‘Sherlock Holmes’ and the curious case of Welwyn Garden City man George Edalji

George Edalji

George Edalji - Credit: Archant

WHAT do Sherlock Holmes, Welwyn Garden City and a curious case of animal cruelty, which outraged the nation, all have in common?

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle - Credit: Archant

he answer is George Edalji, who died six decades ago today.

9 Brocket Close

9 Brocket Close - Credit: Archant

The Welwyn Garden City resident was exonerated of horse-ripping and injuring other animals, thanks to real-life detective work by Sherlock Holmes creator Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.

The Edalji family

The Edalji family - Credit: Archant

Edalji was wrongly convicted of the infamous ‘Wyrley Outrages’, and went on to live in WGC, where he died in 1953.

George Edalji

George Edalji - Credit: Archant

He was born in 1876, the son of the vicar Great Wyrley, in Staffordshire, and eventually came to live in Brocket Close, off Valley Road, from around 1930.

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Edalji came to national prominence when he was arrested and convicted of injuring animals in 1903.

The resulting furore caused a sensation, as a series of slashings of horses, cows and sheep revolted the nation.

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In October 1903, Edalji was tried and convicted for the eighth attack, on a pit pony, and sentenced to seven years with hard labour.

His family had been the victims of a long-running campaign of untraceable abusive letters and anonymous harassment in 1888 and 1892 to 1895.

Further letters alleged he was partially responsible for the ‘outrages’, which caused police suspicion to focus on him as their prime suspect.

Edalji was subsequently released in 1906 after a series of dignitaries pleaded his case, but he was not pardoned, and the police kept him under surveillance.

It was at this point that the creator of the deerstalker-clad detective of 221B Baker Street took up the case.

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle was persuaded to ‘turn detective’ to prove Edalji’s innocence. And, after eight months of sleuthing, Conan Doyle achieved his aim and Edalji was exonerated by a Home Office committee of enquiry, though no compensation was awarded. Possibly due to the poisonous treatment of the family in Great Wyrley, which included the abusive letters, they moved to Welwyn Garden City.

Shaun O’Reilly, chairman of the WGC Society, believes it is the town’s enlightened outlook which attracted the Anglo-Indian family to the area.

He told the Welwyn Hatfield Times: “He may have come to live here as he found it a forward thinking place in those days that may have been free of prejudice.”

And Mr O’Reilly said the miscarriage of justice that led to Edalji’s conviction had had a lasting legacy.

“His own case gave rise to the setting up of a criminal Court of Criminal Appeal and we must all be grateful to him for that,” he added.

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