Each month Nicola Gifford will be writing us a short story inspired by the David Parr House, together with an ‘Afterword’ in which she gives us an account of the research behind each one and her fascinating thoughts around bringing the two together.


Arthur and Oscar

I had expected friends and family to turn up for the funeral in droves but not at the deceased’s house and most definitely not looking like they were attending a garden party.  Why weren’t they gathering at a church and why was no one dressed in black?

I had got there early and grabbed the best parking spot, ensuring I had a good view of his imposing home at the end of the drive.  Given Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s status, one would have expected a funeral cortege comprising of a hearse and at least two cars of mourners.  I checked my watch.  The service was due to commence in just under thirty-minutes, yet no vehicles had arrived to pick the family up and take them to the church.

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Oscar in Oxford 1876


In this months ‘Afterword’ Nicola takes us on a journey that begins by  unearthing a link between Oscar Wilde and Arthur Conan Doyle and finishes with the Cottingley Fairies.  Enjoy the ride.

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Know to Live

By the time she got back from the shops, Violet had seen everyone she was likely to encounter that day.  When she had agreed to house sit for Flossie, she had expected to see more life.  Afterall, her friend lived just beyond Cambridge’s city centre, therefore further into town than she did.

There was a chance a neighbour might knock on the door.  As for her family, they weren’t due to visit until the weekend, so she couldn’t count on them.  If she ventured into the garden, she might see Mr Brown from next door digging up vegetables for his supper, or Mrs Bennet, who lived on the other side, but the snarky woman was a creature of habit and only hung out her washing on a Monday.

Violet carried her shopping bags through to the kitchen and, with only the radio for company, set about making herself some lunch.

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‘What Not’ David Parr House


Why did Nicola choose to write a story about the Mayor’s Day Out?  Cambridgeshire County Council has been inviting its senior citizens on a annual trip with entertainment for over three decades.  The Mayor’s Day Out had always intrigued her so now was her chance to write the story that had been formulating in her mind.

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A page from one of the two versions of Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám Collection: British Library Source: the Folio Society produced a facsimile copy of the 1872 version of William Morris’s copies.


The Adventure at St. James’s Palace

Upon moving in at 221B Baker Street, our London residence, I accompanied Sherlock Holmes on a whirlwind of adventures. According to my yearbook, we went to Northumberland to find a missing curate, to Brighton to solve the case of the damning telegram and to Newmarket to discover who was lacing horse-feed with sedatives, among many others. These were all reported in the national press.
There was, however, a case that we were asked to keep secret. As we have lost two monarchs since the events I am about to relate, it will no longer be of any consequence if I break my silence, but it will be of great interest to my readers who study Holmes’s methods.

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Sherlock Holmes & Dr Watson


In the Afterword for June Nicola takes us on a journey that starts with Sherlock Holmes and finishes with Vernon Lee.  On the way she tests out the ‘six degrees of separation’ and takes us down an interesting path to her Art School days in the 1980’s.  Sherlock would have been proud of her deductions and discoveries!

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St James’s Palace By Thomas Hosmer Shepherd – Corel Professional Photos CD-ROM, Public Domain, Wiki Commons


The Adventure of the French Deception

The doorbell rang again.
Dr Watson called for his housekeeper, but she didn’t respond.
With great effort, he eased himself out of his chair.  His complaining knees were particularly bad, suggesting rain was on its way and the weather forecast in his morning paper was not to be trusted.
“Who is it?” Watson asked as a precaution, gripping the door key.
“It’s Jack,” came the response.
Watson unlocked the door and found his great-nephew holding up a newspaper.
“How come we had to read about your impending demise in the papers?  You didn’t think to tell your family first?” asked Jack.  “Do we count as nought?”
“Manners maketh man.  Good day to you too!  You can ignore the newspaper report.  I’ve engineered a mix up.  Come in.  You are just the person I wanted to see.  You speak French fluently, don’t you?”
As Jack hung up his coat, then traded his hat for Holmes’s deerstalker, Watson peered out to see if he could see any members of the press still lurking about, then locked the door.
“My French is probably quite rusty.  What’s going on?”
“I need someone to accompany me to Paris,” said Watson, leading the way to the living room.

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Le Déjeuner sur l’herbe * – Édouard Manet 1862 – 1863 – Musée d’Orsay, Paris [* The Luncheon on the Grass]


In the Afterword Nicola explains why she has written another story based on Sherlock Holmes and how she was inspired by the picture painted by Manet – ‘Le Déjeuner sur l’herbe’.

