The Museum of London Turns a Magnifying Glass on Sherlock Holmes


“What you do in this world is a matter of no consequence. The question is what can you make people believe you have done,” Sherlock Holmes said in The Study of Scarlett. Who really was the fictional detective, Sherlock Holmes? The Museum of London will delve into the mind of the world’s most iconic detectives, Sherlock Holmes. It presents Sherlock Holmes: The Man Who Never Lived and Will Never Die from October 17, 2014 through April 12, 2015.

The exhibit is the London museum’s first major show on Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes since the Festival of Britain in 1951. Going beyond fiction, the exhibit will study how the detective has surpassed the pages of books to the stage, screen and television. It is said that Holmes wields as much hold on the world’s imagination today as he did a century ago.

Visitors to the exhibit will be transported back to Victorian London, the setting for numerous Conan Doyle s mysteries. It will recreate the same London mood, allowing visitors to stand on the Strand’s cobbled roads while watching the horse drawn traffic.

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle wrote his first book on Sherlock Holmes, A Study in Scarlet, in 1887. Ever since, “rivers of ink have flowed.” Over the decades, fans have become so engrossed in Holmes, that there are many who are certain he existed; however, there are many adaptations about the legendary icon.

Moreover, there are many opinions that Sherlock Holmes was illustrated after Conan Doyle’s Edinburgh University professor, Dr. Joseph Bell. The author described the doctor as a “thin wiry, dark” man who possessed a “high-nosed acute face.” Bell had penetrative gray eyes and angular shoulders. Dr. Bell was able to “diagnose the people as they came in, before they even opened their mouths,” according to Doyle. He had an uncanny talent to give particulars about an individual’s past and rarely made a mistake. The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes was even dedicated to Bell, in which the doctor commented, that Conan Doyle is “Sherlock Holmes and well you know it.”

It was in 19th century London when Sherlock Holmes and his companion John Watson first pursued fascinating assignments. At the time, Britain was the “dominant global power” and London its stately capital. The Museum of London intends to examine beyond the familiar caped investigator in a quest to find the “genuine,” many-sided Sherlock Holmes. It will weigh the association between London and Holmes as both were just as much a backdrop with the city a source of fascination for the detective in the stories.

While Conan Doyle only lived briefly in the capital, he visited London often during his lifetime. Sherlock’s Victorian London takes on its own presence – with thick fogs, shadowy districts, vilest alleys, East End opium dens, Scotland Yard and House of Parliament.


“The lens through which the Museum of London will examine the inimitable detective will reveal more about London than you might guess, but then you’d expect nothing less of the Museum of London,” stated Sharon Ament, Director of the Museum of London.

The exhibit will tap into Holmes, and use him as a “spectrum” to study the city of London and take a closer look at the Holmes’ methodical approach, 19th century forensic science and what it was like to be an English gentleman in Victorian London.

Visitors will also survey what impelled Sir Arthur Conan Doyle to conceive Sherlock Holmes. The original pages of Edgar Allan Poe’s manuscript, The Murders in the Rue Morgue bring viewers one clue closer to Holmes. The story was considered the first detective chronicle, and Conan Doyle read it. Building on the museum’s most recent Dickens and London and Jack the Ripper and the East End exhibitions, the Sherlock Holmes show is the first attempt at a fictitious character. The exhibit does not limit itself to artefacts, paintings and manuscripts; there is a section of Sherlock Holmes life on the stage and in films.

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s works on Sherlock Holmes – four novels and 56 stories – are still in demand around the globe. The chap in the deerstalker cap and cape, who wrestled with addiction and other demons as he solved London crimes, remains one of literature’s most irresistible concepts today.

By Dawn Levesque

BBC News
Museum of London
Sherlock Holmes Online
Smithsonian Magazine

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