to the Portsmouth Philosophical and Literary Society about birdlife in the Arctic. He borrowed some stuffed specimens and the audience became convinced he’d shot them all himself! (He did, however, work as ship’s surgeon on a whaler.)
8) Arthur was inspired by two Portsmouth-born writers, George Meredith and Sir Walter Besant.
TRUE. Arthur cites both writers as inspirations. He built a strong friendship with Meredith over many years, and attended a dinner in honour of Besant in later life.
9) Conan Doyle was a founder member of the Hampshire Society for Psychical Research.
TRUE. In his last years living in Southsea he became increasingly interested by the paranormal. He was also a member of the national Society for Psychical Research and The Ghost Club.
10) Arthur Conan Doyle played golf in the USA with another one-time Southsea resident, Rudyard Kipling.
TRUE. In later life Arthur visited Kipling in the USA and they played an impromptu game of golf in a field while discussing Southsea, much to the surprise of the locals.
This year’s Holmes Fest 2018 theme is Sign of the Seven, featuring 7 great events to celebrate Conan Doyle’s life in Portsmouth, crime, fiction, Victoriana and Portsmouth, with specially written stories, songs and poems.
The programme includes a ghostly investigation of the King’s Theatre, Southsea, a talk on the origins of Sherlock Holmes’s most famous novel – The Hound of the Baskervilles – and you can finish it all off the following week with a brewery tour and silent movie, watching none other than Conan Doyle’s The Lost World. Along the way there will be duelling, top hats, Steampunk goggles, cups of tea, beer, a lightshow and a prize for the best dressed Victorian.