This year the Museum of London welcomes an exciting new exhibition, delving into the mind of the world’s most famous fictional detective; Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes.
Asking searching questions such as who is Sherlock Holmes, and why does he still conjure up such enduring fascination, this major exhibition – London’s first on the detective since 1951 – will explore how Sherlock Holmes has transcended literature onto stage and screen and continues to attract huge audiences to this day.
Going beyond film and fiction, visitors to the museum will be transported to the real Victorian London – the backdrop for many of Conan Doyle’s stories. Through early film, photography, paintings and original artefacts, the exhibition will recreate the atmosphere of Sherlock’s London, with visitors able to envisage the places that the detective visited and imagine they are standing on the pavement of the Strand watching the horse drawn traffic pass by.
Sherlock Holmes comes to the Museum of London
An exhibition on the world’s first consulting detective, Sherlock Holmes
(The Telegraph) - It is, to coin a phrase, a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma, all done up in the big coat Benedict Cumberbatch wears when he plays Sherlock Holmes (of which more later).
Namely, how, exactly, does one enter the Museum of London? There the building merrily sits in the middle of what appears to be a roundabout near St Paul’s, surrounded on all sides by two impenetrable lanes of traffic. But the entrance is nowhere to be seen.
Aha! Having circled the building, I eventually happen upon a cryptic sign: “Museum of London. Via Highwalks.” The sign seems to be pointing me towards a narrow staircase. I venture upwards and, finally, come out onto a pathway suspended above the traffic, which, in turn, leads to the entrance.
It transpires that there are in fact four escalators and stairs cunningly placed at strategic points to allow access to the building. Clearly, my skills of observation and deduction need a little work.
Fortunately, I have come to the right place. Alex Werner, head curator of the museum, guides me to the first exhibition about Sherlock Holmes in 60 years, where, he tells me, “everything is not quite as it seems”.
It certainly seems well-timed: the BBC have just announced that the hugely popular series Sherlock is to return with four new episodes next year. Fans will likely be thronging to get in, and will not be dispppointed.
Using a combination of video, sound, visual image and fascinating artefacts, the exhibition brings a new perspective to the “world’s first consulting detective”. One of the stars of the show, as is befitting for the Museum of London, is the capital city itself.
While we are told in the stories that Holmes’s “knowledge of the byways of London was extraordinary”, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle himself was far from an expert. He wrote the first two Sherlock Holmes stories when he was living near Portsmouth – with a little help from the Post Office. Conan Doyle created his stories using the Directory Map, a type of early A-Z of the city published by the Post Office. That accounts for the way in which streets are often listed in the stories without description – they were literally just names on the map to the author.
When Conan Doyle sought to give a bit more background to London’s streets, he turned to Charles Booth. A social reformer, Booth had produced a colour-coded guide to the streets of the capital, marking each one from the gold and red of the wealthy elite to the dark blue and black of the “semi criminal”. It was this that helped Conan Doyle decide where to place his hero (Baker Street was coloured red, for pretty well-off), and while the author later lived in the city himself, he still relied on his early tools.
The exhibition also provides a clear picture of the London of Holmes’s day through original photographs. From documentary-like images of the streets to the artistic landscapes of the river and drifting fog, it is possible to catch a glimpse of the bygone age. The exhibition also offers the chance to come face to face with Conan Doyle in a portrait by Sidney Paget, the illustrator whose images of Holmes for The Strand magazine helped him become such an iconic figure.
Werner’s favourite artefact from the exhibition is a token of these two collaborators: a silver cigar lighter from Conan Doyle to Paget on his marriage, inscribed simply “From Sherlock Holmes”.
My favourite is different. While I am something of a literary geek (the sight of Jane Austen’s writing desk at the British Library makes me swoon), it is no dusty manuscript that grabs my attention. Instead, to Werner’s clear disappointment, it is Benedict Cumberbatch’s long charcoal overcoat and blue scarf that transfix me.
I would never regard myself as a Cumberbitch (the nickname given to the actor’s legion of female fans), but seeing the coat, which in the BBC series is more symbolic of the character than the deerstalker could ever be, gives me a tingle up and down my spine. Now that is a mystery worthy of the great detective.
In a small display case in the corner, you suddenly find it: the ur text for Sherlock Holmes, written in 1885/6. Or rather, for Sherrinford Holmes, as the world’s most famous consulting detective was then called. He lived, with his sidekick Ormond Sacker, at 221 Upper Baker Street.
