Saturday, 1 October 2011

Following Sherlock Holmes around London

A Sherlock Holmes Walk around London  

- Arunabha Sengupta

At 221-B Baker Street, the most famous detective continues to live, enjoying celebrity status around the world.  Alighting at the Baker Street tube station, one finds his profile, pipe, deerskin cap an checked coat, looking from the corner of his eye, from the tiles that make up the station walls. 

Stepping outside, one sees the larger than life statue of the sleuth looking on at the passing traffic of Marylebone Road, fast cars and double decker buses having long replaced the beloved hansoms.

Japanese admirers of Holmes
When one follows the signs and reaches the museum at the most famous address of London, perhaps even with 10 Downing Street in contention, one sees a sign proclaiming it to be the residence of the consulting detective Sherlock Holmes. On pausing a minute of so, the international reputation of the man is revealed as the picture of this signboard is clicked by the Sonys, Fujis and Nikons of hundreds of Japanese tourists. 

Tickets to the museum are available from the Sherlock Holmes shop next door, which contains quaint collectibles – replicas of London double-decker buses, Sherlock Holmes busts and clocks, and free visiting cards of the detective.
The museum itself actually lies between numbers 237 and 241, but bears the number 221B, the literary discrepancy approved by the authorities. It is designed and maintained exactly as Holmes and Watson may have found it in the late nineteenth century.  Sherlock Holmes’ deerskin hat hangs near the doorway, cloth caps and pipes lie on old mahogany tables, tea pots, books, magnifying glass, hour glass, violins, barometer, shoe brush, measuring tapes and ancient revolvers are scattered around on the furniture, show cases and walls. One also finds a knuckle duster and recreated paraphernalia from the canon.
A stuffed mannequin of a Baker Street Irregular stands in the lobby.

The third floor is full of life size stuffed replicas of various characters of the novels and stories, including Holmes, Watson, the man with the twisted lip, Irene Adler, Jabez Wilson and many others. Another version of Dr. Watson sits in the sofa, and I think he is an animated mannequin who moves his eyes over the pages of a notebook. When I look back at him, he smiles and says, “Hello, I am Dr. Watson.” A nice touch.

Site of the Empty House
Coming out of Baker Street and walking south, one crosses the Merylebone Road and pauses in front of 118 Baker Street, currently next to a Travel Agency. It is the location of the Camden House, an empty building opposite the Baker Street residence of Holmes and Watson, where they wait to surprise Colonel Sebastian Moran in The Empty House.
Walking further east, through the Manchester Square, brings us to the intersection of Bentinck Street and Welbeck Street, where Holmes is almost run over by a van driven by Moriarty’s men in The Final Problem.

Welbeck and Queens
Turning right at Welbeck Street, we reach Queen Anne Street, where Watson takes rooms after moving out of the Baker Street lodgings in The Illustrious Client.

Langham Hotel
Heading east, after a while, we reach the Langham Hotel at Portland Place. It was here in this lavish hotel that Sir Arthur had received the commission for writing The Sign of Four - in the same meeting with the publisher which earned Oscar Wilde his commission for The Picture of Dorian Grey. Doyle used the same location as the place where Captain Morstan stays in the novel. There are other Holmes characters who take rooms in the same hotel – the King of Bohemia in A Scandal in Bohemia and the Hon. Philip Green in The Disappearance of Lady Frances Carfax. The hotel stands on Regent Street.

Scaffolding on Regent Street
Regent Street is, again. filled with Holmes incidents. In The Hound of the Baskervilles Holmes notices a can following Sir Henry Baskerville. The cabman later reveals that the pursuer had given his name as Mr. Sherlock Holmes.One can walk south down Regent street for around 20 minutes, enjoying the bustle an crowd and shopper’s splendour. Alternatively one can take Bus 12 or the Bakerloo Line tube to Picadilly Circus. Either way, one reaches 68 Regent Street, the site of Cafe Royal, in front of which Holmes is nearly killed by two men armed with sticks in The Illustrious Client. The two assailants escape by making their way through the establishment.  The problem with London at the moment is that as part of a beautification project gearing it up for 2012 Olympics, much of it is under scaffolding. So, this site may be hidden from the most incisive of investigative eyes.

