"The Langham Hotel, which is a walk of a few minutes from Queen Anne Street, can make four immediate claims on the interest of the Sherlock Holmes or Conan Doyle enthusiast. On August 30th 1889 Conan Doyle attended a dinner at the hotel at the invitation of J. M. Stoddart, the editor of Lippincott’s Monthly Magazine. Among the other guests at this dinner was none less than Oscar Wilde. Conan Doyle himself regarded it as a ‘golden evening’ and by the end of the dinner he had been commissioned by Stoddart to write what became his second Sherlock Holmes story The Sign of Four (1890). Wilde also received a commission and subsequently wrote his only novel The Picture of Dorian Gray which was published in the same year as Conan Doyle’s novel.
The memory of the evening was certainly still in Conan Doyle’s mind when he wrote the early part of his story as Captain Morstan, the father of Holmes’s client Mary Morstan, is described as staying at the Langham ten years prior to the events of the story. The final two references to the hotel are made in A Scandal in Bohemia and The Disappearance of Lady Frances Carfax. In the former the King of Bohemia stays at the Langham under an assumed name and in the latter the hotel is used by the Honourable Philip Green during his London stay.
The hotel was opened by the Prince of Wales (the future King Edward VII) in 1865 having been built over the course of the previous two years. It cost a significant £300,000 to build and, at the time it opened, was the most modern hotel of the time. One of its claims to fame was that it was the first hotel in England to have hydraulic lifts. In addition it was one of the earliest to make use of electricity having its porch lit by this method as early as 1879. In 1870 an American called James Sanderson was appointed General Manager and under his stewardship the hotel began to attract a large American clientele. Among the most notable of these was the author Mark Twain. It is therefore not surprising that Stoddart chose this hotel at which to hold his dinner with Conan Doyle and Wilde.
The King of Bohemia visits Holmes and Watson. Of all the characters that Conan Doyle had stay at the Langham the King was the most illustrious.
The hotel also attracted famous people from other countries. In addition to Conan Doyle and Wilde it attracted the custom of Napoleon III (who spent much of his enforced exile from France at the hotel ) and, in later years, Noel Coward.
Conan Doyle’s repeated use of the Langham Hotel does raise an interesting question. Why was he content to name this hotel when he was so reticent about naming others? In later stories such as The Blue Carbuncle, The Noble Bachelor and The Hound of the Baskervilles he referred to hotels but always did so ambiguously either avoiding the mention of a name at all or providing a false one. We shall revisit this question and some possible explanations in our look at the hotels on Northumberland Avenue.
During the Second World War the Langham was closed to the public due to bomb damage although it was used by the BBC for staff and guests. In 1965 the BBC bought the Langham outright and some of its radio broadcasts were performed from the building.
However the BBC did not retain ownership of the Langham. It was sold in 1986, with the blessing of English Heritage, and a massive refurbishment project was started with the aim of making it a working hotel once more. In 1991 this was completed (at a cost of £100 million) and the hotel reopened. It immediately returned to its old habit of attracting royalty and the rich and famous and is now the flagship hotel of Langham Hotels International."
Close to Holmes is available from:
The London of the late nineteenth century was home to both Arthur Conan Doyle and his famous detective - Sherlock Holmes. Close To Holmes looks at some of the many locations in both central and outer London that have connections to one or both of these famous names. In addition to examining the history this book also looks at some of the theories that have been woven over the years around Holmes and these locations. Very popular with both fans of Holmes and Victorian London and includes stunning comparison photographs from the late 1880s and modern day for many London landmarks.