On a rainy October day in London (because it’s London in October, of course it’s raining) my husband and I took the bus to Central London. Our destination was a place that I’d been looking forward to visiting since moving to London two years ago. And honestly, a rainy, cloudy day seemed almost fitting. I tried to convince my husband that we should arrive by a horse driven hansom cab, but he said no on the grounds that it would hold up traffic. Spoil sport.
The address 221b Baker Street is iconic in the realms of fiction. It was the home of the world’s greatest detective Sherlock Homes, his friend and partner Dr. John Watson and their landlady Mrs. Hudson from 1881-1904. The Georgian terrace house in London was built in 1815 and was in fact a registered lodging house from 1860-1934. The house is a listed Grade 2 of special architectural and historical interest by Her Majesty’s Government. In 1990 the site became the Sherlock Holmes Museum.
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle released his first Sherlock Holmes story, A Study in Scarlet, in 1886 and from that point on Victorian England, and indeed the whole world, was hooked. There have been numerous films and television shows based upon Holmes, most recently the much-acclaimed BBC show Sherlock. Yearly, thousands of people visit the museum and I was super excited to go.
Having paid £15 each and waiting in line (or queue since we’re in the UK) and had our tickets checked by an old-timey police officer, we entered the hallway and up the stairs to the sitting room. Walking in is much like walking into the past. The entire house is meticulously decorated in the classic Victorian style, but including an 1880’s chemists set, Sherlock’s violin and bullet holes in the wall spelling QV for the Queen (done by Sherlock out of boredom). The whole effect was both homey and quirky. The sitting room is set up as described in the stories and it is easy (and heartwarming) to see that BBC’s Sherlock made nods to this in their set design.
Next to the sitting room is Sherlock’s bedroom. As in most homes from this period all of the rooms were very small, and it was crowded with a bed, dresser, desk and small corner fireplace. The walls were covered in newspaper clippings and photos of criminals, and on the bed, in a glass case, is Sherlock’s iconic hat (called a deer-stalking hat for some strange reason. Does it make you invisible to deer? It’s a mystery).
I was completely charmed and would happily have moved into that room (minus the crime photos of course). I have a weakness for cozy rooms with fireplaces.
Going up the well-worn stairs to the next floor I couldn’t help but imagine all the people that had walked these same stairs in the last 200 years. The staircase was narrow and steep, like all staircases in London (it’s like the people that designed them wanted you to fall and break your neck), and at each landing there is a large window to let in the weak light from a cloudy and rainy day.
On the second floor were Watson’s room on one side and Mrs. Hudson’s on the other. Watson’s room included medical instruments and the desk where the Doctor recorded their adventures. Under the mounted head of the Hound of Baskerville (possibly my favorite thing. Not because I like mounted heads, but because it was so obviously fake), were letters written to Sherlock Holmes from fans across the world. I took the time to read a letter from a 14-year-old Chinese fan dated from this year, thanking Sherlock for inspiring her to work hard in school so that she might someday become a detective.
Mrs. Hudson’s room has been given over to some … disturbing … wax figures depicting Sherlock and Watson’s most famous cases, including arch-nemesis Moriarty. Again, I’d happily move into the house tomorrow, but those creepy mannequins would have to go, particularly the one hanging out of a hole in the ceiling. Can you imagine running into that when you get up in the middle of the night to use the bathroom? The top floor is simply a small bathroom and a loft that stored old trunks and suitcases from the era but I was once again charmed.
I wanted to spend more time exploring but the whole place was packed with tourists and I find crowds a bit overwhelming. We did a quick run through the gift shop next door, where they of course sell the Sherlock-Stalking-Deer hat (I made a bee-line to try one on but noticed a couple getting told off for doing just that. I suppose it makes sense, who wants to buy a hat that a hundred other people have tried on? Eww.) We bought a few souvenirs (no stalking poor defenseless animals hats) and then headed home.
All in all, the museum is well worth the £15. The folks that work in the museum were full of information about every single object and happily answered any questions. The attention to detail in decoration was amazing. It was of course crowded, and there is never a time that there’s not a line of people waiting to enter (we went on a Wednesday morning in October for example), but that simply shows how much Sherlock Holmes has impacted the imagination for over 100 years. In a city as full of history as London, the Sherlock Holmes Museum really does make you feel like you’ve stepped back in time.
Incidentally, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle was a Spiritualist. He regularly frequented mediums and psychics, and often hosted séances in his home. How tempting it must have been for Conan Doyle to have one of Sherlock’s mysteries solved by a medium, but he never did. I for one am glad, because that would be cheating.
Sidney Fraser is an American transplanted to a new life in London, where she explores fannish and geeky places, events and creations, which she relates in the continuing True and Proper Adventures of Sidney Fraser.