Close to Holmes

This is Alistair Duncan’s second Sherlockian (or Holmesian if you prefer) book and it is my favourite so far of all the books Alistair has written (mainly because I am, by nature, more interested in Holmes than I am in Conan Doyle).

Close to Holmes, as Roger Johnson of  The Sherlock Holmes Society of London says in the foreword, is one of the three books on Holmes’ London that he would recommend. The other two  being Hot on the Scent (which is now difficult to find) and Finding Sherlock’s London (a new edition of which was published last year).

Throughout the book, Alistair’s research has thrown up some interesting and intriguing facts. To whet your appetite here are a few puzzles for you to solve as you read the book.

  1. Which of Professor Moriarty’s businesses was put out of action by London Transport?
  2. In which street, connecting Harley Street with Wimpole Street,  did I once have my medical practices?
  3. The Sherlock Holmes Memorabilia Company occupied which canonical premises across from 221B?
  4. Why is the picture of Holmes and I following Stapleton’s cab down Regent Street in The Hound of the Baskervilles usually shown the wrong way round?
  5. When I bumped into Stamford in the Criterion Bar in 1881, which famous London landmark nearby had not yet been erected?
  6. Where could you find a meal named after one of Holmes’ adventures?
  7. Which of my favourite restaurants in still in business on The Strand?
  8. Which theatre was burnt down twice, was where William Gillette played Holmes for the first time in London,and was where Holmes and I accompanied my future wife on our way to meet Thaddeus Sholto?
  9. How is the word “bedlam” historically related to Liverpool Street Station?
  10. The first recorded performance of a Punch and Judy Show in England occurred where?
  11. William Wallace (Braveheart) was executed near the site of which hospital?
  12. Which musical legends lived (at different times) in the same street as The Resident Patient?

I hope you will get from this set of questions an idea, literally, of how much ground this book covers and the amount of detail.

Even if you were not interested in Holmes or Conan Doyle (I believe that such people exist) then this is an amazing guide to London and some of the changes that have occured over the last hundred and thirty years. For me this is summed up in the three pictures of Euston Station, two before what Alistair describes as “an act of historical and architectural vandalism” reduced it to what we see in the third picture, complete with sculptures that look like something out of one of my friend, HG Wells’ novels.  Fortunately, some have now come to their senses and restored St Pancras Station to more or less its former glory (despite having no documented Holmesian connection).

As usual, Alistair Duncan has been careful and painstaking in his research and his photographs of the old and the new will help you explore London and recognise the Sherlockian and Doylean landmarks.

I found myself picking up my maps of London and the surrounding districts as I was reading this book. I suspect that someone who does not know London as well as I do would struggle to understand where are the places mentioned are in relation to each other.  A good A-Z of London or possibly access to Google Maps would help you find your way around.

Very sincerely yours, Sherlock Holmes [FINA]

After the tragic events of May 1891 it was a couple of years before I could publish the account in The Final Problem. I found even the mention of Switzerland, Meiringen, and especially the Reichenbach Falls deeply upsetting and any thought of returning to that fateful locale abhorrent.

A few years ago I had the opportunity to return and took the brave step of staying in a hotel in the town and exorcising my fears by looking upon that swirling torrent at the falls.

The Parkhotel du Sauvage in Meiringen in which I stayed on this visit has a plaque claiming that it was the Englischer Hof where we stayed in 1891, but this claim is false. The hotel is large and prominent and not the sort of place we wanted to stay for fear of attracting the attention of Moriarty or his henchmen. Most of the town was destroyed by a massive fire shortly after our visit (was this the work of Moriarty’s henchmen avenging the death of their master?) and therefore the town has changed a great deal.

It is now difficult to remember clearly our hotel, especially as many of the streets I remember have been rebuilt, but the Bellevue Hotel may have been where we stayed. It is in the classical Swiss chalet style and is still a small, family-run hotel with its ground floor now a cakeshop with large displays of Meiringen’s greatest invention – the meringue.

The town of Meiringen has many references to our visit and underneath the English church next to the Parkhotel du Sauvage is a museum containing a reconstruction of our rooms in Baker Street. In front of the church is a statue of someone you may recognise!

Back at the Falls, the many reenactements of Holmes’s fight with Moriarty have been carried out in entirely the wrong location because those staging these events have primarily been interested in the protagonists safety. They have generally not managed to climb the steep footpath which winds its way up the left-hand side of the falls when looking at them from below. This is the path that we followed, and Sidney Paget’s drawing, based on my sketches, is fairly accurate.

After visiting the Falls, we intended to visit the tiny hamlet of Rosenlaui where the Hotel Rosenlaui dominates the hamlet as it did in 1891. You can still obtain refreshments there before returning to Meiringen or continuing up the valley to the Grosse Sheidegge, where there are some spectacular views.

If Holmes did, in fact, follow this latter route after escaping Moriarty’s clutches, then he would have had no problems in either following the winding road, or in following the more direct footpath which leads through the woods, even in the dark, for it would have been dark soon after he set out. There are, however, other paths in the woods above the Reichenbach Falls which provide easier routes towards Italy.

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