James Leavey's Corner
The London Of Sherlock Holmes

FORCES - Link to James Leavey's Corner Main Page
(extract from The FOREST Guide to Smoking in London)

by James Leavey, editor, The FOREST Guide to Smoking in London
and The FOREST Guide to Smoking in Scotland

James Leavey dogs the footsteps of one of the most famous smokers in the world

Write to
James Leavey
Every year, thousands of tourists arrive in London in search of a myththat has been closely interwoven with Victorianhistory.Their quarry is Sherlock Holmes, the world's greatestconsulting detective;perennial star of countless books, comics, radioand stageplays, tv series, animated cartoons, movies, videos and a growing mountainof merchandise.

Backin1887whenhis first case, AStudyinScarlet,was published, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's gimlet eyed know-allreceived a modest reception from the public. Now all you've got to do is don a deerstalker, stuff a Calabash pipeinyourmouth and ask someone the waytoBakerStreet. You'llimmediately be recognised as a keen Sherlockian,ifnot theman himself.Coachloads of Japanese orAmericanstourists will dog your steps and, if you can find a suitably drooling mask for your mutt, Baskerville (as in Hound of), you'll make asmall fortune in signed photographs.

So, suitably garbed, with a magnifying glass in one hand and some dog biscuits in the pocket of my Inverness cape, I set ofacross London in search of the Great Detective's haunts.

"Thegame's afoot!" I yelled, indicating my destinationonthe mapto Bert, the driver of the blackfour-wheelercab(there wasn'ta Hansom in sight) hailed outside Charing Crossstation.Thelatterwaswhere a criminalnamedMatthewsknockedout Holmes's left canine in the waiting room, in ‘The Empty House’.

"There's the White House, the Kremlin and 10 Downing Street,but they're probablynotaswellknownas221bBakerStreet, immortalisedas the address of Sherlock Holmes from around1881 to1903, until his retirement to Sussex Downs to study beekeep-ing,"said Bert over his shoulder as he drove off.Isatback astonished by this unexpected display of knowledge. "It'selementary, mate," explained Bert, "when you getasmany tourists as I do, all asking to be taken to the same address."

As we transversed the city, I noticed that theVictorianpea-souperfog had been replaced by fumes fromcountlesshorseless carriages.Alas, most of the 50,000 horses that hadworkedin Londonacentury ago had long gone.As hadthemanure-coated cobbles. Onlythestreet vendors,itinerants,vagrantsand traffic jams remained, and the average Hansom cab speed ofabout 9 miles per hour.

Whenwe eventually arrived at 221b Baker Street, I found ithad been Abbey National's London headquarters since 1944, andAbbey Housesince 1932.A bronze plaquecelebratingthecompany's specialrelationship with Sherlock Holmes was unveiledbythe late,and much celebrated television Sherlockian actor,Jeremy Brett, in 1985. Apartfromthat the only visible homage to Holmeswasamock antique leather-topped desk inthe company's press office, manned by Gug Kyraicou, official secretary to Holmes since April 1994.

"Since1949, Abbey National has received and dealt withbetween 30and 40 letters a week, sometimes whole bagfuls, addressedto SherlockHolmes," saidGug."They're mostlyfromkidswho sometimes ask for help in solving minor mysteries such as finding lost pets."

Gug dutifully replies to every letter, enclosing a free goody bag containing a booklet, a highly collectable set ofcommemorative stamps, and a badge, informing enquirers that: "Mr Holmes has now retired to Sussex where he spends his time reviewing therecords of his cases and keeping bees..."

AshortstrollledmetootherdedicationstotheGreat Detective, which abounded everywhere I looked.Even Baker Street underground station's ticket hall (refurbished for the opening of theJubileeline in 1979), middle concourse andBakerlooline platforms were clad in duo tone tiling featuring a total of about 50 silhouettes of Holmes.

BakerStreetitself now boasts a Sherlock Holmespharmacyand newsagent. At No.108, you can unwind in a large Victorian porce-lain bath in the Sherlock Holmes Hotel's (0171 486 6161) Reichen-bach Suite.Or enjoy Mrs Hudson's Tea of finger sandwiches,hot toastedcrumpets,muffins, scones,cake,clottedcreamand preserves,served from midday till 6pm, in the DrWatson'sbar and lounge, or dinner in the 221b Eating House restaurant.

On the north side of Marylebone Road, the entrance charge toThe Sherlock HolmesMuseumattheother"221b"Baker Street (0171-935-886) seemed a trifle expensive.Alsotheexhibition wasn't located on what most Sherlockians believe to be the actual site of 221B.Nonetheless, it was a charming reconstruction of a Victorian three storey lodgings house (17 steps from thefront doortoHolmes'sfirst floor study) and youwere allowedto handle the curious range of exhibits, while the flames from mock coal fires helped shake off the chill.

