Conan Doyle died of a heart attack on 7 July 1930. He was aged 71 and lived then at “Windlesham”, his house situated in East Sussex, England. He was buried in the churchyard at Minstead in the New Forest, Hampshire. The epitaph on his grave reads “Steel True – Blade Straight – Arthur Conan Doyle – Knight – Patriot, Physician & Man of letters”.
If you question people about Conan Doyle’s nationality many will probably answer : ‘English’. But let’s try to render unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s. If Conan Doyle did spend most of his life, died and was buried in England, he was born, spent his childhood and studied medicine in Edinburgh. That is why, on 22 may 2009, the day of his one hundred and fiftieth birth anniversary, he was paid a very moving tribute in Edinburgh, his native town.
To begin with, let us go back a few years ago. Of the three houses where Conan Doyle had lived during his childhood, in Edinburgh, only one had not yet been demolished. But Liberton Bank House, a late 18th century sandstone cottage located between Liberton Road and Cameron Toll Shopping Centre, 2 miles southeast of the city centre, was being threatened in its turn by the very polemical project of a Mac Donald fast food restaurant planned to be built there.
Fortunately it’s another one that was finally adopted, of the kind that would certainly not have displeased Conan Doyle who had lived there from the age of 5 to 9 ! It was a school that was to be established there !
In 2007, in a completely refurbished and extended building, Dunedin School opened its doors to a score of children with learning difficulties. But the story does not end here. In the garden of the new school there lived a very old sycamore aged 170 years in the branches of which Conan Doyle had played when a young boy.
Alas, it soon proved that the old tree was dying and that, to everyone’s dismay, it had to be cut. Dunedin school staff soon found a very interesting solution. Why not use the wood of the tree to create something in memoriam of Conan Doyle ? It could be one of those emblematic belongings of Sherlock Holmes, the most famous character created by Conan Doyle .
Finally it was decided that it would be a violin and that the work would be done by a well-known luthier of Edinburgh, Steve Burnett. The violin was finally made right on time and did make its debut on Friday 22 May 2009 at Dunedin school where the instrument would later serve to teach music to the children. The violin had been christened “Sherlock” and inside you can read the following words: “Sherlock, 150th anniversary, birth of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, wood from sycamore at Dunedin School, former chilhood home, Edinburgh, 22.05.2009″ Steve Burnett is going to carve four other instruments (two violins, one viola and one cello) for a group which will be called the Conan Doyle Quartet.
So you see, author and character will be forever associated exactly where young Conan Doyle had played in the branches of the old sycamore. In my next post I will tell you about another great tribute paid to Conan Doyle in the city of books… but in the meantime I think Janice is intending to introduce another Scottish author whose detective could well prove to be to Edinburgh what Sherlock Holmes has been to London…