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The Adventure in Holland Park

April 1891

Upon being summoned by the Great Detective, Nathaniel Willis went directly to 221b Baker Street.  Mrs Hudson, Holmes’s landlady, opened the door and led the way up the dimly lit stairs.

Willis hadn’t seen Sherlock Holmes since their adventure at St. James’s Palace, which had concluded in December 1880.  His concerns for the solitary Holmes had been misplaced as Fortune had engineered for Holmes to be introduced to his collaborator Dr. Watson on 1st January 1881, thereupon, the two gentlemen had taken up residence at Baker Street together as a means of sharing the financial burden of renting accommodation in London.

Sherlock was wearing a thick dressing gown over his clothes.  He was standing in front of a long window.  As Willis drew nearer and more, and more, of the room was revealed, he could see it was one of an identical pair that looked out onto the street.

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‘The Pipe was still between his lips’
Sidney Paget The Strand Magazine


Why did Nicola write a second story based on Sherlock Holmes and where did her research lead when she started to look into the connections between Sir Arthur Conan Doyle/Sherlock Holmes and the Pre-Raphaelites?

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Rossetti reading proofs of Ballads and Sonnets at 16 Cheyne Walk, London, by Henry Treffry Dunn (1882)
National Portrait Gallery/Public Domain


Boat Race Day

21st March 1891

Nathaniel Willis opened the door for his employer, then followed him out.  They were met with the same grey day they’d seen through Mrs Brown’s grimy windows.
“Which crew do you think will win?” asked Mr Reid.
“Need you ask?  Cambridge of course,” answered Willis, closing the door behind him.  “Oxford might be favourites to win but I’m not going to entertain the possibility of the opposition winning?”
Reid paused at the garden gate with his back to their modest lodgings.
“Well, it still rankles that the organisers allowed a former Cantabrigian captain to coach the other side.  Lehmann might have felt embittered that he wasn’t selected for the Blue boat but to spite his University, well, that just takes the biscuit.  One can only hope they change the rules to prevent a reoccurrence.”

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“The Oxford and Cambridge Boat Race: Mr. Muttlebury Coaching the Cambridge Crew from a Steam Launch” Illustrated London News – April 9, 1892


It is the time of year when many from Cambridge and Oxford head down to the banks of the Thames for the annual Boat Race, a tradition that dates back to 1829.  Sadly, it is one of the events that has had to be cancelled but it inspired Nicola to write her March story as she read about William Morris and his boat race gathering at his Hammersmith home.

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Hammersmith Bridge on Boat-race Day c.1862 Walter Greaves 1846-1930 Presented by the Trustees of the Chantrey Bequest 1922 http://www.tate.org.uk/art/work/N03643


The Adventure of Sir Scrope

Just days after I sent the last tea chest, containing documents pertaining to my long association with the Great Detective, to Scotland Yard, I received an intriguing package. 

It should be stated that I am inundated with letters from readers, who have been compelled to put pen to paper after reading the published accounts of the mysteries Holmes and I have solved, asking whether they might have an audience with me or some such.  Yet, the individual who had sent the package didn’t appear to want anything from me.  Quite the contrary.  He offered to reveal the details of a case which, by his reckoning, Holmes hadn’t shared with me.  It pains me to say that this wasn’t a unique situation either, as disreputable journalists and trophy collectors have tried to befriend me in the hope of obtaining information for their own nefarious purposes or memorabilia from which they hoped to profit, using similar tactics.
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David Parr and his deer stalker on his works outing in 1882

February: Afterword

In the Afterword Nicola explains how she was inspired by a hat and how her idea for the story led to more research about one of our greatest sleuths of the Victorian era.

Sherlock Holmes & Dr Watson
The Strand Magazine


Scrolls, Peacock Feathers and Rivalry

Monday, 5th January 1885

Overnight the temperature had dipped below freezing, ensuring the thick fog hadn’t dissipated.  It hung in the air like sludge, creating a halo effect around streetlamps and left an oily smear wherever it settled.  Nathaniel Willis wondered if this was what it had been like in the ‘Year Without a Summer’.

His hometown had its share of tall chimney stacks and domestic chimneys choking the air with smoke but, as it was only small-scale industry, the effects were nothing compared to those suffered by Londoners.  

Breathing in the London fog was akin to taking in a lungful of moisture-laden air in the Palm House at Kew Gardens, whilst surrounded by pipe smokers, puffing their way through bowls of tarry shag.  He felt as wretched as them without having had any of the enjoyment.
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January: Afterword

In the Afterword Nicola writes about the research behind the story – a find that led her from one enquiry to another with false leads and unexpected discoveries.

Angels Wings from Adoration of the Magi Jan Gossaert
National Gallery London