Who lives at 221b 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.”
This is how 221b Baker Street is first introduced when, in A Study in Scarlet, Sherlock Holmes and John Watson rent the flat from landlady, Mrs Hudson. It has since become one of the most well-known addresses in the world. And it has an interesting story of its own.
According to Arthur Conan Doyle’s stories, Sherlock and Watson stayed at their famous London address between 1881 and 1904. In the late 19th century, Baker Street was a high-class residential district - but 221b did not exist.
The number 221b suggests that it was a flat linked to 221 and it is likely that Holmes' apartment would have been part of a Georgian terrace like much of Baker Street at the time. But at the time that Conan Doyle created Sherlock, the street numbers did not reach such a high number. It was only in the 1930s when the street was reorganised and renumbered that it became a real address, belonging to building society Abbey National, which had premises at 219–229 Baker Street.
Letters to Sherlock
Such was the power of the stories and the fame of the detective and his sleuthing abilities, fans would frequently write to Sherlock Holmes. Inevitably, when the address became attached to a real building, the letters would arrive behind the door of the Abbey National. The financial institution embraced the consequence of sharing an address with Holmes and employed someone whose job it was to reply to the post – essentially working as personal assistant to a fictional character.
In 1990, the Sherlock Holmes Museum opened on Baker Street and sought to claim the address. It already had a blue plaque denoting 221b in keeping with the museum’s efforts to recreate the home of Sherlock and Dr Watson and wanted to have the right to receive the post for 221b. But Abbey National were unhappy about relinquishing the address and it led to a long-running argument over who should have the exclusive right to use 221b and, with it, the accompanying role of replying to Sherlock’s mail. The dispute was only resolved when the building society left Baker Street in 2005.
Who lives at 221b Baker Street now?
And the story doesn’t end there because, although the signage suggests otherwise, even today there is still no 221b. If you visit Baker Street, you will see 221b displayed prominently at the site of the museum, but its location is actually 237-241. And the ‘real’ 221b? It doesn’t exist, but instead has been lumped together in a larger block of buildings at 219–229 Baker Street, the same grouping that was once occupied by Abbey National.
So 221b is an address that never existed yet has received letters for its fictional resident for more than a century, and has been the subject of a long-running dispute. Oh, and to make it even more exceptional, the fictional address has been recreated as if it were real, just a few doors down from where it would be if it existed. How fitting that Sherlock should have an address with a convoluted story of its own!