Just before a bit of snow completely paralysed Olde London Town this weekend, we were off to the West End for an investigation into the realm of the great detective.
London’s most famous street
Baker Street runs from Regent’s Park in the north down to Oxford Street. The tube station was one of the first underground stations in London, opening in 1863 as part of the Metropolitan Railway. When you exit onto Marylebone Road you just can’t miss the nine foot high bronze statue of Sherlock Holmes created by John Doubleday.
You have no choice but to look up to Mr Sherlock Holmes
Unveiled in 1999, it must be one of only a few statues of fictional characters in London. The only other one I can think of is Paddington Bear at Paddington Station.
Turning north into Baker Street we headed for 221B. Now there is not a little controversy over this address, since in the late 19th century when the stories were first published Baker Street only went up to number 100. The higher numbers were allocated in the 1930s after Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s death and 221 was given to the headquarters of the Abbey National Building Society, who sensing a great PR opportunity employed someone to answer the many letters addressed to Sherlock Holmes.
The disputed 221B Baker Street
Then in 1990 the number 221B was assigned to The Sherlock Holmes Museum when the publicity hungry Leader of Westminster Council, Shirley Porter (yes her of the gerrymandering scandal of 1996) unveiled a blue plaque at the Museum’s official opening. Only thing was that the museum was really located between numbers 237 and 241. I make that 239, so it must have confused the poor postman. An almighty row then broke out between the Abbey National, the Sherlock Holmes Museum and Westminster Council over who should answer the mail of someone who didn’t really exist. This was only really resolved when the Spanish Bank Santander took over Abbey and closed down Abbey’s HQ in a frenzy of corporate asset stripping in 2005.
So we joined the queue outside the museum, never questioning the fact that we were waiting to get into the house of someone from the imagination of an author. Once the friendly Peeler on the door let us in (admission is £6, tickets from the ground floor shop) we climbed the 17 steps to Sherlock Holmes’s sitting room. Now the actual building had been a Victorian lodging house so the recreation of the study with its two windows looking out on Baker Street had been very well imagined, down to the VR picked out on the wall in bullet holes,
Queen Victoria’s royal cypher in bullet holes
the Persian slipper on the mantlepiece for Holmes’s pipe tobacco, his chemistry set in the corner and of course his violin.
The Great Detective’s violin and chemistry lab
On the table were the famous hat, pipe and magnifying glass, although it’s highly unlikely the Deerstalker would have been worn around town.
The famed Deerstalker, pipe and glass
Next door to the study we found Holmes’s bedroom, and up on the second floor we found those of Dr Watson and their landlady Mrs Hudson. These rooms and those above house various bits of Holmes memorabilia including the head of the hound of the Baskervilles,
Head of the Hound
and some tatty mannequins in posed dioramas of from the stories. Right at the top of the house we found the smallest room.
Yes the Khazi of Sherlock Holmes
Having finished nosing around the house, we had a poke around the ground floor shop and discovered it to be full of old tat.
Leaving the shop we turned south passing the London Beatles Shop, on our way to the Sherlock Holmes Hotel (100 Baker Street) for cocktails. Actually it’s not so strange having s Beatles Shop on Baker street as John Lennon lived at no 96 Baker Street, for a while during the 1960s.
The Sherlock Holmes Hotel
The Sherlock Holmes Hotel is very swish, a doorkeeper even ushered us in from the cold to the warmth of the cocktail bar where we settled down for drink. Cocktails are between £7 and £8 a go, plus a service charge, so we only stayed for one. I had a Sherlock’s Manhattan, not sure if Holmes ever tried one, but it was very pleasant.
Cocktails at the Sherlock Holmes Hotel
A bit more attuned to my budget was The Barley Mow (8 Dorset Street, just off Baker Street).
Yeah I know the Y has dropped off
What a discovery, this is alleged to be the oldest pub in Marylebone and inside it still has the Victorian drinking booths that seat up to six people (at a squeeze) in secrecy. It also had a fine array of real ales including a hand drawn milk stout, just like Guinness but without the fizz. Added to that friendly bar staff and no music it goes on my list of London’s top pubs.
By the time we left it was getting quite cold, so we hotfooted it to The Royal China Club (40-42 Baker Street) for an early dinner. Here’s a confession I’d booked the wrong restaurant, there is another Royal China further down Baker Street, which was the place recommended to us by one of Mab’s friends. The Royal China Club is the sort of restaurant where the fish tanks are not just for decoration, which I’m not knocking, but it may have been a bit pricier than we expected. However we still managed a meal of Dim Sung followed by a main course with rice and a bottle of indifferent wine for about £100 for three. The prawn dim sung were nothing special, but the lamb buns and the puff pastry pork were fabulous. The Szechuan Chicken I had as a main was wonderful, as was Mab’s Golden Fried Crispy Chicken. For dessert we tried the ice cream dim sung, stretchy uncooked dim sung dough with a vanilla ice cream centre, very nice if a little strange.
It was as much as we could do to waddle down Baker Street to get the tube from Bond Street Station before the snow came down.