The Retirees go Abroad – A long Weekend in London – Friday.

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Kerry gets her wish to see Selfridge’s and do some shopping. Here is the store to the rich and famous Londoners. I discover a stuffed T- Rex toy and when I check out its £850 price tag the bloody thing moves and give me a minor conniption. It is animated. Then there was the toy car – £16,000, the stuffed African animals and the life size Yoda made out of Lego. They even have a tailor to design and make your jeans! Time to lock up the wallet. We stopped for a cup of coffee at “Lola’s Cup Cake Store”. After Selfridges it’s down the road to Debenhams then onto John Lewis. The phone rings and its David. It’s on we are doing the Sherlock Holmes walking tour so onto the Embankment Station to meet Richard our tour guide.

Although we meet at the station we moved to Embankment Gardens to start the walk. Richard explains that in Conan Doyle’s time that we would have been standing in the river and shows us the only remnant of that period – the River Gate. From there we move into Buckingham St. where Conan Doyle maintained an office for writing whilst still practising as a doctor on the south coast of England. It is also where Samuel Pepys lived when writing his diary about Charles II. We moved off over the Strand into the forecourt of the Charing Cross Police Station but in Doyle’s time it was the Charing Cross Hospital and featured in one of his novels as “CCH”.

From there we moved to Bull Lane and the side of the Adelphi Theatre, the theatre hired by Doyle for the presentation of his first play. In the lane is the Nell Gwynne Pub (Nell Gwynne being a consort of Charles II) an original gas light of London, and the story of Doyle’s first success as the author of a play.

At the end of the lane we turned right and proceeded down to the former offices of the Strand magazine (just near Queensland House) and important part of Doyle’s success. The magazine was first published in the late 19th century and its point of difference was that it would have more illustrations than anyone else. It was like the Woman’s Day of the 19th century and it picked up Doyle’s short stories on Sherlock Holmes making him and his detective famous and a household name. Many of the characteristics associated with Holmes were developed by the artists of the magazine despite what the stories described.

Back onto the Strand, Richard shows us Holmes favourite Restaurant, Simpsons (at least he visited it twice in different books) and it is still running today. Here is an extract of the history given on its website.

“Originally opened in 1828 as a chess club and coffee house – The Grand Cigar Divan – Simpson’s soon became known as the “home of chess”, attracting such chess luminaries as Howard Staunton the first English world chess champion through its doors. It was to avoid disturbing the chess games in progress that the idea of placing large joints of meat on silver-domed trolleys and wheeling them to guests’ tables first came into being, a practice Simpson’s still continues today. One of the earliest Master Cooks insisted that everything in the restaurant be British and the Simpson’s of today remains a proud exponent of the best of British food. Famous regulars include Charles Dickens, George Bernard Shaw, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (and his fictional creation, Sherlock Holmes), Benjamin Disraeli and William Gladstone.”

Up another lane we see the original offices of the Strand and the office where the features of the detective Sherlock Holmes were discussed and decided. It is also beside the Lyceum Theatre another theatre to host productions of Sherlock Holmes on stage. The rebuilt section commemorates two famous actors of the time and a famous producer – Bram Stoker (Yes Dracula’s creator produced Sherlock Holmes plays in the Lyceum). Then we move over to the Covenant Garden Markets which are very different today to Doyle’s time except for the National Opera Company which features in two off Doyle’s novels as a pastime that Holmes adores. Whilst we are at the Gardens we notice that a bee hive has started on a gas lamp post.

We then walk down Henrietta St and visit the Colosseum theatre and the Duke of York Theatre. Both theatres hosted productions of Sherlock Holmes performed by a very famous American actor William Gillette. The walk is nearing its end. We are nearing St. Martins in the Field which also features in one of the stories and then onto Craven St. which Richard says has not changed since Doyle used this as the lodgings for one of the criminals contesting wits with Holmes. This leads us to Northumberland St where once stood the Northumberland Arms and the likely lodgings of Lord Baskerville whilst in London consulting Holmes. Alas it is no more but the Sherlock Holmes Pub and memorabilia museum is there in its place.

As you would expect this is where the tour terminates and we availed ourselves of its fine ales and human comforts. Quaint hotel but the bar prices are rich. We then continued our travels as we were due to see a production of “Sunny Afternoon” the story of the Kinks at the Harold Pinter theatre that night. We found our way through the lanes under Charing Cross Rail Station into the welcoming surrounds of the cafe in the vault under St Martins in the Field Church. Dinner was simple but cheap – roast chicken and veggies and lashings of it. I can recommend it for a cheap and wholesome meal and the drink prices are at the lower end of the scale also. We then visited Trafalgar Square took some familiar pictures and a not so familiar wall mural.

I had made a last minute booking for the theatre to see Sunny Afternoon after meeting David Reyne in Liverpool. He strongly recommended the show and apart from our seating we were electrified by the music and moved by the story of youngsters giving it ago and making mistakes that probably cost them the fame of the Beatles. No photos of the show but here is a photo of our seating. I felt we had returned to the Glacier in Switzerland we were so high up.

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