Review: England’s Witchcraft Trials, by Willow Winsham

As a publisher, we’re always interested in seeing what great work other writers and publishers are doing – especially in the realm of the strange, of the historical and of folk horror. In a recent exchange on twitter, author Matt Wingett got to find out about Willow Winsham’s excellent book England’s Witchcraft Trials. Here’s a review of this fascinating work.

Whether you’re a believer in the possibility of witchcraft, a student of history, a witch yourself or an out-and-out sceptic of all things supernatural, Willow Winsham’s fascinating account of the persecution of witches during the British period of the European Witch Mania of the late Middle Ages and early modern period has numerous lessons to teach.

The Witchcraft Act was passed in England in 1566, and over the following 100 years or so saw the execution of 450 people, mainly women. Willow takes five of the more notorious cases and examines them closely.

In many ways, the stories are distressingly similar: A member of the community is taken ill. Doctors advise that because they can’t find a cure, there must be a supernatural element to the sickness, or a member of the community suspects that is the case. Suspicions are raised against an individual who is usually an outsider or in some way disliked by the community – and suddenly witch mania catches light, numerous other women are found to be in league with the first accused, and a nefarious and apparently rather pointless plot by the devil to spread misery on earth is discovered.

From here, a trial relying on circumstantial evidence pulling suspiciously similar confessions from simple countrywomen who have either been terrified into co-operation, or promised leniency, ends in the witches being found guilty before an outraged, astonished and fearful community. After this the poor objects of community wrath are almost invariably executed.

Reading this book is in many ways an object lesson in how a set of pre-existing beliefs will shape the outcome of an investigation. Even with the distance of 400 years, it is both frustrating and distressing to see the benighted attitudes of those dispensing justice, and the apparent willingness of women and men to condemn themselves out of their own mouths.

With careful attention to court documents, pamphlets, parish registers and other resources, Willow Winsham has recreated those times with extraordinary power. There were moments when reading this book that I felt I couldn’t go on, I was so frustrated with the testimony being shaped by the interrogators as they sought to bring their supposed witches to the gallows.

At times, the motives of some accusers stand out as utterly baffling. The daughters of women accused of witchcraft level lurid accusations against their own mothers. Children supposedly cursed by a witch clearly derive sadistic pleasure from their deadly game of feigning illness in the accused’s presence, despite the accused pleading otherwise and utterly baffled by the disaster engulfing her.

At other times, the behaviour of the accused witches is equally puzzling to the modern mind. Why would a woman admit to having sex with the devil, to suckling demons through unnatural teats, of making “pictures” (poppets or models) of their victims into which they drive pins, of keeping demon familiars and attending a coven? Thus, while the stories unfold with fascinating detail, one is left wondering at the psychological state of all involved, and at the sense of fatalism that must have overcome the accused witches, who thus resigned themselves to being the projection board for all the fears and prejudices of a court that was anything but unbiased.

It is true that some of the witches had already built themselves reputations for having powers that brought locals to them in times of need. But what really comes through is these poor women’s ignorance of the bigger picture and precedence in other parts of the country, as they enter into a deadly game of firstly denial and then confession – perhaps hoping to bring the ordeal to a close and protect other members of their family.

This last invariably proves a forlorn hope. Since witchcraft was viewed as akin to a disease or hereditary illness that must infect other family members and friends, the accusations spread wider and wider still, rippling out across the community. Clearly, the whole phenomenon was used by those seeking to scapegoat others, settle old scores or in the misguided belief they were doing the word of God. Whatever the motives, the gallows awaits at the end of these true-life calamities.

The five well documented accounts here told include two of the most famous names in the history of English witchcraft. Those are, firstly, the village of Pendle in which a genuine witch-hysteria appears to break out, abetted by rivalries between two families of traditional healers; and secondly, the name of the infamous witchfinder Matthew Hopkins.

