The London of Sherlock Holmes

IF you seek the city of Sherlock Holmes, the fog-bound London illuminated by gaslight and dreams, you can still find it to a surprising degree. On a visit last August, I discovered that Holmes was an apt guide to London, where the game's still afoot,'' and so is the touring.

In ''The 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.

The Holmes 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!

Many business 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?''

Sherlock Holmes 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 sought.

The 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.

The 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.

While 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 strangest forms.''

Upon reaching 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 recorded.

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.''

SIMPSON'S, with 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.''

Another 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?"

Getting Around
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.

Uncovering Holmes
The Sherlock 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 pound.

The Wallace 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
Simpsons-in-the-Strand, 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 about $160.

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.

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Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
Author of the Sherlock Holmes Stories

The Best Sherlock Holmes Stories - according to the author.

In 1927 The Strand Magazine set a competition for its readers to decide the 12 best Sherlock Holmes stories, and the author was invited to make his own selection known.

How I Made My List by A. Conan Doyle

When this competition was first mooted I went into it in a most light-hearted way, thinking that it would be the easist thing in the world to pick out the twelve best of the Holmes stories. In practice I found that I had engaged myself in a serious task. In the first place I had to read the stories myself with some care. "Step, steep, weary work," as the Scottish landlady remarked.

I began by eliminating altogether the last twelve stories, which are scattered through the Strand for the last five or six years. They are about to come out in a volume form under the title The Casebook of Sherlock Holmes, but the public could not easily get at them. Had they been available I should have put two of them in my team - namely, 'The Lion's Mane' and 'The Illustrious Client'. The first of these is hampered by being told by Holmes himself, a method which I employed only twice, as it certainly cramps the narrative. On the other hand, the actual plot is among the very best of the whole series, and for that it deserves its place. 'The Illustrious Client', on the other hand, is not remarkable for plot, but it has a certain dramatic quality and moves adequately in lofty circles, so I should also have found a place for it.

However, these being ruled out, I am now faced with some forty odd candidates to be weighed against each other. There are certainly some few an echo of which has come to me from all parts of the world, and I think this is the final proof of merit of some sort. There is the grim story 'The Speckled Band'. That I am sure will be on every list. Next to that in popular favour and in my own esteem I would place 'The Red-Headed League' and 'The Dancing Men', on account in each case of the originality of the plot. Then we could hardly leave out the story which deals with the only foe who ever really extended Holmes, and which deceived the public (and Watson) into the erroneous inference of his death. Also, I think the first story of all should go in, as it opened the path for the others, and it has more female interest than is usual. Finally, I think the story which esssays the difficult task of explaining away the alleged death of Holmes, and which also introduces such a villain as Colonel Sebastian Moran, should also have a place. This puts 'The Final Problem', 'A Scandal in Bohemia', and 'The Empty House' upon our list, and we have got our first half-dozen.

But now comes the crux. There are a number of stories which really are a little hard to separate. On the whole I think I should find a place for 'The Five Orange Pips', for though it is short it has a certain dramatic quality of its own. So now only five places are left. There are two stories which deal with high diplomacy and intrigue. They are both among the very best of the series. The one is 'The Naval Treaty' and the other 'The Second Stain'. There is no room for both of them in the team, and on the whole I regard the latter as the better story. Therefore we will put it down for the eight place.

And now which? 'The Devil's Foot' has points. It is grim and new. We will give it the ninth place. I think also that 'The Priory School'is worth a place if only for the dramatic moment when Holmes points his finger at the Duke. I have only two places left. I hesitate between 'Silver Blaze', 'The Bruce-Partington Plans', 'The Crooked Man', 'The Man with the Twisted Lip', 'The Gloria Scott', 'The Greek Interpreter', 'The Reigate Squires', 'The Musgrave Ritual', and 'The Resident Patient'. On what principle am I to choose two out of those? The racing detail in 'Silver Blaze' is very faulty, so we must disqualify him. There is little to choose between the others. A small thing would turn the scale. 'The Musgrave Ritual' has a historical touch which gives it a little added distinction. It also has a memory from Holmes' early life. So now we come to the very last. I might as well draw the name out of a bag, for I see no reason to put one before the other. Whatever their merit - and I make no claim for that - they are all as good as I could make them. On the whole, Holmes himself show perhaps the most ingenuity in 'The Reigate Squires', and therefore this shall be twelfth in my team.

It is proverbially a mistake for a judge to give his reasons, but I have analysed mine if only to show any competitors that I really have taken some trouble in the matter.

Dr Conan Doyle as a Lecturer

He Makes His First Appearance in America and Talks of Himself

New York, Oct 10 1894 - Calvary Baptist Church - If Sherlock Holmes had been in the Calvary Baptist Church in this city tonight he would have seen enter a tall, broad-shouldered man, who seated himself behind a reading desk in front of the pulpit. The tall man wore, of course, evening dress, for the church was full of polite women and men to entertain and to whom he had come. The only bits of colour about this broad-shouldered man were his red cheeks, his red ears, and a blood-red silk handkerchief stuck in his pocket.

