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Sunday, April 29, 2018

221b Baker Street


Sherlock Holmes Museum,London

London. The most convenient city in the world from touristic point. On landing at Heathrow on our first visit, we were least jittered. Having read and heard about its oldest tube system and its iconic red double decker buses, we were confident enough to smartly saunter to the Airport Tube station from where we bought Oyster Cards valid on all public transport systems including motor boats on river Thames. Remarkably all Oyster vending machines at all metro stations are manned efficiently to help the passengers get the right cards. London underground opened in January 1863. The first train ran between Paddington and Farringdon . The first colour coded line was Metropolitan (magenta), followed by Circle and Hammersmith & City Lines (yellow and pink) in 1864.  The lines were electrified in 1890. Prior to that the trains were of gas lit wooden carriages hauled by steam locomotives. During World War II, when Germany resorted to carpet bombing, most of the tube stations were used as air raid shelters. History apart, the comfort of travelling by tube to Wembley Central where our hotel was located became more and more pronounced. At Wembley Central we asked the young guy manning the Oyster machine about distance of our hotel. He showed us the way and wittily quipped “for us it takes around five minutes to reach, but young and energetic couple like you it should not take more than two minutes.” I longed to travel by the red iconic double decker bus while in London, knowing that it would take longer routes and thus more time. Double deckers are not unfamiliar to me as I rode such buses in Calcutta as well as in Bombay. Unfortunately, the double deckers disappeared from Calcutta roads almost twenty years back. A very few of them can still be seen on Bombay roads in Fort area and near the Flora Fountain. But in Calcutta not even vestiges of such glory remain. In London the fleet stands out. Cherry red, immaculate and glistening. Keeps one guessing about their age? On the first outing we took a bus to Madame Tussaud on Marylebone Road. On each such successive occasions like boarding a bus to Piccadilly, Trafalgar Square etc we behaved like gleeful kids clambering upto the upper deck and occupying the front two seats. That however paid as we could enjoy an excellent view of the city. Like peering down the main thoroughfare at Piccadilly Circus as the bus inched forward through the snarl of traffic down below. When we reached Madame Tussaud waxworks museum (1835) we were disappointed by the horrendous queues for tickets and entry. Though the security guy was helpful, even offering us to get the tickets on our behalf, my wife decided to back out. We walked a few steps, turned towards Baker Street, and Voila! 221B Baker Street on the opposite pavement at the other end. This is the famous lodging house where the world famous fictional detective Sherlock Holmes lived with his equally intrepid assistant Dr Watson. According to Sherlock’s creator Sir Arthur Conan Doyle they lived here from 1881 to 1904. This famous address was mentioned in Conan Doyle’s “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 bed-rooms and a single large airy sitting-room, cheerfully furnished, and illuminated by two broad windows."



There was a long queue for this museum also, but more streamlined and unlike Madam Tussaud. Such is the fame of this legendary detective that I could find visitors from different parts of the world like Japan, Korea, and USA patiently waiting to see the house of a fictional detective. Before I take you around this unique museum I would like to briefly introduce you to a man who not only created Holmes, but also this house at 221b Baker Street. I have grown up idolizing Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, a prolific and powerful writer and a great storyteller. Not only Holmes, his stories like Prof Challenger’s ( on whom our legendary film director Satyajit Ray modelled his Prof Shanku), Brigadier Gerard’s Adventure(set in Napoleonic times),a fantasy novel on Prof Challenger like The Lost World were also very popular. He started writing when he was a medical student at the University of Edinburgh. After completing his MD he had 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. In his autobiography he mentioned that during long waits for his clients he took to writing fictions. Initially he struggled to find a publisher. But once his first book ‘A Study in Scarlet’ got published, there was no looking back. He modelled Sherlock Holmes on his teacher Dr Joseph Bell, who inculcated observation, logic, deduction and inference on medical and surgical practices. Dr. John Watson was modelled on his colleague Dr. James Watson.

