Historian unearths previously UNKNOWN Sherlock Holmes story by Conan Doyle – which he wrote to save a bridge
An historian has unearthed the first unseen Sherlock Holmes story in over 80 YEARS – which Sir Arthur Conan Doyle wrote to help save a town bridge.
Walter Elliot, 80, found the 1,300 word tale starring the famous sleuth in a collection of short stories written for a local bazaar.
The wooden bridge in the Scottish town of Selkirk was destroyed by the great flood of 1902 and locals organised a three-day event to raise funds for a new one in 1904.
As part of the event, organisers sold a collection of short stories by locals called ”The Book o’ the Brig”.
The famed author – who loved visiting Selkirk and the surrounding area – contributed a tale before opening the final day.
Walter has now unearthed a copy of the book and spotted his story -‘Sherlock Holmes: Discovering the Border Burghs and, by deduction, the Brig Bazaar’ .
He was given the 48-page pamphlet more than 50 years ago by a friend but more or less forgot about it until recently after he looked in the attic.
He was prompted to dig out the incredibly rare papers – tired together with string – and put it on display as part of an upcoming local pop-up museum.
It is believed the story – about Holmes deducing Watson is going on a trip to Selkirk – is the first unseen Holmes story by Doyle since the last was published over 80 years ago.
Great-grandfather Walter said: “It is written by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle about Holmes and Watson.
“In Selkirk there was a wooden bridge that was put up some time before it was flooded in 1902.
“The town didn’t have the money to replace it so they decided to have a bazaar to replace the bridge in 1904.
“They had various people to come and do things and just about everyone in the town did something.
“The local MPs and landowners and everyone in two days I think took in #560, which was quite some sum then.
“The Saturday was opened by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. He had written a wee story about Sherlock Holmes and Watson and this was in the book.
“I can’t remember how much they raised but they wanted it to be a carriage bridge but they didn’t get quite enough for that, but they built an iron bridge and it’s still there today.
“He really must have thought enough of the town to come down and take part and contribute a story to the book. It’s a great little story.”
The great flood of 1902 washed away the Wood Brig crossing the Ettrick in the Scottish Borders.
To raise money to build a new bridge, the town organised a three-day bazaar in December 1904 and sold the booklet of contributed stories, called The Book o’ the Brig.
Conan Doyle came to Selkirk to open the festival’s last day and spoke about his story – a legendary local tale which has been passed down through the town’s residents since.
His 1,339 word tale starts with a newspaper editor dispatching a journalist to London to find ‘a word from Sherlock Holmes‘ and Watson.
The writer finds the pair and watches them in conversation – as Holmes declares he’s going to Edinburgh to solve the “mysteries of the Secret Cabinet”.
He asks Watson if he’d like to go with him but when Watson says he can’t go Holmes sounds surprises and says he thought he was “going to the Border country”.
Watson then asks him how he knows that and Holmes, using his usual powers says it is a “matter of deduction”.
He says Watson had recently discussed politics of the north and had used a term ‘huz’ which is only found in a certain area of Scotland.
Holmes also says he heard Watson “crooning a weird song” which he must have read or heard while previously in Hawick, Scotland.
He says “later still the plot deepened” when Watson began “lilting” another local song and then showed knowledge of James IV.
Homes says the clues means Watson must be heading to either Hawick, Galashiels, or Selkirk.
He says he then “smoked a ton of tobacco” and spent the night in thought and worked out he was heading to Selkirk.
Watson then admits he is indeed “going to Selkirk in aide of a Bridge” and Holmes wishes him well on his journey.
The book – around ten inches long and three inches wide with a soft brown paper cover – contained stories from local people, as well as the famous author.
The back cover details a programme of events and proudly states “the famous litterateur” was due to open the day before the ladies orchestra performed and local piano recitals.
“It was a varied book with lots of bits and pieces and stories,” said Walter, a retired woodcutter and father-of-three.
“I have no idea how many they made and sold. I’ve had this book for about 40 or 50 years.I must have got it from a friend because I can’t remember buying it from anyone.
“Usually people would throw out these books or sell them off. It has been in my family for quite a while now.
“I have no idea if it has ever been published – I’ve never seen it. I’ve always been interested in history and my family has always passed on stories and I suppose this was one of the stories that was passed down.”
It wasn’t the last time Sir Conan Doyle visited the town, and he returned a few months later with a cricket team to play Selkirk.
In 1905 he gifted a now-lost Border league football trophy, called the Conan Doyle Cup, last won by Kelso in 1937-38.
A year later, Conan Doyle stood as a Unionist candidate for Westminster in the nearby Hawick Burghs constituency.
The booklet will be on show at the Cross Keys Selkirk Pop-up Community Museum from Saturday, along with Walter’s painting of the replaced bridge.
The full story of ‘Sherlock Holmes: Discovering the Border Burghs and, by deduction, the Brig Bazaar’:
We’ve had enough of the old romancists and the men of travel, said the Editor. As he blue-pencilled his copy, and made arrangements for the great Saturday edition of the Bazar Book. ‘We want something up-to-date. Why not have a word from “Sherlock Holmes”?’
Editors have only to speak and it is done, at least, they think so. ‘Sherlock Holmes!’ As well talk of interviewing the Man in the Moon. But it does not do to tell Editors all that you think. I had no objections whatever, I assured the Editor, to buttonhole ‘Sherlock Holmes,’ but to do so I should have to go to London.
‘London!’ scornfully sniffed the Great Man. ‘And you profess to be a journalist? Have you never heard of the telegraph, the telephone, or the phonograh? Go to London! And are you not aware that all journalists are supposed to be qualified members of the Institute of Fiction, and to be qualified to make use of the Faculty of Imagination? By the use of the latter men have been interviewed, who were hundreds of miles away; some have been “interviewed” without either knowledge or consent. See that you have a topical article ready for the press for Saturday. Good day’.’
