Cromer Hall (Doyle's inspiration for Baskerville Hall)
A few days ago I was watching Castle Secrets And Legends on the Travel Channel. One of the segments was about Cromer Hall in England (located just outside Cromer, about 140 miles or so northeast of London). The Cabell family have been owner and residents of Cromer Hall for the last 150 years.
A local legend told to a visiting Conan Doyle, along with the physical description of the actual Cromer Hall built in 1829, are said to have been Doyle's inspiration for The Hound Of The Baskervilles published in 1902. Being a Sherlock Holmes fan, I caught the episode again on a rerun and this time gave it my full attention while taking some notes. I augmented that information with a little research, starting with locating Cromer on a map.
According to a legend told to Doyle, on August 5, 1577, a large black Hound of Hell materialized in a local church and brutally mauled two people to death. The hound glared at the other people in the church with red blazing eyes, then disappeared leaving only a scorched claw mark on the stone wall to confirm its presence—a mark that remains to this day. The beast was called Black Shuk and blamed for all unexplained gruesome happenings that took place after that.
Another legend tells of Richard Cabell, a 17th century country squire. After seriously mistreating a village girl, he was hunted by wild hounds until he died of a heart attack. Considered to have been an evil man and feared by the local villagers, they entombed his body in a small building by the church and placed a heavy stone slab on top of his grave so he couldn't escape.
The Cabell family has their own version of this legend. Richard Cabell believed his wife had been unfaithful. He chased her out into the night and viciously stabbed her to death. Her loyal dog retaliated by tearing him to pieces.
Doyle took the basics of the the three legends along with a detailed description of Cromer Hall, and transported it all to Dartmoor. And the name Baskerville? The coachman who drove him to Cromer Hall for his visit was named…Henry Baskerville.
The popularity of the story continues today. Devotees of The Hound Of The Baskervilles often dress in period clothes, including the infamous deerstalker cap, and search Dartmoor for the origins of the story. They do need to keep in mind that it's a fictional story, not a documentary.