Tips & Ideas

Tips & Ideas

Searching for Sherlock (Holmes)

submitted by: Sheila Sobell and Richard N. Every

The Complete Sherlock Holmes: London’s New Exhibits Celebrate the 135 Year Old Sleuth!

We were sure we could smell smoking as we walked up Baker Street to 221b. Was the ghost of Sherlock Holmes using his famous smoking machine to test the ash residue of more cigarettes? Or was he just lounging about in his famous dressing gown, smoking his pipe, and ruminating on a case?

Sherlock Holmes Musem-compressed

Constructed in 1815 and registered as a lodging house for about 75 years,  The Sherlock Holmes Museum is certainly an anomaly. One of the most famous of fictitious addresses, Baker Street itself actually exists, and the design of the house  uncannily corresponds to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s descriptions:

apartment 221b was on the first floor of a lodging house

the landlady was really named Mrs. Hudson

there were 17 steps from ground floor hallway to first-floor study

the sitting room, which overlooked Baker Street,  was “illuminated by two broad windows

it was small enough for Holmes to cover in one spring from his bedroom to “close the curtains”

That’s enough to make the hair on the back of anyone’s neck stand to attention!

While the furnishings are pretty much what we expected – turn-of-the-century memorabilia, manikins dressed to look like Conan Doyle’s characters; forensic science tools, etc., the letters in the exhibit cases in Mrs. Hudson’s room appear to be from real people, giving us the same hair standing up chill.

In 1995, a Florida schoolgirl wrote Sherlock Holmes for assistance in solving a possible crime. “I saw a man fixing the Big Ben clock. He looked very strange and kept looking around as if he didn’t want anyone to see him. I said ”Hello Sir, what happened to Big Ben?’ He said ‘I’m just doing some maintenance.’ A month later, a woman was murdered in town while walking passed the clock. The suspected killer was wearing a gray work uniform. Here’s the coincidence – the man I spoke to was also wearing a gray uniform. Because of all of this I thought I should come to you for help.'”

Like everything else in the museum, nothing is as it appears. Is the letter actually  from an actual  Florida schoolgirl? Or is it all part of the pun in creating a living habitat for someone who never really lived.

SH cover 1903-compressed

To borrow the theme song from the James Bond film “The Spy Who Loved Me,” “Nobody Does It Better” in re-creating Sherlock Holmes — The Man Who Never Lived and Who Will Never Die — than the Museum of London.  Its current exhibit  which runs from January 2 until April 12, 2015, takes a fresh look at Sherlock Holmes and his world. A blockbuster expected to attract 100,000 visitors, it features original Conan Doyle manuscripts from private collections; the only filmed interview of Conan Doyle in existence; costumes; paintings of London at the turn-of-the-century; forensic science tools; gifts from Conan Doyle to Sidney Paget, the famous illustrator of the Adventures; transit maps, etc. to answer four key questions. What was the Genesis of Sherlock Holmes? What was the London of Sherlock Holmes like? What were the many sides of Sherlock Holmes? What is the legacy of the immortal Sherlock Holmes?

As cerebral as the world’s first “consulting detective,” it’s also a lot of fun, and sure to help you rack up points in Trivial Pursuit. What we learned:

Great Coat & Deerstalker MOL-compressed

* Sherlock Holmes’ Great Coat and deer stalker hat were selected as characteristic items of clothing because they suggested a passion for outdoor pursuits favored by middle-class Victorians. This helped the readership identify more easily with Sherlock, building circulation figures.

Sherlock -forensic scientist MOL-compressed

*Sherlock Holmes was really the first detective to use forensic science such as the study of footprints in a very big way. By analyzing the sole of a shoe, Holmes could tell  not only if a woman’s shoes were used for dancing, but which steps she performed, and even where the dance was held.

*With his smoking machine, the detective could ID the ashes of 10 different types of cigars and cigarettes, the better to catch the “smoking” gun.

Sidney Paget engravingSherlock-compressed

* The illustrations that Sidney Paget drew for the Strand magazine, where Conan Doyle’s stories were published, were so creative they insured the success of the whole project.  Some critics have said that the work should have been bylined by Conan Doyle and Sidney Paget.

*The reason that Sherlock Holmes stopped using recreational drugs in the later Adventures was out of respect for the sensibilities of a greatly growing audience.

Sherlock Holmes: The Man Who Never Lived and Will Never Dieis designed to attract a broad audience from  the novice who has only watched a few televised episodes to the enthusiast who practically  knows the Adventures by heart.

An Oxford undergraduate from China said that, “I studied Sherlock Holmes in high school. To us, he was a symbol of England.”

Jonathan Pandy from Ireland read “all of the books at least four times as well as Conan Doyle’s biography , and  histories of that. period. I love how London is portrayed as one of the characters in the Sherlock books. It was a very good idea to use photographs from the 1890s to show what London was like at the time.”

Others were drawn to the exhibit as a way of reliving the early days of courtship. “It reminded me of our honeymoon when John would read the stories aloud to me,” said Betsy Wolf.

Coming up for air after immersing ourselves in Sherlock’s Victorian London, we pulled out the stops and kicked up our heels at one of London’s most romantic addresses – the Milestone Hotel right across the road from the love nest (okay “palace”) of Britain’s famous Royal lovebirds, Kate and William, at Kensington Palace. Truly a “royal” blowout, the hotel, part of the luxury Red Carnation Hotel collection, the Milestone has a penchant for attracting  Americans with specially priced packages for holidays like Halloween and Thanksgiving. The new “babymoon” package is a playful twist on a honeymoon for two shortly to be three or more. To kick off the new year until April 30, while celebrating the soon to be second of Kate Middleton’s Royal births, babymoon offers pampering for the mother to be in the spa, shopping, dining, plus the all-important Palace tour. Dad, of course, is not forgotten.

Milestone Hotel suite-compressed

The general manager likes to describe the hotel as Downton Abby moved from countryside to city side, and we couldn’t fault his description. Each of the 57 suites and bedrooms are individually decorated, and maintained to the highest standard. Our romantic Art Deco Mistinguett Junior suite, inspired by the style of a French  20th century film sensation Mlle. Mistinguett, was so seductively  decorated, it was hard to close our eyes to sleep. Equally, the food served in the hotel’s Cheneston’s restaurant takes “comfort food” to the stratosphere. Reservations are essential, even for breakfast/brunch with “society”  filling up tables. What the chef does to culinary standards like French toast deserves applause. As did the entire stay!

When you go:


Copyrighted images courtesy of  The Sherlock Holmes Museum; The Museum of London; The Milestone Hotel.

Sheila Sobell and Richard N. Every are  freelance travel photojournalists. Read more of what they recommend atRomantic Getaways.