Every year, thousands of people visit one of the world’s most famous addresses: 221b Baker Street, London. The address is famous for being where the fictional detective Sherlock Holmes lived in the well-known stories by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.
A lot of people are so taken with the stories that they forget Sherlock Holmes wasn’t a real person and therefore didn’t ever actually live at the address. In fact, there was no house there when Conan Doyle wrote the stories. Despite that, the Sherlock Holmes museum, which is actually at number 239, is a fun place to visit if you are ever in London.
So, if Sherlock Homes was a made up character, why do so many people think of him like a real person?
It is often said that the character Sherlock Holmes was based on a real person named Benjamin Bell, a forensic surgeon for whom Conan Doyle worked as a clerk at the Edinburgh Royal infirmary. Sherlock Holmes’ problem-solving ability and powers of observation are based on the surgeon. Bell was even called on by the police to join several investigation, just as Sherlock Holmes did.
Conan Doyle found the inspiration for the name of his famous detective elsewhere, though. He was an expert cricket player and combined the names of to other well-known players, Shacklock and Sherwin, to make the name ‘Sherlock’.
Another thing that makes the character seem like a real person is his distinctive habits. He rarely ate breakfast and had three pipes which he enjoyed smoking. He even had a habit that would be illegal today – taking cocaine! It’s not clear exactly which of these habits Conan Doyle enjoyed but being a trained chemist, he wold have understood the effects of them.
Sherlock Holmes is also an honorary fellow of the Royal Society of Chemistry. Even though he’s not a real person, the society decided to make him a fellow. Although his famous methods for solving mysteries started in fiction, many of them became part of modern-day policing.
Much of what we think about the character isn’t from the original books. The most famous examples are the hat most people think of him wearing, which is a flat cap in the books but a deerstalker in most pictures and the fact that he never actually says ‘Elementary, my dear Watson’ in any of the books.
Although the character is made-up most of the locations are real. One of Conan Doyle’s strengths as an author is describing a London that seems so real to the reader. Much of this is because of his detailed knowledge of the city and his won observational skill. Most of the famous locations in the books are in London and Sherlock Homes fans love to visit the locations in the books and those used later in the movies.
Sherlock Holmes is the second-most portrayed character in movies behind Dracula which is part of what makes him so famous all over the world. So, now you know the story behind the character, what’s your favourite version of the Sherlock Holmes stories? The books, movies or TV series?
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