BEHIND THE SCENES IN BAKER STREET
by Mark Hodder
What is it like inside Sexton Blake's home? There are a great many descriptions given in various of the Blake tales but they are extremely inconsistent. Perhaps the most thorough — and the one that's adhered to by the majority of the writers — was given by Tinker himself in THE BAKER STREET MYSTERY (UNION JACK issue 761, 1918). It is reproduced here in its entirety:
The guv'nor and I — or, I and the guv'nor, in order of precedence (I don't think!) — have been living for a number of years in Baker Street, as the reader doubtless knows. Our residence is a large, old-fashioned dwelling on the east side of that thoroughfare, between Portman Square and the Marylebone Road, built in the Early Victorian period, when Baker Street was more aristocratic, and less given over to trade, than it is at present.
The house belongs to Sexton Blake. He bought it furnished — lock, stock, and barrel — at a time when Mrs. Betsy Bardell* was trying to run it successfully as a boarding establishment, and was over head-and-ears in financial troubles. And, with the dwelling, the guv'nor took that worthy and eccentric woman, who has ever since been our cook, general servant, and landlady as well, though Mr. Blake gives her a weekly cheque to cover our expenses, and pays the rates and taxes.
Mrs. Bardell reigns supreme in the basement, where she has a bed-room — she is addicted to calling it her boodwoor — adjoining the kitchen. The ground floor is unoccupied, and the furniture which was purchased with the house are stored in those rooms. Our landlady has often wished to let them; but, of course, the guv'nor wouldn't dream of allowing strangers to live under the same roof with him.
On the first floor are our big sitting-room, Mr. Blake's bed-chamber, and a bath-room, all communicating with one another, and all opening onto the hall. And on the upper and top floor are my bed-chamber, a spare one for the occasional guest, and the room which the guv'nor has turned into a laboratory.
There is only one apartment which merits a close description, and that is the sitting-room, which is as snug and comfortable a place as you could find anywhere in London. Here our clients are received, and if the walls could speak they could repeat many a thrilling tale of crime and mystery, and could rattle the dry bones of many a family skeleton that lies hidden in noble and aristocratic closet.
There are paintings and engravings that are worth a lot of money, and a Mirzapore carpet, that was presented to Mr. Blake by a native Indian prince, lounge and basket chairs, and a huge, deep couch by the two windows. Three or four electric lamps of bronze and silver, with shades of different colours; a couple of cabinets, that contain a lot of valuable things given to the guv'nor by admiring friends and clients; a roll-top desk; a writing table, with drawers; and a carved table of black oak, that is always littered with magazines. There are three bookcases, and in one of them are the reference volumes which Mr. Blake frequently consults, favourite classics to be read in an idle quarter of an hour, and a row of scrapbooks filled with clippings.
There are numerous other things, but as I am not writing an auctioneer's catalogue, I will cut the rest out, and mention the pipe-rack that hangs on the wall by the fireplace, and the two tobacco-jars, which stand on top of a cabinet close by. In one of the jars is a rich, black quality of Latakia, and in the other is a mild mixture of Turkish, Virginia, and Hungarian tobaccos.
When the guv'nor is working out deductions, or has a knotty problem to solve, he stretches himself on the couch, with cushions under his head and shoulders, and lies there for hours, now and again picking up his violin, and running the bow across the strings, and invariably and steadily smoking the strong Latakia in a big Meerschaum pipe with a curved stem of clouded amber.
And when he has nothing to worry him, when he is reading or is in a talkative mood, he always sits in a lounge-chair, and always smokes the mild mixture in a charred and blackened briar-root pipe, that has been repaired in three places with silver wire.
Our daily life — when we aren't engaged on a case, that is — also calls for a brief mention. We usually rise between seven and eight o'clock, have our cold tubs, and meet at breakfast, when we glance at the newspapers, and open and read our correspondence.
After breakfast a stroll for me, with or without Pedro; and for Mr. Blake, who most frequently has the dog with him, a longer walk, or a canter in the park. Luncheon at two o'clock, then reading or writing — or perhaps another stroll — and tea at five. In the evening a quiet supper at home, or a visit to a theatre or a music-hall, with supper at a restaurant afterwards.
* Though Mrs. Bardell's first name is here given as Betsy, in other stories she is referred to as 'Emily' or, much more frequently, as 'Martha'.
The second SEXTON BLAKE ANNUAL, published in 1940, provided detailed floor-plans of the Baker Street residence (created by UNION JACK editor, H. W. Twyman). They are reproduced on the following pages, together with additional material gleaned from various Blake tales. It should be noted, though, that these plans do not tally with Tinker's description nor with those given by the majority of Blake authors.
As can be seen, at the front of the house the basement has a tradesmen's entrance opening onto a stairwell with steps up onto Baker Street.
At the back of the house, a door opens into into a walled yard. This contains Pedro's kennel plus a vegetable patch and a couple of flower beds maintained by Sexton Blake's inestimable landlady.
A permanently-locked door in the rear wall leads to an alley in which the dustbins are kept. The alley opens onto Marylebone at one end and onto a side street at the other. Some stories mention a mews in which there is a garage housing one of the detective's cars.
This is Mrs Bardell's domain. She shares it with her pet cat and spends much of her time in the large kitchen preparing nourishing meals for Sexton Blake and Tinker (who tend to eat at irregular times of day and night). When not cooking, tidying, shopping and generally keeping house, Mrs Bardell can be found in her lounge, often swapping gossip with her sister, Mary Ann Cluppins.
