221 Baker Street

In The Murder of Mary Russell, we learn just how Sherlock Holmes came to inhabit the iconic Baker Street house where he and Dr Watson settled in before the fire with pipes and gasogene,Unknownnewspapers and experiments, waiting for the knock from below that signaled a client. As Watson writes in A Study in Scarlet:

We met next day as he had arranged, and inspected the rooms at No. 221B, Baker Street, of which he had spoken at our meeting. They consisted of a couple of comfortable bed-rooms and a single large airy sitting-room, cheerfully furnished, and illuminated by two broad windows.

Leaving aside the small problem (despite the blue plaque) that until the 1930s, the numbers on Baker St only went up to 85, and that Watson occasionally seems to forget the precise layout of the rooms (see, for example, these alternate drawings.)

Mrs Hudson’s first sight of the house, on the other hand, as given in The Murder of Mary Russell, is less than enthusiastic:

Inside lay cracked floor tiles, dusty cobwebs, and buckling wallpaper that had known the touch of many greasy hands. A half-windowed door missing its glass was tucked behind the stairs, a tarnished brass A dangling from a surviving screw. Mr Holmes stepped forward to twist the knob of apartment A, pressing his back against the wall as invitation. She gathered her skirts and pushed around him, but rather than follow, he turned and trotted up the stairs. She watched his polished boots disappear, then turned her jaundiced eye to the rooms that composed 221A Baker Street. Every inch of it wanted carbolic, plaster, paint, and fresh paper. Any attempt to kindle heat would burn the place down. However, once the surface decay had been banished and the flues entirely rebuilt, she imagined the kitchen, pantry, and small adjoining apartment would be comfortable enough.

A remarkable thing about Victorian houses (having owned one myself, in Oxford) is their size: considering the number of children common to 19th century families, they’re tiny, and even a “large, airy sitting-room” would have most of its space taken up if occupied by several woman in wide skirts.  To say nothing of the impossibility of passing on the stairs:

 

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The Murder of Mary Russell, which publishes April 5, may be pre-ordered as:

A signed US hardback from Bookshop Santa Cruz or Poisoned Pen Books

An unsigned hardback or ebook from B&N/Nook or Amazon/Kindle

A UK hardback from Heffer’s/Blackwell’s or hard/ebook from Amazon UK.

Comments

  1. Diane Hendricksen says:

    Thanks for the teaser! I watch House Hunters, and it always amazes me that when they want an old house for its charm, they totally don’t understand that the houses didn’t have closets ( and if they do, they are minuscule) and the rooms are usually very small, especially when compared to modern homes. Always gives me a good laugh. Russell and Holmes would never make that mistake.

    • Merrily Taylor says:

      The other classic HH comment, Diane, is “Where’s the en suite?” I once saw a realtor (literally through clenched teeth) reply “They didn’t HAVE en suites in 1941!”.

  2. Merrily Taylor says:

    When you visit the Sherlock Holmes Museum in London, which is in an authentic townhouse of the period, one is really struck by how tiny those rooms are and how steep the stairs. Holmes’ and Watson’s facing chairs all but allowed them to bump knees, and we could only pity poor Mrs. Hudson struggling up and down those stairs in long skirts, carrying a tray. I don’t know how she did it!

  3. Mary Achor says:

    Hurry. Loved the Marriage story. Especially the last line. Always know how to throw in the kicker, don’t you?

  4. Meredith Taylor says:

    Once upon a time (many galaxies ago) I lived in a London flat that was about 1/2 that size. Only one roomie and we had “separate rooms” because she took on the lounge & it was the communal tv spot. This one has two full bathrooms: enormous! But my knees of today keep saying “the stairs, the Stairs!”

    That space in a hoop skirt, egad

    Love seeing this

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