221b Baker Street is, of course, the famous address of the most well-known fictional detective in the world. Today, the Sherlock Holmes Museum is located there. It was a one bright Tuesday afternoon that I visited.
I went with a group from the Boston University Abroad program. The Student Activities Office offers us discounts on tours and activities in and around London. Most are too structured and not worth it. Some, like this one, are. Included within the £20 program price was the admission to the Sherlock Holmes Museum (average ticket price: £15) and afternoon tea at the Sherlock Hotel (average price: £20). Basically it was two for the price of one. Since I had been meaning to go to the museum and can’t say no to a good cup of tea, I jumped at the chance.
Most of the other people in the BU group were from various Asian countries and were studying business or finance or something similar. Overall, they were mostly interested in Sherlock Holmes, but there also was one American guy studying pre-law who knew little to nothing about the famous detective. The extent of his knowledge was the Robert Downey Jr. movies. He said he choose to take tea and go to the museum because he “wanted to get out more.”
We eventually all arrived at the 221b Baker Street after meeting up with an RA and taking the tube. Outside was a cheesy sign and an old fashioned bobby standing guard at the door. He marked off our tickets (which were really just informational pamphlets), and we were gestured inside.
Up some noisy, narrow stairs was Sherlock Holmes’s bedroom. It was small, cluttered, and decorated with Victorian antiques. A deerstalker sat in a glass case on the bed. There were no signs except the occasional small slips of paper explaining what story an object came from. Most of the rest of the museum was like that. Crowded with antiques and sly references to the written stories (a knife pining correspondence to the mantel, a Persian slipper filled with tobacco, a “manuscript” of a Sherlock Holmes story on Watson’s desk, etc.)
It was as if we were looking into the real home of the two characters, fact and fiction blurring to create a musty Victorian flat. Cool if you’re an avid fan, boring and mystifying if you’re not. I know because that’s what the American pre-law major looked like as he wandered around.
On the top floor were the wax works: unnerving models of villains from classic stories such as “The Red-Headed League” and “The Speckled Band.” Some familiar faces were also there such as Irene Adler and Moriarty. They stared at the visitors with unwavering glares.
Overall, I was fairly underwhelming. The museum was interesting but poorly designed. They did a very bad job of catering to the whole range of Sherlock Holmes fans from novice to avid. Things were labeled haphazardly and briefly. And guides, besides the pamphlet/ticket, were not easily available. Compared to the interactive and informative experience at the Jane Austen Center in Bath, the Sherlock Holmes Museum was a huge let down.
The afternoon tea was good though. The Sherlock Hotel was only a couple blocks down from the museum, and despite the name, was decorated in a very modern and genteel way. They placed us in a back room and gave us a couple coaches and arm chairs to sit on and two coffee tables to eat off of. The tea was satisfying and the food was delicious. Not too rich but very flavorful. All of the finger sandwiches, cakes, and especially the scones were eaten in relish. Completely worth the £20. I imagine even Sherlock Holmes himself would’ve been pleased.