The real attraction in all these accounts is the way Willow doesn’t sensationalise them. She pushes past later retellings and dramatisations of the events to relate as accurately as she can the true stories of the (mostly) women accused, the behaviour of their tormentors and accusers, the accused’s own sinking sense of losing control of events and at times a fatalist acceptance of what is going to happen to them.

Because of the long gap in time between then and now, there are countless questions left unanswered. The psychological motives of the accusers and the accused, the set of cultural circumstances that could even lead to this persecution arising, the acceptance by many of what the modern mind knows does not even meet the most basic tests for evidence, what actually went on between witchfinders and their victims, the secret deals the witches thought they might be making, the lack of good faith on the part of the courts… There is much drama in this book, and it is well worth a delve.

England’s Witchcraft Trials by Willow Winsham is available from Pen And Sword Books for £12.99, and from all good retailers, including Amazon. ISBN 9781473870949.

New Release – The Hound of the Baskervilles First Edition Poster, up to A2 size.

The iconic cover of the first edition of The Hound of the Baskervilles, the famous Sherlock Holmes novel by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle is now available as a poster up to A2 size.

Arthur Conan Doyle created Sherlock Holmes while he was working as a doctor in Southsea, a suburb of Portsmouth. Now, Southsea-based author Matt Wingett has faithfully redrawn the cover to enable fans of Holmes to enjoy the image in a brand new, sharply produced image to go on your wall.

“The original image was embossed in gilt on cloth,” says Matt. “This means getting a high quality image was difficult, since the grain of the cloth interfered with the shapes in the design. That’s why I decided to completely redraw it, staying totally faithful to the original.”

Matt says reproducing it in this way has given him a fresh appreciation of the design’s subtlety.

“The image of the great hound with the moon behind him is striking, but more puzzling to me was the interlacing gilt beneath the image. When I paid more attention to its organic shapes hidden beneath the ground, with with one shoot striking upwards out of the black earth, I realised how the design symbolised the hidden tangle of deceit that really lies beneath the legend of the Black Hound of Dartmoor, that in the novel haunts the Baskervilles. I really came to love this image, with its question marks in circles on either side.”

Matt took several weeks to get the image right. “I’m proud of the new image,” says Matt. “And of course, it will be sent from Southsea, from my home, which is just half a mile from where Conan Doyle created Holmes. It’s a great honour to be associated with the author, even in such a small way.”

Matt has also written an account of Conan Doyle’s Spiritualist beliefs, as well as reprinting the Beeton’s Christmas Annual 1887, which included A Study In Scarlet – the first appearance of Holmes – written while Doyle was in Southsea.

The Hound of the Baskervilles poster costs £5 in A4, £10 in A3 and £25 in A2. Shipping is worldwide, with postage free in the UK. Buy your copy here.

Death of a bookshop – Adelphi Books, Portsmouth

It is a sad coincidence that exactly a week after I retweeted the Petersfield Bookshop’s forlorn tweet about making no sales, I found myself invited to attend a wake for another bookshop.

Adelphi Books in Albert Road, Portsmouth, was part of the furniture for the last 32 years, run by a friendly, helpful and always kind bookdealer, Rob Smith. I’ve been buying books from Rob for at least 25 years – probably for longer.

Rob has always been a very honest and straight dealer. Little things remind me of the way he operates. Once, miscalculating an amount and overcharging me by 50 pence, he went out of his way to message me and let me know his mistake.

Bookdealer Rob Smith, picture courtesy of Portsmouth News,

His specialism was, and still is (despite the fact that his shop is now closed), crime fiction from the 1920s onwards, as well as film books, but his shop also dealt in general fiction and non-fiction, with a strong local interest section.

It was a small single room with rows of shelves and bookcases in one of the Victorian units on Albert Road – Portsmouth’s street of unusual shops run by independent traders who have defied the corporate yoke and are still free-minded enough to stay fiercely self-reliant.

In an increasingly corporate world, it’s a tough job.

