Baker Street is a famous locality in London. The address 221B Baker Street attained global fame when Sir Arthur Conan Doyle created Sherlock Holmes and decided to make him a tenant of the lodging house built in 1815. This address was first mentioned by Conan Doyle in ‘A Study in Scarlet’ published in 1887.
“We met next day as he had arranged, and inspected the rooms at No. 221B, Baker Street, of which he had spoken at our meeting. They consisted of a couple of comfortable bedrooms and a single large airy sitting-room, cheerfully furnished, and illuminated by two broad windows.”
221B Baker Street is now the Sherlock Holmes Museum. .The 1815 lodging house has been reconstructed meticulously to meld with the Sherlock Holmes era. I have grown up idolizing Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, the creator of Sherlock Holmes. A prolific and powerful writer and a great storyteller. Not only Holmes, his other stories like Prof Challenger’s ( on whom our legendary film director Satyajit Ray modeled his Prof Shanku and Tarini Khuro ), Brigadier Gerard’s Adventure(set in Napoleonic times), a fantasy novel The Lost World were also very popular. After completing his MD from the University of Edinburgh he started practicing in a small consulting room at 2 Upper Wimpole Street (formerly 2 Devonshire Place) in London. As a medical practitioner, he was unsuccessful. He has mentioned in his autobiography that during long waits for his clients he took to writing fiction. He struggled to find a publisher at the initial stage. But once his first book ‘A Study in Scarlet’ got published, there was no looking back. He modeled Sherlock Holmes on his teacher Dr. Joseph Bell, and Dr. John Watson on his colleague Dr. James Watson.
As an ardent fan of Sherlock Holmes, the famous address was on my itinerary when I visited London. It was like going back to the Victorian era, right from the main doorstep of 221B Baker Street. The man who ushered us into the house and the pretty maids who attended the visitors were all dressed in Attire used during that period. ‘Seventeen steps’ and we were inside the detective’s sitting room on the first floor. An aromatic whiff of tobacco used by Holmes used in his pipe provided a warm greeting to the visitors in the living area. Taken back in time while peering out of the large windows overlooking Baker Street. For instance imagining cold and murky wintry nights of the late eighteenth century, when horse-drawn Hansom cabs used to pull up on a gas-lit Baker Street. A wicker armchair beside the fireplace in which Holmes used to sit, smoke his pipe while trying to solve a case, play his violin, and meet his visitors. While interpreting his initial observation about a new visitor, he used to often rattle off “Elementary my dear Watson….”. Holmes tried to identify criminals at the crime scene through cigarette ashes, cigarette butts, footprints, and many more different kinds of traces left behind at the scene. His techniques served as the forerunner of modern forensic sciences. For his immense knowledge and skill, he could command the respect of being the world’s first Consulting Detective. “My name is Sherlock Holmes. It is my business to know what other people don’t know”- “The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle”. Holmes’s bedroom adjoined the study on its rear end. In the study and his bedroom, there are many personal items of Holmes, scattered as he would have left them, like his violin, disguises, chemistry kits, magnifying glass, deerstalker cap, his notebook, slippers and wooden pipe, a stick belonging to Dr. Mortimore of the Hound of the Baskervilles, a club used to kill Col Barclay in the Crooked Man, many other artifacts appearing in the stories Victorian aura radiates from the study room with a copy of Times from that period, a desk stacked with books, traditional wallpaper; gaslights like lamps, ink bottles, and decorative items. On the second floor was Dr. Watson’s bedroom, overlooking an open yard at the rear of the room. His room has a handwritten diary with a page on the case of The Hound of the Baskervilles, in addition to his personal effects and his revolver. Mrs. Hudson, the landlady and personal housekeeper of Holmes as she prepared meals and did all household chores, used to occupy the room in the front on the second floor. Among the archives displayed in the museum was a letter to Dr.Watson, where he profusely lauded Mrs. Hudson’s breakfast preparation. The third floor has wax models on display –such as life-sized waxworks of Sherlock Holmes ( as described by his creator); Prof Moriarty with whom Holmes fell to his literary death down Reichenbach Falls in Switzerland in ‘The Final Problem’ (coincidentally I have seen this captivating Aare gorge at Aareschlucht during my visit to Switzerland). The place where Holmes confronted his arch-nemesis before the final fall. . Some sinister-looking characters and macabre figures sculpted right from descriptions in the stories are also on display as exhibits. Stacked underneath a narrow stairway leading to the attic were a collection of old trunks and torn suitcases belonging to the actual lodgers who stayed there during the Victorian era. The uniqueness of this museum is that everything, except the portraits which are hung on the walls, is kept open and scattered in a fashion to exude an atmosphere that existed in the late nineteenth century and early twentieth century. The fact is we were carried away, taken back in time to the romanticism of Victorian London, enjoying every moment and waiting for Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson to enter the study and greet the guests. For a fan like me who adored the deductive techniques of Holmes for solving a crime, the journey through the museum was indeed a mesmerizing experience. The Museum is a befitting tribute to the world’s greatest fictional Consulting Detective.
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