A trip to 221B Baker Street

It’s where Sherlock Holmes and John Watson solved mysteries

No. Mrs Hudson, Sherlock Holmes’s affable landlady, did not usher me in. Just five minutes back, I had popped up from London Underground at Baker Street Station, and walked up to the doorstep of the world’s most celebrated sleuth. A congenial, yet posing to be a serious gatekeeper, dressed up as a 19th century London cop, was guarding the entrance and obliging anyone for a photo-op. I climbed up the wooden stairs to the first floor, and lo, the door was open.

I stood outside the door for a moment. Then, with a little flutter in my stomach, stepped in. I was in the legendary drawing room at 221B Baker Street, all Sherlock Holmes aficionados are so familiar with.

For real

Have I not seen this room a hundred times since my childhood in the lucid pages of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle? And spent as many evenings inside it as Dr Watson narrated the intrigues of the cases and, often, exasperated at the eccentricity of his friend?

If it were not for Timothy, the friendly young guide, welcoming me as soon as I entered the room, I would have expected that sharp pair of eyes above an aquiline nose, his calabash pipe in one hand, putting forth the other for a shake. I had goosebumps. This was so real.

The setting of the drawing room is markedly Victorian. “The furniture you see around is truly late-19th century, the way it would have been during Holmes’s time,” said Timothy. I looked around. The two broad windows overlooking the street. That fireplace and the mantlepiece above where Holmes kept his correspondences. The familiar armchair by the fireplace, and the other across, on which sat so many of Holmes’s clients — some rattled and nervous, others perplexed, and still others begging for utmost secrecy.

The King of Bohemia who came in the guise of Count Von Kromme, and no sooner than he sat across Holmes, the detective addressed him as ‘His Majesty’. Miss Mary Sutherland, the wealthy young woman, whose would-be husband disappeared on the day of their wedding. The list goes on.

Holmes’s chemical laboratory is in one corner where he carried out many an experiment that nailed as many criminals. Between the laboratory and the fireplace is a low cabinet on which a violin is kept.

“That is a real Stradivarius,” said Timothy, pointing at the violin, then added, “which Holmes would have played on in his time.” I contracted my brows. Timothy took the cue of my suspicion about the violin, guided me, ever so carefully, between Holmes’s armchair and a roundtable, craned his neck and impelled me to do the same to be as near as possible to the violin without intruding on the delicately kept Victorian setting of the drawing room. “See the mark?” I caught a glimpse of the signature of the world’s most famous violin maker.

Unusually tidy

Timothy looked at me expectantly, rather triumphantly. I was playful, in no mood to give in. “All these,” I quipped, looking around, “aren’t they a tad tidy for Sherlock Holmes?” Timothy broke into a chortle. He said, “Well, don’t forget, this also belongs to Dr Watson.” And as he said, he gently guided me towards the wall opposite to the fireplace. A bureau is set against the wall, belonging to Dr Watson, Holmes’s unfailing companion, without whose chronicles we wouldn’t have known the detective’s exploits. The articles on it are orderly kept — books, a quill pen, few medicine bottles and measuring cups, and an open newspaper, The Times, of that era. Dr Watson’s medical kit is placed on the chair next to the bureau and is kept open for a peep.

The adjacent room has Holmes’s hand-written letter to Dr Watson, his personal effects, like his deerstalker hat, and objects he collected during his extraordinary adventures, like the Bible with the revolver concealed, belonging to the ex-reverend Williamson, from the case of The Solitary Cyclist.

So close to Sherlock Holmes, can Professor Moriarty be too far away? Well, a life-size statue of Holmes’s ultimate adversary, a rather sinister-looking statue at that, must say, adorned one of the two upper-floor rooms, along with that of some of the other equally sinister characters from Holmes’s adventures.

I was liberated from the felons of Holmesian era by the refrain of Mendelssohn’s ‘Lieder Ohne Worte’ (‘Songs Without Words’) on the violin wafting in. I startled. Didn’t Dr Watson mention somewhere... oh yes, of course, A Study in Scarlet, that Holmes played Mendelssohn’s pieces remarkably well? I scurried downstairs towards the drawing room. I might catch Sherlock Holmes at his Stradivarius.

 

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A trip to 221B Baker Street

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