Historian unearths unseen Sherlock Holmes story

Walter Elliot, 80, found the 1,300 word tale starring the famous sleuth in a collection of short stories written for a local bazaar. Picutre: SWNS

Walter Elliot, 80, found the 1,300 word tale starring the famous sleuth in a collection of short stories written for a local bazaar. Picutre: SWNS

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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.

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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 - tied 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 surprised 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.

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