The Critierion
However, a small distance ahead, at Piccadilly, we come to the Criterion theatre. In the first Sherlock Holmes novel, A Study in Scarlet, Watson is having a drink in this plush bar of Picadilly Circus when he bumps into young Stamford, and is told that a gentleman named Sherlock Holmes, a rather strange type, is looking for someone to share rooms.

Further south, we arrive at The London Library in St James Square, where Watson ventures to get hold of a goodly volume on Chinese pottery to help Holmes entrap Baron Gruner in The Illustrious Client.

Entrance to
the Athenaeum
Approaching Pall Mall, one comes across the Athenaeum, perhaps the inspiration behind the Diogenes Club, frequented by his gifted but laid back brother Mycroft.  Holmes meets Mycroft in The Greek Interpreter and tells Watson that his brother is “one of the queerest men” whose deductive powers far exceed his.

Going down towards the Mall, we run down the Duke of York Steps. In His Last Bow,  Baron Von Herling and Von Bork discuss getting a signal book through the "little door on the Duke of York steps".

Turning left past the ICA and heading along the Mall, we soon reach the Arch of Admiralty, which was ‘buzzing like an overturned beehive’ after the theft of the top secret submarine documents, the Bruce-Partington Plans.

From there to the Scotland Yard headquarters of the Metropolitan Police is a short walk. When first mentioned in the Holmes stories, they were based in the alleyway Great Scotland Yard, having since relocated to St. James Park.
At 16 Whitehall, when one comes back towards Charing Cross, stands the Lord of the Moon Mall. Earlier, it had been the Cox and Co., in whose vaults there was the travel worn and battered tin dispatch-box with John Watson painted upon the lid in Thor Bridge. Watson also kept the papers that recorded the Holmes cases in the box.

Further ahead, Charing Cross is the station from where almost all fictional characters have boarded trains to distant parts of England, Holmes and Watson being no exception. They take a Charing Cross train for Marsham in The Abbey Grange and for Chatham in The Golden Pince-Nez. However, in a rare bout of self criticism, Holmes declares in The Man with the Twisted Lip that he ought to be kicked from Neville St Clair’s home at Lee in Kent to Charing Cross for his unpardonable tardiness in thinking out the solution to the case. Irene Adler sets out from here on the 5.15 to the continent after outwitting the King of Bohemia and Holmes himself. In The Second Stain ‘a woman answering to the description of’ the Creole Mme Fournaye ‘attracted much attention at Charing Cross station by the wildness of her appearance and the violence of her gestures.’

However, what remains a mystery is why Mathews ‘knocks out the detective’s left canine in the waiting room of Charing Cross’ since it is made known to us only as an aside while Holmes researches villains with names starting with M in The Empty House.

On the Strand by the Charing Cross station also stood the Site of the American Exchange. In A Study in Scarlet, the police found two letters from the Guion Steamship Co., ‘one addressed to E.J. Drebber and one to Joseph Stangerson’ address American Express Strand. This used to be a kiosk outside the station, which Americans in London could use as a postal address. It is outside the station by the Exchange that in The Illustrious Client Watson catches a glimpse of the shocking headline on the newspaper being displayed by the one legged news vendor –‘Murderous attack on Sherlock Holmes’.

On the Strand at Charing Cross Station stands the Charing Cross Hotel, where Holmes sets a trap in the smoking room for Oberstein, the spy in The Bruce-Partington Plans, and prevents the top secret submarine papers from falling into enemy hands.