I’ve seen Adelphi Books go through dark moments in the past. Of course, because of their nature as one-man-bands, such owner-run shops are often an extension of the inner life of the vendor.

I know from personal experience that one danger of running a secondhand business is the frisson that comes from buying a bargain – and how it can be used to offset bigger problems. One can end up buying stock to fill the void in just the same way as food addicts bolt choccies or alcoholics drown their sorrows in whisky.

Thus, there was a period in the late ’90s in Adelphi Books’ history, when divorce and unhappiness at the death of a friend had settled in so badly that the stock level rose so high it was impossible to get through the front door. Books balanced in teetering piles threatening to overtop and crush unwary customers. Rob stood at the door, treading on books and not allowing anyone in in case they also trod on the books.

This bleak time for Rob was thankfully short-lived.

Friends and family stepped in to support him, and Rob’s shop returned to what it always had been – a slightly shambling collection of unusual, interesting and well-priced items. For most of its 32-year history, the Adelphi was a bookshop whose shelves were piled with the eclectic and the notable.

The Adelphi’s real problem was one that I see with many bookshops struggling to be noticed.

Like me, Rob grew up before the internet. Furthermore, to save money, the shop did not have a telephone line. In its early years before mobile phones, customers would leave a message on his home number, and wait for him to get in from work to answer. Later, Rob got a mobile. With no phone line, there was no internet. All Rob’s online cataloguing was done through a colleague.

Without full utilisation of the net, it wasn’t obvious how to get the word out to a wider audience that here was a place worth visiting. How many more bookshops, I wonder, are tucked away like this, with a tiny digital footprint?

As well as a committed and engaged – but dwindling – band of dedicated customers, comprising bookdealers, collectors, bibliophiles and bibliomaniacs, the shop also relied on passing trade. In an era in which many people are losing the habit of visiting physical stores, Rob still made a modest living.

And that is an achievement, especially if you set these adverse trading conditions against the backdrop of Portsmouth, which is a poor town comparative to its neighbours, where finding wealthy clients can be a struggle.

This shop, then, was at the budget end of the trade. Yet Rob lived on its earnings for 32 years, providing excellent, friendly, honest and helpful service while offering an impressive selection of crime fiction and other books.

Images courtesy of Love Southsea

What really did for the shop is that Southsea, the seaside suburb of Portsmouth, and especially Albert Road has started to rise in value. A few years ago, hipster bars replaced many of the traditional pubs, and there is a constant through-flow of students on nights out, spending their overdrafts on forgetting how much overdraft they have spent. Shop rents have thus increased to reflect this inflow of money. In the last rent review, Rob saw an increase of nearly double, from £5250 per annum to £10,000. It was tight for Rob before, but this hike made it impossible for him to earn a living.

After a long fight, Rob closed his doors on Sunday 19th January. In the end, he gave away a large proportion of his stock, because the pressure was on to vacate. All Rob asked for was a donation to charity or “whatever you want to give me.”

It was a heartbreaking moment, and Rob was emotional. I wish I could have done something for him, or had thought to put out an appeal. I just didn’t know what to do.

Adelphi Books wasn’t a spectacular shop, but it was always an interesting one. For someone like me who also makes his living from books, I salute its memory. I am sure there are many other independents in exactly the same predicament that Adelphi Books and The Petersfield Bookshop found themselves in – backs to the wall, overheads spiralling, customer base declining.

If we don’t want to suffer losing more of these islands of individuality to the faceless sameness of e-commerce, we need to do more to support them.

An international day celebrating the uniqueness, eccentricity and sheer vibrancy of bookdealers and of independent retailers generally – these pockets of resistance to corporate uniformity and the sensory-deprived blandness of the online experience – would be a start. How to go about it, I’m not sure. But it’s needed.

For now, let’s remember Adelphi Books and the many other bookshops that have closed in the last ten years. When you are next thinking of buying something, spare a thought for the individuals who run local shops – these ordinary and not-so-ordinary people who have consciously decided to step away from the relative safety of the corporate environment to go it alone.

