I must admit I have always been a fan of that great detective, Sherlock Holmes. As a young police constable, I devoured his stories and marvelled at his logical methods of detection.
After a few years I became a detective - and I was rubbish! I quickly returned to my uniformed role. I later became the HOLMES liaison officer for the British Transport Police, although in this sense it is an acronym for the Home Office Large Major Enquiry System. I was such a fan of the sleuth that, on the night before my wedding, I arranged to stay in the Undershaw Hotel at Hindhead, Surrey, where Sir Arthur Conan Doyle lived between 1897 and 1907.
It was here that he wrote his most famous story ‘Hound of the Baskervilles’.
When Conan Doyle left Undershaw he moved to Sussex, living at a house called Windlesham, near Crowborough, where he stayed with his family for over 20 years.
His three children were born in the town and on the outbreak of the Great War he established a local Home Guard Unit. He died in Sussex in 1930.
It is clear that Conan-Doyle loved Sussex and the county is mentioned several times in his books. A little bit of detective work can often find more references. One of the four Sherlock Holmes novels is ‘The Valley of Fear’ in which Sherlock pits his wits agains the infamous Professor Moriarty. A murder occurs at ‘Brimstone Manor’ which has been identified as Groombridge Place, although some people believe that it is ‘Brambletye’ a moated house near Forest Row. Forest Row is indeed mentioned in the ‘Adventure of Black Peter’ where a rather nasty murder is committed by a harpoon gun. Holmes and his good friend Dr John Watson stay at the Brambletye Inn which is still there today. (They now even have a “Black Peter” Bar).
Of course the story ‘The Sussex Vampire’ is set in our county although the location is West Sussex, just south of Horsham, a town which is also the location of one of Holmes earlier stories ‘The Five Orange Pips’. In the ‘Musgrave Ritual’ Holmes and Watson again travel to West Sussex to Hurlstone Manor, the home of the royalist Musgrave family, (this is probably in Bramber). In this case, Holmes seeks the assistance of the Sussex Police.
Maybe the greatest mystery however is the location of Sherlock Holmes place of retirement. We know that it is in Sussex as this is mentioned in the last two Sherlock Holmes stories, ‘The Adventure of the Lion’s Mane and “His Last Bow’.
Sherlock first spoke of retirement in ‘The Adventure of the Second Stain’ and his last case as an active detective was “The Adventure of the Creeping Man” which is set in the year 1903.
Dr Watson tells us that Holmes had retired to “A small farm upon the Downs, five miles from Eastbourne”. The good doctor often visited the retired detective at his villa “on the southern slopes of the Downs”.
At the beginning of the “Adventure of the Lion’s Mane”, set in 1907, Holmes gives us more information. He tells us that his ‘lonely’ home has commanding views over the English Channel at a point where “ the coast-line is entirely of chalk cliffs which can only be descended by a single, long tortuous path, which is steep and slippery”. At the bottom of the path is a shingle beach which extends for miles in each direction. The nearest village of any size is ‘Fulworth’ where the local police station is located.
Fulworth is described as lying in the hollow of a semi-circular bay where modern houses have been been built behind the ‘old fashioned hamlet’. The village also has a number of fishing boats and bathing cottages.
It is quite clear that Sherlock Holmes retired to a building located between Eastbourne and Seaford (there are no cliffs east of Eastbourne). The location has to be inland as you can’t keep bees on a cliff edge, so five miles would make the location East Dean or maybe Friston.
In my mind however one location is clear; Fulworth is quite clearly Seaford. It fits the clues perfectly and has the nearest police station to East Dean. Holmes used to smoke ‘ship’s tobacco’ and I am sure this was sold from several Seaford shops. Hold on - is that him striding into view in this photo of Seaford?