Discovering the London of Sherlock Holmes

 

sherlock holmes

 

Sherlock Holmes is fiction’s most famous detective and has been immortalised through literature, stage, and screen. The characters Sherlock Holmes, Doctor John Watson, and Moriarty are known worldwide. Yet there is one character in Arthur Conan Doyle’s stories that is often overlooked while also playing an important part in many of Sherlock’s adventures: London.

Joshua Hammer writing for Smithsonia Magazine states that “Conan Doyle’s other alluring creation was London… [which] takes on almost the presence of a character in the novels and stories. As fully realised – in all its fogs, back alleys and shadowy quarters – as Holmes himself.”

Many of the locations Conan Doyle used in his stories can be found today. Unfortunately, 221-B Baker Street is a fictional address on a real street. The street has significantly changed since the time period that the Sherlock Holmes stories are set in. Sherlock Holmes.co.uk informs “[that] No. 109 is one of the few three-story red brick flats on the street dating from 1900, looking also as No. 221-B might have in Conan Doyle’s day.” A bronze statue to the famous sleuth sits outside the Marylebone exit of Baker Street.

 

sherlock holmes baker street

 

The Langham Hotel on Regent Street holds an important place in Sherlock Holmes law and is one of the few buildings that still stands as it was in Conan Doyle’s time. It was here that the author was commissioned to write the second Sherlock Holmes novel The Sign of Four. At the same meeting was Oscar Wilde who was also commissioned to write the Portrait of Dorian Gray. It is believed that after meeting Wilde, Conan Doyle decided to make the character of Sherlock Holmes the darker and more complicated character we know today.

London seen through the eyes of Sherlock Holmes has been presented on the screen many times. The Guinness World Records details that the character has been depicted 254 times on screen. In recent years Benedict Cumberbatch and Robert Downey Jr. have played Sherlock Holmes. Sherlock starring Benedict Cumberbatch shows a modern London while the recent films of Sherlock Holmes have been set in the London that Conan Doyle wrote about. One scene in Sherlock Holmes (2009) has Holmes pointing out the construction of the Tower Bridge. Such is the standing of the character as a British icon that he has appeared across a multitude of entertainment platforms including trendy gaming site BGT Games which has its own dedicated Sherlock Holmes title. The feel of the Sherlock games are very much influenced by the feel of Conan Doyle’s London.

 

westminster bridge view

The city plays a significant part in many of Conan Doyle’s stories and his descriptions allow readers today to get the feel of Victorian London. Interestingly Arthur Conan Doyle didn’t spend much time in the city and wrote the stories from Edinburgh. Yet he knew London well and Sherlock fans can eat at the famous London haunt Simpson’s in the Strand that both the author and his characters ate at and it is still open today. For Sherlock fans willing to look for the London that Conan Doyle wrote about, it is still there to be found they just have to take their imagination with them on their travels.

Kodak Mantra Diaries – Iain Sinclair

Kodak Mantra Diaries Iain Sinclair

Kodak Mantra Diaries, Iain Sinclair’s cult record of his time with Allen Ginsberg in the London summer of The Congress on the Dialectics for the Demystification of Violence in 1967 – has just been given its first hardback edition by L.A. publisher We Heard You Like Books some 45 years after Iain first published it through his Albion Village Press. Interestingly the book also includes new texts continuing Sinclair’s fascination with the Beats. And having loved American Smoke, this alone makes it worth buying a second copy of this previously hard-to-find classic.

Here’s how We Heard You Like Books describe Kodak Mantra Diaries:

For two weeks in 1967, London’s Roundhouse hosted The Congress on the Dialectics for the Demystification of Violence, a counterculture happening showcasing R.D. Laing, Gregory Bateson, Emmett Grogan, Stokely Carmichael and Herbert Marcuse. The event’s acknowledged star was Allen Ginsberg.

As he pronounced to radical England, Ginsberg was followed by a young filmmaker with a commission from West German television to produce a documentary on the poet. That filmmaker’s name was Iain Sinclair.

