When Sir Arthur Conan Doyle began writing Sherlock Holmes stories back in the 1880s, the famous address 221B Baker Street didn’t exist. Rather, Doyle purposefully selected such an address that didn’t exist. While Baker Street existed, and it even does today, but back then the Street numbers ran only up to hundred.
To the surprise of Sir Arthur, this all changed in the 1930s when the street numbers were reallocated to streamline things. During this reallocation, a newly constructed building by the Abby Road Building Society (aka Santander UK), known as the “Abbey House” was awarded the odd numbers between 219 and 229.
Now, that the address 221 Baker Street came into existence, all the fan mails being sent for Sherlock Holmes from across the world now had a place to be delivered. From the first day itself on March 18, 1932, the bank was inundated with hundreds of letters addressed to their hero, Holmes. While most of them were just fan mails, the bank was also surprised to find a decent number of letters asking for Holmes help.
You’ll be thinking that the bank, out of annoyance would have shredded or burned the letters, but that didn;t happen. Instead, the bank hired a person to serve as the personal secretary of Sherlock Holmes. His duty was to read and respond to the letters received. Now, rather than explaining Sherlock fans that the address belonged to Abbey House Bank and Sherlock wasn’t real, the secretary wrote back explaining that “Holmes had now retired to go live in the country and raise bees on a South Downs in Sussex.”
Abbey National had done their homework to make it consistent with the back story. Fans went on to actually believe the response wrote by the secretary as Sir Arthur Conan Doyle himself in his short stories,The Lion’s Mane, The Blanched Soldiers and His Last Bow claimed that Holmes went to the country in his twilight years. According to Nikki Capar, who once worked as the secretary to Sherlock in the 1980s claims that she sometimes wrote back using actual quotes from Sherlock stories, often telling fans that Sherlock had “given myself up entirely to that soothing life of Nature for which I had so often yearned during the long years spent amid the gloom of London.”
In the meanwhile the Bank was enjoying the attention it was getting, sharing the address with London’s most famous residents (though fictional). They even put up a small plaque claiming it to be Sherlock’s residence and on their 150th anniversary, they even paid for the creation of a bronze statue installed outside Baker Street entrance to the London Tube.
Though 1990 was the year when things starting to fall apart. This was due to the fact that a Sherlock Holmes Museum opened nearby and declared that they are the ones who should be allowed access to Sherlock’s Mail. Although the museum was located between 237 and 241 Baker Street, they proclaimed for sole authority on Sherlock Holmes. They even put a plaque stating that it was the real home of Sherlock Holmes.
The fight was taken to court and the decision was ruled in favor of the bank. The case wasn’t closed for the Museum as yet, they kept on fighting this decision for over a decade until 2002, when the bank Abbey National, moved its headquarters to Trinton Square.
Over this decade, the Westminister council was so fed up with the issue that they finally granted the exclusive rights of Sherlock to the Museum.
The museum is still there today and a major tourist attraction for Sherlock fanatics.