Sherlock Holmes and London Underground


Only one of the original canon of Sherlock Holmes stories features any action on what is now London Underground, the Adventure of the Bruce-Partington Plans, which features tracks on today’s Metropolitan, District, Circle and Hammersmith & City lines. In The Adventure of the Beryl Coronet mention is made of the fact that Baker Street station is visible from 221B. The rest of this post is going to examine that lacuna from the London Underground viewpoint.


Mr Sherlock Holmes set up his consultancy practice in rooms on Montague Street some time in the 1870s (1874 and 1877 both have their adherents, and there is no obvious case against it being 1875 or 1876 either), and moved to Baker Street, initially sharing the lodging with the man who would become his chronicler, Dr John Hamish Watson, in 1880. With a three year hiatus in the years 1891-4 (although The Adventure of Wisteria Lodge refers erroneously to the year being 1892) when he was pretending to be dead in order to throw off surviving members of Moriarty’s organisation, Holmes was based in London until 1903 when he retired to Sussex to keep bees.


What then of London Underground in the period covered above? Well by 1880 the Metropolitan had reached out as far as Harrow, what is now the Hammersmith and City had an eastern terminus at Aldgate, and in the west had branches to Olympia (then Addison Road) with a through connection to mainline railways going south, Hammersmith and a track connection by viaduct to Ravenscourt Park for the run to Richmond, the District ran from Ealing Broadway, Richmond and Putney Bridge in the west to Mansion House in the east, with a side branch to High Street Kensington, while the Circle line (then the Inner Circle) was yet to be completed, horseshoeing from Aldgate to Mansion House (completion after some knocking together of heads would occur in 1884). There were as yet no deep level tube lines.

By 1890, the Metropolitan would have extended north to Chesham, the Disrict would have a new branch to Hounslow (the origin of today’s Heathrow branch of the Piccadilly), the District and Hammersmith & City lines had opened what is now a section of London Overground, but was for many years the East London line, and the world’s first deep level tube line, the City & South London Railway opened on December 18th, 1890, then comprising a mere six stations, with no official interchange to the older network, although the northern terminus at King William Street would have only been a few minutes walk from Monument.

The District, Hammersmith & City and Circle lines did not change by 1890. The Metropolitan reached further from Central London than any other of London Underground lines, with two branches beyond Aylesbury, the main branch to Verney Junction opening in 1891 and a side branch to Brill utilizing what had been the Duke of Buckingham’s private railway opening in 1899. Verney Junction was 50 miles out from Baker Street, while Brill just topped that at 51 miles. The City and South London had abandoned the poorly sited King William Street station, and had three new northern stations, London Bridge, Bank and Monument and two new southern stations, Clapham Road (now Clapham North) and Clapham Common. Also, in 1898 the second deep-level tube railway, the Waterloo & City, opened for business, while in 1900 the Central London Railway opened, running between Bank and Shepherd’s Bush.

In between 1900 and 1903 the only significant changes were to the District, which expanded to the east and also, in the latter half of 1903 opened what is now the Uxbridge branch of the Piccadilly – it was not until the great tube building boom of 1905-7 that the state of the deep-level tube network changed substantially.

Thus, although more use could definitely have been made of the older ‘subsurface’ lines, especially given that a station was visible from Holmes’ window, there was not a lot of tube network for him to use.


I have five maps for you, in the modern style, showing the network as it looked in 1870 (before Holmes moved to London), 1880 (the time of the move to Baker Street), 1890 (the last year before the great hiatus), 1900 (near the end of Holmes’ time in London) and 1910 (seven years after the move to Sussex, and by when Holmes was apparently already preparing for his last bow as ‘Mr Altamont’):

DSCN7626 DSCN7627 DSCN7628 DSCN7629 DSCN7630


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