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Arthur Conan Doyle, Holmes, and Baker Street
"But one false statement was made by Barrymore at the inquest. He said that there were no traces upon the ground round the body. He did not observe any. But I did—some little distance off, but fresh and clear."
"A man's or a woman's?"
Dr. Mortimer looked strangely at us for an instant, and his voice sank almost to a whisper as he answered:
"Mr. Holmes, they were the footprints of a gigantic hound!"
The Hound of the Baskervilles (1902)
Doyle was an enormously prolific writer, but he is best remembered for the four novels and five collections of stories featuring Sherlock Holmes. A doctor by profession, Doyle was born in Edinburgh and settled in Portsmouth, where he set up his practice. His first Holmes story, A Study in Scarlet was published in Beeton's Christmas Annual, for which Doyle received a derisory fee and was forced to sign over all his copyright entitlements. But the story was well-received, and a sequel - The Sign of Four - was commissioned and published by a different magazine.
He published other writings during this time, but it was Holmes which captured the imagination of his readers. Doyle moved to London, still with the purpose of developing his medical career, and set up a new practice at Montague Place in Bloomsbury, before moving it to South Norwood in 1891.
Doyle's time in London was short. Soon after the birth of his son, his wife, Louise developed tuberculosis, and Doyle moved the family out of the city to Haslemere in Surrey. It is Holmes, rather than his creator, who is the most closely bound up in the London geography. Holmes and his sidekick Dr Watson met as housemates, sharing rooms at the famous address, 221b Baker Street. According to Watson in the first Holmes story, "they consisted of a couple of comfortable bedrooms and a single large airy sitting-room, cheerfully furnished, and illuminated by two broad windows."
Although Holmes and Watson are fictional, their address is not. The house at 221 Baker Street was built by in 1815, and is now a listed building to protect its cultural and architectural heritage. Today it has been converted into a museum celebrating Holmes. In the stories, the pair lived on the first floor, and consulted Holmes' clients in the study, which along with one of the bedrooms, has been decorated in late Victorian style and adorned with a pipe, magnifying glass, and other trinkets similar to Holmes' signal possessions. Curiously an official blue heritage plaque on the outside of the building commemorates Holmes' residence there between 1894 and 1901.
Nearby, the Marylebone Library on Upper Montague Street holds a Sherlock Holmes collection which includes cuttings, journals, stories and photographs. The collection can only be viewed by special arrangement, but the library is working on a public exhibition in conjunction with the artist, Ian Rees who will building interactive models, based on characters and episodes from the Holmes stories.
© David Thorley, 2007.
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