Weekly Forum #6

(The location of the Empty House, as deduced by Bernard Davies and introduced to me by Roger Johnson “Count”)

I’m back from my trip to New York City and England. The jet lag has mercifully passed and I’m starting to get back into the swing of things. I’d swamp you with vacation photos and stories of the incredible Watsonians I’ve met this past month, but this certainly not a personal blog, so let’s keep the focus on who we really enjoy talking about: Dr Watson.

I went to the Sherlock Holmes Museum and, although I felt quite hesitant, I was too curious not to at least go in and see the contents of the museum. This may be my only visit to London, after all, so why not at least once? I had heard about it (not all particularly positive impressions) and I felt oddly curious about the mixed reactions I’d hear from others.

After, I walked out of the museum feeling dissatisfied, though perhaps not for the same reason as others might (such as due to the high price or the over-reliance on wax figures). The reason for my dissatisfaction was this: despite having the room available of two additional floors in the building, why do we not see Dr Watson’s bedroom? There is Sherlock Holmes’ room and the famous sitting room and… that’s it, the rest of the floors display other things, but no bedroom for Dr Watson?

As far as I’m aware, Dr Watson never spares time to describe his own room at 221B Baker Street, though he took time to describe Holmes’ room and their sitting room. So, my question is: What do you think Dr Watson’s bedroom would look like? What do you think we might find in his bedroom? Could you describe how it might look?

15 Replies to “Weekly Forum #6”

  1. The wax figures are, perhaps, the weirdest things ever, but I LOVE the sitting room. It’s so weird and tiny and crowded! But yes, they have jacked the price up so much over the last few years. Alas, they can get away with it. People want to go in. I’d have visited more than once, though, if it hadn’t been so pricey.

    The only thing we know about Watson’s bedroom, I believe, is that the plane tree in the yard is visible from its window. I can’t remember if that’s canon or conjecture. You’d think the museum would PUT A BED IN THAT UPSTAIRS ROOM because it’s a perfectly good and obvious place to indicate as Watson’s room. Isn’t it even? I can’t remember. It has the cane chair and his medical bag and everything. Maybe I made that up.

    Or, we peer suggestively at the width of Holmes’s bed and walk out.

    1. There is a room in the museum right above Holmes’ room with medical books and such (the medical bag was in the sitting room when I visited), but there is no bed in that room or any other room except for Holmes’.

      And yes, I suppose we could peer suggestively at the width of Holmes’ bed, but I’d simply wince in pained sympathy – the bed in the museum so narrow that wonder if Holmes could ever fit in it to sleep comfortably.

      I’d much rather if they cleared out one of the larger rooms in the floors above and set up Watson’s bedroom there (though I’d much rather they do a number of different things – but that would be a start). I imagine that Dr Watson’s room was notably larger than Holmes’ room, since he would be in the floor above. Meanwhile, Holmes’ room shares the floor with the sitting room, so it would likely be smaller.

      Also, I can imagine that Holmes would not be interested in taking the bigger, more luxurious room above because of how he tends to use his room for function instead of a place to relax (he uses the sitting room for that), and how it seems to benefit him to have his room near the sitting room where he can quickly enter to address (or even deceive) clients, even if that means his room is the notably smaller one.

      Watson, on the other hand, is a man who enjoys clubs, billiards, sports, gambling, food, and other earthly treats. I could see him enjoy having a relatively large bedroom with a nice comfortable bed and all of the books and other things he may like whenever he needs to escape Holmes while the detective is in a mood in the sitting room, plucking loudly at his violin.

    1. That is true! Perhaps the space in the floor above the sitting room was Dr Watson’s Room and the space above Holmes’ room was the lumber room?

  2. I don’t need to tell you that I love this topic, I’m sure. It’s the convergence of two things I am passionately interested in: Sherlock Holmes stories and museums.

    I like the Sherlock Holmes museum at Baker Street, but you’re right, it has definite weaknesses. The wax figures are super weird. I was so delighted by the museum overall, though. I was 19 when I visited, and I had never been in a recreated 221b space before. Even my brother liked it, though that may have to with the Victorian weapons on display, and the fact that it is quite a small museum.

    I’d love to see Watson’s room more fully realized, too. I want to see his writing desk! Could they feature the tin dispatch box? How about his notes from Sherlock’s cases? We might have fewer details about his room, but there’s still so many neat things the museum could do.

    One thing I did love was the “living history” component. I’m not sure if this was the case for your visit, but when I was there, there was a volunteer or staff member dressed as, and interacting with visitors in the character of, Dr. Watson. As far as I could tell, he was the only character represented this way. I thought it was deeply appropriate that Watson should be the interface between the public and the world of Sherlock Holmes, as represented by the museum. Watson acts as an interpreter. Interpretation, in a museum context, is conveying meaning to the visitor in a fun, engaging, and inspiring way, whether through signage, programmatic content, theater, or exhibit design principles. Museum interpreters strive to make science, history, etc. content relatable to the visitor, presenting narratives that draw them in, inspiring them, provoking their curiosity, drawing upon their capacity for empathy. And if you think about it, isn’t that the role Dr. Watson plays for us in the stories? It is his words interpreting events and facts into compelling narratives that draw us in, and inspire us. It’s only right that he be represented through a living history interpreter in the museum.

    …I still want to see his writing desk, though.

    To be honest, I couldn’t tell you whether the museum’s staff made the choices they did for the reasons I’ve applied after the fact. I wish I had more information about the museum. (Does it ever do any public or educational programs? Does it have a mission statement, and, if so, what is it? What changes have been made over the years, and why? Where do its leadership see it fitting in, with regards to the wider, and infinitely diverse, landscape of museums?) I wonder how different my experience would be now, visiting this museum as not only a Sherlockian, but also a museum professional.