 Reconstruction inside the Baker Street lodging house built in 1815 has been carried out meticulously. This world renowned address has been made to look real like the famous tenant himself. The man who ushered us into the museum and the pretty maids assisting the visitors were all dressed in attire used during the Victorian era in London. There are ‘seventeen steps’ to the sitting room  on the first floor. As we entered the study we were greeted by the whiff of tobacco which Holmes used in his pipe. We were taken back in time while peering out of the large windows overlooking Baker Street. Late eighteenth century, when horse drawn Hansom cabs used to pull up on gas lit Baker Street, on cold and murky wintry nights. A wicker arm chair beside the fire place in which Holmes used to sit, smoke his pipe while trying solve a case, play his violin, meet his visitors and also break into his famous line “Elementary my dear Watson….” while trying to explain his ‘brilliant’ observation to  Dr Watson.Holmes’s technique of identifying actions at the crime scene, identifying criminals through footprints, cigarette ashes or cigarette butts and many more traces of different kinds could well be considered as the forerunner of modern forensic sciences. For his immense knowledge and skill he could command the respect of being 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”.  Adjoining the study and on its rear side was Holmes bedroom. In the study and his bedroom there are many personal items of Holmes, scattered as he would have left them, like his wooden pipe, his slippers, his notebook, his deerstalker cap, magnifying glass, chemistry kits, disguises, Holmes’s violin, 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 artefacts appearing in the stories. The study room has a Victorian aura, with a copy of Times from that period, desk stacked with books, traditional wallpaper; gas light 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. Apart from his personal effects and his revolver, Dr Watson’s room has a handwritten diary with a page  pertaining to the case of the Hound of the Baskervilles. 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 second floor. In a letter to Watson (displayed in the museum), Holmes was all praise for breakfasts prepared by Mrs. Hudson.The third floor has wax models on display – life sized waxworks of Sherlock Holmes  based on his appearance as described by his creator, his arch-nemesis  Prof Moriarty with whom Holmes fell to his literary death down Reichenbach Falls in Switzerland in ‘The Final Problem’ (the first mention of Prof Moriarty was in my favourite story 'The Valley of Fear', but Holmes met him only in 'The Final Problem'), some sinister looking characters and macabre figures sculpted right from descriptions in the stories. A narrow stairway leading to the attic had old trunks and torn suitcases stacked underneath. They belong to the actual lodgers of 221b Baker Street 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 which existed in the late nineteenth century and early twentieth century. The fact is we were carried away, taken back in time to romanticism of the Victorian London, enjoying every moment and waiting for Sherlock Holmes and Dr Watson to enter the study and greet the guests. The museum, indeed, is a befitting tribute to the world’s greatest fictional Consulting Detective Sherlock Holmes. The journey through the museum was mesmerizing, especially for a fan like me who adored the deductive techniques of Holmes for solving a crime. 

Next, we had plans for Westminster, Buckingham Palace, and Trafalgar Square. Little did I realize  while walking back towards Marylebone Road that on the pavement opposite to 221b Baker Street , there was a building where two of my most favourite British authors resided – Arnold Bennett and H.G. Wells (both about the same time as Conan Doyle and his famous creation  Sherlock Holmes)

221b Baker Street

Baker Street Station



Baker Street Underground station

Madame Tussaud

Madame Tussaud London

Statue of Sherlock Holmes on Marylebone Road

Typewriter,ink bottles, magnifying glass used by Holmes and Dr Watson

The seventeen steps leading to Holmes's study on the first floor

Fireplace,paintings,a bust of Napoleon,a small model of the Hound of Baskervilles, and other decorative items at the Baker street sitting room


Sherlock Holmes's bedroom adjoining his study

Another view of Holmes's sitting room with bookshelf,guest's seat,decorative items,and other artefacts.The walls are covered with wallpapers


A letter from Sherlock Holmes to Dr Watson

Diary of Dr Watson and the displayed page pertains to The Hound of the Baskervilles

Old Books and diaries

Original copies of The Valley of Fear and His Last Bow

Washroom for the residents of 221b Baker Street
Old suitcases of actual guests who  stayed at the lodging house in the late nineteenth century and early twentieth century.These are kept underneath the stairway leading to the attic.


Life size wax model of Sherlock Holmes

Wax model of a lady shooting down a man (reconstructed from one of the case studies of Sherlock Holmes)

Wax model of a murdered man 

H.G.Wells lived in Chiltern Court Building on Baker Street

Arnold Bennett also lived in Chiltern Court Building on Baker Street

A night scene in London

Thames,London

Wembley Central

Westminster,London

St.Margaret's Church,Westminster Abbey with Big Ben at the backdrop

Buckingham Palace


Near Buckingham Palace

Trafalgar Square

Big Ben

Tower Bridge

Tower of London

Trafalgar Square

A view from top of double decker of the Picadilly Circus
Photo Credit:    Arundhati Sengupta











How to reach 221b Baker Street ?London's transport system is iconic. The city boasts of the oldest and one of the most efficient tube network in the world. Baker Street Tube Station is located at the junction of four underground lines: 1) Bakerloo Line (Brown); 2) Circle Line (Yellow ); 3) Hammersmith & City Line (Pink);4) Metropolitan Line (Magenta). Anyone staying along these routes can take a direct train to Baker Street. Like in our case, we took train from Wembley Central tube which is also located on Bakerloo Line.From the station one has to walk a few meters towards Regent Park to arrive at 221b Baker Street. For more information about travel in London one can visit their site at https://www.tfl.gov.uk journey planner.



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2 comments:

Manisha Banerjee said...

Me and my daughter had a grand experience there.

Madhumita Chakola said...

What a beautiful blend of history, literature and travelogue in this blog! Seeing London through the lens of an ardent globe-trotter was as good as walking down Trafalgar Square or roaming awestruck through the museum of 221b. The fast-paced writing brought a gush of “Sherlock Holmes” nostalgia. Very very enjoyable read. The clarity of the photographs with detailed caption is worth mentioning

221b Baker Street


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