House of History: Once home to the most famous member of the Grove Hill Aristocracy

Dave Allan discovers the fascinating past of a Middlesbrough residence…

Bram Stoker’s Dracula is, of course, strongly associated with Whitby but the world’s most famous vampire would no doubt have approved of a lesser known piece of Transylvania that still stands today in Middlesbrough.

The beautiful building of Erdely has an incredible tale to tell, wrapped up with links to another great literary creation, Sherlock Holmes.

Hidden behind a high brick wall and thick trees just off Marton Road, close to the Highfield Hotel, Erdely was the childhood home of a once famous writer, EW Hornung, writer of a series of top-selling books in the late 19th century based on the character of Raffles, the Gentleman Thief.

The distinguished villa was built by Willie’s father, John Hornung, a Hungarian export merchant, who also served as vice-consul for Denmark, Norway and Sweden. Its name, Erdely, derives from the Hungarian name for Transylvania, once part of John’s country of birth.

Dating from the 1860s, Erdely was built along a stretch of what is now Marton Road but was then one of industrial boom-town Middlesbrough’s most select suburbs, Grove Hill.

While Teessiders will now know the name for the nearby council housing estate, back then Grove Hill referred to an area along an old toll road between Middlesbrough and Marton, extending from Borough Road to Belle Vue Grove, and featuring farmlands known as Longlands and Marton Grove.

The area – far from the noise and dirt of the town’s industry – became known for its dignified homes of distinguished persons, later dubbed by local artist Paul Stephenson as the Grove Hill Aristocracy.

Erdely – sometimes wrongly referred to as Erdley – was one of the most dignified and expensively-built residences in Grove Hill, with its own gate lodge.

Willie, as the young Hornung was known to friends and family, left his childhood home in Middlesbrough to attend public school when he was 13 in 1879 before going on to write a series of best-sellers based around his character, AJ Raffles, many of which have been adapted for television dramas.

He became the brother-in-law of the famous writer Arthur Conan Doyle, who penned the world-renowned tales about the fictional private detective, Sherlock Holmes.

Indeed, Hornung dedicated his book, The Amateur Cracksman, to his close friend Doyle. When Willie and his wife Connie had a son, they named him Arthur Oscar, with his first name in honour of Doyle – the baby’s godfather – and his middle name, by which he was known, probably after Doyle and Hornung’s mutual friend, the great poet and playwright Oscar Wilde. Sadly, Oscar was killed at Ypres in France during World War I when he just 20.

Erdely was later home to distinguished ironmaster Arthur Cooper, managing director of Acklam Iron Works and North Eastern Steel Company.

A Christian cross that stands outside the former villa – surrounded, bizarrely, by a modern housing estate – dates back to a time when Erdely was the convent to Sisters of the Holy Rood, from the 1920s to 1978. The order, which had opened Middlesbrough’s first hospital at Dundas Mews in 1859, eventually sold the property to Cleveland and Teesside Housing Association.

Erdely is now a temporary home for ex-offenders. AJ Raffles would no doubt approve.