The University of Iowa

Following the footsteps of Sherlock in London

June 2nd, 2014

By Amanda Bartlett*


Okay, I know that was probably the cheesiest way possible to open a blog post. But I couldn’t resist considering this is my first time officially writing from London! After a hectic delayed flight and nearly an entire day's worth of travel, we finally made it to the Acorn Apartments, our new home for the next week and a half. Cons of a delayed flight: everything. Pros: United Airlines was nice enough to compensate us (I got a $75 e-gift certificate to put toward another flight.)

A tip: When filling out your landing form, do not allow your sleep-deprived brain to write your ethnicity under the “nationality” category. The grumpy man looking it over will threaten to deport you and send you to court, only to reveal that he was joking.

Other than that, it’s difficult to put how phenomenal the past few days have been, particularly in visiting the Sherlock Holmes Museum and the Tower of London.

photos from London
Click for full size.
From left to right:
1. Obligatory Big Ben photo!
2. Entrance to the Sherlock Holmes Museum
3. A close-up of Dr. Watson's desk
4. The world's smallest police station where officers kept a lookout on civilians
5. First dish in London- a vegetable tart with carmelized onions and goat cheese
6. Myself in downtown London

When one hears the words “crime scene investigation,” they might think of the ever-popular TV show CSI. However, drawing back to its roots a little further, they may think of detectives and the stereotypical image of a magnifying glass. Furthermore, there is one name on everyone’s minds: Sherlock Holmes.

Although he was a fictional character dreamt up by Scottish author, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, in the late 1800s, many of Holmes’ techniques are effectively used today – over 130 years later. Indeed, the magnifying glass is an effective tool popularized by the detective, as are his methods of logical reasoning, disguise, and forensic science, which were simply unheard of at the time.

Every room of every floor was exquisitely designed, and I felt as thought I had traveled back in time to the 1800s. Though I am certainly no expert on detective stories, Doyle’s pages were brought to life in the form of lifelike mannequins and exhibits. My favorite in particular was a room that held the work desks of Detective Holmes and Doctor Watson, which were spot on down to every last detail.

The apartment represented an authentic lodging house from that time period, which offered us an interesting insight into its history. Furthermore, we learned of the legacy of Holmes, who is not only the main character of brilliantly written literature, but also a key aspect of the development of criminal investigation.

At the Tower of London, we were able to visit one of Britain’s most well preserved and important historical sites. There, we attended a Yeoman Warder guided tour, where a man dressed as a traditional Beefeater spoke to us. Beefeaters have long been symbols of Britain, traditionally thought to have been nicknamed for their position in the Royal Bodyguard where they were permitted to eat as much beef as they desired – a delicacy at the time. Though this isn’t true, the nickname stuck. Today, their jobs as guards are still considered honorable, as they are required to serve in the armed forces in multiple countries for at least 22 years.

Our guide brought us first to a grassy area surrounded by the towers. Apparently, this lush greenery once held moats and cisterns filled with trash! From there, we learned of the villagers’ lives… and their gruesome entertainment.

tower of london

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1. Tower Bridge
2. Rubble from an old Tower of London prison
3. intricate etchings made by prisoners held captive in the Tower!

At the time, executions were a very public procedure, and a celebration for those watching. After it took place, the executioner would parade the victim’s head around while people cheered in the streets. I was also intrigued to discover that executioners earned their income from tips given by the murdered.

But the most interesting of all were the exhibits of torture methods used during this historic time period. Though never officially a part of English Law, many prisoners were brought to the Tower for torture, specifically during interrogation. Many of these people were accused of serious crimes like robbery and murder, or political ones like treason. One example of torture was called manacles – two holes in an iron beam where the victim hung, sometimes for 5 or 6 hours at a time. Other methods of torture stretched the victim until their joints misaligned, or conversely they were compressed and crushed.

Yes, this information was a bit grisly to learn about, but it was interesting to learn how these methods of punishment evolved into the system we have today. The Tower’s historical value is priceless, and its authentic feel made it especially enjoyable to tour.

*Amanda is a freshman from Pleasant Hill, Iowa, majoring in journalism and mass communication at the University of Iowa. She is currently studying abroad on the summer program Crime and Justice in Britain.