If Sherlock Holmes wished to deduce this man's character he would have studied him; a low forehead, growing broader because the hair above it is growing thinner; large ears, narrow slits of eyes, a tilted nose, a yellow moustache of vigorous growth, and a weak, receding chin. The moment the man spoke, Sherlock Holmes would have said he was a 'good fellow', a generous man, for he spoke in a hearty welcoming voice; a modest man, too, for he sometimes spoke almost deprecatingly of himself. He used none of the tricks of elocutionists, few, very few gestures, nor had he any stagey tricks, except now and then, involuntarily, he made a motion that fitted the mood or character of which he spoke or read. But much more it would have puzzled even Sherlock Holmes to tell of this big man. He might have been a doctor, a lawyer, a writer, anything but an actor.

The lecture was about himself and his writings and how he came to write them, and he said, very candidly, that he had chosen the subject because the only reason why such a fine audience had came to hear him was that they had read some things he had happened to write. "If I made any development" - this without the slightest affectation - "it has been a slow and painful matter. In 1878 a manuscript of mine was accepted. The small check I received for it was the bounty that enrolled me in the great army of literature. For ten years or so I wrote short stories, yet I did not earn $250 during any one year from my writings".

"Of my first story to appear in the Cornhill Magazine it was said that it would make Thackeray turn in his grave. About this time a gentleman appeared who has been a very great friend to me - Sherlock Holmes. The detective story is a primitive form of literature, but, I think, a good setting for a dramatic idea.I resented the fashion in which authors make detectives arrive at results by chance and tried to set up a semi-scientific system of detection. I derived the formulation of the idea from an old professor of mine in Edinburgh, who, in a few minutes, simply by observing a man, could not only diagnose his disease, but learn his age, his place of birth, his training, and his personal habits."

"Well," he said, almost regretfully, "Mr Holmes came to grief at last. Perhaps it was just as well. He had been imposed long enough upon the public. Twenty-six stories about one man were rough. He was so real to some people that I received letters asking for a lock of his hair, and one letter asked for his photograph at different ages."



Sherlock Holmes

According to the published stories which first appeared in the Strand Magazine in 1891 and which have since been translated into every language, he practised as a consulting detective between1881-1904, while living at 221b Baker Street with his friend and colleague Doctor John H.Watson.He therefore lived and worked in that nostalgic gas-lit London of the late 19th century to which in our imagination we would all like to return.

Ms Irene Adler

Sherlock Holmes was "the most perfect reasoning and observing machine that the world has seen", but he was not without feelings, because he appreciated the opera and classical music. He was however reserved towards women, because he felt their influence a distraction to his work, so he would not allow himself (as Watson did) to become swayed by their romantic allure.

Nevertheless, Holmes took an interest in a Miss Irene Adler, whom he always referred to as 'the woman'. She was born in New Jersey in 1858 and outwitted him in the case of A Scandal in Bohemia.

Dr Watson considered Holmes to be "the worst tenant in London', who 'keeps his cigars in the coal-scuttle, his tobacco in the toe-end of a Persian slipper, and his letters transfixed by a jack-knife to the centre of the wooden mantelpiece". Strange visitors, chemical experiments and late-night violin playing also tried the patience of their landlady Mrs Hudson.

He was however the great detective's loyal companion and Holmes was aware of his value - he said to him on one occasion: "it may be that you are not yourself luminous, but you are a conductor of light".

What are the attributes which combine to make a person a world-famous legend? His achievements must surely be unforgettable and remarkable. He must be a brilliant and credible character whom people can believe in. He must be ageless in so far as dates of birth and death become irrelevant. He must enjoy everlasting fame.

Unforgettable. Brilliant. Ageless. Immortal. Can all these qualities be attributed to Sherlock Holmes? Undoubtedly!

The best way of appreciating the real character of Sherlock Holmes is to read his published adventures and form one's own opinion. We can then accompany Holmes and Watson in their hansom cab, rattling over the cobbled streets of Victorian London, while they peer through the fog in search of adventure, justice, and criminals.A ring comes at the bell; a step is heard upon the stair. The drooping eyelids lift, and the nostrils quiver with the thrill of the chase: "Come, Watson come, the game is afoot!"

Sherlock Holmes was by all accounts born on 6th January 1854, and for more than a century his name has been known in every country of the world; and not only his name, but his appearance too. The hawk-like features and piercing eyes; the dressing-gown and pipe; the deerstalker cap and magnifying glass - these details are so familiar that if he were to appear amongst us today we should know him at once. He is still however an enigmatic figure, as wrapped in mystery as the crimes he tried to solve, and as in most legends, it is often difficult to separate fact from fiction.

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