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‘Another string to the bow of Holmes’s legacy’, ‘The Scotsman’

FOR more than 170 years a sycamore stood in the garden where the young Arthur Conan Doyle was inspired to write his first stories.

As a schoolboy, the creator of Sherlock Holmes would clamber on the branches of the tree in the grounds of Liberton Bank House in Edinburgh.

But now the sycamore has had to be cut down because of disease, to the dismay of the staff and pupils at the special school that has recently moved into the 18th-century building.

However, it emerged yesterday that a memorial to the tree and its links to Conan Doyle is to be created.

Dunedin School has commissioned the creation of a violin from the sycamore’s wood, in tribute to the celebrated detective and his penchant for playing the instrument.

It is hoped the violin, to be made by the Edinburgh-based instrument maker Steve Burnett, will be completed in time for the 150th anniversary of Conan Doyle’s birth in May.

And, rather than have the violin stored under lock and key in a display cabinet, the school has proposed making it available for lessons.

Joan Foulner, a history teacher at the school, which caters for pupils with learning and behavioural problems, said: “We had no alternative but to knock down the tree, as the rotting in its roots were so severe.

“It’s been here for so long, and with its connections with Arthur Conan Doyle, there was no way we could just knock it down and have it turned into woodchips.

“We had been looking for an idea for some kind of tribute to Sherlock Holmes when one of the garden volunteers read an article about a local violin maker. We’ve raised the money to pay for the violin through donations, and we hope it will be finished in time for the anniversary of Conan Doyle’s birth.”

Along with the creation of the violin, the school may also line up another Sherlock Holmes tribute by looking into whether the remains of the tree can be carved into a giant pipe.

Mr Burnett, who makes violins to order at his workshop in Edinburgh, said: “Sycamore is ideal for making violins, and there’s a lovely story behind this one because of Liberton Bank House’s links with Conan Doyle and Sherlock Holmes.

“If you ask people to name a well-known violinist, many of them will say Sherlock Holmes.”

Conan Doyle’s first two homes in Edinburgh, in Picardy Place, at the top of Leith Walk, and in Portobello, have both been demolished.

Liberton Bank House had an uncertain future for years until a plan to provide a new home for Dunedin School was approved three years ago.

McDonald’s, the fast-food giant, had proposed building on the land surrounding Liberton Bank House, where a young Conan Doyle had lived in the 1860s for four years from the age of five. But when that scheme was rejected by the city council, a new plan to turn the then derelict house into a home for the independent school was put forward.

Pupils moved there in November 2007 after a successful £850,000 fundraising campaign, which helped to pay for the creation of a literary garden in the grounds.


ARTHUR Ignatius Conan Doyle was born in Picardy Place, Edinburgh, on 22 May, 1859.

He was the second of ten children and oldest son of Charles and Mary Foley Doyle. His father supplemented his income by painting and illustrating, working as a court sketch artist. It was Sir Arthur’s mother who encouraged his interest in literature, but his father’s creativity that gave him his imagination.

The family moved to Portobello, before settling in Liberton Bank House.

Educated at Jesuit schools, Sir Arthur went on to study medicine under Dr Joseph Bell at Edinburgh University. Dr Bell’s skill for observation provided the inspiration for Sherlock Holmes.

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