Edinburgh and Sherlock Holmes

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s most famous creation has been recently revived in the 21st century by the BBC. Starring Benedict Cumberbatch as Holmes and Martin Freeman as Dr Watson the series has been a worldwide success. The third season finished with fans being left with another cliffhanger in the seeming resurrection of Holmes’ nemesis Moriarty.

The great detective is most associated with the smokey alleys and streets of ‘old’ London town. ┬áHis adventures take him all around Britain and ultimately to the Reichenbach Falls in Switzerland. Many readers and viewers might be surprised to find that Sherlock Holmes and the nefarious villains featured in all 12 of the Holmes novels began life in Edinburgh.

Sherlock Holmes near Picardy Place

Sherlock Holmes near Picardy Place

Yes readers it is true, Sir Arthur was born at Picardy Place in Edinburgh on May 22nd 1859. Unhappy family circumstances lead to young Arthur being shipped off to Stoneyhurst College in Lancashire and he later spent a year in Austria. However, he returned to the city of his birth in 1876 to study medicine at the University of Edinburgh.

It was at the Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh in 1877 that he met and worked with Doctor Joseph Bell. A forensic surgeon by training Dr Bell always emphasised close observation and scientific method when making a diagnosis. These skills would later form the basis of forensic criminal investigation but Dr Bell was a pioneer of the craft. Indeed, it was reputed to be a trick of his to pick a stranger and deduce their occupation and recent activities from their appearance. It is said that Bell took great pride in his association with Sherlock Holmes.

Indeed, Dr Bell has subsequently had his own life fictionalised in both film and comic adaptations.  His last residence in Edinburgh ( 2 Melville Crescent) is commemorated with a plaque paid for by The Japan Sherlock Holmes Club.

The city itself was proud enough of Sir Arthur that a statue of the great detective was erected in 1991. The statue of a lanky Holmes, complete with deerstalker hat, cape and pipe stands in Picardy Place. The statue was raised by the Federation of Master Builders to commemorate their 50th anniversary and donated to the City of Edinburgh. The statue was removed in 2009 to allow for work on the new Edinburgh tram system and was reinstated in August of 2012.

Holmes contemplates the New Town.

Holmes contemplates the New Town.

Several Literary Tours are available in the city to help transport you back to the time of a young Arthur Conan Doyle and the possible influences that Auld Reekie had over his later writings.


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