Something Old, Something New

A series on Devon Authors and Devon Books

There are many wise people who choose to live and work in Devon. In this series, I am going to delve into the lives of some Devonian authors and bring you brief synopsises of books that have a Devonian background.

The Hound of the Baskervilles by Sir Arthur Ignatius Conan Doyle was first serialised in the Strand magazine between August 1901 and April 1902 before being printed as a novel in 1902. Each chapter ended in a cliff-hanger, making it perfect material for a magazine.

The book was set in Devon’s Dartmoor following a prolonged stay in Dartmoor including a visit to the famous prison. It involved an attempted murder inspired by the legend of the hound and was investigated by Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson. Phillip Weller – who wrote The Hound Of The Baskervilles – Hunting the Dartmoor Legend – suggests that Baskerville Hall, the home of the cursed Sir Hugo Baskerville was based on one of three Dartmoor houses, Fowelscombe near Ugborough, Hayford Hall and Brook Hall, both near Buckfastleigh.

Squire Richard Cabell of Fowelscombe was rumoured to have murdered his wife and on his death in 1677 was laid to rest in the Fowelscombe sepulchre. A phantom pack of hounds came across the moor to howl at his tomb and continued to do so on the anniversary of his death. Along with tales he had heard of the Yeth Hound, a Devonian supernatural dog and the Black Shuck, a ghostly black dog that roamed the coast and countryside of East Anglia, Conan Doyle had plenty of material with which he could work into the story.

The original manuscript of the book was divided up into individual pages and used for booksellers window displays as part of a promotional campaign put together by Doyles’ American publishers. Many of the 190 leaves were lost were lost but 36 remain. One of them sold in 2012 at auction for $158,500.

When King Edward VII knighted Conan Doyle in 1902 for services rendered to the Crown during the Boer War it was rumoured that the King was such an avid Sherlock Holmes fan, that he had put the author’s name on his Honours List to encourage him to write new stories.

These days you can visit a dog-friendly restaurant in Ashburton called the Hound of the Baskervilles where Baskerville Burgers and Sherlock tea is served. Better still, you can enjoy a one day guided tour of Baskerville country. Guests will come away stimulated, intrigued and wanting to read the famous book once again.