Did Conan Doyle pen Sherlock Selkirk tale?

The bridge over to Bannerfield from the Dunsdale Road end will be closed for five months shortly.
The bridge over to Bannerfield from the Dunsdale Road end will be closed for five months shortly.

An article, first published in our sister paper, The Selkirk Weekend Advertiser, on Friday, which reveals how Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and a Sherlock Holmes story helped build Bannerfield’s bridge, has made international headlines.

A donation by Selkirk historian Walter Elliot of what could be a long-lost Sherlock Holmes story has sparked the interest of newspapers and magazines worldwide.

Mr Elliot told us the remarkable tale, which began in the great flood that washed away the Wood Brig crossing the Ettrick in 1902, where the iron Bannerfield footbridge stands today.

To raise money to build a new bridge, the town organised a three-day bazaar in December 1903 and sold a 48-page booklet of contributed stories, entitled “The Book o’ the Brig”.

Conan Doyle, Scots creator of Holmes, came to Selkirk to open the festival’s last day on December 12, 1903 – the same time as an anonymously-authored short story entitled “Sherlock Holmes: Discovering the Border Burghs and, by deduction, the Brig Bazaar”, and featuring Holmes and Dr Watson, appeared in the booklet.

The story unfolds in London with Holmes deducing that Watson is embarking for Selkirk: “I found to my very great surprise that you were not listening at all to my reasoning, but were lilting a very sweet – a very sweet – tune, Watson – ‘The Flowers of the Forest’. And you remember, Watson, how very enthusiastic you grew all of a sudden on the subject of common ridings ... all these things speak, Watson, to the orderly brain of a thinker.”

This was not Conan Doyle’s last visit to Selkirk.

In 1904, he brought a cricket team to play Selkirk at Philiphaugh, and in 1905 he gifted a now-lost Border league football trophy, called the Conan Doyle Cup, last won by Kelso in 1937-38.

In 1906, Conan Doyle stood as a Unionist candidate for Westminster in the Hawick Burghs constituency.

And now Selkirk’s Iron Brig, which he and Holmes helped build to replace the Wood Brig, will itself be replaced this year by a new crossing as a result of Selkirk’s Flood Protection Scheme.

But the unsolved mystery remains – did Conan Doyle write a new Sherlock Holmes story for Selkirk’s Brig?

You can read the tale, and deduce for yourself, from 10am-4pm daily until Sunday (March 1) at the town’s pop-up museum in the Cross Keys, Market Place.