The Museum of London are currently showing an exhibition about the most famous fictional detective of all time: Sherlock Holmes. Putting together an exhibition about a character that never really existed must have been quite a challenge for the team at the museum – how can you tell a story through objects when it’s already been told in words?
The fact that he’s completely fictional didn’t prevent the infamous Sherlock Holmes Museum from existing, but they skirt the issue by pretending that it all did kind of happen. The Museum of London takes a rather more sophisticated approach to the whole thing, and you can read an excellent review of it by my fellow museum-blogger, Tincture of Museum.
Now, let me take you through the bookcase and share some surprising facts about Sherlock that I learned from the museum…
- Sherlock Holmes has been with us since 1886. Bonus fact: Ever since he first appeared people have thought him to be real and for a while, a British bank had to employ someone to deal with the amount of mail Sherlock received. You can read more about that here.
- Conan-Doyle based his famous detective character on a former tutor of his, a certain Dr Joseph Bell who was well-known for his keen powers of observation. In a letter to Bell, Doyle wrote “It is most certainly to you that I owe Sherlock Holmes.” Conan-Doyle also drew inspiration from work by Edgar Allen Poe. You can see one of Poe’s manuscripts in the exhibition.
- Despite generating a legion of fans, and being regarded as a classic today, Conan-Doyle did not see the adventures of Sherlock Holmes as “serious literature.”
- Sherlock’s look is iconic, what with his trademark deerstalker hat and whatnot, but it took a while for Sherlock’s look to be firmly established. Conan-Doyle’s father Charkes illustrated a version of A Study in Scarlet in 1888 but his pictures had little relevance to the story. Artistic duties were then taken up by George Hutchinson, but it wasn’t until Sidney Paget started drawing the characters that they really took shape.
- Sidney Paget is responsible for the deerstalker hat, despite it never being mentioned in the text…
- Sherlock’s ‘uniform’ for want of a better word, is supposed to reflect his love of outdoor pursuits.
- Could you imagine reading the adventures of Sherringford Holmes and his assistant Ormond Sackler? In 1886, Conan-Doyle was still settling on the identity of his characters. It’s safe to say that the changes he made were for the better.
- Holmes is a fan of horror fiction, which seems only right considering that Poe is famous for penning creepy stories. According to the quote on the museum’s wall ” He appears o know every detail of every horror perpetrated in the century.”
- As well as reading horror fiction, Holmes was a prodigious chemist. His forensic methods really highlight the reality of crime solving in the late nineteenth century. Short of catching criminals red-handed or somehow obtaining a confession, the police had a very difficult time proving people guilty. We can see a sort of proto-CSI syndrome occurring in 1888 – with Sherlock solving all these ingenious crimes using such sophisticated techniques, the public were getting very frustrated with the police’s inability to apprehend Jack the Ripper…
- JWM Turner painted the Reichenbach Falls in 1804.
- Sherlock’s notorious resurrection is the fault of Conan-Doyle’s second wife Jean Leckie, who suggested that the super-sleuth could have faked his death…
- This is one for the museum-fans out there. Conan-Doyle lived in Montague Place, making him neighbours with the British Museum. He incorporated this into Sherlock’s fictional biography, with references to the detective having a similar address in “The Musgrave Ritual” before moving to Baker Street.
- Not only did Sherlock live near the British Museum at one point, he also made use of the study facilities there in “Wisteria Lodge”
- Nowadays, Doctor Who and Sherlock are kind-of cousins, thanks to showrunner and writer Stephen Moffat. However, the relationship between the two characters goes way back as actors who have played the Doctor, such as Peter Cushing and Tom Baker have also played the Detective.
If you want to go and see the exhibition – which is fantastic – you can find out all the details with the Museum of London. If you’re he kind of person who likes to know what to look out for, Culture24 has a list of the Top Ten things in the exhibition.
If you’ve ever wondered about the internal life of Mrs. Hudson, Holmes’ long-suffering landlady, you might enjoy The Adventures of Mrs Hudson, written and illustrated by a very talented friend of mine.