Friday, 6 May 2016

The Sherlock Holmes Museum

221B Baker St 

Thursday 5 May 2016
This was rather a new experience for Linda and me.  We have, of course, been to tourist hotspots before, but here we had a really artificial experience.  We started with the not-English-Heritage blue plaque, and then moved on to the not-Policeman who guards the door: yes, we were in the realms of fiction, and the home of the 'man who never lived and will never die', as the Museum of London named him.

Linda had been a bit tentative, claiming not to have read the stories since she was 11, but we paid our (quite serious) entrance fee and went in. The first pleasure was the loo in the lower ground floor, a period piece with instructions about how to deal with an overhead cistern, wooden seat and a charming towel rail.

You go next door to enter the house itself, and then go into Holmes' bedroom. We thought the contraption by the fire might be for airing his shirts. Most of the walls here, as throughout the house are hung with period prints and etchings of a Victorian kind: narratives, domestic scenes and sweet children. I suppose Mrs Hudson would have felt them appropriate for whatever lodgers she had.The study/sitting room next door displayed the pipes, the chemical apparatus and several reference books of the kind that Holmes referred to when researching his cases.

We also liked the post and newspapers rack on the wall.  

We went upstairs, to find Billy, the messenger boy, waiting to be sent on an errand, and Dr Watson's room. Here was displayed his stethoscope. As Linda said, he did not appear to do much work in his general practice, since he always had time to rush off when Holmes needed his help.

All the rooms had display cases with artefacts and souvenirs from the various cases:  the mummified 'savage' of Wisteria Lodge, the Cardboard Box in which Miss Susan Cushing found two severed human ears; a map of Dartmoor.  I could put links to versions of each of the stories, but I shan't. You can find the stories if you want to, but it seems to me that this is strictly a museum for disciples. I was, however, impressed with how many of the stories Linda still remembered.  

The actual wicker chair which the artist used for the Strand Magazine's illustration of The Greek Interpreter was also here, as was a plaster cast from The Six Napoleons. The poisonous blowpipe from The Sign of Four was on display and we had to keep reminding ourselves that these things are 'not real'....

Upstairs again, we came to a room with tableaux from some of the cases. Here was Lady Frances Carfax in her coffin; the noblewoman shooting the blackmailer Charles Augustus Milverton, and a couple of others.  We were of course, but a step from Madame Tussauds, so I suppose a few models were not out of place.

Perhaps the oddest thing up here was a folder of recent letters to the great man, many of them from China and Japan. The school teacher in me was amused by a disaffected student from Dallas, Texas, who had been set to write a letter as an assignment ('it's an extra credit' she confides to 'Dear Mr dead Sherlock Holmes' going on to suggest that her teacher has 'lost it')

Up again, there was a handsome lavatory suite embellished with blue leaves. I am not sure that there would have been plumbing this high in the house (not least because we had seen a basin and ewer on the ground floor and a 'thunderbox' on the first floor, implying  a less 20th century approach to personal hygiene)

 Also stored under the roof were the valises into which Holmes might fling a few essentials before heading off to serve the various crowned heads of Europe, some of whom presented him with medals which were on display.

So that only left the shop, housed in rather a fine conservatory, but containing nothing that we were drawn to. We were surprised that they were not selling more of the books, for example. Perhaps when the grandsons have been inducted into what really felt a bit like a cult, we might return and shop.

But we had enjoyed ourselves and thought the costumed room attendants managed traffic flow very well. And now it's off to get the complete works down off the shelf for a reread....

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