In 1890 a tobacconist in Philadelphia sent a letter to the great detective Sherlock Holmes asking if he could send him a copy of his monograph on tobacco ash. Whether or not the request was tongue, in cheek this letter started something of a worldwide craze and, very soon, similar letters addressed to Holmes began arriving in London.
Although most of them were sent to Holmes’s creator, Arthur Conan Doyle, others were addressed to various houses in Baker Street, whilst others were addressed to Scotland Yard, the headquarters of the Metropolitan Police.
It should be remembered that when Conan Doyle created one of the world’s best known addresses there wasn’t actually a 221 Baker Street.
But then, in 1933 Abbey House, the headquarters of the Abbey Road (later the Abbey National) Building Society, was constructed at 221 to 229 Baker Street, thus now giving a physical location to what, till then, had been a totally fictional address.
In 1935 they received a letter addressed to Sherlock Holmes 221B Baker Street and another arrived two years later.
In 1949 Michael Hall launched the London Mystery Magazine and based it at his address in the building 221B. This brought a legal challenge from Conan Doyle’s eldest son, with the court finding in Michael Hall’s favour.
The resultant publicity led to a handful of letters addressed to Sherlock Holmes arriving at the premises and, obligingly, the Abbey National tasked an employee to reply to them and gave the employee the job title of “Secretary to Sherlock Holmes.” Newspapers the world over began telling their readers that they could write to Sherlock Holmes at his original address and be assured of an actual reply. As a result the trickle of letters became a veritable flood!
Lori Moran, of Thomasbora, Illinois wondered if “your friend Watson was fat or thin?”
But, most topical for us, was the following letter from Thousand Oaks California:-
Dear Mr Holmes
Your mysteries are very interesting to me. I would like to have your answers to these few questions I have. What do you think of Jack the Ripper? Has he attempted any more murders? Is he still alive? Will you ever investigate any of his cases?
Thank you for your time. Looking forward to hearing from you.