THE ATTRACTION of the reconstruction of Sherlock Holmes’ study at 221b Baker Street, London (which I drew in September), is that you can walk around it but the tantalizing fascination of this meticulous reconstruction, housed in the basement of the small Sherlock Holmes Museum at Meiringen, Switzerland, is that you can’t walk around it. Hermetically sealed behind a glass wall, which is punctured only by bullet holes spelling out the initials ‘VR’ that Holmes has made in the wall during an idle moment, you feel as if you’ve been transported, by some kind of out of the body experience, to a place where ‘it is always 1891’ and that you’ve only just missed Holmes and Watson who, minutes earlier, have set out on an adventure.
To complete the period atmosphere, the BBC drama department supplied a CD of the sounds of 1891 – including the clatter of hooves on cobbles – which plays in the background. Through the bow windows, you can see Georgian town houses across Baker street; contrary to popular belief, the commentary informs us, it wasn’t always foggy in Victorian London.
In my photograph the ‘ghost’ of a headless policeman stands guard at the deal table where Sherlock performed his chemical experiments; he’s a reflection from one of the display cases in the corridor behind you. The audio guide points out that while the British bobby carried a truncheon, his Swiss counterpart at that time (the one in the reflection) carries a cutlass.
The museum is housed the town’s former English Church, the airy nave of which on the ground floor, serves as an art gallery. From here you can look out to the wooded slopes of the valley to the west and the gorge of the Reichenbach Falls, where Holmes and his arch-enemy Professor Moriaty fought to the death in Conan Doyle’s story The Final Problem.
Today we’re looking towards the Falls over the big top of a travelling circus, hopefully one that is less prone to disaster than the circus described in The Adventure of the Veiled Lodger.
I take the chance to do a little drawing when we take the funicular railway up to the Falls as I’ve got my own Sherlock Holmes project to complete. I’ve been working on it off and on for nine years so I hope that I’ll be inspired to finish my book by visiting the ledge where Holmes fought the Professor.
The criminal mastermind is still at work today in Meiringen; returning from the Falls, Barbara and I are about to follow a narrow walkway alongside some roadworks when the wind starts toppling the barrier and its sturdy posts from the far end towards us in a domino effect. A narrow escape!
This gasogene, a Victorian soda syphon, is just one of the authentic period details in Sherlock’s study. My drawing has turned out even more wobbly than usual, possibly due the effect of looking sideways in low light my new varifocal glasses. Or was it the narrow escape we’d just had . . . or the effects of being on a rather slender budget and being unable to fortify ourselves by sampling one of the famous Meiringen meringues!
Standing on the sideboard by the gasogene (far right in my photograph above) – and also tantalizingly out of our reach – is a tantalus; a stand for decanters which can be locked up while remaining visible.
Graham Moore’s novel The Holmes Affair starts at the Reichenbach Falls and ends with a note recommending that, if the reader should ever find him, or her, -self in Meiringen, that they should visit the Sherlock Holmes Museum and take a close look at some of the exhibits.
I’d second that.
Swiss Mountain Dog
This morning, as we waited for the train at Wengen, I drew this Swiss Mountain Dog. That isn’t brandy in his barrel; he carries his own supplyof water and, in two small panniers, his dogfood.