The Sunday Telegraph - Sunday

Sherlock under the microscope

An exhibition on the world’s first consulting detective opens this week. Sally Saunders looks for the hidden clues


It is, to coin a phrase, a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma, all done up in the big coat Benedict Cumberbatc­h wears when he plays Sherlock Holmes (of which more later). Namely, how, exactly, does one enter the Museum of London? There the building merrily sits in the middle of what appears to be a roundabout near St Paul’s, surrounded on all sides by two impenetrab­le lanes of traffic. But the entrance is nowhere to be seen. Aha! Having circled the building, I eventually happen upon a cryptic sign: “Museum of London. Via Highwalks.” The sign seems to be pointing me towards a narrow staircase. I venture upwards and, finally, come out onto a pathway suspended above the traffic, which, in turn, leads to the entrance. It transpires that there are in fact four escalators and stairs cunningly placed at strategic points to allow access to the building. Clearly, my skills of observatio­n and deduction need a little work. Fortunatel­y, I have come to the right place. Alex Werner, head curator of the museum, guides me to the first exhibition about Sherlock Holmes in 60 years, where, he tells me, “everything is not quite as it seems”. It certainly seems welltimed: the BBC have just announced that the hugely popular series Sherlock is to return with four new episodes next year. Fans will likely be thronging to get in, and will not be dispppoint­ed. Using a combinatio­n of video, sound, visual image and fascinatin­g artefacts, the exhibition brings a new perspectiv­e to the “world’s first consulting detective”. One of the stars of the show, as is befitting for the Museum of London, is the capital city itself. While we are told in the stories that Holmes’s “knowledge of the byways of London was extraordin­ary”, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle himself was far from an expert. He wrote the first two Sherlock Holmes stories when he was living near Portsmouth – with a little help from the Post Office. Conan Doyle created his stories using the Directory Map, a type of early A-Z of the city published by the Post Office. That accounts for the way in which streets are often listed in the stories without descriptio­n – they were literally just names on the map to the author. When Conan Doyle sought to give a bit more background to London’s streets, he turned to Charles Booth. A social reformer, Booth had produced a colour-coded guide to the streets of the capital, marking each one from the gold and red of the wealthy elite to the dark blue and black of the “semi criminal”. It was this that helped Conan Doyle decide where to place his hero (Baker Street was coloured red, for pretty welloff), and while the author later lived in the city himself, he still relied on his early tools. The exhibition also provides a clear picture of the London of Holmes’s day through original photograph­s. From documentar­y-like images of the streets to the artistic landscapes of the river and drifting fog, it is possible

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