Four years later, Sinclair gathered his notes and photographs of the experience and published Kodak Mantra Diaries on his own Albion Village Press. Wrestling with his brush with the poet and 1960s radical politics, Sinclair produced an astonishing prose debut, setting the template for his later works of non-fiction.

We Heard You Like Books is pleased to present the first hardcover edition of this little seen classic, accompanied by new texts which track Sinclair’s continuing fascination with the survivors of the Beat Generation, and record random encounters in the years that followed his initial engagement.We Heard You Like Books

Spirit Roads

Spirit Roads Paul Devereux

“There was an almost universal and abiding belief of great antiquity that spirits cannot cross flowing water, and that rivers were boundaries between the realms of the living and the dead.”

– from Spirit Roads by Paul Devereux

I find two pages of notes inside my copy of Spirit Roads by Paul Devereux. The yellow American size paper dates the notes to sometime around 2010-11 when I was occasionally making work trips the U.S. It’s a fascinating and compelling book, Devereux a key earth mysteries researcher for many years.

He writes about the ‘cognised landscape’ – the mapping of mindscapes that were projected onto the physical landscape in past times.

“Any worldview is dependent on the context to which it belongs”. Belief systems projected into the landscape as “invisible mental structures”.

Countryfolk, Devereux tells us, believed they shared the land with spirits – the Church preached that the spirit left this plane altogether for another, non-physical realm. There was a clear link between ghosts and locality that the Church denied.

Stiles were said to be the favourite perches of ghosts – if you sat there through ‘stile divination you could interrogate passing ghosts’.

“the virtual spirit paths traversing the folk mindscapes of old Europe”.

A Walk in Victoria Park with Travis Elborough

It was the hottest day of the year (so far) when I joined author Travis Elborough for a stroll around the eastern half of Victoria Park in Hackney to talk about his book A Walk in the Park. The heat caused dogs to wallow in the Burdett-Coutts drinking fountain like furry urban hippos.

Travis is a wealth of information and the walk drew not just on the fascinating history of Victoria Park – London’s first purpose-built public park – but on the broader history of what Travis refers to as a “people’s institution”.

a walk in the park elborough

We visited the monkey puzzle tree which links back to Victorian plant hunting expeditions to South America, and the corner of the park once known as Botany Bay – apparently as it was the hideout of criminals. We dropped for a chat at the Bowling Club and baked in the English Garden and had to resist the temptation to jump into the Model Boating Lake.

Listening to Travis explain how modern parks had evolved from the fenced hunting enclosures of Norman barons to the public spaces of today – now under threat from government cuts – it seemed apt that our chat took place in the shadow of the large green fenced area of the park reserved for a series of musical festivals.

I can’t recommend this book strongly enough – a fascinating stroll through the cultural history of these beloved open spaces that we all too often take for granted.

New notebook

Notebook

Cracked open a new notebook in Mayesbrook Park on Friday – always a great moment, peeling back the cellophane, cracking open the spine, scrawling name and address + reward if found on the facing blank page. I’m trying to move on from uniform black Moleskine/Ryman pocket books so picked up this orange number in Book Warehouse on Southampton Row (I uncharacteristically dispensed with the manufacturer info in the park bin) but only once peeled did it reveal a sparkly gleam to the cover and an unsettling textured finish. It started to bother me as I took it out of my bag to make notes on the hoof. This wasn’t good – when trying to distill the essence of an experience of place or the overheard conversations in a Wetherspoons toilet cubicle I don’t need to be distracted by the sound of my fingers vinyl scratching across the cover of my pocket book. It needed masking. I ransacked the leaning tower of product boxes in my work cell till I came up with this combination – the final touch applied in the Red Lion, sealed with a libation of Butcombe’s Haka Bitter. It will also be a constant reminder for the next 3 months to find a use for the footage that I sent off to be processed at Super 8 Reversal Lab.