“It is a hobby of mine to have an exact knowledge of London.”
—Sherlock Holmes, “The Red-Headed League”
London is the specialty tour capital of the world. Walking tours can be found devoted to everything from Dickensian pubs to Royal Wedding sites, from Jack the Ripper to Harry Potter. This time, I went in search of the elusive Sherlock Holmes.
As I walked out of the poorly lit and somewhat humid Embankment Tube station into the uncharacteristic London sunshine, it occurred to me that this Sherlock Holmes walking tour wasn’t within walking distance of Baker Street. Not even close.
I searched my purse to find the crumpled brochure to see if I was in the right place when I heard, “Sherlock Holmes tour. Follow in the Footsteps of Sherlock Holmes.” Curious, I signed up, and I was not to be disappointed. Here is a run-down of my favorite stops:
#4 Charing Cross Station and the Charing Cross Hotel. Charing Cross station with its beautifully made Eleanor Cross serves as a hub for Sherlock and Watson’s travels in and out of London in many of the stories. It is also the station Irene Adler leaves from in “A Scandal in Bohemia.” In “The Adventure of the Bruce-Partington Plans,” Holmes has a spy arrested right in front of the Charing Cross Hotel.
#3 The former home of The Strand Magazine. When “A Scandal in Bohemia” appeared in The Strand, after Arthur Conan Doyle had already published two Holmes novels—A Study in Scarlet and The Sign of [the] Four—elsewhere, the magazine’s circulation increased. As more Holmes stories were published, both Conan Doyle’s and The Strand’s readership and reputation grew rapidly. At one point, fans even lined up outside The Strand’s offices waiting for the next Holmes installment to be released.
The original version of The Strand Magazine has long since been out of business but the American version lives on.
#2 The Lyceum Theater where Holmes and Watson go with Miss Morstan to meet the unknown letter writer, “at the third pillar from the left” in The Sign of Four.
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s friend, Bram Stoker, later the creator of Dracula, worked at this theater as a manager. I imagined the creators of these two icons as they talked about their writing, and then learned that Peter Pan’s creator, J.M. Barrie also knew Conan Doyle and that they wrote an unsuccessful opera together. Peter Pan, Dracula and Sherlock Holmes…now that would make an interesting dinner party.
The Lyceum was also where Holmes made his stage debut. You can listen to the tour guide for London Walks, called Richard IV, talk about the only Sherlock Holmes play that Conan Doyle ever wrote, The Speckled Band, by clicking here.
#1 – The final stop of the tour was the Sherlock Holmes pub on Northumberland Street near Charing Cross Station. The pub sits on the former site of the Northumberland Arms, which served as the model for Sir Henry Baskerville’s hotel in a production of The Hound of the Baskervilles.
This is where the tour officially ends, but the fun doesn’t stop.
Grab a pint of Sherlock Holmes Ale and head upstairs to visit the replica of Holmes’ sitting room at 221b, filled with artifacts donated by the Conan Doyle family. You’ll also find the stuffed and mounted head of the Hound of Baskervilles himself.
So what was missing from the tour? 221b Baker Street, now the home of The Sherlock Holmes Museum.
As many avid-Sherlock fans know, 221b Baker Street didn’t exist in the Victorian era, Baker Street stopped at #85. Conan Doyle created the address especially for Holmes and Watson. Many years later when Baker Street was extended, the address came into existence, and that’s where I was bound next.
A man dressed as a British policeman of the period greeted us at the door of the museum, took our tickets, and sent us up the seventeen creaky wooden steps.
The first room is a replica of Sherlock’s study including his deerstalker cap, violin and chemistry supplies. The bullet holes where Sherlock shot the initials V.R. into the wall out of boredom are still there. You can pose for pictures in the chairs where Sherlock and Watson would have discussed their cases. A panoramic internet tour of this room can be seen online, as well as a video of the entire museum.
One flight up, you can see the respective bedrooms of Dr. Watson and Mrs. Hudson. Dr. Watson’s room features his notes from The Hound of the Baskervilles, as well as handcuffs, revolvers and artifacts from their cases.
Best of all, anyone who sends a letter to Mr. Holmes at the proper address receives a reply. So if you’d like Sherlock to help find your missing keys, write to him at 221B Baker Street, London, NW1 6XE. After all, the game is afoot…
Deborah Lacy is an avid mystery reader who lives in California.