Saturday, August 09, 2008

Sherlock Holmes' imaginary home

I was curious to see what a museum about an imaginary Victorian detective might be like, which is what the Sherlock Holmes Museum is really. Museums are usually about real things, not fictional characters in novels. Holmes lived at 221b Baker Street in Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's stories, so naturally the museum should be there too. That address doesn't actually exist, so the owners of the museum made it up, but it's more or less in the right place in Baker Street.

I was a bit surprised at how many people were queuing up to go in, all tourists. All avid readers of classic detective stories, maybe?? Well, no. Some of the girls near us said they came because Sherlock Holmes was a really famous Englishman and they wanted to see where he lived.

I was slightly shocked that people thought Holmes was a real person. Maybe it's a testament to Conan Doyle's writing, but more likely because the character has slipped into some strange myth of Victorian England, where the line between fiction and history has become completely blurred. There was a display of letters sent to that address from people who also thought it was all real - the Inland Revenue wanted money from whoever lived at 221b (they should know better). Someone else wrote to warn Holmes that he'd seen Professor Moriarty (Holmes' evil nemesis) on the number 254 bus in Sutton, while others offered their help in solving mysteries, or for advice in finding out why their cat kept disappearing.

The museum is set up to look like a Victorian town house, based on details from the stories. It's a bit scruffy and dusty (it made me sneeze). It wasn't decay from authentic Victorian wear and tear, but because visitors are positively encouraged to have their photograph taken everywhere, including on the exhibits - in Holmes' study, at his desk, sitting in his chair, standing next to a 'Victorian policeman' or 'domestic maid' (both real people dressed in appropriate costume.) Some people were posing for their photos in tweed deerstalker hats, bought from the gift shop (pipes available too, if you want them). The top floor was my favourite, crowded with life-sized models of criminals or other dodgy characters from the books, such as the Man with the Twisted Lip.

I got a good book of reprints from the Illustrated Police News from the shop, sort of like a lurid, tabloid-journalism style of reporting real-life Victorian criminal court cases (you'd have to go to Colindale library to read them otherwise). I thought the plastic syringe pens filled with red 'blood' were a peculiar choice for a souvenir, were they meant to be a reference to his drug use? Or something from Dr Watson's medical kit? I got one of the pens where a horse-drawn carriage moves up and down inside it when you tip it up, I like things like that. One day I'll actually read the stories, as I've seen all the films.

In the absence of any pictures of malformed waxwork 'criminals' to illustrate this, Jeremy Brett as Holmes will do very nicely for now. I wish I'd taken my camera, but I'll go back for another visit, as it was so unexpectedly strange.


deb said...

Good to have you back, Claire!

Interesting idea having a museum to something/someone that existed purely in the imagination. I wonder if there are any others?

Claire said...

Hi Deb! Yes, I found that interesting too. I thought about it for ages but couldn't come up with any similar museums. There were ones about authors, like the Brontes or Dickens, but not about their characters.

I have now realised that Sherlock Holmes has got a LOT of fans! One of the staff at the museum said that a Russian 'Holmes' met the Queen recently and got some award or other... all very curious.

deb said...

Seems like a whole new cross-over type thing between reality and fiction could be created.

Roses said...

Jeremy Brett remains my all-time favourite. Holmes.

I thought he was lovely.