A trip to the Sherlock Holmes Museum in London is a must for every mystery lover and also for those who are not, says Rajarsi Bose
When my job took me to the United Kingdom one winter, I had little idea of what amount of free time I’d have. I had a week in London and another in Birmingham, on what was my first visit to that land. Lots of meetings and there was the travel between the two cities, plus relatives to catch up with.
I was desperate to claw out a few hours for myself – to be in London and not get a chance to see a Picasso or a Van Gogh at the National Gallery or visit the Lords would be a travesty. However, there was one slightly more important pilgrimage to be made in the city.
Having grown up to be a geek/nerd hybrid who read too many books for his own good, mine is an eclectic list of favourite fictional characters. Jean Valjean, Holden Caulfield, Atticus Finch, the Batman and a very irritatingly intelligent man who lived in London. I was the weird kid who enjoyed eating oranges if only to take out five orange pips and smile secretively.
So, on a bleak London winter afternoon, having had my fill of the greats at the National Gallery, I bought myself a packet of warm toasted chestnuts from a roadside vendor and walked down to the busy Charing Cross tube station. A couple of minutes’ wait and I was on my way to Baker Street.
Stepping out of the station, I quickly found my bearings (the signs all over helped), and with a lump in my throat, there I stood in front of the place – the modern-day representation of 221B Baker Street – home to one Mr Sherlock Holmes and his friend Dr John H Watson – now known as the Sherlock Holmes Museum.
The three-storey museum offers time-travel to the Victorian era, a home reconstructed with costumed staff, deerstalkers, candles and grates.
From creaking floorboards to a wooden staircase, every nook and corner of the house plunges you into the secrets of that time. A little disappointing is the focus on the maverick, while his creator takes the backseat. But then, he is the man most visitors queue up to know better.
When the Sherlock Holmes stories were first published, street numbers in Baker Street did not go as high as 221, which was presumably why author Conan Doyle chose a higher street number for the location of his hero, to prevent any person’s actual residence from being affected. I recommend, highly, that you look up the anecdotes on what happened when street numbers were reallocated in the 1930s. And the block of odd numbers from 215 to 229 was assigned to an Art Deco building known as Abbey House, constructed in 1932 for the Abbey Road Building Society, which the society and its successor (which subsequently became Abbey National plc) occupied until 2002.
In brief – they did not know what to do with the letters addressed to Sherlock Holmes, which came by the thousands, among other quirky challenges. A bank employee even had the full-time job of responding to fan mail. When the bank moved out of the building in 2005, the Royal Mail recognised the museum’s exclusive right to receive post addressed to “Mr Sherlock Holmes”.
As I walked through the museum, in my mind’s little television screen, I was replaying the various different but essentially similar iterations of the rooms occupied by the pair – from Jeremy Brett’s old classics series to the Cumberbatch-Freeman modern-day reimagining, plus some images of how I’d imagined it should look like.
All I can say is that it is a fan’s perfect pilgrimage. Your wallet may be lighter by £15, but for a certain kind of person, it is the kind of experience worth having. For nowhere else in the world will it make sense to walk around the make believe room of a fictional character just to see the beautiful realisation of the home of a fictional man who bestrides the world like a colossus.
If you do not want to spend the money, worry not. The Lords’ is a short walk away and you don’t have to pay to walk around the quaint souvenir shop and pick up a key-ring here, a badge there. However, and this is true if you are a Holmes aficionado like me, if you have spent hours wondering what the room occupied by Holmes and Watson looked like, you’ll have several chuckles to yourself as you walk around the atmospheric little place. It will be hard not to feel a warm glow of happiness imagining Holmes playing his violin around the room or sitting by the window with that famous pipe in his mouth. You can almost hear him declare, “The game, Mrs Hudson, is afoot!” as he charges out the door.
It is for experiences such as these that we work so hard and earn our pennies!