Why did Sherlock Holmes measure the Monopoly board?
To see if the game was a-foot.
He might be a serious-faced Victorian, but Sherlock Holmes is also bags of fun. Your kids might have seen him on Horrible Histories, played the 221b board game, watched one of the many cartoons, TV shows and movies… they might even have read the books.
The great detective is an intriguing figure for children. His analytical mind and dogged pursuit of the facts can dovetail neatly into discussions about science and logical thinking.
One of the best ways to learn about Sherlock is to get out onto the streets of London where he and Dr Watson so famously plied their trade. The capital is full of Sherlockian references, if you know where to look.
Sherlock Holmes, The Game
Before we get exploring, why not book yourselves into an immersive game based on the detective’s adventures? Sherlock: The Official Live Game is a locked-room experience, which will have you searching for clues and solving puzzles based on the popular BBC show. It’s suitable for anyone over the age of 10, and follows all COVID safety measures. The live game is located in Shepherd’s Bush, a quick tube or bus ride from the centre of town.
Baker Street detective work
The obvious place to start is the detective’s own neighbourhood. Holmes and Watson shared rooms above number 221b Baker street, close to Regent’s Park. Does the house actually exist? And what else can we find in the area?
Begin at the tube station. It’s worth arriving by one of the deep-level tube lines (Jubilee or Bakerloo). The connecting corridors include tiles that show the detective’s distinctive profile, complete with pipe and deerstalker hat (which was never actually mentioned in Arthur Conan Doyle’s original stories; it debuted in a later stage adaptation). Get your kids to see how many of these tiles they can spot.
Once you emerge from the station (Marylebone Road exit) the first thing that greets the eyes is a larger-than-life statue of Holmes. This is a popular spot for selfies, and you may have to wait your turn.
If it’s open, take a walk through the “Wonderpass” tunnel, immediately to the right of the exit (as you emerge). This decorated subway contains small displays about the history of the area -- including a slightly sinister niche devoted to the Hound of the Baskervilles (Sherlock’s most famous case).
221b itself can be found up the northern section of Baker Street (turn right, and right again out of the tube exit). When Arthur Conan Doyle wrote the original stories, the door numbers stopped well short of number 221. He’d created an entirely fictional address. A later extension of the street gave rise to a number 221, which for many years was a branch of Abbey National building society. The business received a steady flow of fan mail over the years, and even employed somebody to write replies.
Nowadays, the door number has moved a few blocks down and graces the front of the Sherlock Holmes Museum. This small attraction recreates the home of the sleuthing pair, complete with Holmes’s study, and even the toilet (rather stained on my last visit!). Sadly, it remains closed due to coronavirus, but is hopeful of reopening soon. In the meantime, the pavement outside is another good spot to grab a selfie or family photograph.
If the kids are up for further wanderings, set them a map-reading test. Their mission is to find Sherlock Mews, a short street located a few blocks south. Tell them to keep their eyes peeled (or spyglasses out) along the way, as many of the businesses along the route include subtle (or not-so-subtle) references to the detective. Like this place:
Dine like Sherlock
From Baker Street, it’s a short tube ride to Euston Square (three stops east on the Circle, Hammersmith and City or Metropolitan line). Here you’ll find North Gower Street and its most famous business, Speedy’s Cafe. The caff will be immediately familiar to fans of the BBC’s Sherlock series, starring Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman, where it poses as 221b. The cafe’s opening hours may have been affected by the ongoing coronavirus situation, but it’s still a must-see sight for Sherlock fans.
The other great detective dining experience can be found in the Charing Cross area. The Sherlock Holmes pub (10 Northumberland Street) stands on the site of the old Northumberland Hotel, which featured in The Hound of the Baskervilles. The place is decked out with Sherlockian memorabilia, but book a table in the upstairs family dining room for the ultimate homage. Here, a sizeable chunk of space has been converted into Holmes’s study, packed with objects from his most famous cases. A waxwork figure of the detective stands guard. The scene dates back to the 1950s and has long been one of those “oh my gosh, I never knew that was there” discoveries, that London throws up so often. At the time of writing, the pub had reopened and was accepting bookings.
Other Sherlockian sights
Those prepared to explore a little further can find other nods to the great detective. Bart’s Hospital in Smithfield (nearest station Farringdon) was the location where Holmes and Watson first met, in both the books and the BBC series. The hospital’s museum (currently closed) even has a plaque to mark the fictional event. Fans of the TV show will recognise the imposing Edwardian facade on Giltspur Street (I say ‘facade’ because the guts of the building were recently torn down for redevelopment, leaving just the face of the building). This is the infamous scene where Holmes seemingly plummeted to his death at the end of Series 2, leaving fans on tenterhooks until the start of the next series. The hallowed ground has been marked by Sherlock fans, who’ve scribbled tributes inside the adjacent phone box.
The capital also contains at least three plaques to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, creator of Sherlock Holmes. His official Blue Plaque is on his former suburban home at 12 Tennison Road, Norwood. More centrally, you can track a City of Westminster plaque to 2 Upper Wimpole Street, not far from Baker Street. The third, and most intriguing, is on the wall of the Langham Hotel, across the road from the BBC’s Broadcasting House. This commemorates a famous dinner at which both Conan Doyle and Oscar Wilde were commissioned to write two of their most famous books (The Sign of Four and The Picture of Dorian Gray, respectively). How’s that for a power lunch?
All images by the author.
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