The Sherlock Holmes Society of London
 

THE SHERLOCK HOLMES MUSEUM AT MEIRINGEN

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THE SHERLOCK HOLMES MUSEUM AT MEIRINGEN

Meiringen in Switzerland is for many Holmesians a kind of Mecca. It was at the nearby Reichenbach Falls that Sherlock Holmes in May 1891 met and defeated his greatest enemy, Professor Moriarty, dubbed by Holmes the “Napoleon of Crime”. For some years after the event the Falls were thought also to be the site of the death of Holmes himself and this adds to the poignancy of a visit there. Following the encounter with Moriarty, Holmes secretly slipped away into Italy so as to elude the surviving members of Moriarty’s gang and commenced a series of intrepid travels round Europe, Asia and Africa. Not even Dr Watson was aware that he was still alive until his dramatic return to London in 1894.

In the 1980s the Community of Meiringen, anxious to promote their links with Holmes, commenced a project for the renewal of the village square which has been renamed Conan Doyle Place. A statue of Holmes was placed there in 1988 and three years later, under the patronage of the Sherlock Holmes Society of London and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s daughter, Dame Jean Conan Doyle, a Sherlock Holmes Museum was inaugurated in the former English Church.

The Museum was primarily the brainchild of the Society’s late President, Tony Howlett, and was undoubtedly one of his most significant achievements. The planning and setting up process lasted many years and entailed him finding and supervising an architect in relation to the necessary alterations to the church and countless hours of work on the layout of displays, on gathering artifacts and exhibits and giving advice. Howlett was fortunate in enlisting the help of the architect John Reid, also Pageantmaster of the City of London. Together they ensured, in particular, that the centrepiece of the Museum, the reconstructed sitting room at 221B Baker Street was put together with scrupulous accuracy, right down to every last measurement, furnishing and exhibit. A local architect, Arthur Reinhard, was also brought in to play a key part in the project.

In 1987 the Society made its third official visit to Switzerland to commemorate the centenary of the publication of the first Holmes story. The opportunity was taken in conjunction with this event to unveil a foundation stone for the Museum. The ceremony was performed by Dame Jean Conan Doyle in front of the Society’s visiting party, all in Victorian costume, and the local Swiss, as well as a large number of television crews and press from all round the world.

By the time of the Society’s return visit to Meiringen in 1991, the hundredth anniversary of Holmes and Moriarty’s struggle at the Falls, the Museum was ready to be opened formally. Again Dame Jean was present to perform the ceremony. In a memorable speech she stated how fondly she remembered her childhood holidays in Grindelwald and how noteworthy it was that the Museum should be opening during the 700th anniversary year of the Swiss Confederation.

The Museum as set up includes an exhibition of items of Holmesian interest, many loaned indefinitely by members of the Sherlock Holmes Society of London and others, as well as the sitting room. In the sitting room the intention has been to convey the impression that Holmes and Watson have only moments before gone out. Many items are strewn around just as they would have left them, including a copy of The Times on the floor. The windows were made in London and shipped out to Switzerland. The wallpaper is to an 1890s pattern and was bought from a company in Marylebone High Street. An original Victorian fireplace and oil lamps and numerous other nineteenth century artifacts were also found and installed. Holmes’s jack-knife protruding from the mantelpiece, the Persian slipper where he kept his tobacco, the violin, the gasogene, the tantalus, the portrait of General Gordon and all the other familiar features from the stories are there. The BBC kindly complied an hour-long CD of sound effects.

As a fitting tribute to Tony Howlett, his framed photograph in his robes as Remembrancer of the City of London hangs on the Museum wall as exhibit number 1.

Peter Horrocks