Burger threat to Sherlock home
Monday December 06 1999
It is, perhaps, the greatest challenge facing Sherlock Holmes enthusiasts
since the fictional hero had his fateful meeting with Moriarty at the
Reichenbach Falls. Fans of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle have only weeks to rescue
a crucial piece of the literary giant's history from a new nemesis: McDonald's.
Already a worldwide alliance has formed to save the oldest surviving home of
the consulting detective's creator from being demolished to make way for a
95-seat burger restaurant.
Conan Doyle's birthplace in Edinburgh was torn down to make way for a huge
roundabout and his second home was converted into a ladies' toilet, so
Liberton Bank House on the outskirts of the city is the writer's oldest
When he lived there as a child in the 1860s, the house was surrounded by
farmland and streams. But now it is bordered by a shopping centre and car
park, and the owners of the land want to sell it off to make way for further
An application to demolish the house has been made to Edinburgh city council
on behalf of McDonald's and is due to be considered early next year, but
Conan Doyle enthusiasts have already begun a campaign to save the house.
Allen Simpson, a former curator of the Royal Museums of Scotland, is heading
the campaign to rescue the home of the literary son Edinburgh is often
accused of neglecting. "Sometimes Edinburgh has a bit too much history, and
we are a bit blasé about what we keep and what we don't," he says. "I
think it is important that it is not demolished, and it would be nice if it
could be retained as a private house."
McDonald's, however, is in no mood for compromise. A spokesman for company
said the application was at a late stage and there were no plans to withdraw
it. "The various Conan Doyle groups have known since the house was delisted
in 1997 and put up for sale that, because of its proximity to the shopping
centre, retail outlets would be interested," he added.
Edinburgh city council says the views of the protesters will be taken into
account, but the application has not yet reached committee stage and it is
too early to give any indication of what the likely outcome will be.
Owen Dudley Edwards, Conan Doyle's biographer, accuses the council of being
prepared to sell its heritage for the price of a hamburger. "There is a
certain symbolism, shall we say, that in this day and age the home where one
of Scotland's greatest creative writers found his early inspiration is to be
knocked down to make way for a burger chain," he says.
Conan Doyle was sent to live at Liberton Bank House between 1863 and 1867,
to escape the ravages of his alcoholic father.
The house was owned by Mary Burton, sister of the historian John Hill
Burton, whom Mr Dudley Edwards believed introduced the young Conan Doyle to
the world of books, in particular, those of Sir Walter Scott.
Conan Doyle left the house to attend a Roman Catholic boarding school in
England and did not return to Edinburgh until he went to medical school
there. After graduating in 1881, he headed for Portsmouth and lived in
various towns in the south of England.
Although he is most commonly associated with London, he had only a passing
association with the city - he claimed never to have set foot in Baker
Street. But the Sherlock Holmes museum in London attracts around 120,000
visitors each year, while Edinburgh has almost nothing to whet the tourist
appetite for Conan Doyle.
"We have far too readily allowed the impression go unchecked that because he
invented a famous English character, he was a famous English writer," says
Mr Dudley Edwards. "He was a very Scottish writer and he kept his Scottish
accent until the day he died. Scotland should make more of him and saving
this house would be the first step."
Copyright Guardian Media Group plc.
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