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.

London Overground world premiere trailer

The world premiere of London Overground is on Sat 2nd July at the Rio Cinema, Dalston screening in the East End Film Festival. I’ve been working on the film for almost exactly a year now following on from the interview I shot with Iain Sinclair about the book. Shortly afterwards we shot the first section of the Overground walk with Andrew Kotting – strolling from Rotherhithe Station to the Thames shore then down to Surrey Quays through Andrew’s old memory grounds. We stopped in the same cafe they did in the book, La Cigale near Greenland Dock.

Iain Sinclair Andrew Kotting Overground film

From there we dropped by the Cafe Gallery in Southwark Park where Andrew deposited a found object from the Thames shore, and passed by the New Den to Queens Road Peckham. The walked ended with possibly one of the most extraordinary things I’ve ever filmed … but you’ll have to watch the film to find out.

The next shoot with Bill Parry-Davies of Open Dalston picking through the horrors of regeneration around Dalston Junction and getting to the heart of the Overground loop and it how it gave birth to a new model of property development in London underpinned by overseas investment.

Iain Sinclair Wapping John Rogers

In autumn and early winter Iain and I walked alone in two stages from Haggerston back to the Thames at Wapping. Here we traversed key landscapes in Iain’s life and writing – the East End, Truman Brewery, Anti-University, Hare Marsh, Whitechapel, St. Dunstan’s-in-the-East, Narrow Street, Wapping.

Iain Sinclair Andrew Kotting Overground film

I was back out on the road with Andrew and Iain early this year as they reprised the Overground walk in full but in reverse – starting in the evening and walk counter-clockwise through the night arriving back in Haggerston at 10am the next day. I only stayed the course as far as Hampstead Heath but strapped a GoPro to Andrew’s head to capture highlights of the rest of the circuit.

Iain Sinclair Chris Petit overground film

We headed to the northwest quarter with legendary Radio On director and noir novelist Chris Petit to explore Willesden Junction – which confirmed Iain’s idea that the Overground was a ghost railway.

The rest – oh, there’s loads more including great contributions from Marcia Farquhar and Cathi Unsworth, a brilliant soundtrack from the likes of Standard Planets, Bill and Adam Parry-Davies, Free Seed Music, and Rosen.

John Rogers Andrew Kotting Iain Sinclair

Hope to see you at the Rio on Saturday.

Building London’s airport at Heath Row

This is a fascinating newsreel of the building of London Airport in the fields on the edge of Hounslow Heath at Heath Row.
There’s something slightly terrifying about watching the coming of the jet age to London, “And the landscape was changed and the past obliterated”, the voice-over declares in a cold, officious tone. The past wasn’t really obliterated as much as they’d like to think, the rivers Crane and Colne will continue flowing through the terrain long after we’ve moved onto teleportation as the best way to get to Marbella.

It’s interesting that no mention is made of the archaeological finds of neolithic settlements excavated during the construction of Runway One. Maybe they were too high on jet fumes to notice.

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Taken For Granted (1947) – Mogden

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If I ever had a budget to produce a DVD of The London Perambulator this classic 1947 film about the sewage system of West Middlesex, Taken For Granted would be on the extras. It is the backdrop to Nick Papadimitriou’s poetic vision of his region.
Here is he at Mogden Purification Works waxing lyrical about its significance “come and pray at this pile of turds because this is you”

The clip is from the London Screen Archive

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