221b-Baker-Street

Today we kick off our new Wednesday series with a look at some of the most famous addresses in London where fictional characters once lived. Most, if not all, of the addresses we’ll look at are not fictional in themselves – they do actually exist – but the characters said to have lived there owe their lives solely to the imaginations of their creators and the readers and audiences who have loved and admired them.

To kick it off, we take a quick look at what is certainly the most visited address of a fictional character in London – 221b Baker Street, the home of Sherlock Holmes and his associate Dr John Watson.

The-Sherlock-Holmes-MuseumWe’ve looked mentioned this Baker Street address in a couple of earlier posts – including a look at the origins of the naming of Baker Street and a piece on Sherlock Holmes himself.

So, to somewhat recap, the writer Sir Arthur Conan Doyle has Holmes and Watson living at this address from 1881 (it becomes their address in the first book featuring them – A Study in Scarlet, published in 1887) to 1904 when Holmes retired (Watson was not a continual presence here, moving in and out a couple of times).

What’s interesting is that the address now belongs to the Sherlock Holmes Museum, although in terms of the other numbers in the street, this is actually located between numbers 237 and 241 (in a street which was, prior to the 1930s, known as Upper Baker Street).

What is now number 221 is a 1930s art deco building formerly known as Abbey House (but this would have been 41 Upper Baker Street in 1887). It was the headquarters of Abbey National which had a long-running dispute with the museum over the right receive mail at the address 221b (since the closure of Abbey House in the early Noughties, the museum has received the mail).

It should be noted that there are also numerous other theories over the ‘real’ location of 221b Baker Street – in particular one which suggests the real address is opposite the former location of Camden House in Baker Street, thanks to a reference in The Empty House.

The museum, which is located in a house built in 1815, is set up as it was in Holmes’ day and contains his first floor study, filled with artefacts relating to the many cases he solved – including his famous pipe as well as his deerstalker hat, magnifying glass, violin, and the wicker chair which was used in Sidney Paget’s famous illustrations.

Other rooms include Dr Watson’s small second floor bedroom and the housekeeper Mrs Hudson’s room.

Worth noting is that there is also reconstruction of Holmes’ study at The Sherlock Holmes pub, located at 10-11 Northumberland Street in Westminster. This had been created for the Festival of Britain in 1951 by the Marylebone Borough Library and Abbey National and was located at Abbey House. For on this, check out the Westminister Libraries & Archives site.

WHERE: The Sherlock Holmes Museum, 221b Baker Street (nearest Tube station is Baker Street);  WHEN: 9.30am to 6pm daily; COST: £8 adults; £5 children (under 16); WEBSITE: www.sherlock-holmes.co.uk.

The world’s most famous detective, Sherlock Holmes is one of London’s most widely known characters.

While Holmes’ early life is something of a mystery, it is known that he lived at his most famous address, 221B Baker Street, from 1881 until his retirement in the early 1900s (when he moved to Sussex and took up beekeeping). It was from there that he lived and worked along with his colleague, Dr John H. Watson (Dr Watson lived with Holmes at the address both prior to his marriage and following his wife’s death).

Baker Street is these days home to the Sherlock Holmes Museum where the rooms have been reconstructed as they would have been in Holmes’ day – including his famous study where you can sit in his chair by the fire – and filled with artefacts from his many cases (there is however some confusion over the address as the current location of 221B Baker Street is located in what was, prior to the 1930s, known as Upper Baker Street).

Nearby – just out the front of the Baker Street tube station – stands a statue of Holmes, commissioned by the Sherlock Holmes Society in 1999 and sculpted by John Doubleday (see picture).

Holmes has numerous associations with locations and buildings in London and while there’s far too many to mention here, there are a couple of addresses worth noting. Among them is:

• the Criterion Restaurant at 224 Piccadilly, site of Holmes’ and Watson’s first meeting on New Year’s Day, 1881 (there’s a commemorative wall plaque inside);

• the former site of Scotland Yard, headquarters of the metropolitan police, in the Westminster street now called Great Scotland Yard;

• the Sherlock Holmes pub, just off Northumberland Avenue near Craven Avenue – formerly known as the Northumberland Arms, it featured in the book The Hound of the Baskervilles and now contains a large collection of Sherlock Holmes memorabilia;

• the historic restaurant Simpson’s-in-the-Strand at 100 Strand, where Holmes and Watson dined;

• and, The Royal Opera House in Covent Garden – one of Holmes’ favorite ways to pass the time.

Holmes’ contribution to the art of detection has rippled across the globe and following the first recounting of his exploits in the 1887 book A Study in Scarlet, his deeds have provided the inspiration for countless books, films, and TV series.

This curiously named part of London, pronounced Mar-lee-bone, takes it’s name from a church dedicated to St Mary which was originally built near a small river or stream called the Tyburn or Tybourne. Hence St Mary-le-Burn became St Marylebone.

There was a medieval village here which during the 18th century became subsumed into greater London as fashionable people sought land to the west of the city. The area – in particular Harley Street – became known as a location of choice for doctors to site their consulting rooms and is still known for its medical establishments.

Among the significant sites is the St Marylebone Parish Church (pictured right) which, consecrated in 1817, was where poets Robert Browning and Elizabeth Barrett were married in 1846 following their elopement, the John Nash-designed All Souls Church in Langham Place, the Langham Hotel which opened in 1865 and boasted Oscar Wilde and Mark Twain among guests, 221B Baker Street, fictional home of Sherlock Holmes and now the site of the Sherlock Holmes Museum, and the famous wax museum, Madame Tussauds.

Marylebone is also home to the world famous Wallace Collection, bequeathed to the government in 1897, the concert hall Wigmore Hall, the Royal Academy of Music and the Royal Institute of Architects, and the art-deco headquarters of the BBC, Broadcasting House. Marylebone High Street remains a shopping mecca offering a diverse range of independent boutiques and specialty shops while in the south, Marylebone includes one of London’s most famous shopping strips on Oxford Street.

Other famous people connected with the area include four time Prime Minister William Gladstone who lived at 73 Harley Street from 1876 to 1882, writer Charles Dickens who lived at 18 Bentinck Street while working as a court reporter in the 1830s, author Edward Gibbon, who lived at 7 Bentinck Street while writing his landmark text The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire from the 1770s, and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, creator of Sherlock Holmes, who worked in Upper Wimpole Street in the 1890s.