Three weeks ago Mr. Barnes published a short review of the book "Mrs. Hudson's Diaries - a view from the landing at 221b," written by "the veteran joke writer Barry Cryer and his son Bob [sic]." It purports, writes Mr. Barnes, "to present us with the secret journal of the landlady of 221b Baker Street."
But a Mr. White has taken considerable exception to that way of writing the address, and last week wrote in from Venice to warn us about how wrong it is. Indeed, explains Mr. White, "it is a mistake made in every post-Doyle book, film and tele-vision portrayal of Sherlock Holmes. 221 Baker Street was built as a large family house, but its function was overtaken by social change, and it became economically viable only as sets of rooms, let floor by floor. 221b was thus the first-floor lodging of Holmes and Watson, 221a the ground-floor set of rooms, while the housekeeper, Mrs. Hudson, lived in the basement. The house remained plain number 221."
Yet we remain curiously unconvinced do we not, and wonder whether in this case Mr. White might be being not a little over-pedantic.
I have no objection to pedantry, Sydney Grew, and should perhaps confess that I can, on occasion, be something of a pedant myself. To be honest, however, Neil McGowan, I am not particularly bothered who lives or lived at 219, 221 or 221b Baker Street, London NW1 6XE. Sherlock Holmes is ultimately a fictional character anyway, however famous. If he brings tourists to London, so much the better!
As a Londoner, however, I am more than familiar with the area. Indeed, I once worked in Baker Street, not far from the Sherlock Holmes Museum. What I would recommend, Sydney Grew, would be a walk to Wigmore Hall on Monday (lunchtime), 4 March 2013.
The proprietors of the Sherlock Holmes Museum in Baker St paid large sums of money . . .
According to Wikipedia, the street number 221B was assigned to the Sherlock Holmes Museum on 27 March 1990 (replacing the logical address 239 Baker Street) when the Leader of Westminster City Council, Lady Shirley Porter, unveiled a blue plaque signifying the address of "221B Baker Street." She was invited to renumber the museum's building to coincide with its official opening (and because the number 221B had not been included in the original planning consent for the museum granted in October 1989). Council officials claim that Dame Shirley Porter was not acting as Leader of the council when she unveiled the famous blue plaque on the property in 1990, despite the fact that photographic evidence shows her wearing a badge bearing the words "Leader of the Council" while she unveiled the plaque in front of international media.
A long-running dispute over the number arose between the Sherlock Holmes Museum, the building society Abbey National (which had previously answered the mail addressed to Sherlock Holmes) and subsequently the local Westminster City Council. The main objection to the Museum's role in answering the letters was the prosaic fact that the number 221B bestowed on the Museum by the Council was out of sequence with other numbers in the street: an issue that has since vexed local bureaucrats, who have striven for years to keep street numbers in sequence. In 2005, Abbey National vacated their headquarters on Baker Street, which left the museum to battle with Westminster City Council to end the dispute over the number, which had created negative publicity. After the closure of Abbey House in 2005, the Royal Mail recognised the museum's exclusive right to receive mail addressed to Sherlock Holmes.
I do not know whether the proprietors of the Sherlock Holmes Museum did pay large sums of money to acquire the address of 221B Baker Street, Gerard, Neil McGowan probably has inside information, but it is, pedantically, the correct address for Sherlock Holmes. If I may recommend an excellent book, I recently read 'The House of Silk' by Anthony Horowitz. It marks the first time that the Conan Doyle Estate has authorised a new Sherlock Holmes novel.
Writing in 'FT Weekend' today, David Crow pertinently reports that London is speckled with 850 blue plaques marking the houses where important men and women once lived – people whose influence sometimes has a profound effect on today’s residents. Such as the couple who developed a friendship with Sylvia Plath’s daughter because they live in the house where she was born. And a woman who sleeps in Fred Perry’s old bedroom thinking: “I wonder if he lay awake at night looking at the same ceiling.” David concludes thus:
" ... English Heritage, the organisation that awards blue plaques, says the 140-year-old scheme will survive despite recent fears for its future, although it will have to cope with less government funding. It has been temporarily closed to new nominations.
These intriguing connections with some of the UK capital’s most influential people will become harder to trace if there are fewer blue plaques in the future – but it won’t make much difference to London’s soaring property values. Richard Gutteridge, an estate agent at Savills who marketed a flat in Oscar Wilde’s blue-plaqued house in Chelsea for £1.1m, says owners of such homes should not expect a premium for history.
“The value of a property has much more to do with the quality of the interiors. Some of these plaques are for people who died some time ago, and many foreign buyers have never heard of them.”
Elizabeth Young, who has kept the Edwardian interior at Bayswater road much as JM Barrie would have had it, scoffs at such talk and is keen to stop her house being sold to someone who would install a “spam-coloured marble” bathroom.
“Mum is obviously not going to live forever so we’ve got to work out a practical solution,” says her son Thoby.
“The idea that I’ve been working on is that we find somebody to simply buy the house, secure its future, and then allow us to run it and administer it, but in a much more open way, basically throw it open to the public.” He says £10m should cover it.
English Heritage isn’t the only one short of funds."
May I take this opportunity to welcome you to 'The Third', Jason! I note that you have declined Sydney's request for a poet in residence, so to speak. I should add, however, that a residence in Baker Street is not what it once was. Regent's Park, of course, is just around the corner, but the traffic in Baker Street can be very noisy at times. St John's Lodge makes for a welcome retreat!
If you cannot contribute many of your matchless stanzas to 'The Third', Jason, you could, of course, attempt to help me defeat that giant of evil, Professor Moriaty, wherever he is currently hanging out!
According to Immanuel Kant, Jason, only the descent into the hell of self-knowledge can pave the way to godliness. Knowing myself as I do, I accept, in all humility, that life itself can be a very dirty game, and one does not necessarily put on one's best trousers to go out and fight for freedom and truth, Neil. As for some new Golden Age, if we look back at human history, there are a few ages which could, in my view, be regarded as golden. Classical Greece, for example, is one. The Italian Renaissance is another. The post-World War II economic superboom may just have come to an end (according to George Soros), but in certain senses, we, too, have lived through a golden age of unparalleled prosperity, Sydney.
As a new Elizabethan, I would argue that I was privileged to be born towards the end of the Cold War, although just as the twentieth century witnessed the two hottest wars in human history, the twenty-first century possibly faces even greater challenges ahead. Nevertheless, two things fill the mind with ever-increasing wonder and awe, the more often and the more intensely the mind of thought is drawn to them, Jason: the starry heavens above me, and the moral law within me. Since the narrower or wider community of the peoples of the earth has developed so far that a violation of rights in one place is felt throughout the world, the idea of a cosmopolitan right is not fantastical, high-flown or exaggerated notion.
It is a complement to the unwritten code of the civil and international law, Sydney, necessary for the public rights of mankind in general and thus for the realisation of perpetual peace. I ought, Jason, therefore I can. In the words of Niccolò Machiavelli, a prince who desires to maintain his position learns to be good or not as needs must. I do not think that this idea excuses the malevolence of government, Jason, but it can help explain why the state needs to be amoral on occasion. I propose some toast: to the first, the second and 'The Third'! Three cheers from kleines c and the gang (Monday morning brunch)!