Behind the Charing Cross, at Northumberland Street at Craven Passage, there stands The Sherlock Holmes, a pub whose walls are full of manufactured memorabilia of the detective, including brier pipes and bent poker sticks.  There are also superb cuttings of a group of American men in the semaphoric positions of the characters in The Dancing Men welcoming Conan Doyle to a stateside town.  Upstairs there is a life size reconstruction of the sitting room of Holmes and Watson in Baker Street. Some even say that the pub, formerly Northumberland Arms, is actually the Northumberland Hotel where Sir Henry Baskerville stays in The Hound of the Baskervilles.

Behind this establishment used to stand, a century ago, Neville’s Turkish Baths, which Holmes and Watson visit at the start of The Illustrious Client, the date mentioned as 3rd September, 1902.
Coming back to Strand, we can extrapolate the site of the Charing Cross Post Office at no. 457. In Wisteria Lodge, John Scott Eccles makes himself known to Holmes by sending a telegram from this Post Office. Inspector Gregson finds Eccles by tracing the telegram to the old post office.

Walking ahead, the Craven Street cuts in. 43-46 of this street housed the Craven Family Hotel, based on which, in all probability, Conan Doyle wrote of the fictitious Mexborough Private Hotel, where Stapleton keeps his wife a prisoner in The Hound of the Baskervilles.
 Opposite the Charing Cross Station on the Strand, Watson dashes out of a cab through Lowther shopping arcade and into another cab on the other side as part of an elaborate getaway route during Holmes’s escape from Moriarty’s gang in The Final Problem. Lowther was demolished in 1904 and a branch of Coutt’s Bank has since been built on the site.
Walking east along Strand, we come to Agar Street at Chandos Place, which was the site of Charing Cross Hospital. On Dr. Mortimer’s walking stick, which he left at 221B Baker Street at the beginning of The Hound of the Baskervilles, is inscribed ‘from his friends of the CCH’. Holmes is also taken to the same hospital after being attacked outside the Cafe Royal in The Illustrious Client.

Further ahead, on Wellington Street, we come across the Lyceum Theatre, currently showing the spectacular stage version of Lion King. The future Mrs. Watson, Mary Morstan, meets an agent for the Sholtos, who have been sending her jewels from her late father’s treasure in The Sign of Four. A slight mix up of the dates of the appointment by Conan Doyle resulted in a four wheeler driving Morstan, Holmes and Watson from Wellington Street to Sholto’s Brixton villa through Rochester Row and Vincent Square, Westminster,  instead of straight over Waterloo Bridge.

It is from the aforementioned Waterloo Bridge that John Openshaw drowns in the water, probably murdered by the Ku Klux Klan, in The Five Orange Pips – a tragedy which, arguably, is Holmes’s single greatest failure.

Poppin's Court
As we merge onto Fleet Street, we spot Poppin’s Court. The Red Haired League’s ginger haired pawnbroker Jabez Wilson sat in an office in Pope’s Court, copying out the Encyclopaedia Britannica for the then grand sum of four pounds a week. Pope’s court was possibly based on Poppin’s Court.

Further ahead, heading east to Old Bailey and then Northwards, we come to Giltspur Street. Ahead of us stands Bart’s, or St Bartholomew’s Hospital, where Dr. Watson meets Sherlock Holmes for the first time in a chemical laboratory in the first story involving the detective The Sign of Four. A plaque on the wall of the curator’s room adjoining the hospital’s pathology lab claims that Holmes’s first words to Watson had been, “How are you? ... You had been in Afghanistan, I perceive.” This is more like the great detective and sticks to the memory, but the fact of fiction is that Holmes has already said to both Watson and Stamford, “I’ve found it, I’ve found it. I have found a re-agent which is precipitated by haemoglobin and by nothing else.” However, despite all the euphoria and excitement, the finding is never referred to again.

Restricted to a small part of London notwithstanding, it becomes a long, long walk ... from his established home in Baker Street to the arrival of Holmes on the scene – at the Bartholomew Hospital. And it is a wonderfully mysterious way to see parts of London on foot.

Arunabha Sengupta is the co-editor of Scroll and the author of three novels, the latest being The Best Seller

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