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221B Baker Street is the London address of the fictional detective Sherlock Holmes, created by author Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. In the United Kingdom, postal addresses with a number followed by a letter may indicate a separate address within a larger, often residential building. Baker Street in Holmes' time was a high-class residential district, and Holmes' apartment was probably part of a Georgian terrace.
At the time the Holmes stories were published, addresses in Baker Street did not go as high as 221. Baker Street was later extended, and in 1932 the Abbey National Building Society moved into premises at 219–229 Baker Street. For many years, Abbey National employed a full-time secretary to answer mail addressed to Sherlock Holmes. In 1990, a blue plaque signifying 221B Baker Street was installed at the Sherlock Holmes Museum, situated elsewhere on the same block, and there followed a 15-year dispute between Abbey National and the Holmes Museum for the right to receive mail addressed to 221B Baker Street. Since the closure of Abbey House in 2005, ownership of the address by the Holmes Museum has not been challenged, despite its location between 237 and 241 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.
(Arthur Conan Doyle, A Study in Scarlet, 1887)
When the "Sherlock Holmes" stories were first published, street numbers in Baker Street only went up to 100, which was presumably why Conan Doyle chose a higher street number for the location of his hero, to prevent any person's actual residence from being affected.
The section north of Marylebone Road near Regent's Park – now including 221 Baker Street – was known in Conan Doyle's lifetime as Upper Baker Street. In his first manuscript, Conan Doyle put Holmes' house in "Upper Baker Street," indicating that if he had a house in mind, it would have been there. However, a British crime novelist named Nigel Morland claimed that, late in Conan Doyle's life, he identified the intersection of Baker Street and George Street, about 500 metres south of Marylebone Road, as the location of 221B. Sherlockian experts have also held to alternative theories as to where the original 221B was located and have maintained that it was farther down Baker Street.
When street numbers were re-allocated in the 1930s, the block of odd numbers from 215 to 229 was assigned to an Art Deco building known as Abbey House, constructed in 1932 for the Abbey Road Building Society, which the society and its successor (which subsequently became Abbey National plc) occupied until 2002.
Almost immediately, the building society started receiving correspondence from Sherlock Holmes fans all over the world, in such volumes that it appointed a permanent "secretary to Sherlock Holmes" to deal with it. A bronze plaque on the front of Abbey House carried a picture of Holmes and a quotation, but was removed from the building several years ago. Its whereabouts are presently unknown. In 1999, Abbey National sponsored the creation of a bronze statue of Sherlock Holmes that now stands at the entrance to Baker Street tube station.
The Sherlock Holmes Museum is situated within an 1815 townhouse very similar to the 221B described in the stories and is located between 237 and 241 Baker Street. It displays exhibits in period rooms, wax figures and Holmes memorabilia, with the famous study overlooking Baker Street the highlight of the museum. The description of the house can be found throughout the stories, including the 17 steps leading from the ground-floor hallway to the first-floor study.
According to the published stories, "221B Baker Street" was a suite of rooms on the first floor of a lodging house above a flight of 17 steps. The main study overlooked Baker Street, and Holmes' bedroom was adjacent to this room at the rear of the house, with Dr. Watson's bedroom being on the floor above, overlooking a rear yard that had a plane tree in it.
The street number 221B was assigned to the Sherlock Holmes Museum on 27 March 1990 (replacing the logical address 239 Baker Street) when the Leader of Westminster City Council, Lady Shirley Porter, unveiled a blue plaque signifying the address of "221B Baker Street." She was invited to renumber the museum's building to coincide with its official opening (and because the number 221B had not been included in the original planning consent for the museum granted in October 1989).
A long-running dispute over the number arose between the Sherlock Holmes Museum, the building society Abbey National (which had previously answered the mail addressed to Sherlock Holmes) and subsequently the local Westminster City Council. The main objection to the Museum's role in answering the letters was the prosaic fact that the number 221B bestowed on the Museum by the Council was out of sequence with other numbers in the street: an issue that has since vexed local bureaucrats, who have striven for years to keep street numbers in sequence. In 2005, Abbey National vacated their headquarters on Baker Street, which left the museum to battle with Westminster City Council to end the dispute over the number, which had created negative publicity.
After the closure of Abbey House in 2005, the Royal Mail recognised the museum's exclusive right to receive mail addressed to Sherlock Holmes.
Another version of Sherlock Holmes' apartment is at the Sherlock Holmes pub in Northumberland Street near Charing Cross railway station. This was originally a small hotel, the Northumberland Arms, but was refurbished and reopened under its present name in December 1957. Its owners, Whitbread & Co, were fortunate to own the entire Sherlock Holmes exhibit put together by Marylebone Borough Library and the Abbey National for the 1951 Festival of Britain. The pub was restored to a late Victorian form and the exhibit, a detailed replica of Holmes' fictional apartment, was installed on the upstairs floor.
The fictional address has been satirised in the following pastiches of Sherlock Holmes:
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