In a city so packed with literary figures, influences and associations that it became the world's first UNESCO City of Literature, one of Edinburgh's most famous authors remains almost as famous now as during his own lifetime - thanks to the intervention of film and television, possibly more so.
Arthur Conan Doyle was born in the city on 22 May, 1859. The building where he was born was on Picardy Place at the east end of Queen Street in the New town. Although the row of houses were demolished during the 1960s, the approximate location is marked by a statue of Doyle's greatest creation, Sherlock Holmes.
Scotland plays little part in the Holmes stories, most which were set in London, or rural locations in England, and so it is no surprise that comparatively few readers associate Doyle with Edinburgh. Growing up here as a young man, he enrolled at the University of Edinburgh's medical school, where he fell under the influence of the man who would inspire fiction's most famous detective.
Dr Joseph Bell was a tutor at the school, famed for his adherence to principles of observation and logical deduction for making his medical diagnoses. After the first Sherlock Holmes story - A Study in Scarlet - appeared in 1886, the similarity between Holmes and Bell was so clear that Robert Louis Stevenson, who had also studied under Bell, wrote to Doyle from his home in Samoa: "My compliments on your very ingenious and very interesting adventures of Sherlock Holmes. ... can this be my old friend Joe Bell?"
Since his creation, Holmes has acquired the Guinness World Record for being the most portrayed movie character in cinematic history.
Curiously, although he is often referred to as Conan Doyle, on his baptismal record from St Mary's Catholic Cathedral, which still stands near the site of his birth on Picardy Place, Conan is recorded as one of the boy's two middle names (the other being Ignatius...). In many library and reference indexes he is listed correctly by his surname alone; Doyle, A.C.
Among his non-literary interests, Doyle was also a keen sportsman, playing cricket alongside fellow authors JM Barrie and AA Milne, as well as for the Marylebone Cricket Club.
One of Doyle's most famous associations was with the world of mystics and the supernatural, where - in contrast with his most famous literary creation - he proved surprisingly gullible.
Doyle was famously taken in by the Cottingley Fairies affair of 1917, when two young girls were pictured in photographs with a collection of dancing fairies, which were later proven to be a hoax. A short association with American magician Harry Houdini saw Doyle attempt to demonstration proof of an afterlife, and associated beliefs, while Houdini vociferously campaigned to defraud mystics and mediums.
Doyle died at his home in Sussex, England, in 1930. The statue of Sherlock Holmes was unveiled in the 1990s, and visitors can still enjoy a drink or a meal at the Conan Doyle pub, near the site of his birth - having a drinking hole named after you is one of the greatest forms of tribute Scotland can offer its famous sons and daughters.
Explore Doyle's Edinburgh in more detail with my private walking tours of the city!
Edinburgh Expert Walking Tours is run by Gareth, an adopted native of Edinburgh, with over 20 years experience of living and working in the city...
Search the blog archive...
About Your Tour Guide
Edinburgh Expert Blog
Frequently Asked Questions
Telephone: +44 (0) 131 235 2351
© COPYRIGHT GARETH DAVIES 2014-22