They are members of the local community, and they are, in many ways, an endangered tribe.

Help them, if you can.

Buy a book or two – or whatever it may be – from your local independent.

They will thank you for it. What’s more, you will make your town a less identikit kind of a place – and the world a less predictably corporate one, too!

Kind Words On A Stormy Day

Wow. That was totally unexpected.

Yesterday, I was looking through my tweets when I saw a message from some friends. It really moved me, because I’ve known them a long time and I hated to think things weren’t going so well for them. It was this one:

That feeling was painfully familiar. I worked for seven years as a rare bookdealer. There were times I sat in my office waiting for a sale to come in, not knowing what else to do, feeling lonely as hell – and getting desperate about whether I’d be able to pay the rent and heating. There was something else – sweet nostalgia. Because I’ve bought books at the Petersfield Bookshop since I was a kid.

I remember going in and seeing the (now long-departed) grand patriarch Frank Westwood sitting in state at his desk, surrounded by piles of books like an aged magician with all the tools to hand to cast the spell of words. He seemed terribly fierce when I was a kid, but as I grew older and I got to know him well, I realised what an amazing font of knowledge he was.

It was Frank who sold me two beautiful first editions – The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes and The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes – in my early days as a bookdealer, knocking £400 of the price and bringing them down to £1200 to “give me a chance to sell them”. I loved the old boy and would go in and sit and chat with him for hours about books, about the book trade, auctions and much more besides.

Then, after he died, his son John Westwood took over – just as the market in rare books began to change beyond all recognition. I was an entirely online solitary bookdealer, but John had to cope with wages, rates, members of the public, keeping the shop presentable, and much more besides as the retail business and the sale of books metamorphosed. I watched John fight to keep the business going during the credit crunch when no-one had any money. I watched the general public’s habit of getting out to physical shops decline – and I saw everyone in the business at Petersfield Bookshop keep at it, as the shop changed, responded and moved with the times to keep up with the market, all the while creating an environment visitors will love to visit.

There is plenty to love! The shop has a wonderful cosiness to it, and John (who is himself a true eccentric in the nicest possible way) has moulded it to fit his personality. It has unexpected manikins on the walls and ceilings, little figures peering out, and, sitting at its heart, a church organ that doubles as a bookshelf. Perhaps most aptly, considering how much is crammed in this shop, there is even a bookcase shaped like the Tardis. That police call box is filled with crime novels – and the whole shop is stuffed with treasure!

John Westwood’s personal stamp is everywhere!

So, when I saw that tweet, I was pretty sad. It seemed so forlorn. And I knew that to keep the shop going in a rough patch, John had sold his flat and was sleeping on a camp bed above the shop. What to do?

It was then I remembered someone I deeply respect online for his kindness and willingness to help others – and a man whom, I admit, I’ve got a bit of an obsession about because he was born in my home town of Portsmouth (and I am a nut about Portsmouth writers). So, I sent Neil Gaiman this:

A little later I got a message from the boys at the bookshop saying: “We owe you a drink.” I checked in with them to see what was happening, and found this:

Amazing. Of course, they didn’t owe me a drink, but they did owe Neil one, as I pointed out to them. I tweeted this to Neil again – because, hey, why not? And Neil responded kindly to that, too, with encouraging words – just a simple “I’m so glad”. Yet those few words will make an extraordinary difference.

Today, with the weather calmed and a bright sunny day shining down on a very wet and battered Hampshire recovering from a violent storm, I went in to see them. Overnight, they had received 300 messages and enquiries, and made a pile of sales. Even better, BBC Radio 4 news had featured them in a 5 minute interview on World At One, and they appeared in an article in The Guardian. Big, brilliant eccentric John came in, walked over to me, gave me a hug, and said: “Matt, we’re in the middle of a twitterstorm – in a good way!”

That’s me in the middle with The Petersfield Bookshop Crew – John Westwood on the left, and Robert Sansom on the right!

