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What Is the Sherlock Holmes Museum?

By C. K. Lanz
Updated May 23, 2024
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The Sherlock Holmes Museum, located in London, England, is dedicated to the historical era and life of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s fictional detective Sherlock Holmes and his companion, Doctor John H. Watson. In the Sherlock Holmes stories, the detective and Dr. Watson live at 221b Baker Street in London as tenants of Mrs. Hudson from 1881 to 1904. Founded in 1990, the museum is housed in a Georgian townhouse that is actually located between 237 and 241 Baker Street at number 239 but uses the 221b Baker Street address with the permission of the City of Westminster. The collection includes period furniture, wax figures, and Sherlock Holmes memorabilia.

The house that houses the Sherlock Holmes Museum is similar to Holmes’ residence as described in the stories and was a Victorian boardinghouse. The museum attempts to faithfully recreate the interior of the detective’s flat as described by Conan Doyle, including the first-floor study overlooking Baker Street decorated with period furniture and objects. Visitors are invited to immerse themselves in the setting of the stories and experience what the detective’s life in his home may have been like.

Tours of the museum are often conducted by staff in character, usually posing as Dr. Watson or the detective himself. On display are period artifacts similar to those described by Conan Doyle in the stories, including the detective’s violin, library, and scientific instruments. Visitors can also climb the famous 17 steps from the street to the first floor. Across the street from the museum is a gift shop featuring Sherlockiana as well as props from the Granada TV Sherlock Holmes series that aired between 1984 and 1994 starring Jeremy Brett as the detective.

Some Conan Doyle descendants have publicly criticized the opening of the Sherlock Holmes Museum. As the detective is a fictional character, a few family members object to the museum because it suggests that Holmes really existed. There are few Conan Doyle possessions in the museum itself because the family had sold most at auction. Visitors to the Sherlock Holmes Museum should note that it is a recreation of a fictional setting and not the fictional detective’s actual home.

When Conan Doyle created his detective, Baker Street addresses did not go as high as 221, but the street numbers were re-allocated in the 1930s. At that time, the famous address was assigned to the Abbey National building. As a result, the building began receiving voluminous correspondence for Sherlock Holmes and had to appoint a permanent employee to read and respond to all the letters.

In 1990, the 221b Baker Street address was assigned to the Sherlock Holmes Museum even though the house is actually located between 237 and 241 Baker Street at number 239. A blue plaque that included the address was unveiled when the museum opened. Abbey National objected to the museum being assigned 221b because the house was out of sequence with the other numbers on the street and because Abbey National had been answering Sherlock Holmes’ mail since the 1930s. Abbey House closed in 2005, and the Sherlock Holmes Museum’s exclusive right to receive and answer the detective’s mail was recognized.

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