I went into London two weeks ago to meet my friend Kendall for lunch. She picked this awesome sushi place on Baker Street. During our delicious feast, our conversation drifted to things to do near our location. She mentioned a Sherlock Holmes museum not far from the restaurant, which she passed on her way to meet me.
When we could eat no more sushi, and resorted to leaving some rice behind for the greater good, I walked with her towards the museum. I was curious about this place. I love Sherlock Holmes. My favourite Holmes is Jonny Lee Miller in Elementary; I’m sure that upset loads of people (leave a comment and we can debate the merits and flaws of each Holmes incarnation).
Outside the museum, around 15 people waited in an orderly queue for entry. Apparently, that’s shorter than normal. I had no plans to go into the museum. Then again, I had no plans at all apart from meeting Kendall for lunch. I figured I might as well check it out, then blog about it.
Inside, the house is small and the staircase narrow; therefore, they only let a certain number of people enter. The nice gentleman dressed like a police officer (constable?) let me join the group he’d just permitted in since I was solo.
The house itself is pretty cool. It has two floors and is completely decorated in Victorian style. Sherlock’s bedroom is on the first floor (Americans will argue the second floor, but the entry level is the ground floor) adjoining the study.
The museum is a self-guided experience. There is, however, a docent stationed on the first floor who recounts a bit of Sherlock trivia and calls attention to notable details and pieces. Other than that, visitors refer to a tri-fold brochure.
What’s cool about this museum is the immense effort to keep everything authentic to the period. The docent pointed out the violin in the corner and said, “While we try include as many possessions that Sherlock had, the violin, sadly, is not a Stradivarius.” I’m not someone who knows much about musical instruments. However, as luck would have it, I just watched the White Collar episode “Pulling Strings” the night before. It was about a missing Stradivarius. Otherwise, the subtlety of the comment would have been lost on me.
Visitors are even encouraged to sit in the chairs and pose for pictures. This was brilliant. Normally museums discourage people from sitting anywhere and touching the displays.
On the second floor is Watson’s room, along with the landlady’s, Mrs. Hudson.
Since I was solo, I hung around each room until everyone else moved on, allowing me to take photos without anyone in them. While in Mrs. Hudson’s room (above), I waited for a family to finish taking a group selfie. They were struggling to get a decent one so I offered to take one for them. I took a few, so they had options to choose from, and we had a brief exchange of thanks and wishes for a pleasant tour.
Later in the tour, on the way down from the attic, the father asked me for another photo. I obliged. I love taking photos for other people so they have nice holiday mementos. But when I asked him where he and his family would like to stand, he clarified that he would like a photo of me with his wife. This made me laugh, but I had already agreed — and why not. So he took a photo of his wife and me on the staircase to the attic.
Afterwards, I asked them if they were enjoying their holiday. Turns out they were from China and their daughter is going to university in London. The father asked me where I was from and I said New York. They all got excited (as everyone always does because they assume I mean New York City when, in fact, I mean New York State).
Anyway, I am now in some family’s holiday photo album.
Pros and Cons
This museum has loads of potential. But it would benefit from a solid brand strategy because right now it’s a bit scattered.
I enjoyed the immersive feel of how the rooms were set up. The attention to detail is impeccable, with all the objects taken from the content of the stories.
A few changes would really benefit the museum and visitor experience.
First, I would suggest altering the tour style. I would have preferred either an audio guide or a guided tour throughout, not just a docent on the one level. The groups let into the house are small enough for it.
Second, I didn’t particularly like the museum treating Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s fictional characters as historical persons. I finished the tour wondering if I had forgotten the part where Sherlock and Co. were actual people. [edit: It’s been pointed out to me by a very kind Sherlockian devotee that the museum is Sherlockian Game. Unfamiliar? So was I. But now I know and respectfully decline to play.]
Personally, I wasn’t a fan of the comical wax dummies inside the museum.
Maybe because I wasn’t expecting them and they freaked me out a little, but they don’t add anything to the museum.
The Sherlock Holmes Museum would benefit from a graphic designer and web developer. The website is a bit bare. It does not entice me to visit. Plus, if the only information a visitor receives is a tri-fold brochure, at least it could be designed with care. Instead, it looks slapped together on Microsoft Word then printed on cream-coloured copy paper. Alternatively, Winchester Cathedral, Canterbury Cathedral, and Jane Austen’s House Museum all have stunning informational brochures (Winchester even has a cool one for kids).
Also, there’s no student discount. Entry into the museum costs £15 — a bit pricey for what you get.
It’s free, however, to enter the gift shop next door. Honestly, it’s just as good. While there are numerous souvenirs to splurge on, I didn’t buy anything.
So unless you’re a die-hard Sherlock Holmes fan who wants to see the rooms in person, I would suggest to just admire the photos and spend the entry fee on souvenirs.
Overall, if your visit to London is low on time, give this one a miss or just pop into the gift shop.
I did enjoy my visit, but I would not recommend it to my friends as a London Top 10. Thanks for reading and I hope you found my assessment useful if you’re planning a trip to London, or just interesting to read in general.