Here’s the thing. The Petersfield Bookshop has been around for over 100 years, and has been in the same family for 60 of them. For me, it’s a home from home. I love that shop. I love the smell of the old books, the sheen of the leather, the engravings and pictures on the wall. It’s precious. I hope, when you go there – you’ll love it just as much as me!

We live in a strange world. It’s the weirdest thing to think that a kind man whom I’ve never met on the other side of the world can make a huge difference to someone who has been down on their luck – just with a simple tweet. Let’s hold on to that thought amidst all the terrible news we keep reading and being told. We’re lucky to have people in the world who recognise that the fame they enjoy also has powerful influence – and with that power comes a responsibility to use it – not only wisely and ethically – but also kindly.

Neil Gaiman’s kind words through the ether on a rain-lashed night are exactly what it means to pay the love forwards. What a great start to 2020! Let’s hope it’s a good one for the guys at The Petersfield Bookshop and for everyone.

And generally, let’s have more kindness in the world. Why not? 🙂

Mysteries of Portsmouth – true tales of the paranormal and unexplained in Portsmouth

Buy your copy of Mysteries of Portsmouth by Matt Wingett now

UFOs, ghosts, hauntings, sea-serpents, curses, fortune-telling and witchcraft – just some of the strange, bizarre and unexplained phenomena recorded in historical documents and newspaper reports over the centuries. Author Matt Wingett collects these tales and explores whether they are true or Fake News.

Prepare to meet the Pompey man who discovered the site of Tutankhamun’s tomb, the ghost of the beheaded Countess of Salisbury, the mysterious White Rabbit of Portsea, Spring-Heeled Jack, the first officially recognised UFO sightings in the UK and many more tales of the strange and unusual in this highly illustrated book packed with the mysterious, the bizarre and the quite possibly fraudulent! Includes inexplicable ghost stories as well as explanations of other newspaper reports.

A fabulous tour of the strange and bizarre in and around Portsmouth Town!

Buy your copy of Mysteries of Portsmouth, and have it delivered post free in the UK, now.

Beeton’s Christmas Annual 1887: A Study In Scarlet facsimile of the first Sherlock Holmes novel

Beeton's Christmas Annual 1887Buy your copy of Beeton’s Christmas Annual 1887 Facsimile Edition: A Study In Scarlet by A Conan Doyle

The first appearance of Sherlock Holmes in print has been faithfully reproduced in a facsimile copy by Portsmouth publisher Life Is Amazing.

Copies of the original magazine published for Christmas 1887 are famously rare. There are only 11 complete copies of the original magazine, and the last to come up at auction sold for $130,000 US. This unlimited edition facsimile gives collectors and fans of Sherlock Holmes the opportunity to buy a great-looking reproduction at a fraction of the price.

Written by Arthur Conan Doyle while he was a resident in Southsea, the book is a celebration of the rich literary heritage of the city of Portsmouth, whose other associated writers include Rudyard Kipling, H G Wells, Charles Dickens, and many others beside.

Buy your copy of the Beeton’s Christmas Annual 1887, and have it delivered post free in the UK, now.


Portsmouth A Literary and Pictorial Tour – Last Order Dates for Christmas and where to buy it

Buy this book here post free in the UK

Portsmouth A Literary and Pictorial Tour, by Matt Wingett is available from the publisher to order online, post-free, here:

It will also be available from the author here:

Love Southsea Market, Palmerston Road, Southsea on 14th, 15th, 21st, 22nd and 23rd December.

Crafts In The Tower, The Square Tower, Old Portsmouth, on 16th December.

Please place your online orders for guaranteed UK Christmas delivery before 20th December, and overseas by 13th December. 

Restoration of A Study In Scarlet cover for upcoming Facsimile Edition

A Study In Scarlet, Beeton’s Christmas Annual, restored cover.

Having looked at various versions of the original, rare Study In Scarlet by Arthur Conan Doyle, that first appeared in Beeton’s Christmas Annual, 1887, I have created this restoration of the original artwork.

