Sherlock Holmes in Carlisle mystery
Last updated at 10:27, Tuesday, 23 November 2010
It is 1903 and Sherlock Holmes and Dr Watson step off the Euston train at Carlisle station.
The most prized possessions of the local army regiment, the Arroyo drums, have mysteriously been stolen and the super sleuths have been invited to the city to get to the bottom of it.
So runs the plot of a novel by Cumbrian author Martin Daley. Martin has borrowed Arthur Conan Doyle’s famous detectives for his novel The Adventure of the Spanish Drums, which has just been reprinted in a new edition.
It is a work of fiction of course, but the prized possessions it describes are real. The Arroyo drums are on display to all visitors to the King’s Own Border Regiment Museum in Carlisle Castle – and are one of its top attractions.
Martin invented the story of their theft through a combined interest in local history, crime fiction generally and the Sherlock Holmes stories in particular.
“I’ve always been a big fan of Arthur Conan Doyle, and I thought it would be fun to write a Sherlock Holmes adventure set in Carlisle,” the author explains. “I wondered how I was going to get him here.
“But anybody who has read the books knows that Dr Watson is a military man, so I decided to have an ex-colleague of his to invite Holmes and Watson to the city. What’s better than investigating the theft of the regiment’s most prized possessions?”
Arthur Conan Doyle’s stories are meticulously dated, and Martin had to be careful to find a time among them when Sherlock Holmes could have made the trip to Carlisle.
“You can’t have him up here while he’s investigating the Hound of the Baskervilles! I’ve tried to be as faithful to the canon as possible and slot my story in at an appropriate time.”
Martin could be said to be a man of letters in two senses. The 46-year-old author worked for many years for the Royal Mail before he turned to writing, after uncovering the story of his great, great grandfather Isaac Scott, a veteran of the Crimean War.
“I was amazed to find such a lot of information about him and once I had this mound of material I thought: ‘What can I do with it?’ “I decided I’d try to put it down in book form, and that gave me the writing bug. When it sold a few copies and got some decent reviews it spurred me on to do other things.”
So 10 years ago Martin left his Royal Mail job in Chester to return to his home city of Carlisle and devote more of his time to writing.
His other works of local history include an account of the Carlisle floods in 2005. But crime fiction is an area he is now developing, and he is currently working on a series of short novels featuring his own fictional detective, Cornelius Armstrong.
The Arroyo drums may be the subject of a novel but they have an interesting story of their own, as the museum’s assistant curator Tony Goddard relates. Their tale begins in France more than 200 years ago.
“They were presented to the French army’s 34th regiment by Napoleon Bonaparte himself, when it was founded in 1796.” he explains.
But at the Battle of Arroyo dos Molinas in 1811 – an important episode in the Napoleonic Wars – they fell into the hands of France’s bitter enemy, Britain.
“The French were annihilated,” Tony says.
“Britain lost around 80 men, but France lost more than 1,500.”
And in a further humiliation, the drums that Napoleon had given the regiment were captured.
Sergeant Major Moses Simpson – whose medals are also on display at the museum – also snatched the drum major’s mace. “We often speculate about the exchange of words when he took it!”
The drums still bear bullet marks from the battle, but they were still used in parades to commemorate its anniversary every October 28 until they retired in 2006 and took up residence in the museum.
The commemoration still takes place every October, using replica drums.
The original drums could soon be moving home again.
Tony says the museum is currently “bursting at the seams” and has received an initial grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund allowing it to move to a larger home, in the Alma Block in the castle grounds.
It is now trying to raise £750,000 towards the project.
“There’s always a lot of interest in the drums,” he adds.
“But they have only been stolen once – from the French – and they’ve never been stolen since. After all, they’ve always been under military guard!”
But if they had been stolen, Sherlock Holmes and Dr Watson would undoubtedly have found them.
The Adventure of the Spanish Drums by Martin Daley is published by Irregular Special Press and costs £7.50.
First published at 09:10, Saturday, 20 November 2010
Published by http://www.newsandstar.co.uk