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Tuesday June 28, 2022

Letters to the Detective: A Visit to Sherlock Holmes Museum London

Sherlock Holmes statue London
Statue of Sherlock Holmes near Baker Street Tube station

As people stream out of the Baker Street Tube station in London, they are greeted by an imposing black statue of a man. The statue stands on a pedestal and is more than ten feet tall. Its presence is hard to overlook and most commuters hurrying out of the station almost stumble upon it as it stands a mere couple of feet from the exit. The man the statue represents is wearing a long coat and a hat. In one hand, he holds a pipe. Leaning forward slightly, he seems on the verge of asking passersby, “Where do you think you are going?”

Baker Street Tube Station Sherlock Holmes
Baker Street Tube Station

Most tourists emerging from the station flick a cursory glance at the statue before taking a quick left to cross the street and enter one of London’s most popular attractions – Madame Tussauds Wax Museum. But today, I chose not to follow the crowds. I paused to admire the statue outside the Tube station for a moment before turning right and strolling down to Baker Street which lay a few minutes away. 

My quest, that day, was to find the museum in London dedicated to a very popular fictional character whose statue I had just admired in front of the station— Detective Sherlock Holmes. And I was on my way to find his “home” on Baker Street that is, the Sherlock Holmes Museum. The task proved to be quite easy, as Baker Street was surprisingly devoid of crowds and I could walk along it without hindrance and note the house numbers. Soon, spotting the sign of a café marked “Sherlock Holmes Café”, I knew I was very close to my destination.

Road signage Sherlock Holmes Baker Street
221b Baker Street, Sherlock Holmes's 'address'

Across the street, amidst a row of Victorian-style two-storey brown houses stood a policeman guarding an entrance. I walked towards it. The house looked no different from the others that stood on either side. But on top of the doorway leading into it was a large blue circular signage. The white letters painted on it clearly identified it as 221B Baker Street. Another signage in green, hung on the wall above a street-level window, marked the place as the Sherlock Holmes Museum.

Sherlock Holmes Museum London
The Sherlock Holmes Museum

Looking smart in his black uniform and matching black helmet, the policeman at the entrance pointed me in the direction of the gate that led to the Museum Shop. This, it turned out, was the actual entrance to the museum. 

After buying my ticket, I began climbing up a very narrow wooden staircase that led to the building’s first floor. What struck me right away was the virtual absence of visitors. I soon realized that most people were likely to gravitate toward the better publicized Madame Tussauds Museum. The prospect of  exploring the Sherlock Holmes Museum almost on my own, without being jostled by crowds, was a truly appealing one.

As I reached the top of the staircase, I was greeted by a tour guide who stood at the entrance to a door which I, subsequently discovered, led to the fictional sleuth’s “study”. 

The lanky young man who had introduced himself as John was almost six feet tall and had long blonde hair. 

“Welcome!” he said. “I will give you a quick overview of the place and then leave you to explore it on your own.” 

I looked around to find that only three other visitors had turned up to see the museum.

Bending to avoid bumping his head against the lintel, John led me into the room which was set up to look like the fictional detective’s study.

“It is believed that Sir Arthur Conan Doyle himself, the creator of Sherlock Holmes, lived in a Victorian home like this one when he wrote his novels,” John informed me. “All these homes have very similar interiors.” 

The study inside Sherlock Holmes Museum in London
The 'Study'

Sherlock Holmes’s “study” was covered in dark pink wallpaper. On the floor lay a worn-out carpet. A collection of small objects, including a magnifying glass and some disguises, were arranged on the mantlepiece and on a table. On a side table was some chemistry equipment. All these items were the ones we could relate to when reminiscing about the famous cases featuring the famous detective.

On the center table was a deerstalker hat – a signature piece from Holmes’s wardrobe. The ear flaps were pulled over the head and held together with a button, giving it its unique look. 

Pointing to the two chairs standing in the middle of the room, our guide, John, turned to the small group and said, “Feel free to sit on any of the chairs, put on that hat and hold the pipe. I will be happy to take a photo of you.” 

We smiled in response and took turns to strike a pose and play at being Sherlock Holmes for a moment, while John took a photo of each one of us with an indulgent smile.

Inside Sherlock Holmes Museum London
You can spot the deerstalker hat on the centre table

Following his directions, I went around the house to the other two rooms – the bedrooms of Sherlock Holmes and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. They were by no means lavish; a small single bed and a cabinet constituted the main pieces of furniture. Since these houses were quite compact in size, the rooms they contained were rather small, perhaps, ten feet by five feet or so. But most of the artifacts, along with the memorabilia associated with Holmes’s cases, were displayed either in the drawing room or in the study. Right in the middle of all things fictional was something that jolted me back to reality: a collection of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s handwritten notes, made while he was writing The Hound of the Baskervilles. It reminded me that Sherlock Holmes was not a real person, after all, and that this museum was dedicated to a fictional character. But I soon realized there were others who hadn’t been able to make this important distinction. For on a table lay a big book, its pages open for all to read. It contained a collection of letters that had been addressed to Sherlock Holmes and sent to this address over the years. Most of these missives were more than half a century old and had been written by individuals seeking help. Quite a few, I was surprised to find, were from children anxious to locate their missing pets. But the letter that I was unlikely to ever forget contained a stern demand from England’s tax department that Mr. Sherlock Holmes should pay his dues forthwith. 

The bedroom at Sherlock Holmes Museum in London
Holmes' bedroom

As I stood there, laughing my head off at this priceless gem, John stared at me from the other side of the room. 

“Are you reading that tax letter?” he asked with a knowing smile. 

I nodded, even as I continued to chuckle to myself. 

It should be of little surprise to anyone why, among the many museums I have visited in London, this is the one I have always remembered with special fondness. To pick up a memento of my visit there, I explored the many options at the museum gift shop and chose what I considered to be the most appropriate: a copy of the London street sign in white, with black letters on it spelling out “Baker Street”. It looked exactly like the street signs seen on the walls of the buildings along Baker Street, but for one difference: this one had a small black silhouette of the fictional detective on the top right-hand corner.  I still cherish it enough to have given it a prominent place on my shelf dedicated to memorabilia and memories.

Information:

Sherlock Holmes Museum, 221B Baker Street, London NW1 6XE. Entrance ticket price: £15. Tube: Baker Street. Website: www.sherlock-holmes.co.uk.

Nearby: A five-minute walk from the Baker Street Tube stop will take you to Madame Tussauds Wax Museum, while Lords Cricket Ground is twenty minutes away on foot, and five minutes if you wish to hop on a black cab. A visit to the Sherlock Holmes Museum and its gift shop there should not take more than an hour and a half.

Image courtesy: Biswa Pratim Bhowmick, Wikimedia Commons


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