Lean-to at Rear
1. Boilers, and Laboratory Air-compression plant
2. Coal Range; 3. Dresser; 4. Rocking Chair; 5. Radio Set (aspidistra over); 6. Table; 7. Chairs; 8. Easy Chair.
9. Sink; 10. Larder; 11. Gas Stove; 12. Table; 13. Shelves; 14. Refrigerator.
15. Radiator; 16. Chest; 17. Hall-stand; 18. Table; Wine Cellar; 19. Wine Bins.
Mrs. Bardell's Sitting-room
20. Chair; 21. Cage Stuffed Birds; 22. Circular Table; 23. Parrot Cage (empty); 24. Family Album; 25. Overmantel; 26. Grate; 27. Presentation Music Box; 28. Easy Chair; 29. Upright Piano; 30. Sofa; 31. Occasional Table, with Aspidistra; 32. Bric-à-brac Whatnot; 33. Chiffonier.
34. Coal Cellars (under sidewalk); 35. Store; 36. Tradesmen's Entrance.
Two steps up from the pavement, the front door opens onto the hall, with the stairs up to Blake's consulting room straight ahead and the lounge (more often referred to as 'the waiting room') on the left. Towards the back of the hall, also on the left, a door opens onto the seldom-used the dining room (when working, Blake and Tinker tend to eat in the consulting room). Large folding doors can be opened between the lounge and the dining room when a lot of space is required (this is traditionally done at Christmas).
The Ground Floor
The floor most suited to social events is also the floor least used in Sexton Blake's Baker Street home. The fact is, the residents are simply too busy to spend much time in these well-fitted, tastefully decorated chambers.
37. Radio Set; 38. Dining Table; 39. Dining Chairs; 40. Grate; 41. Sideboard; 42. Cigar and Tobacco Cabinet; 43. Wine Cooler; 44. Three-leaf Folding Doors.
45. Bookcases; 46. Radio-Gramophone; 47. Easy Chair; 48. Standard Lamp; 49. Settee; 50. Cabinets (Trophies, etc.); 51. Marble Bust of Berkeley Blake, M.D., on pedestal; 52. Coffee Table; 53. Grand Piano; 54. Cocktail Cabinet; 55. Grate.
56. Table; 57. Hanging Cupboard; 58. Radiators; 59. Door to Basement.
The consulting room is large and airy, its two big west-facing windows catching the sunlight from dawn to midday. There is a very narrow decorative balcony with a black cast-iron railing outside the windows. Inside, a thick rug lies before the grate and this is one of Pedro's favourite places to sleep. The laboratory is the one place in the house from which Mrs Bardell is banned (unfortunately, this doesn't stop her sneaking in with a duster every now and again).
This floor is where the biggest inconsistencies lie in the various descriptions of the house. A great many stories give the impression that Blake and Tinker's bedrooms are on this floor. In THE BROTHERHOOD OF THE GOLDEN BEETLE (UNION JACK issue 507, 1913), for instance, a door leads from the consulting room into a small dressing room which, in turn, opens onto the detective's bed chamber.
Since the fireplace is definitely opposite the door to the landing and the wall in which it is placed definitely abuts the neighbouring house (in one adventure a villain uses listening devices through that wall), and since the windows definitely look out over the street, the bedrooms can only be situated where the floor-plan indicates the laboratory to be. However, issue 507 also tells us that the lab is on the same floor, so we can only conclude that the premises is a lot larger than the floor.plan suggests.
The First Floor
This is where most of the action happens! The first floor is where Sexton Blake meets his clients, does his experiments, and formulates his theories. There is a slight inaccuracy in the details of the consulting room in that the settee has long since been removed and replaced by a table which doubles as a worktop and place to snatch a quick meal.
60. Bench (shelves over); 61. Bench Sink; 62. Table; 63. Table, with Epidiascope and Copying Camera; 64. Cabinet (chemicals); 65. Bookcase (Chemical and Physics Library); 66. Projection Screen.
67. Table, with Ultra-violet Ray Apparatus; 68. Bench, Sink, Drying Racks, Shelves, etc.
69. Cabinet (Crime Museum)
70. Bookcases; 71. Easy Chair; 72. Cabinets (Firearms collection); 73. Safe; 74. Grate; 75. Telephone Table; 76. Coffee Table; 77. Settee; 78. Roll-top Desk; 79. Sideboard
80. Bookshelves (Baker Street Index and Case-books); 81. Work Table.
The Second Floor
Sexton Blake and Tinker are irregular sleepers, usually snatching forty-winks as and when they can. Nevertheless, they occasionally get to enjoy a full night's sleep in the comfort of their own rooms. Blake's bedchamber is very large. He rarely sleeps with the curtains closed, as he likes to be awoken by the sunlight streaming in through the large windows. Where is Mrs. Bardell's bedroom? Certainly, it is in the house somewhere — it is mentioned in more than one story; but it doesn't appear on the floorplans. In some tales, it is on the second floor; in others it is in the basement. The latter seems the most likely.
82. Wardrobe; 83. Dressing Table; 84. Dwarf Bookcase; 85. Grate; 86. Bed; 87. Chair.
Sexton Blake's Bedroom
88. Wardrobe; 89. Grate; 90. Bed; 91. Bedside Table and Telephone; 92. Easy Chair; 93. Dressing Table; 94. Bedside Table and Lamp.
So that's the inside ... but what about outside? Exactly where on Baker Street is Sexton Blake's house? We know from the floor-plans that the house faces west (this is indicated in the ANNUAL). Further information can be found in THE PLAGUE OF ONION MEN, published in issue 1,493 of UNION JACK (1932). In that story, Tinker leaves the house via the front door and:
To his right, just round the corner, the familiar buildings of Madame Tussaud's were decorated by garish posters announcing the latest super film.
This gives us a firm location. Note that 221B (now the Sherlock Holmes Museum) is to the north, up past the planetarium: