Plot Summary of the Adventure of the Priory School

Updated on September 9, 2018

The Adventure of the Priory School was written by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle for publication in Collier’s Magazine on 30th January 1904, and a few days later in the Strand Magazine, the preceding story in the Sherlock Holmes canon being The Adventure of the Solitary Cyclist.

Subsequently, The Adventure of the Priory School would be republished in 1905 as part of the collection work, The Return of Sherlock Holmes.

The Adventure of the Priory School was one of the stories favoured by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, and the author would rank it amongst his favourite dozen tales.

The Adventure of the Priory School commences with a series of disappearances, first a school boy, the Lord Saltire, and then a schoolmaster and a bicycle; although the case quickly develops into one of murder and kidnapping.

Holmes sets out to follow the clues, but soon the clues are obliterated, and the detective is forced to deduce what has happened. Holmes’ deductions are confirmed when he observes all he needs to see at a local inn.

The Adventure of the Priory School shows how Holmes has his own sense of justice, a view which might not match the British criminal justice system, and the detective is willing to allow a guilty party to go free if it is in the interest of his client.

The Adventure of the Priory School would famously be adapted for the small screen when Grenada TV adapted the story, with Jeremy Brett playing Sherlock Holmes. Granada was well known for keeping with the original storylines, but in the case of The Adventure of the Priory School the end is altered greatly, showing the guilty do not get away with their deeds.

Thorneycroft Huxtable

Sidney Paget (1860-1908) - PD-life-100
Sidney Paget (1860-1908) - PD-life-100 | Source

Spoiler Alert - Plot Summary

The Adventure of the Priory School commences when Thorneycroft Huxtable collapses with exhaustion in the rooms of Sherlock Holmes at 221B Baker Street.

Huxtable is soon brought around by Dr Watson, and then the client starts to explain the desperate situation he finds himself in.

One of the pupils at his school, the Priory School in Mackleton, was the Lord Saltire, the son of the Duke of Holderness, one of the country’s richest men. The son had been sent to the school after the separation of his mother and father, and although the Lord Saltire was upset by the situation, he had appeared to be happy at the school.

This though meant that his disappearance on Monday night even more inexplicable, for the young Lord Saltire had climbed down an ivy plant that ran down the wall next to his bedroom.

When the disappearance of the pupil had been discovered, it was also found that Heidegger, the German teacher, and his bicycle, had disappeared as well.

The Duke of Holderness has offered the combined sum of £6,000 for the safe return of his son; but 2 days had elapsed with no development, aside from a red herring.

Holmes of course takes up the case and tries to seek out a link between the missing boy and the German teacher, but no link comes immediately. Of interest to Holmes though, was the fact that on the day of his disappearance the missing boy had received a letter seemingly from his father.

Holmes meets the Duke and his secretary, Mr Wilder, and learns that the Duke of Holderness is actually quite upset to hear that Holmes had been called in on the case. Holmes though will not leave the case, and will investigate for himself if the Duke is not interested in his services; of course, the Duke relents.

There is but one road that passes by the school, but it is quickly proved that neither the missing boy, nor the teacher, had passed along it, and so attention it turned to the desolate moor that surrounds the school and Holderness Hall; but that leads to a question about what has happened to the missing bicycle.

Misleading clues abound, including a school cap in the possession of a band of gypsies, and bicycle tracks not made by the missing bicycle, and additional tracks obliterated by the imprints of cow’s hooves.

The search did not prove totally fruitless though, for eventually they found the missing teacher, but unfortunately he was dead, killed by a blow to the head.

Holmes though he starting to put the clues together. The boy had departed of his own free will, and in a planned departure in the company of another, and obviously on some form of transport that required the teacher to take a bicycle to keep up with them.

Holmes and Watson head to one of the few buildings in sight of the path they were traversing, an inn run by Reuben Hayes. Holmes tries to gather information from the innkeeper, initially thinking that there is a bicycle hidden somewhere near, but the detective soon learns that Hayes has a dislike of the Duke, having once been sacked by him.

The Murdered Schoolmaster

Sidney Paget (1860 - 1908) - PD-life-100
Sidney Paget (1860 - 1908) - PD-life-100 | Source

Holmes then realises that they had observed plenty of cow tracks on the path today, but no cows. Holmes starts to examine the hooves of horses stabled at the inn, but an angry Reuben Hayes suddenly emerges from the inn.

Holmes and Watson depart for Holdernesse Hall, and shortly afterwards, James Wilder passes them heading for the inn. Holmes and Watson quickly return to the inn where Holmes observes everything he needs.

The next morning the pair visit the Duke, where they are told he is ill in bed, but eventually they are allowed to talk to him. Holmes wishes to talk without the secretary there. Before Holmes reveals everything he knows to the Duke though he requests a cheque for the full reward money, and the Duke eventually makes out the cheque.

Then Holmes comes out with the solution, the missing boy was the previous night at the local inn, and the Duke knew all about it, Holmes having seen the Duke with his son at the inn the previous night.

The Duke seeks to hush things up, but Holmes points out that there is a case of murder to answer; although the Duke pushes the blame for this on the ruffian hired by his secretary. The Duke is indeed trying hard to save the secretary from all blame.

Holmes has already thought ahead, realising that the Duke might want to avoid scandal and the detective had already arranged for Reuben Hayes to be arrested. The Duke then reveals the amazing fact that James Wilder is not just his secretary but also his illegitimate son.

The Duke had done his best for his illegitimate son, but Wilder hated his half-brother for his legitimacy. The Duke had sent Lord Saltire to the Dr Huxtable’s school to avoid friction between the two.

The distance between the two though had proved too little, and so Wilder had decided to kidnap the Lord Saltire with the help of Reuben Hayes, in the hope that the Duke would make him his heir rather than Lord Saltire. Wilder had inserted a note within the letter sent fro the Duke to his son, which had seen the Lord Saltire depart the school. Wilder though had been unaware that they had been followed, and had no knowledge that Hayes had done away with the pursuing school teacher.

When Wilder found out about the murder though, the secretary had thrown himself upon the mercy of his father, and the Duke had agreed to give Hayes time to escape in order that scandal could be avoided.

Now that Holmes knows all, the Duke could be in a serious position with the law, but Holmes does things his own way.

Holmes arranges for the Lord Saltire to be brought back from the inn, and leaves the silencing of Hayes to the Duke. The Duke has already made plans to bring harmony to the household, for Wilder is to be sent out to Australia, and the estranged Duchess has been invited home.

A final question is also answered by the Duke for the idea of shoding horses with cattle foot patterns, something which enabled the seemingly impossible passage along the pathway, was an idea taken from the Middle Ages.

Reuben Hayes

Sidney Paget (1860-1908) - PD-life-100
Sidney Paget (1860-1908) - PD-life-100 | Source

The Adventure of the Priory School

  • Date of Events - 1901
  • Client - Dr Thorneycroft Huxtable
  • Locations - Mackleton, Hallamshire
  • Villain - James Wilder & Reuben Hayes

Questions & Answers

  • What was the name of Reuben Hayes' inn in "The Adventure of the Priory School?

    Reuben Hayes was the proprietor of the Fighting Cock Inn.


Submit a Comment
  • FatBoyThin profile image

    Colin Garrow 

    4 years ago from Inverbervie, Scotland

    Excellent overview of the story, Colin, one of my favourites too (along with Arthur).


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