I was working from this out-of-copyright image:

Original, faded and yellowed A Study In Scarlet cover.

I’ve stripped away the ageing which darkened the paper of the covers and put the whites back in. Suddenly the design makes complete sense. The white around the “BEETON’S CHRISTMAS ANNUAL” is of course a layer of snow on the letters. The white behind the main title makes the words jump out.

One of the things I really enjoy about the Victorian era is this lovely clear design ethos, that really is eyecatching.

While I was working on this, my heart quickened with excitement as I suddenly “got” the design. Great stuff from those wonderful Victorian designers!

Portsmouth A Literary and Pictorial Tour Launched on 21st Nov 2018, by Matt Wingett

Matt Wingett talks about the preparations for the launch of Portsmouth, A Literary and Pictorial Tour, and some of the discoveries and surprises he made along the way.

Well, it’s been quite an intense period over the last few months, preparing images, collecting together the writings of numerous authors and then going over my own reminiscences of growing up in and near the old town to get my book out, and the launch will soon be here, at Portsmouth Central Library’s Menuin Room at 3pm on Wednesday 21st November.

John Lynn, High Tide Below The Saluting Battery, Portsmouth Harbour

I’m just preparing the talk right now, and wondering what to cover – whether in my launch talk I should make a mention of some of the extracts I had to leave out for lack of room, or tell some of the extra stories about Pompey places I gleaned while I was putting the book together. And then, there’s the distinct possibility – in fact very firm likelihood – that people will have things to tell me about the hometown. Sharing stories is one of the things I love.

That, really, is one of the reasons I wrote the book. I’ve looked through 50 full length works by 75 different authors to put the book together. The idea was a simple one. I had over the years collected engravings, postcards and drawings of Portsmouth, from the 1700s onwards. And I had read so much about the town by really top-notch and important writers. Wouldn’t it be great – I thought – to find extracts from novelists who mention the town and put them with pictures of the places they’re talking about?

That was the starting point of Portsmouth, A Literary and Pictorial Tour. When I mentioned it to councillor Steve Pitt on facebook and he asked me if I was actually doing a real tour, I thought – Yes, I could do that. Start at the top of Portsdown Hill and work my way around the island.

That’s what I’ve done, with maps at the back to show the locations of each place written about and pictured.

I’ve been really surprised over the years by the quality of writers connected to the town. Of course, there is the big four: Dickens, Conan Doyle, Kipling and Wells, who all had stronger or weaker connections here. But then there are other lesser-known homegrown Nineteenth Century novelists.

George Meredith was born in the High Street and based the opening of his novel about a social climber, Evan Harrington in the town. Walter Besant was born just off St George’s Square, and he went on to found the Society of Authors, wrote around 50 novels, was compared favourably with Dickens in his day and earned a knighthood for his charitable work. His great Portsmouth work is By Celia’s Arbour, which gives extaordinary descriptions of the place as it was in the 1840s before the town walls came down.

In the Twentieth Century, Olivia Manning was born in North End and grew up in Portsmouth. She hated the town with a passion, but still wrote three novels while she was here. Nevil Shute, Graham Hurley, P G Wodehouse (to a lesser extent), Pauline Rowson, Lillian Harry and many others have had something to say about it this century.

And right now, there is a whole new crop of writers and poets working away around Portsmouth. Some are already internationally published, others are learning their trades, doing live performances, writing plays. Portsmouth was and is a fascinating place and much really interestiing stuff has been written about it.

And that’s my conundrum for the launch. Not so much what to write about, but what to leave out!

Well, wish me luck. And hopefully, I’ll see you there tomorrow. The Menuhin Room, Portsmouth Central Library, 3pm, Wednesday 21st November!


When Arthur Conan Doyle Came To Southsea

With just a few days to go before Holmes Fest 2018 begins on 27th June in Portsmouth, Matt Wingett reveals Arthur Conan Doyle’s early days in Southsea and the struggles he went through.

