London West End Sherlock Holmes Sleuth city

Sign of the Sleuth | London | West End |Sherlock Holmes

Brainy and cheeky. Witty and inventive. Always smoking hot.

London’s East End got all the love in the lead up to the Olympic Games, but, reports Susan Skelly, the West End has always been a precinct of interest for sleuths. Just ask Sherlock Holmes.

London W1: home to The Ritz, Claridges, The Dorchester, Brown’s Hotel, Charlotte Street and the Sanderson. One of its oldest residents is The Langham in Portland Place at the top end of Regent Street, recently settled into L80m ($123.6m) refurbishment. As any Sherlock Holmes aficionado will know, on December 3, 1878, Captain Arthur Morstan, an officer in an Indian regiment home on leave, and staying at the Langham Hotel, went out into the night, never to return. His disappearance became the plot of Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Sign Of The Four (1890). The Langham again turned up as the lodgings of choice for characters in A Scandal In Bohemia (1891) and The Disappearance Of Lady Frances Carfax (1911).


West End wonderland: London’s Langham Hotel

When homework has once required a close reading of The Sign Of The Four in Pitman shorthand (imagine, if you can, reading Vanity Fair in Sanskrit) there is a certain sense of return on investment in finding oneself “at home” in The Langham – also said to be the most haunted hotel in London – an opportunity to do some 21st-century sleuthing in the Baker Street precinct where Holmes and the trusty Dr John Watson turned detective work into an art form.
Sadly, the timing is out for bumping into those who have famously passed through: the Prince of Wales (later King Edward VII) who opened the establishment in 1865; Emperor Louis Napoleon III, who spent much time in exile there; poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow; Arthur Conan Doyle himself (knighted in 1902 for his public relations services during the Boer War); Oscar Wilde; Henry Morton Stanley, en route to Africa to search for Dr Livingstone; Emperor Haile Selassie of Ethiopia; the Duke Of Windsor, courting Wallis Simpson; even Don Bradman during the 1930 Ashes tour. A room with a view in 1939 might have encouraged a meeting in the corridors with Edward R Murrow, there to cover the war (how was his shorthand?); and even 20 years ago, you could have bumped into Diana, Princess of Wales.
There are good reasons not to actually leave the hotel, among them the Artesian Bar (50-plus rums, the best hot and sour chicken soup in town, and a new gong for World’s Best Cocktail Menu); Roux at the Landau (under the eye of father and son gastronomes Albert and Michel Roux Jr); and the bijou afternoon tea in the Palm Court. But investigate you must, as The Langham’s neighbourhood is Marylebone, Fitzrovia, and Mayfair. These are some of the finds.

Langham Hotel London Artesian Bar west end W1 cocktails best bar

The acclaimed Artesian Bar in London’s Langham Hotel

Sherlock Holmes Museum
221b Baker Street.
+44 2 7935 8866.

Elementary. Just remember, Holmes wasn’t a real person although that doesn’t deter the thousands who queue each day outside 221b Baker Street where Sir Arthur Conan Doyle billeted the cocaine-addicted sleuth and his upright friend Watson. It’s just as they left it, of course violin and a mess of music scores, test tubes and microscopes, reference books on beekeeping, a tub of Burgess’s Genuine Anchovy Paste and a packet of Pall Mall Turkish cigarettes. There are life-sized waxworks (murder victims and a lifelike version of Holmes’ nemesis, Professor Moriarty), as convincing as those around the corner at Madame Tussauds, which has much longer queues. If you must, you can pose for a photo at the entrance with a cap and pipe. Open daily 9.30am-6pm. 6/4 ($9/$6).

Open Air Theatre

Inner Circle Regent’s Park.

One of the prettiest amphitheatres in one of London’s prettiest parks stages productions between May and September, from Shakespeare to Sondheim. One 2011 showstopper was Crazy For You, a reworking of George and Ira Gershwin’s 1930 hit Girl Crazy. Coming up are Ragtime and A Midsummer Night’s Dream. It’s so alfresco, a fox wandering into the spotlight isn’t unusual. Picnic hampers and Pimm’s are de rigueur.

Bounded by Great Portland Street, Oxford Street, Gower Street and Euston Road, this is good strolling territory, taking in the intact Georgian architecture of Bedford Square, classic pubs, including the Fitzroy Tavern, frequented by writers such as Virginia Woolf, George Bernard Shaw, George Orwell and Dylan Thomas (where didn’t he drink?) and whence comes the area’s name. The British Library and British Museum have a Fitzrovia address, as does the Petrie Museum of Egyptian Archaeology, Pollock’s Toy Museum and the gallery of Getty Images, the photo bank used extensively by magazines, including this one, the world over.

Baker Street Platform 5
Marylebone Road.

