|The London of Sherlock Holmes|
Red-Headed League,'' Holmes remarks to Watson, ''It is a hobby of mine to have an exact
knowledge of London.'' So, using his tales, I set out to follow Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's
clues on foot.
pilgrim will be surprised by the mix of old and modern buildings in Baker Street. This
heavily trafficked artery between Regent's Park and Oxford Street is filled with small
businesses, sandwich shops and banks, and doesn't always evoke hansom cabs clip-clopping
along cobbled streets - especially in the morning rush hour!
along Baker Street have over the years tried to foster an informal association with the
detective, and Holmes's fictional address 221b Baker Street. Some businesses such as the
dry cleaners and a bank have even posted 'historical plaques' on their properties not far
from the Baker Street Underground station. The first time I found them, an English friend
turned to me and said, ''Don't you think it is odd we are standing here, looking for the
imaginary address of an imaginary person?''
has assumed a reality few fictional characters have. The Sherlock Holmes Museum has a
full-time employee answering 40 to 100 letters and requests a week addressed to him. His
221-B Baker Street vies with No. 10 Downing Street as the most famous address in London -
but who could argue with the claim that 221b Baker Street is in fact the most famous
address in the world?
|Things on Baker
Street have changed in the last 10 years. G. K. Chesterton, noting the astonishing
popularity of Conan Doyle's creation, proposed 70 years ago that London needed a statue of
Holmes. Though it took decades, that idea was finally realized in September 1999, when a
nine-foot bronze statue by the English sculptor John Doubleday was unveiled outside of the
Marylebone exit of the Baker Street station. The imposing and calm Holmes, holding his
pipe, now looms over his rightful place, providing the magnet his followers have always
first stop for any visitor to London - Holmes fan or not - must be the Sherlock
Holmes Museum, an evocation of No. 221-B, even to the 17 steps to the first-floor rooms
that were reputably occupied between 1881-1904 by the Great Detective and his
faithful friend Doctor Watson. Everything in the three-story museum is presented in an
agreeably understated manner, without the hyper-appeal of lasers and holograms found at so
many new London attractions. Nothing is displayed that is not mentioned in the stories,
and the crowded and ornate Victorian spell is so expertly cast that you feel Holmes and
Watson may walk in at any moment.
Museum's souvenir shop is the largest shop in the world specialising in Holmesian items
such as walking sticks, deerstalker hats, pipes, chess sets and hundreds of other items.
It also has a great collection of "Mrs Hudson's" antiques for sale.
making one's way down Baker Street, it is worth turning off along Paddington Street to see
Sherlock Mews and also James Taylor & Co., shoemaker to Sherlock Holmes. Back on Baker
Street, No. 109 is one of the few three-story red brick flats on the street dating from
1900, looking also as No. 221-B might have in Conan Doyle's day. Baker Street would have
been quiet and placid in that era.
|As you near
Oxford Street, you will come across the Wallace Collection in Manchester Square, one
of London's loveliest museums. The Wallace's quiet, ornate galleries provide a welcome
respite from the city's pace. It has many paintings by the Vernets, a French family of
painters, in Rooms 11 and 23. In ''The Greek Interpreter,'' Holmes confesses to Watson
that he is descended from the Vernet family, and ''art in the blood is liable to take the
Oxford Street, it's a short walk east to Regent Street, which curves splendidly to
Piccadilly Circus. On the left, just where it curves at the Quadrant, is the Cafe Royal, a
splendidly elegant French restaurant since 1865 and the place where Holmes was attacked in
''The Adventure of the Illustrious Client.''
|A little farther
on, opposite the Eros statue in Piccadilly Circus, was the Criterion Bar, where Watson
first heard mention of Holmes, an eccentric fellow studying at St. Bartholomew's Hospital
who needed a roommate. Past the Circus on Regent are the stately clubs of Pall Mall, one
of which might have been the Diogenes Club, Holmes's brother Mycroft's club, where members
were forbidden to speak.
Turning east, continue to Charing Cross Road, the great avenue that just before the young Sherlock arrived in London, was cut through from Oxford Street to Trafalgar Square, sweeping aside some of the poorest slums. The Victorians boldly transformed the London of Dickens into that of Conan Doyle, creating not just Charing Cross Road, but rebuilding Regent Street, enlarging Piccadilly Circus, laying out the great Shaftesbury Avenue, and most magnificently of all, constructing the three-mile Embankment along the Thames.
|In front of the
Charing Cross Hotel, you can stand near the spot where Holmes caught a spy, where Watson
banked (and kept his box of notes) and where, just across the street, they sent off urgent
telegrams. It is here, not Baker Street, where the most incidents in the Holmes saga are
|Among the many
bookstores of Charing Cross, Murder One is a must for anyone who loves detective stories.
It claims to stock every mystery story in print in Britain, and specializes in Sherlock
Holmes material from all over the world. South of Murder One, along Cecil Court, where
there are clusters of specialty book shops, Nigel Williams has a good selection of first
editions of Conan Doyle.