When Arthur Conan Doyle arrived in Southsea in 1882 stepping on to Clarence Pier from a steamer, he had £10 in his pocket, a medical degree and a strong will to make the best of his new life here.

He very much needed the last on the list. His previous attempt at partnership with George Budd in Plymouth had left him determined to go it alone. Budd was unreliable, prone to swings of wild temper and behaved like a melodramatic performer putting on a show for his patients. Doyle considered him deeply unprofessional – and worse – paranoid.

Soon Conan Doyle had set himself up at his surgery on Elm Grove, where his younger brother Innes later joined him to help out. Conan Doyle always had a hands-on positive approach to life, and he later recalled in “Memories and Adventures” applying his can-do attitude to make the best of the bare surgery. With very little money, he used his creativity to improvise, and his cooking arrangements would have given a modern Health and Safety officer a fit. He wrote:

What with cleaning up, answering the bell, doing my modest shopping, which was measured in pennies rather than shillings, and perfecting my simple household arrangements, the time did not hang heavily upon my hands. It is a wonderful thing to have a house of your own for the first time, however humble it may be. I lavished all my care upon the front room to make it possible for patients. The back room was furnished with my trunk and a stool. Inside the trunk was my larder, and the top of it was my dining-room table. There was gas laid on, and I rigged a projection from the wall by which I could sling a pan over the gas jet. In this way I cooked bacon with great ease, and became expert in getting a wonderful lot of slices from a pound. Bread, bacon and tea, with an occasional saveloy—what could man ask for more? It is (or was) perfectly easy to live well upon a shilling a day.

The matter of money remained a tough one for him, and it isn’t true to say that money flooded in. He remembers:

I had obtained a fair consignment of drugs on tick from a wholesale house and these also were ranged round the sides of the back room. From the very beginning a few stray patients of the poorest class, some of them desirous of novelty, some disgruntled with their own doctors, the greater part owing bills and ashamed to face their creditor, came to consult me and consume a bottle of my medicine. I could pay for my food by the drugs I sold. It was as well, for I had no other way of paying for it, and I had sworn not to touch the ten golden pieces which represented my rent. There have been times when I could not buy a postage stamp and my letters have had to wait, but the ten golden coins still remained intact.

Elm Grove, had once had tall, elegant elms growing in the front gardens of some of the villas along its length. You can see a great example of how shops were built on to the old front walls of the houses at Rosie’s Wine Bar, where the steps up to the front door can still be clearly seen, inside, at the back end of the bar. The picture above is from before 1897, and shows part of the elm-lined street as it once was. Below is a more recognisable image of the road, with the elms still visible at the far end, where commerce hadn’t yet reached.



In Conan Doyle’s day, the nature of the street was thus changing from the country idyll it had been just a few decades before, as Southsea thrust further and further east along the farm fields of the island. Doyle wrote:

It was a busy thoroughfare, with a church on one side of my house and an hotel on the other. The days passed pleasantly enough, for it was a lovely warm autumn, and I sat in the window of my consulting-room screened by the rather dingy curtain which I had put up, and watched the passing crowd or read my book, for I had spent part of my scanty funds on making myself a member of a circulating library. In spite of my sparse food, or more probably on account of it, I was extraordinarily fit and well, so that at night when all hope of patients was gone for that day I would lock up my house and walk many miles to work off my energy.

So it was, that of an evening in Southsea in 1882, you might have met a tall, strong Scot, standing 6 feet 2 inches tall and weighing 14 stone of lean meat, walking the streets and getting to know his surroundings – as the adventure of his life was about to begin, and the adventures of his most famous hero, Sherlock Holmes, were to be begin here, too!

The opening night of Holmes Fest – Three Cheers for Arthur Conan Doyle – will be at The Square Tower in Old Portsmouth, on 27th June. Doors open at 7pm, tickets £10.

For the full Holmes Fest programme, go to: