. When in London, I never miss the oportunity to visit 221B Baker Street: the (fictitious) home of the master detective Sherlock Holmes and his confidante, side kick, sounding board and companion Dr. Watson. The last time I went, I got the perfect weather for this foray too.
London on a later October afternoon. Darkness is already falling, gusts of wind and a fine drizzle creep under my raincoat and make me shiver. The streetlights are coming on and penetrate the fog which starts to rise from the ground. There could be no better environment, evocative of many a scene in English detective stories, not least those featuring one of the world’s most famous private eyes: Sherlock Holmes, the brain child of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.
A creature of fiction he may be, but it’s easy to forget as I approach 221B Baker Street, the apartment where Holmes lived and worked, in the company of his dear friend, assistant, biographer, sounding board and the narrator of the stories: Dr. John H. Watson. Both men being cared for and looked after by their landlady Mrs. Hudson.
The black painted door and railings on the green building which houses one of London’s most visited attractions hove into view. On the first floor, the master of disguise and deduction smoked his pipe, reflected in front of the fire place, received his often unsavory clients and exercised his exceptional brain cells to solve cases which left the police baffled. No better person than Dr. Watson to paint a vivid picture of life in 221B Baker Street as he did in ‘The Adventure of the Dying Detective’:
‘Mrs. Hudson, the landlady of Sherlock Holmes, was a long-suffering woman. Not only was her first-floor flat invaded at all hours by throngs of singular and often undesirable characters but her remarkable lodger showed an eccentricity and irregularity in his life which must have sorely tried her patience. His incredible untidiness, his addiction to music at strange hours, his occasional revolver practice within doors, his weird and often malodorous scientific experiments, and the atmosphere of violence and danger which hung around him made him the very worst tenant in London. On the other hand, his payments were princely. I have no doubt that the house might have been purchased at the price which Holmes paid for his rooms during the years that I was with him. The landlady stood in the deepest awe of him and never dared to interfere with him, however outrageous his proceedings might seem. She was fond of him, too, for he had a remarkable gentleness and courtesy in his dealings with women.’
A London Bobby greets visitors at the door and admits them to Sherlock’s home. Right inside the door, the smiling figure of the long suffering Mrs. Hudson in period costume and apron extends her wax hand which I am very tempted to shake.
Up a steep staircase lined with many photographs the Holmes enthusiast climbs to reach the famed living room with the fire place, where they both sit: Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson, comfortably ensconced in armchairs, pipe dangling from Sherlock’s lips whilst Dr. Watson creases his brow in thought and scribbles away at his narrative. Any moment I expect the detective to turn his head and exclaim: ‘elementary,’ one of his key words.
The place is full of wax figures not only of the characters of the Holmes short stories and novels but also of famous criminals like Jack the Ripper and Mary Ann Cotton. As with every museum the world over, this one has a shop downstairs where you can buy every imaginable item emblazoned with an image of either 221B Baker Street or Sherlock Holmes, as well as a collection of Doyle’s works and many more interesting books, posters and photographs.
Sherlock Holmes is the only person of fiction in the world to have his own house and museum. Due to the vivid descriptions Dr. Watson gives about Sherlock’s most personal habits, like occasionally taking cocaine (perfectly legal at the time) or being meticulous about his personal appearance but chaotic about his paperwork, it’s easy to forget that he is, after all, fiction and not a real person. Interestingly, there was a dispute about the numbering of the building which houses the museum as, at the time when Doyle created his detective and wrote his stories, a number 221B did not exist and this part of Marylebone Road was known as Upper Baker Street. The building was a boarding house during the period the tales of Arthur Conan Doyle are set and another interesting fact is, that his daughter, Dame Jean Conan Doyle was strongly opposed to the creation of a Sherlock Holmes Museum because it would reinforce the notion that Sherlock Holmes was a real person as opposed to a character of fiction created by her father.
But, there it is, blue plaque and all, in 221B Baker Street and any enthusiast of this icon of detectives should not miss the opportunity to visit a place full of mystery, history and just plain fun, which is also as British as British can be.
The museum is open every day (except Christmas Day) from 9.39am to 6pm and admission is GBP 6 per adult.