The legend of 221b Baker Street

In the past, a small legal battle ensued for the rights to answer letters sent to Sherlock Holmes, addressed to the fictive address of 211b Baker Street. For some time now, the “221b Baker Street” sign has been the property of the Sherlock Holmes Museum, found at 239 Baker Street.

“WE met next day as he had arranged, and inspected the rooms at No. 221b, Baker Street, of which he had spoken at our meeting. They consisted of a couple of comfortable bed-rooms and a single large airy sitting-room, cheerfully furnished, and illuminated by two broad windows. So desirable in every way were the apartments, and so moderate did the terms seem when divided between us, that the bargain was concluded upon the spot, and we at once entered into possession. That very evening I moved my things round from the hotel, and on the following morning Sherlock Holmes followed me with several boxes and portmanteaus. For a day or two we were busily employed in unpacking and laying out our property to the best advantage. That done, we gradually began to settle down and to accommodate ourselves to our new surroundings” (…).

“He threw the paper across to me and I glanced at the place indicated. It was the first announcement in the ‘Found’ column. ‘In Brixton Road, this morning,’ it ran, ‘a plain gold wedding ring, found in the roadway between the ‘White Hart’ Tavern and Holland Grove. Apply Dr. Watson, 221b, Baker Street, between eight and nine this evening.”

The address and brief description of Sherlock Holmes’ famous home and office made its first appearance on the first couple of pages of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s first Sherlock Holmes short, A Study in Scarlet.

However, when he penned these lines in 1886, this address didn’t even exist. The highest street address in Baker Street was 100 at the time, according to London (Amazing and Extraordinary Facts). Then, when Baker Street eventually expanded and the 221 address became available in 1932, Baker Street 219-229 was occupied by Abbey National.

This bank supposedly had a full-time employee whose job was to answer fan mail addressed to 221b Baker Street. Furthermore, the bank had the following plaque on its wall, marking the famous address:

gailf548 / flickr.com

In 1990, however, things got complicated when the Sherlock Holmes Museum (found at 239 Baker Street) decided to create its own “official 221b Baker Street” plaque. According to Wikipedia, this started a 15-year old legal dispute between Abbey National and the Sherlock Holmes Museum.

The bank, claiming that responding to mail has become part of the firm’s identity, didn’t want to let go of this tradition. They claimed that the Sherlock Holmes Museum was motivated by potential financial gains only, and that the museum planned to distribute promotional material when responding to letters.

Ralf Roletschek / Wikipedia

The mailmen supported Abbey National, and continued to deliver the letters to the bank. However, since the closure of Abbey National in 2005, the Sherlock Holmes Museum has taken over the “duty” of responding to fan mail.

In closing, it must be mentioned that this legendary fictive address has appeared as an easter egg in various movies and TV shows. For instance, in several episodes of House M.D., Dr. Gregory House is shown at home and his apartment number is 221B, a tribute to Sherlock Holmes famous London address.

Photo: gailf548 / flickr.com | Ralf Roletschek / Wikipedia

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