by Yoland


Ruyton of the XI Towns has never been a place for famous people to settle, or even visit, although Charles Darwin might have passed through on his way to visit his friends at Woodhouse, in the township of Rednal.

However, our one claim to fame is that the young Arthur Conan Doyle spent 4 months in the village as a Medical Assistant while he was still a student at Edinburgh University.  In order to reduce the financial drain on his mother, young Arthur decided he could compress a year`s study into 6 months, so allowing him to have some months each year to work as a Medical Assistant.

In the summer of 1878 Arthur Conan Doyle was accepted as Medical Assistant to Dr. Henry F. Elliot in “a small townlet in Shropshire which rejoiced in the extraordinary name of Ruyton of the Eleven Towns.”.

The young man would have arrived at Baschurch station and taken in a horse and trap to Cliffe House, the Doctor`s house at the end of Pound Lane, in the village Doyle described as “not big enough for one town, far less eleven”. 

Cliffe House is a mock Georgian mansion with a timber framed farm house buried deep inside the early 19th century fašade.  There is a side entrance (nearest to the village) which was a waiting room on the right of the door and surgery on the left.  Above these two rooms is accommodation for just such a young Medical Assistant as Arthur Conan Doyle.

Dr. Elliot was a member of the Parochial Church Council, an active member of the Temperance Society, and he was also involved with the Oddfellows friendly society which met in the Admiral Benbow Inn.

Conan Doyle was a keen footballer and cricketer and might well have joined in village sporting activities.

Doyle describes his medical duties as of a routine nature.  However, one incident did remain in his memory for many years.  Dr. Elliot was away from home when a `half crazed messenger` came to the door with a story of dire emergency.   Some people at a nearby big house had been celebrating with an old canon which, when fired, had exploded and a bystander had received a chunk of metal in his head.

This was the first time the young student had been faced with an emergency when everyone was depending on his skills.  First he removed the piece of metal revealing an area of  white skull, so assumed the brain was intact.  He bandaged the man`s head and gloried in being the hero of the day – elementary, my dear Watson.

This incident probably occurred at *Park House where it was known that a canon had been brought back from some skirmish and it had even been suggested that the implement of war might be placed in the area of the Castle, however, that would also be in the grounds of the church so the idea was soon quashed

* Park House is now Packwood Haugh School and can be seen across the River Perry valley from the back of the churchyard.

Of  his stay here he wrote “There for four months I helped in a country practice.  It was a very quiet existence and I had a good deal of time to myself under very pleasant circumstances, so that I really trace some little mental progress to that period for I read and thought without interruption.”

Although Conan Doyle wrote in his autobiography, `Memories and Recollections`,  “my stay in Ruyton had been a happy one and I had happy memories of Dr. Elliot and his wife,”   there is one incident which shows it was not entirely all sweetness and light at Cliffe House. 

Doyle described Elliot in letters as “not having an original thought in his head and flying into a rage if his assistant dared to postulate any such thoughts”.  Once Doyle had he temerity to suggest that hanging should be abolished, Dr. Elliott turned purple in the face and forbade any such remarks to be uttered in his house again.

When, at the end of his four month stay, Conan Doyle asked for his train fare back to Edinburgh, he received the reply “If an assistant has a salary he is then a recognised person and can claim expenses.  But if he has no salary, he becomes as it were, a gentleman travelling for his own improvement”.  `Nothing` cannot have helped pay for the family`s groceries in Edinburgh which had been the original reason for applying for the job of medical assistant.

Strangely there was a more recent connection between Ruyton and the great Victorian writer.  Evelyn Vaughan whose family, until 1977, farmed at Clifton House, on the Little Ness Road,  originally came from Dorich in Warwickshire.  Her father, Daniel Shirt and the elderly Conan Doyle were close friends, brought together by their mutual interest in Spiritualism, the occult and socialism.



 Arthur C-D  Cliffe Hse  Packwood
 Arthur Conan Doyle as a young man
Cliffe House at the top of Pound Lane   Park House, now Packwood School

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