Dr Watson's bedroom was on the second floor, next to Mrs Hudson's quarters. On display downstairs were fanletterstoHolmes, includingonefrom an 8-year-old in Japan,whichended:"PS Pleasegivemy love to your friend."The mind boggledat the unseemly possibilities.

Iwasmet just outside the museum's frontdoorbySherlock's shorter lookalike, actor Stewart Quentin 'Holmes', who hadbeen immersed in the role, full-time, for five years.Hiscolleague, JohnBarrett'Watson', now only works weekends,preferringto spend the rest of the week in medical publishing.

Strangely,neithercould be found inBT'sLondonResidential Phone Book, which currently lists the following entries: JMor-iarty-9,S Holmes - 19, Dr J Watson - 1,andJ(as in Inspector") Lestrade – 1.

"I live round the corner from Baker Street so it's quitehandy," said Stewart from under his deerstalker, who hands out businesscards and is the popular subject of foreign snapshooters."Watsonand I often go out in costume and recently turned up in a Hansomcab atBuckinghamPalace for the Changing of theGuard,wherewe caused quite a sensation."

Akeencryptologist, like his namesake,'Holmes'directedme across the road to the Sherlock Holmes Memorabilia Society at 230 Baker Street, NW1 (0171-486-1426), where from Monday toSaturday they sellover1,000 itemsofmerchandise (including a deerstalkerhat, _œ“24.95, a selection of magnifying glassesfrom £9.95 to £29.95,miniature violins, Meerchaumpipes,Persian slippers, bound copies of the original Strand Magazine, Sherlock Holmes Teddy Bears and fridge magnets).

Openedin July 1992 on the site known to Holmes'sfollowersas ‘The Empty House’, part of the first floor has since been converted into a Victorian first class railway carriage - a scene fromthe story,‘SilverBlaze’. Customers can havetheirphotostaken sitting next to a life-sized model of the Great Detective,whose unlit pipe, unfortunately, dangles from its hand rather thanits mouth.

ThegenuineHolmes displayed a vast knowledge of theusesand properties of tobacco in solving cases.He was an avid loverof the pipe, cigar andcigarette, which prompted his equallyfamous friendandbiographer, Dr John Watson,himselfan occasional pipesmoker, to note bitterly that Holmes was "...aself-poisoner by cocaine and tobacco."

Holmeswould often sit for hours enshrouded in smoke,pondering cases, andkept his shag (strong coarse tobacco,bestavoided these days) in the toe end of a Persian slipper, and inassorted tobacco-pouches littered across the mantlepiece of his bedroom. Cigars were stashed in a coal-scuttle, as were pipes and tobacco.

Perhapshis mostdishearteningcustom wastosmokeapre-breakfast pipe filled with the dottles and plugs leftfromthe smokesof the previous day, which had all beencarefullydried and collected on a corner of the mantlepiece.

Keenlyinterested only in anything relevant to his work,Holmes wrote a famous monograph based on his long study of tobaccoash."Ifoundthe ash of a cigar, whichmyspecialknowledgeof tobaccoashesenables me to pronounce as an Indiancigar,"he informed Watson in the course of the investigation, ‘TheBoscombe Valley Murder.’

"I have, as you know, devoted some attention to this, and written alittle monograph on the ashes of 140 differentvarietiesof pipe, cigar, and cigarette tobacco.Having found the ash, I then looked round and discovered the stump among the moss where he had tossedit. It was an Indian cigar, of thevarietywhichare rolled in Rotterdam."

In ‘The Sign of the Four’, Holmes again demonstrated hisexpertise with the statement: "...there is as much difference betweenthe black ash of a Trichinopoly and the white fluff of bird's eyeas there is between a cabbage and a potato."

Itappears, unfortunately, that Holmes's extensive knowledgeof tobacco was largely ignored by the police at Scotland Yard,who have since made up for this startling oversight.

Perhaps the most interesting place I encountered was The Sherlock Holmes Collection at the Marylebone Library, Marylebone Road, NW1 (0171798 1206), although this closed collectionofmagazines (includinga complete run of the Strand Magazine upto1930), societyjournals, comics,film andstagescripts,cuttings, photographs,complete bibliographyand about1,000bookson ArthurConan Doyle and his creation can only be viewed by spe-cialappointment. You can also buy a seriesofeightprints celebratingthe centenary of Holmes, greetings cards oratea-towel.

"Thecollectionwas started in 1951 when, for theFestivalof Britain, StMarylebone Borough Council held aSherlockHolmes exhibition of printed materials, artefacts - such as theStuffed GiantRatofSumatra and thenowfamousreconstructionof SherlockHolmes'sitting room," explainedcurator,Catherine Cook.