The Baker Street line, built by the Metro-politan Railway, was the first underground line in London. It was opened in January 1863, and ran from Baker Street to King’s Cross. Descend to Platform 5 (the Circle Line and the Hammersmith and City Line) passing on the way wall tiles that feature silhouette motifs of Sherlock Holmes. There is also a statue of the sleuth at the Marylebone Road exit. Look for the arches, ancient clocks and honour rolls of war dead, and marvel at the surprising spaciousness.

Marylebone High Street
This picturesque street is home to the Conran Shop, Paul Smith and Agns B. Simply irresistible, too, are: Daunt Books (83-84), with thousands of titles, and a huge cave of travel tomes, maps and guides; the White Company (12), the homemaker’s haven, with bed linen, serviettes, towels, bathrobes – all in white, its offspring at No.90, The Little White Company, which sells cot covers, jumpsuits, wraps, change tables and the cutest soft white toys; and Designers Guild (76) with its artisan ceramics, fabrics, stationery and cushions. Nearby, in Marylebone Lane, you’ll find The Button Queen (76) with its enchanting window display; and VV Rouleaux (102) for ribbons and trimmings. Stop for an old-fashioned sandwich or bowl of hot porridge with raisins, honey, banana and nutmeg (3) at Between the Slices (39).

Cabbages & Frocks Market
St Marylebone Parish Church Grounds,
Marylebone High Street.

Despite lean pickings on a long weekend, the discerning rummager could still pick up a Louis Vuitton scarf (nicely boxed), Chanel bag and Herms accessories, vintage clothes and homemade produce. Saturdays 11am-5pm.

The British Architectural Library
Royal Institute of British Architects,
66 Portland Place.
+44 0191 244 5557.

A library and photo archive. The bookshop is a trove for lovers of the built environment, from signed new releases to useful maps and quirky guides to, for example, how London Underground stations got their names.

The Wallace Collection
Hertford House, Manchester Square.
+44 2 7563 9500. 

Five generations of collectors (a string of Marquesses of Hertford) accrued a cache of 18th-century French paintings (including Francois Boucher’s exquisite Madame de Pompadour (1759) and The Swing (1767) by Jean-Honore Fragonard, 17th-century paintings by Dutch and Flemish masters including Frans Hals’ The Laughing Cavalier (1624), porcelain and furniture, Renaissance works and fine armour. These treasures are housed over three floors in the stately Hertford House. Reward the gilt-edged gazing with roast chicken, foie gras and a fine pinot in the elegant courtyard brasserie. Open daily 10am-5pm. Free, but they’d like a donation.


Armour and ancient history at the Wallace Collection in London’s West End.

Alfred Dunhill

2 Davies Street, Mayfair.
+44 0 845 458 0779.

It’s a hike from the mothership Langham, but an essential home away from home for the man about town. Bourdon House, formerly the Duke of Westminster’s London residence, is now home to Dunhill – three levels of luxe lifestyle. There’s the ready-to-wear collection, including the classic Dunhill blazer (950), or something more bespoke (a suit will set you back 3000). Vogue was shooting in the Bespoke Room when we visited. Also starring are leather goods and accessories, the discreet Cellar Bar, a film screening room that seats 12, traditional barber shop, heritage items, and two spa treatment rooms.

British Dental Association Museum
64 Wimpole Street.
+44 2 7563 4549.

Dental work used to be a sideline for barbers, apothecaries, wigmakers, silversmiths and blacksmiths. It wasn’t until 1921 that dentistry was restricted to qualified people. That’s not all to be learnt: denture bases were made from elephant, hippo or walrus ivory; the teeth, as often as not, came from the mouths of dead soldiers, which is why they were called “Waterloo teeth”. The first toothbrushes were made from ox thigh bones, with bristles of pig or horse hair attached. And all power to the drill, which made restoration an alternative to extraction. Open Tue & Thu 1pm-4pm. Free.

Liberty London
210-220 Regent Street.
+44 20 7734 1234.

If you can’t make it as far as Dover Street Market in Piccadilly, this mock Tudor pile will do just fine. The scarf collection (Alexander McQueen, Meg Mathews, Marc Jacobs, Paul Smith and its own Liberty prints) is unsurpassed. There are deftly edited collections of handbags, dresses, casual wear, a very mod shoe department – and the swoon-inducing Dress Box Vintage room, which offers pieces from legendary couturiers (gloves, gowns, shoes, jackets, rings and bracelets, all with provenance tags) in excellent nick. There are also homewares and a coffee shop as an antidote to credit card burnout.

Source Qantas The Australian Way February 2012 – All official imagery



Editor. Writer. Traveller. Keeping tabs on all things fab.

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Copyright © Susan Skelly 2020.