|Photo by Russ Shor
London is an old town — it goes back to the Roman days — but one of its most famous addresses didn’t exist until 20 years ago: 221 B Baker Street. The guy who lived there never existed at all, but he got sacks of mail at that address for nearly a century.
If you guessed the Sherlock Holmes’ “residence” — you get a feather for your travel cap.
The very proper townhouse with the black door and brass plaque is exactly what Holmes’ creator described in his tales penned between 1887 and 1927 — but the house, built in 1815, actually sits between 237 Baker Street and 241 Baker.
The actual address of 221 belonged to a bank, Abbey Society, for decades. And for all of those years, the Abbey Society employed a full time secretary to answer the volume of mail addressed to Sherlock Holmes, asking his assistance in solving mysteries. (Alas, his foil Dr. Watson never received much mail).
By the Centennial of the first Sherlock Holmes tale (1887), the venerable Sherlock was still receiving sacks of mail, despite the fact that he would have been about 150 years old had he existed in the first place.
So, the then-president of the Westminster City Council decided the old house up the street would make a better home for old Sherlock — which promptly set off a battle between the Abbey Society and the folks organizing the museum — it seems the bank liked answering Mr. Holmes mail.
However, in 1990, the Museum succeeded in getting its “221 B” Baker street address and opened for business a year or so later. The building is true enough to the tales that one can almost see Mrs. Hudson, his landlady, eyeing the street traffic.
As a museum, it’s not much. Some wax figures. A few relics of his creator Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, and, of course, the usual arrays of coffee mugs, T-Shirts, pens, bookmarks and knick-knacks.
But the museum remains a testament to the power of words: the author created a character so appealing, and stories so compelling that people still respond a century later.
Indeed, in 1892, Sir Doyle tried killing off the great detective but the public outcry was so intense that he was obliged to resurrect him.
So, next time you’re in London, take a ride to the Baker Street underground station, turn right on Baker and walk down a half block and marvel at the elementary power of the written word.