After Charing Cross Road becomes Tottenham Court Road, a right onto Great Russell Street leads to the British Museum, across from which is the Museum Tavern. This place, the pub in Holmes's Christmas tale, ''The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle,'' seems hardly changed. The outside lamps are gas, inside is old wooden paneling. When he came to London in the late 1870's, Holmes lived around the corner on Montague Street, near where Conan Doyle himself lived when he moved to London.
|Heading south on
Shaftesbury and then on Neal Street brings you to Covent Garden, where the Christmas goose
in ''The Blue Carbuncle'' was procured. The bustling wholesale flower, vegetable and fruit
markets of Holmes's era have been swept away, replaced by crowds enjoying performance art
and singers putting on free shows.
Nothing satisfied Holmes more after the conclusion of a particularly baffling case than to end the evening at the renowned Simpson's-in-the-Strand. Strolling south to the Strand, you'll pass the recently renovated Royal Opera House, often attended by Holmes in its previous incarnation. See as well the police court on Bow Street where Holmes makes an astonishing deduction to conclude ''The Man with a Twisted Lip.''
its classic English menu and white-vested formal waiters, has been a part of the London
scene since 1828, one of the few places that allows you to feel that you have entered
Victorian society. All it takes is reservations (and a tie for gentlemen) and there you
are, being soberly served as if you were Prime Minister Gladstone, who came for the
rolling steamers of roast beef or lamb ready to be cut to one's specifications. Amid the
gleaming crystal and old dark Adam paneling, it's clear why Watson describes in 1902 the
pleasures to be had sitting here at a table ''looking down at the rushing stream of life
on the Strand.''
favorite destination of Sherlockians is a small pub tucked in at the turn of
Northumberland Street, near Charing Cross Station. The Sherlock Holmes Public House and
Restaurant, near Old Scotland Yard and the Turkish baths frequented by Holmes and Watson,
is in what was the Northumberland Arms, the hotel mentioned in the greatest of all mystery
stories. It was there that Henry Baskerville stayed when he arrived in England to claim
his inheritance, and only his finding a boot in the hallway started Holmes toward a
solution to the deadly curse of the Baskervilles.
|The pub is often
crowded and serves good ales and classic pub grub. Exhibits line the walls detailing the
adventures of the great detective, including a mounted head of the ghastly hound, an army
service revolver of the type Watson carried, and old Strand Magazine drawings by the
master illustrator Sidney Paget. Upstairs, a 10-by-12-foot reproduction of the famous
sitting room of 221-B, created for the 1952 Festival of Britain by the Abbey National
Bank, is on display, too. Behind glass is a wax figure of Holmes in the window by which he
foiled an assassination attempt in ''The Empty House,'' and the violin, and the pipe rack
and the morphine needles of Holmes's most unfortunate habit.
|A bit more
refined menu is served upstairs in a crowded room with a clublike atmosphere. I ordered
Mrs. Hudson's Steak and Ale Pie (named for Holmes's landlady), a grand, flaky puff pastry
atop generous portions of cubed steak and potatoes, which came with a wonderful salad.
|On my last night
in London, I managed to return to the pub 10 minutes before it closed. Savoring the
special Sherlock Holmes Ale, I sat outside as a street cleaner swept the deserted
Westminster Street. Soon, I found myself strolling along the Strand, remembering the
passage from ''The Resident Patient'' when Holmes turns to Watson and says: ''But the
evening has brought a breeze with it. What do you say to a ramble through London?"
|Many London sites
and restaurants with links to Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes stories are either in
the Regent's Park area or easy walking distance from Trafalgar Square.
|The Baker Street
Underground station is served by many lines, including the Bakerloo, Metropolitan and
Circle. The platform for the Jubilee line is adorned with murals illustrating the Holmes
tales. As you emerge from the Marylebone exit of the station, you immediately come upon
the new Sherlock Holmes statue - if not Sherlock Holmes himself handing out his personal
business cards on behalf of the Museum.
|The Nos. 13
and 139 buses run between Baker Street and Trafalgar Square.
Holmes Museum, 221-B Baker Street, London NW1 6XE, (44-171) 935-8866, is a charming
three-story evocation of the great detective's house, with book and gift shop. Open daily
9:30 a.m to 6 p.m. Admission costs adults $8.40; $5.60 for ages 6 to 16, at $1.40 to the
Collection, Hertford House, Manchester Square, W1M, (44-171) 935-0687. Known for its
collection of 18th-century French art, it is open Monday to Saturday 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.,
and Sunday 2 to 5 p.m. Free.
|Where to Eat|
100 Strand WC2R OEW, (44-171) 836-9112, offers elegant dining (jacket and tie are required
in the Grande Divan room), with somber and solicitous service and classic English fare --
beef cut to order from rolling steam tables, and Yorkshire pudding. Open daily for lunch
and dinner (dinner only in the Grande Divan on Saturday). Dinner for two with wine costs
|Where to Stay|
|Please see our links section for reserving hotels in London or contact us at the Museum with your requirements and we will suggest a hotel.|