221B Baker Street: Holmes’ Phantom Address

… and the museum vs. the bank.

In London in the Nineteenth Century, author Jerry White refers to John Fisher Murray’s 1844 designations for “old London neighborhoods.* Baker Street is categorized as neither exclusive, ultra-fashionable nor fashionable, but “genteel.” Madame Tussaud’s Wax Works was housed there, in addition to shops, pubs, restaurants and “mansion blocks,” i.e. apartment buildings.

However, when Holmes and Watson took rooms at 221B Baker Street in 1881, the numbered addresses went no higher than 84.

As soon as this fact came to light, questions were raised. Was Watson protecting Holmes from risk by disguising the address? Did they actually live in York Place? According to David Sinclair’s Sherlock Holmes’s London, York Place was a residential end of what has more recently become a part of Baker Street. Another theory was that the doctor and detective lived in the Regent’s Park end of present day Baker Street, known as Upper Baker Street. (Note! A reader has informed me that in preliminary notes to Conan Doyle’s A Study in Scarlet, he did refer to a 221B Upper Baker Street.) The number system was still unsatisfactory, according to Sinclair, as as the highest was 54.

Life caught up with art a few years after the publication of the last Holmes story in 1930. Baker Street was extended across Marylebone Road and renumbered. An entire city block took on the address 219 to 229, and became the headquarters of Abbey Road Building Society and then, in July 1989, Abbey National, a bank.

Google Maps

That settled nothing, especially when heaps of mail seeking Holmes’ aid began to arrive and the building society-morphing-to-a-bank proudly designated itself as employer of the posthumous secretary to Sherlock Holmes for seventy years.

Then, in 1990, the bank had competition. The Sherlock Holmes Museum set up just down the street at a much more appropriate-looking address, not 221B, but 239 Baker Street.

239 Baker Street Google Maps

To settle the matter the museum actually tried to get its address changed from 239 to 221, a permission refused in 1994. It was able to register as a business legally called 221B Limited, however, and posted that name over the entrance.

Google Maps: 219 to 229 Baker Street today

Abbey National Bank finally retired from the conflict in 2002 when it moved away from Baker Street entirely. By way of a graceful farewell, the bank installed the fine statue of Sherlock Holmes that surveys nearby Baker Street Tube Station.

Gift to Baker Street from Abbey National Bank

*Old London was a very different city, as the population count, as well as the square miles, skyrocketed in the 19th Century. In 1801, the first official census names just over 1 million. By 1900 it is 6.2 Million. Square miles in 1851 totaled 122; in the Holmes’ era, c.1896, that number is 693.

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Sherlock Holmes and the Remaining Improbable, by Susanne Dutton, coming soon from Propertius Press.

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Holmes, One in 4.7 Million

https://youtu.be/MJeNG1R7FzM

1780 – London Population 750,000

1801 – London Population 1.1 M

1881 – London Population 4.7 Million when Holmes and Watson take 221b

1896 – London Population 6.7 Million during The Adventure of the Bruce-Partington Plans, wherein secret submarine blueprints are found in a murdered engineer’s pocket.

1920 – London Population is 7.4 Million when Holmes is 66 and The Dangerous Drugs Act is enacted… Sherlock Holmes and the Remaining Improbable takes place.

from The Strand Magazine, January 1891

In 1860, when the six year old Holmes was still home in Yorkshire (about 322 km and or 200 miles away) London was already one quarter larger than the world’s second largest city, Beijing; two thirds larger than the Paris; five times as big as NYC. By 1881, Holmes had moved to London. Rents were high. The population was young, a little more female than male. He was on the lookout for a fellow to share the rent.

The Criminal Investigation Department had recently been created, naming 250 detectives, including Lestrade, in a police department that numbered 10,000.

https://propertiuspress.wixsite.com/bookstore/online-store

“Diggings” in Baker Street, Watson smokes, too–and the landlady’s mourning jewelry brings back a macabre memory

“By Jove! If he really wants someone to share the rooms and expense, I am the very man for him.” J. Watson, M.D.

In 1881, Holmes and Watson move in to 221b. Holmes is 27; Watson 29 years old.

“Holmes was delighted. ‘I have my eye on a suite in Baker Street,‘ he said. … You don’t mind the smell of strong tobacco, I hope?’

‘I always smoke ‘ship’s’ myself,”Watson answered.

‘That’s good enough. I generally have chemicals about, and occasionally, do experiments. Would that annoy you? … Let me see, what are my other shortcomings? I get in the dumps at times, and don’t open my mouth for days.’

That very evening Watson moved his things from the hotel in the Strand where he had been living a comfortless and meaningless existence.” Excerpted from: Sherlock Holmes of Baker Street, by William S. Baring Gould, WING BOOKS.

When they met Mrs. Hudson, the landlady, Holmes saw immediately a mourning pin at her collar, not more than half an inch long, set with a zigzag design of what was surely human hair.

Had she lost a child? Was she a widow? He did not mention it, initially, though he was personally familiar with the tradition of bereavement jewelry. His mother, Violet Sherrinford Holmes, b. 1824, treasured a ring crafted in the more macabre style of the Georgian era, a tiny skull and cross bones set in a circle of pearls.

“Diggings” in Baker Street, Watson smokes, too–and the landlady’s mourning jewelry brings back a macabre memory

“By Jove! If he really wants someone to share the rooms and expense, I am the very man for him.” J. Watson, M.D.

In 1881, Holmes and Watson move in to 221b. Holmes is 27; Watson 29 years old.

“Holmes was delighted. ‘I have my eye on a suite in Baker Street,‘ he said. … You don’t mind the smell of strong tobacco, I hope?’

‘I always smoke ‘ship’s’ myself,”Watson answered.

‘That’s good enough. I generally have chemicals about, and occasionally, do experiments. Would that annoy you? … Let me see, what are my other shortcomings? I get in the dumps at times, and don’t open my mouth for days.’

That very evening Watson moved his things from the hotel in the Strand where he had been living a comfortless and meaningless existence.” Excerpted from: Sherlock Holmes of Baker Street, by William S. Baring Gould, WING BOOKS.

When they met Mrs. Hudson, the landlady, Holmes saw immediately a mourning pin at her collar, not more than half an inch long, set with a zigzag design of what was surely human hair.

Had she lost a child? Was she a widow? He did not mention it, initially, though he was personally familiar with the tradition of bereavement jewelry. His mother, Violet Sherrinford Holmes, b. 1824, treasured a ring crafted in the more macabre style of the Georgian era, a tiny skull and cross bones set in a circle of pearls.