The fictional detective, Sherlock Holmes, is so embedded in popular culture that Baker Street tube station, on the London Underground, is custom-decorated in his honour. The super-sleuth, a character invented by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, famously lived at 221B Baker Street in London.
Holmes is probably the most well-known fictional detective in the world, as he is listed by the Guinness World Records for being the “most portrayed character” in movie history. Holmes was a detective for 23 years and for most of that time he was assisted by his trusty sidekick, Dr John Watson, who was a physician.
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Sir Arthur created Holmes in 1887 in a novel called A Study in Scarlet, followed by a series of short stories about the detective in The Strand Magazine, beginning with A Scandal in Bohemia. This led to further short stories about his cases, with the character rapidly gaining popularity.
The author had based the character of Holmes on Joseph Bell, an Edinburgh-born surgeon, who was also a lecturer at the University of Edinburgh’s medical school in the 19th century.
Bell was renowned for emphasising the importance of close observation when he made a diagnosis. He would illustrate his skills by choosing a stranger, observing him closely and deducing his recent activities and occupation. His remarkable skill led to him becoming known as a pioneer in the field of forensic science and forensic pathology.
His methods put him way ahead of his time, as in the 19th century, science wasn’t widely used during criminal investigations.
Author’s early life
Sir Arthur first met Bell in 1877, when the would-be author was an 18-year-old clerk to the respected 40-year-old surgeon at Edinburgh Royal Infirmary.
Born in May 1859, Sir Arthur was sent to Hodder Place school in Stonyhurst, Lancashire, at the age of nine. He went on to attend Stonyhurst College, leaving in 1875 and completing his education at Stella Matutina school in Feldkirch, Austria.
In 1876, he started to study medicine at the University of Edinburgh Medical School, during which time he worked under Bell at the infirmary while completing his studies.
It was while he was a student that Sir Arthur first started writing short stories, although with little success at first. He continued to write while training to be a doctor, completing his Doctor of Medicine degree in 1885.
He was ship’s doctor on a number of vessels, including the Hope of Peterhead and the SS Mayumba, before becoming a partner in a medical practice in Plymouth and then opening his own practice in Southsea. However, writing fiction was always his first love and he continued to do so while practicing medicine.
After his initial success with his first Sherlock Holmes’ novel, A Scandal in Bohemia, in 1887, Sir Arthur never looked back and he wrote many additional novels and short stories regularly until 1927.
The majority of the stories were set during the Victorian and Edwardian era, between around 1880 and 1914. In total, he had four novels and 56 short stories published with Sherlock Holmes as the hero. Most were narrated by Watson, who was Holmes’ friend and biographer in the books.
Holmes today is widely considered to be a cultural icon – and is so believable that many people think he was a real person! A survey in 2011, carried out by Ask Jeeves, revealed 21% of Brits thought Sherlock Holmes was real.
As the subject of a multitude of literary and fan societies, the stories and character have had a profound effect on mystery writing. The original stories (and thousands more written by other authors) have been adapted into stage plays, radio plays, films, television series, video games and other media for more than a century.
One of the most famous Sherlock Holmes actors was Basil Rathbone, who starred alongside fellow British actor Nigel Bruce, as Holmes and Watson respectively, in a series of 14 films released by 20th Century Fox between 1939 and 1946.
In the 21st century, there have been two Sherlock Holmes films starring Robert Downey Junior as the detective and Jude Law as Dr Watson. A third is planned for 2020, starring the same duo.
The Sherlock Holmes Museum is located at 221B Baker Street, London (the official residence of Holmes and Watson) and houses many artefacts relating to the famous detective.
The house has been given protected status by the government because it is considered to be of “special architectural and historical interest”. The first-floor study that overlooks Baker Street looks just as it would have done in Victorian times when it was maintained by Mrs Hudson, Holmes’ landlady.
The Georgian townhouse was used as a boarding house in real life from 1860 to 1936. The museum covers the period from 1881 to 1904, when Holmes and Watson were tenants there.
The privately owned museum, run by the Sherlock Holmes Society of England, contains items from numerous adaptations of the books, including recreations of various scenes from the Granada Television series, Sherlock Holmes, in 1984.
Travel by tube
The Sherlock Homes Museum is accessible via the famous Baker Street tube station. As one of the oldest, original tube stations of the Metropolitan Railway (the first underground railway in the world), it opened in 1863.
The station is known for its unique tiling, which carries silhouette pictures of Sherlock Holmes to celebrate his association with Baker Street.
Platforms seven and ten opened in 1979, for the use of Jubilee line trains. The Jubilee line platforms at Baker Street also feature illustrations of Holmes, depicting scenes from some of his most famous cases.
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