Sherlock Holmes adventures have been reworked for the 21st Century in the in the first episode of “The Empty Hearse” which aired on New Year’s Day starring Benedict Cumberbatch as Sherlock Holmes and Martin Freeman as his sidekick, Dr. John Watson. Described as a thrilling, funny, fast-paced contemporary reimagining of the Arthur Conan Doyle classic in modern London Town it lead to some confusion as they dashed across the Tube network in a reworking of the geography of London Underground and indeed of London.
Now I am not a great fan for I really don’t enjoy the constant reworking of the Sherlock Holmes stories – for me while I’m happy with an honourable mention for Jeremy Brett I always thought Peter Cushing had the look, voice and presence of the “Consulting Detective.” I did however give into the lure of geekdom and traced their journey around the system. However I don’t take the “outrage” at the strange geography seriously as the Underground is merely a prop for the action but one which in this tale of “The Empty Hearse” really adds to the story and atmospherics. We can’t really complain if Sherlock’s travel planner works better than TfL’s!! So here is a guide to where Holmes and Watson really roamed on this new outing for The Tube has always been somewhat central to the story of ace detective Sherlock.
Sherlock Holmes is the creation of the Scottish author and physician Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. A brilliant London-based “consulting detective”, Holmes is famous for his intellectual prowess and is renowned for his skillful use of astute observation, deductive reasoning (though in reality, he uses abductive reasoning) and forensic skills to solve difficult cases. Sherlock Holmes and Doctor John H. Watson lived at 221b Baker Street between 1881-1904, according to the stories written by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. The Sherlock Holmes Museum in Baker Street, London was the first Museum in the world to be dedicated to a fictional character. There is one small difficulty however, the stretch of Baker Street where it is situated was not built until 1925 in tandem with the station redevelopment and well after the times in which the novels are set. Still, as Holmes might have said, let us not ruin a good story Watson! His statue now graces the front of Baker Street Station.
The New Year’s Day episode of Sherlock included a plot line about abandoned London Underground stations. The eerie empty platforms and booking offices of these stations have long enthralled photographers. The detective drama referenced the many stations beneath London’s streets that have been closed but not demolished. Such is the allure of the mothballed stations that occasional tours of their tiled platforms, which have been left with their posters to rot, are popular with photographers, transport enthusiasts and people who are fascinated by these ghostly places below the capital. Prominently featured was Aldwych Station which operated from 1907 to 1994 and which has doubled as other Tube stations in a number of films.
The show starts with Watson on the Jubilee line – but actually on a Victoria Line train, showing off his new moustache.
He then zooms along the District line.
And pops out by Euston Square station, which is on the Circle (which is no longer a Circle!) Hammersmith & City and Metropolitan lines. As Drummond Street which he is heading to is famous for its Indian Restaurants maybe Watson, who was modelled on a British Army doctor who was the only survivor of an Afghan expedition had a craving for a quick curry!
Once Watson is reunited with Sherlock, the pair look at a strange video. It shows a suspicious man attempting to travel one stop on the District line from Westminster by using a Jubilee line train.
But the man has vanished by the time his Jubilee line train reaches St James’s Park. Which isn’t that surprising, since St James’s Park is only on the District line but does feature London Underground’s wonderful HQ, 55, Broadway which is built in the airspace above it.
He’s probably been diverted to the Jubilee Line’s northern terminus at Stanmore. In reality, this was probably filmed on the unused Jubilee line platform at Charing Cross station. Confused by the fact that London Underground trains are pulling into stations on completely different lines, Sherlock and Watson rewatch the footage.
And Sherlock concludes that the “five minute” journey between Westminster and St James’s Park must have somehow been made to last ten minutes. In reality it takes less than two minutes and at peak times there’s 28 trains an hour running along the route, leaving little room for delays. But who are we to question Sherlock? They discover the train has stopped at a half-finished Tube stop between the two called “Sumatra Road”. In fact, there is no such station. It’s a sly reference to the “giant rat of Sumatra”, which is mentioned in Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes story The Adventure of the Sussex Vampire. The fearless investigators decide to get involved and avert a disaster. So they pop into Westminster station on the Jubilee and District lines.
Then there’s a sign for the Northern Line in the background.
And then they’re in the abandoned Jubilee line station at Charing Cross, where Sherlock and Watson climb down a ventilation shaft, as you do?
Which they use to access a District line train with a bomb on it …
…by running along a disused section of the Piccadilly line…
…from the former Aldwych station.
Aldwych is an abandoned station on a branch line to Holborn that was also used in many films including “V for Vendetta” and in Stanley Kubrick’s “Sliding Doors.” Ultimately, the shape-shifting London Underground network is an even bigger mystery than working out how Sherlock survived his fall.
London Underground doesn’t pin down the exact number of disused underground stations, but says there are “in the region of 40”. Some of these were relocated so their names live on, but 20 on the list won’t be found on a current Tube map as they are on Lines which are either closed or not part of The Tube, as this ghost map of the London Underground shows.
Click for a larger view: Map courtesy of USvsTH3M.
Stills from Sherlock Holmes courtesy of BBC Productions.
For a short guide to these see;
King William Street disused station, original terminus of the South London Railway, now part of the Northern Line
If you want to explore London’s hidden Underground in detail Hywel William’s Underground History site is an invaluable resource;
If you want to explore the subterranean world of London’s rivers this Blog is an invaluable resource!
Meanwhile enjoy your romp around London with Holmes and Watson or as Arthur Conan Doyle described it “London, that great cesspool into which all the loungers and idlers of the Empire are irresistibly drained.”