    1. I did not have a “living history” component to my visit. I walked into the empty rooms and looked around. There was a man at the door and one at the top of the stairs on the first floor, but they were only there to help the flow of people and set any moved objects back in place. Maybe I just visited at a bad time. I don’t know.

      That was something I found particularly cool, though. You can touch objects and sit in the chairs, which is neat – especially in the famous sitting room. Instead of being cordoned off, you feel like you’re in a living space.

      That first floor, with the sitting room and Holmes’ room, was so well done that I had high expectations for what the next floor might be (since so little else is described of the rest of 221B Baker Street, I thought they might get very creative with the concept by seeing Watson’s living quarters and perhaps learn more about London homes in the late 1800s). Unfortunately, those raised expectations made me feel a keener disappointment when I saw how they used the space instead.

      I get the feeling that the wax figures were a clever concept when they were first introduced – especially since they reenact key stories. However, perhaps wax figures might be a dated method. Or at least, it feels that way to me. I speak as a layman, simply as someone who enjoys visiting museums and doesn’t think nearly enough as I should about all of the work that goes into designing one.

      Actually, the visit to the SH Museum reminds me how, while I was in NYC during BSI Weekend, my friends and I visited the American Museum of Natural History. It’s lovely to visit and I noticed that the more modern areas, such as the Heyden planetarium and the dinosaur wing, has a very different feel when compared to the taxidermy animal exhibits in the main area. It almost feels as if the design of the animal exhibits itself were teaching us a bit of how museums used to be presented before many of the more interactive methods that have been developed over the years.

      So, comparing the Hall of African Mammals to the Dinosaur Wing feels like comparing silent films to modern films: Both are good and interesting, but you approach the classics with more forgiveness and an affection for the time period they came from because there have been innovations that we have now that they didn’t have at the time it was first built.

      I think that’s a similar feel I get with the Sherlock Holmes Museum. They have a very nice shop and I liked the first floor sitting room and Holmes room, but the above floors were less engaging. And as a Sherlockian, I was sad not to see where Watson’s bedroom might be in such a space.

      A “living history” component or a knowledgeable guide would have made it a more interesting visit for me. That reminds me that I went to see the Essex Police Museum and I was given a guided tour by Roger, JHWS “Count”. He’s such a great guide! Although it is a small museum, my mom and I enjoyed our visit a great deal because he told use numerous stories and fascinating facts as he showed us through. So I think I understand how a museum interpreter can leave a deep and memorable impression while visiting a museum.

      Speaking of museums, I went to The Crime Museum Uncovered exhibit at the Museum of London and, wow, you would have loved it, Lauren. It was a very well-done exhibition! I actually wish I could’ve taken you on my trip with me because there were so many cool museums.

      1. I’m not sure whether wax figures would be considered dated– it might depend on the way they are presented– but they just seem a bit creepy. I’m more used to mannequins to display costumes, or living interpreters. Any of the above fit the historic House museum style that they seem to be going for.

        I can’t wait to hear more about your trip, and the Crime Museum exhibition! I actually read up a bit on that exhibit for the presentation on Sherlock Holmes and museums that I did for the Sound of the Baskervilles. The Scotland Yard’s Crime Museum gets a mention in the canon (EMPT), and I had a lot of fun researching this museum and its history!

    2. Dot, I don’t imagine that the Sherlock Holmes Museum has a mission statement, or a permanent collection like chartered museums do. It’s a commercial enterprise, not a real museum as we know them. Unfortunately, anything can call itself a museum.
      Do you work in a museum yourself? I was a curator at a history museum for more than 30 years until I retired.

      1. You’re probably right about the museum not having a mission statement. It’s fun to imagine what it might be, though! And yes, it is indeed for-profit, rather than non-profit. (Though, I have visited excellent for-profit museums; the International Spy Museum in Washington, DC is a good example.)

        I work at part-time at a couple of different museums (one aviation and aerospace-focused, and one natural history and culture-focused) currently. I graduated this past June with an MA in Museology. It’s quite exciting to meet another Watsonian Museologist!

        1. I was delighted to see your posting about enjoying the Canon and museums. Kindred spirits, indeed. I wish you the best of luck with your career, and look forward to talking shop with you and Carla some day. Out of curiosity, where did you do your studies?

    3. A good question, Carla. Watson’s bedroom furnishings would have reflected the room that was his personal space. It would have a bed, of course (a single, perhaps a bit spartan in keeping with the needs of an old campaigner)and probably a night table with a lamp or candlestick. A wardrobe and a chest or drawers or dresser would be needed for clothing. Hooks on the back of his door for coats & hats. (Trunks would be kept in the box room). He’d have a wash stand and mirror, and perhaps a separate shaving stand. One or two chairs, depending on the size of the room, and a small side table, too, if the room was large enough; maybe even a smoking stand with humidor, ash tray and match holder. Some sort of cabinet for medical supplies and his doctor’s bag. A small bookcase with a lamp for his personal reading materials (most of his books and papers would be in his desk in the sitting room). A rug on the floor in colder months and a mat in summer, and seasonal hangings on the window. Finally, personal items: a watch holder on the dresser; hairbrush, toothbrush, drinking glass, razor, strop, shaving mug & brush, soap, towels and such; a bottle for a nightcap; photographs; his Second Afghan War medal and officer’s sword; souvenirs of past adventures (and, perhaps, of women from three separate continents)); and highly personal papers not kept in his desk downstairs.

      1. That’s a fantastic list of items, Dash. It’s fun to imagine that organized into a room.

        By the way, if I ever convince my friend Dot to join me on a trip to BSI Weekend, it’ll be my priority to introduce you to her and chat about museums. I learn so much from just hearing about her studies.

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