I was dismissed and had to find copy by hook or by crook. Well, the Faculty of Imagination might be worth a trial.
The familiar house in Sloan Street met my bewildered gaze. The door shut, the blinds drawn. I entered; doors are no barrier to one who uses the Faculty of Imagination. The soft light from an electric bulb flooded the room. ‘Sherlock Holmes’ sits bu the side of the table’ Dr Watson is on his feet about to leave for the night. Sherlock Holmes, as has lately been shown by a prominent journal, is a pronounced Free Trader. Dr Watson is a mild Protectionist, who would take his gruelling behind a Martello tower, as Lord Goschen wittily put it, but not ‘lying down!’ The twain had just finished a stiff argument on Fiscal policy. Holmes log.-
‘And when shall I see you again, Watson? The inquiry into the “mysteries of the Secret Cabinet” will be continued in Edinburgh on Saturday. Do you mind a run down to Scotland? You would get some capital data which you might turn to good account later.’
‘I am very sorry,’ replied Dr Watson. ‘I should have liked to have gone with you, but a prior engagement prevents me. I will, however, have the pleasure of being in kindly Scottish company that day. I, also, am going to Scotland.’
‘Ah! Then you are going to the Border country at that time?’
‘How do you know that?’
‘My dear Watson, it’s all a matter of deduction.’
‘Will you explain?’
‘Well, when a man becomes absorbed in a certain theme, the murder will out some day. In many discussions you and I have on the fiscal question from time to time I have not failed to notice that you have taken up an attitude antagonistic to a certain school of thought, and on several occasions you have commented on the passing of “so-called’ reforms, as you describe them, which you say were not the result of a spontaneous movement from or by the people, but solely due to the pressure of the Manchester School of politicians appealing to the mob. One of these allusions you made a peculiar reference to “Huz an’ Mainchester” who had “turned the world upside down.” The word “Huz” stuck to me, but after consulting many authors without learning anything as to the source of the word, I one day in reading a provincial paper noticed the same expression, which the writer said was descriptive of the way Hawick people looked at the progress of Reform. “Huz an’ Mainchester’ led the way. So, thought I, Watson has a knowledge of Hawick. I was still further confirmed in this idea by hearing you in several absent moments crooning a weird song of the Norwegian God Thor. Again I made enquires, and writing to a friend in the Sounth country I procured a copy of “Teribus.” So, I reasoned, so – there’s something in the air! What attraction has Hawick for Watson?’
‘Wonderful,’ Watson said, ‘and – ‘
‘Yes, and when you characterised the action of the German Government in seeking to hamper Canadian trade by raising her tariff wall against her, as a case of :Sour Plims,” and again in a drawing room asked a mutual lady friend to sing you that fine old song, “Braw, braw lads,” I was curious enough to look up the old ballad, and finding it had reference to a small town near to Hawick, I began to see a ray of daylight. Hawick had a place in your mind; likewise so had Galashiels – so much was apparent. The question to be decided was why?’
‘So far so good. And – ‘
‘Later still the plot deepened. Why, when I was retaiing to you the steps that led up to the arrest of the Norwood builder by the impression of his thumb, I found a very great surprise that you were not listening at all to my reasoning, but were lilting a very sweet – a very sweet tune Watson – “The Flowers of the Forest;” then I in turn consulted an authority on the subject, and found that that lovely if tragic song had a special reference to Selkirk. And you remember, Watson, how very enthusiastic you grew all of a sudden on the subject of Common0Ridings, and how much you studied the history of James IV., with special reference to Flodden Field. All these things speak, Watson, to the orderly brain of a thinker. Hawick, Galashiels, and Selkirk. What did the combination mean? I felt I must sold the problem, Watson; so that night when you left me, after we had discussed the “Tragedy of a Divided House,” I ordered in a ton of tobacco, wrapped my cloak about me, and spent the night in thought. When you came round in the morning the problem was solved. I could not on the accumulative evidence but come to the conclusion that you contemplated another Parliamentary contest. Watson, you have the Border Burghs in your eye!’
‘In my heard, Holmes,’ said Watson.
‘And where do you travel to on Saturday, Watson?’
‘I am going to Selkirk; I have an engagement there to open a Bazaar.’
‘Is it in aide of a Bridge, Watson?’
‘Yes,’ replied Watson in surprise; ‘but how do you know? I have never mentioned the matter to you.’
‘By word, no’ but by your action you have revealed the bent of your mind.’
‘Let me explain. A week ago you came round to my rooms and asked for a look at “Macaulay’s Lays of Ancient Rome.” (You know I admire Macaulay’s works, and have a full set.) That volume, after a casual look at, you took with you. When you returned it a day or two later I noticed it was marked with a slip of paper at the “Lay of Horatius,” and I detected a faint pencil mark on the slip noting that the closing stanza was very appropriate. As you know, Watson, the lay is all descriptive of the keeping of a bridge. Let me remind you how nicely you would perorate –
When the goodman mends his armour
And trims his helmet’s plume,
When the goodwife’s shuttle merrily
Goes flashing through the loom,
With weeping and with laughter.
Still the story told –
How well Horatius kept the bridge,
In the brave days of old.
Could I, being mortal, help thinking you were bent on such exploit yourself?’
‘Well, goodbye, Watson; shall be glad of your company after Saturday. Remember Horatius’s words when you go to Border Burghs :- “How can man die better than facing fearful odds.” But there, these words are only illustrations. Safe journey, and success to the Brig!’