In History Today, Richard Cavendish tells the story behind the best-known of Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes stories:
Much ink and accusations of plagiarism have been spilled over the story’s origins. Conan Doyle’s initial inspiration came from a young journalist friend named Bertram Fletcher Robinson, nicknamed ‘Bobbles’, with whom he spent four days on a seaside golfing holiday at Cromer in Norfolk in the spring of 1901. While they were there, Robinson told Doyle the legend of a ghostly hound on Dartmoor and the two men decided to write what the latter called ‘a real creeper’ together. Robinson lived at Ipplepen, near Newton Abbot in South Devon, and the two friends went there to investigate Dartmoor. Robinson wrote later that Doyle ‘listened eagerly to my stories of the ghost hounds, of the headless riders and of the devils that lurk in the hollows – legends upon which I had been reared, for my home lay on the borders of the moor.’ They stayed at Robinson’s home and at Rowe’s Duchy Hotel at Princetown near the prison, whose governor, deputy governor, chaplain and doctor solemnly came, as Robinson noted, ‘to pay a call on Mr Sherlock Holmes’, to Doyle’s irritation. He and Robinson explored the moor together and appropriated the surname of Robinson’s coachman, Harry Baskerville.
Doyle decided early on to make the tale a Sherlock Holmes mystery, presumed to be an episode in Holmes’ earlier career, before his fatal grapple with Professor Moriarty at the Reichenbach Falls. Writing to the editor of the Strand Magazine, Herbert Greenhough Smith, to tell him about the new story, he stipulated that Fletcher Robinson’s name must appear as joint author. ‘I can answer for the yarn being all my own in my own style without dilution, since your readers like that. But he gave me the central idea and the local colour, and so I feel his name must appear.’ This was finally watered down to a note added to the first part, recording Doyle’s indebtedness to Fletcher Robinson, to whom ‘this story owes its inception’ and ‘who has helped me both in the general plot and in the local details.’ The British and American editions in book form also acknowledged Robinson’s help.