It is thrilling to see the browning piece of paper, covered in Arthur Conan Doyle’s firm, even hand, with its neat capital letters and strong black strokes. It is like discovering the origin of ancient myth.
In this context Sherlock Holmes: The Man who Never Lived and Will Never Die is the perfect title for this enjoyable exhibition at the Museum of London. The creation of Conan Doyle’s teeming imagination became a man so real that almost instantly women applied for the post of his housekeeper, citing a keen interest in beekeeping as a reference.
The reaction wasn’t quite instantaneous. The first Holmes adventure, A Study in Scarlet, was originally published in Beeton’s Christmas Annual in 1887, with its name writ large on the elaborate red-and-yellow cover. But it was only when the stories began to be published in the Strand Magazine that they acquired a massive following; by 1892 they were popular and well enough known to inspire a skit in a publication called Detective Stories Gone Wrong, featuring The Adventures of Sherlock Komba.
In a filmed interview from 1927, playing on a wall next to such manuscripts, Conan Doyle is reeling from what he describes as this “monstrous growth from a comparatively small seed”. His voice, a winning mixture of rotund English with sharp Scottish vowels, is as revelatory as that neat handwriting.
The burgeoning Holmes industry of our own times is represented here by posters from around the world, and extracts from every dramatic incarnation whether on screen or on the airwaves. I liked the garish blue-and-yellow poster for Sherlock Holmes meets Jack the Ripper (1965), boasting “the original caped crusader” and with the words “biff” and “crunch” added for effect.
But rather like Holmes’s mind, this is a show capable of whirring in many intriguing directions - as it should do, given that one of the glories of Holmes as hero is his insistence that brains are better than brawn. So anybody tempted to visit because it features the coat and blue scarf worn by Benedict Cumberbatch in the television Sherlock’s “The Reichenbach Fall” may also be enchanted by the Turner landscape of the original setting, or a Monet of Charing Cross Bridge in the kind of London fog Conan Doyle was so fond of describing.
There are photographs, typewriters, forensic kits, maps, and wonderfully evocative prints. All in all, as the great man himself said, this is a show which proves: “The world is full of obvious things which nobody by any chance ever observes.” This is a chance to observe them.
Alex Werner, le commissaire de l'exposition.
Museum of London
150 London Wall, London,EC2Y 5HN
Horaires d'ouverture : de 10 heures à 18 heures (10am-6pm)
Billet adulte:£12,00 (14,96 EUR) par ticket
Billet familiale:£9,50 (11,85 EUR) par ticket Billet à tarif réduit:£10,00 (12,47 EUR) par ticket
Métro: St Pauls / Barbican / Moorgate. Barbican/Moorgate.
(photos : Museum of London/The Scotman)
Sherlock Holmes events
In conversation with Anthony Horowitz
Mon 27 Oct, 7-8.30pm
Join BAFTA-winning writer Anthony Horowitz O.B.E as he explores his newly released book, Moriarty. In conversation with Professor of Victorian Literature and Culture, Clare Pettitt, and Chief Curator of the Sherlock exhibition, Alex Werner. This event is followed by a book signing.
Book in advance £10 (concs £8, Friends £8)
Sat 15 Nov, 11am – 12.30pm & 2-3.30pm
What are the similarities between archaeologists and detectives? Discover your inner Sherlock and find out how archaeologists piece together London’s buried mysteries on our interactive tour of the Archaeological Archive. This event takes place at the Museum of London Archaeological Archive at Mortimer Wheeler House.
Book in advance £7.50
Late London: Sherlock's city
Fri 21 Nov, 7-10pm
For one night only, enter the mind of the city’s most iconic consulting detective. Immerse yourself in his unique pursuits and habits through installations, live performances, workshops and more. Plus get a combined ticket and see our Sherlock Holmes exhibition after hours.
Book in advance £12 event only (concs £10, Friends £10)
Book in advance Combined event and exhibition ticket £18 (concs £15)
The case of the curious cocktail
Tue 16 Dec, 7-10pm
Foodie futurologists, the Robin Collective, put on a thrilling cocktailmaking hunt through the galleries after dark. Put your deduction skills to the test to craft your own Holmesian cocktail.
Book in advance £36
Sherlock Holmes walking tour
Every Sat from 18 Oct - 20 Dec, 11am - 12.30pm
Every Sat from 18 Oct - 20 Dec, 11am - 12.30pm
Starting at Baker Street, take in the sights and sounds of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Victorian London and discover scenes you'll recognise from TV and film!