Keeping it in the Conan Doyle family
You’d expect an element of enigma to surround a tartan that is connected to Sherlock Holmes. But when Tania Henzell, creator and founder of Sherlock Holmes Tartan, saw the names attached to the first two orders to her new company, she was astounded.
‘The first order I got was for ties - and it was from a Mr Holmes. And the second order to be placed was from a Mr Sherlock. It was amazing. I thought it was a joke but they were at other sides of the country so I don’t think they knew one another and certainly weren’t to know they were the first and second orders,’ she says.
It was an appropriately mysterious start for Sherlock Holmes Tartan, which was launched in early 2018. Tania should be no stranger to intriguing stories given she is a family member of Sherlock Holmes author, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Her great grandfather was married to the writer’s youngest daughter, Jean Conan Doyle. They married three years before Tania was born and she has an abundance of fond memories of Jean from childhood into adulthood.
‘As a child, I remember them coming up for Christmas and going to visit them in Kent. Then, after my great-grandfather died when I was in my teens, I would go to see Jean in London a lot,’ says Tania. ‘I remember her eyesight wasn’t very good so she’d drive extremely slowly in her Rover car.’
Arthur Conan Doyle had five children – two by his first wife and three by his second and Jean, who was born in 1912, was the youngest of them all. She had a successful military career, becoming air commandant, which is the highest rank in the Women's Royal Air Force.
There was a painting of Arthur Conan Doyle in Jean’s house, recalls Tania. And, in another nod to her famous father, she owned a race horse called Brigadier Gerard, who was named after the hero who appeared in short stories, a novel and play written by him. Tania remembers her as having many great tales, as is fitting for the daughter of Sherlock Holmes’ creator.
‘She was full of stories,’ says Tania. ‘She had a wicked sense of humour and was full of fun.’
Tania is carrying on the family tradition of stories but through tartan, rather than words. Instead of A Study in Scarlet, Sherlock Holmes Tartan reflects the heritage of Arthur Conan Doyle, who was born in Edinburgh to an Irish mother and a father of Irish descent. The tartan features green to represent Ireland and blue for Scotland. Of course, Sherlock is also an inspiration for the design with the thin blue line edged with brown representing the Reichenbach Falls where Holmes fought with Moriarty. The gold line relates to Sherlock Holmes being the greatest detective of his time.
Design has always been part of Tania’s life. Her design career began with a fashion course at Eastbourne College before she went on to study at the Paris Academy of Fashion in London. She lived in Hong Kong and Japan before returning to the UK to live in Edinburgh. It was while residing in Scotland’s capital, where she still lives today, that she discovered her love of tartan.
The idea for Sherlock Holmes Tartan came to Tania in 2013 but, upon approaching the Conan Doyle Estate where her uncle is the director, she was advised that a copyright dispute meant the timing was wrong. She revisited the idea last year when, this time around, she was granted permission.
And so, just a few months later, Sherlock Holmes became the first fictional detective to have his own tartan and it’s being shipped all over the world. As the great man himself would say: ‘The game’s afoot!’