"Thebooksandmagazines formed thenucleusofthepresent collection,while the sitting room waspermanentlytransferred and displayedon the first floor of what isnowtheSherlock Holmes Pub in Northumberland Street, when it opened in 1957."

Footweary, mybrainreeling, I flagged downanotherblack cab, hastening to James Taylor & Son at 4 Paddington Street,W1 (0171 935 4149). Established in 1857, the shoemaker now offers a rangeof Sherlock Holmes handmade footwear from about £680plus VAT(boots from £780, plus VAT), each taking about threemonths inthemaking.You can choose between The SherlockShoe(an elasticsided Cambridge), The Lestrade (suede chukka boots)or the Mrs Hudson (high laced Balmoral).

Mycabpassed St Bartholomew's HospitalwhereYoungStamford introduced WatsontoHolmes,andtheBritishMuseum-an invaluablesource of information used by Holmes in solvingseveral cases.

I perceived that Holmes' old haunts - Simpson's restaurant in the Strand, the Cafe Royal - in front of which he was attacked by the henchmenofBaron Gruner in ‘The IllustriousClient’,andthe Langham Hotel - were still thriving as we weaved our waythrough the traffic to the Diogenes Club (also known as The Athenium,in Waterloo Place off Pall Mall, SW1), of which Sherlock'sbrother, Mycroft, was a founding member.

It was there where I bumped into Peter Harkness, publisher of the Sherlock HolmesGazette."I received a letter fromaretired policedetective in America asking me for anendorsementfrom SherlockHolmesforhis new agency," he said. "Iwrote back politely to break the news that he might be on the wrong trail."

IfI hadn't already possessed one, a real Invernesscape,made from Harris Tweed, could have been purchased from Cording's,the gentlemen's outfittersat 19 Piccadilly, W1(017173407830) eitheroff-the-peg for about £250-£300, ormade-to-measurefor around £400. The rubberised cotton off-the-pegversioncosts around £250-£300.

Later, I made my way to the Sherlock Holmes section in the Murder One bookshop, Charing Cross Road, WC2 (01717343484),which stocksover 1,000 different titles - anything in printonthe subject in the English language.The most expensive item was the first bound volume of the complete works, signed by ConanDoyle, at£900.

Ofthedozenor so different publishedversionsofSherlock Holmes's complete 56 stories and four novels in one volume,the best are those published by John Murray (out of print butavail-ablefromgood second-hand bookshops), PenguinandWordsworth (completefascimile, from the original set ofStrandMagazine, including illustrations).

Undoubtedly,the most interesting title was the authoritiveand entertaining The Sherlock Holmes Encyclopedia by Matthew E Bunson (Pavilion).

Round the corner was Chinatown, which had moved from its original location in Limehouse to the area between LeicesterSquareand Shaftesbury Avenue. There was no sign of the vile opium den, the BarofGold, from ‘The Man with the TwistedLip’, butHolmes's vice,cocaine,was still readily available in the usual7 per centsolution from well-dressed scoundrels skulking in theWest End's night clubs and bars.

MynextstepstookmealongWhitehall,whereHolmesmade frequent visits, particularly to the diplomatic service andthe headquarters of the Metropolitan Police at Scotland Yard.Iwas en route to The Sherlock Holmes Pub at 10 Northumberland Avenue, WC2 (0171 930 2644) where I met the co-manager, Robert Davie,in thefirstfloor restaurant, the menu of which isinsixlan-guages, while peering through the glass wall into Holmes's recon-structed study.

"Allthe London walks come here," said Davie, whoisconvinced the tavern is haunted by the ghost of a cellarman."On some days the police have to move on five or six coachloads."

A telephone call to a communicative friend revealed that Holmes's famehad reached the ether.A freely available newsconference on the Great Detective can now be accessed on the Internet.In a query regarding Holmes's relationship with Watson, one net surfer replied: "There is as much canonical evidence thatHolmeswas gay as there is that he was Mr Spock's ancestor."

Itallseemed too much to bear and I dashed out tohailanother four-wheeler."Quick, take me to 221b Baker Street," I cried."Which one"" asked the driver, a cigarette dangling from thecornerof his mouth.

Aha!That will be a three-pipe problem.

For more information:TheSherlockHolmes Society of London, c/oCommanderGeoffrey Stavert, 3 Outram Road, Southsea, Hants, PO51QP. Formedin 1951,itnow has about 1400 members,worldwide,holdingssix meetingsayear in London, and anannualweekendout-of-town excursion.

TheArthur Conan Doyle Society, Grasmere, 35 PenfoldWay,Dod-eston, Chester, CH4 9ML.

SherlockHolmes Gazette, 46 Purfield Road, Wargrave,Berkshire. RG10 8AR. 01734 402801.Back numbers available.


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