A family stopover of super sleuthin’ and shopping is afoot with the Sherlock Holmes package at the Bloomsbury Hotel in the heart of London’s West End. But please, no sneaky pipe smoking!
Sherlock Holmes is having a bit of a moment. With the BBC drama Sherlock, starring Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman, fairly trouncing all opposition in last year’s Emmy Awards and a major exhibition at the Museum of London, the intrigue and interest that surrounds the enigmatic private detective is as rife as it was when Arthur Conan Boyle first introduced his fictional character in 1887.
We’re having something of our own Sherlock moment in our house, reliving the Sherlock adventures on Amazon Prime, and snuggling up at bedtime with The Adventures Of Sherlock Holmes for a daily dose of murder and myystery, so we were excited at the prospect of immersing ourselves in the Sherlock Holmes package at the Bloomsbury Hotel.
The Bloomsbury Hotel has an enviable location with Oxford Street’s plethora of shops on your doorstep, the British Museum as your near neighbour, and the vibrant districts of Soho and Covent Garden within easy walking distance.
The location has added resonance for Sherlock aficionados with Baker Street, Sherlock resided at the 221B, a nifty tube or short bus journey away. You’re also a hair’s breadth from Tottenham Court Road, which is cited in the story of The Blue Carbuncle, where a priceless precious stone is discovered inside a turkey carcass outside Goodge Street station (ooh, we do love the quirky details of Conan Doyle’s storytelling).
Design Originally commissioned in 1928 as The Central Club for the YWCA as a meeting place for an increasingly emancipated generation of young women, the Grade II listed Neo-Gergian building was designed by distinguished British architect Sir Edwin Lutyens. With her Majesty Queen Mary laying the foundation stone in 1929, Lutyens’ design showcased a beautifully pared down Georgian style, with plain red brickwork offset by the dramatic focal point of the double flight of steps at the front entrance leading to elaborate door surrounds with stone carving and detailed ironwork.
After a chequered history that included being used as a public air raid shelter during World War II, the historic building was tranformed into a hotel in 1998 and totally refurbished in 2008, restoring its former brilliance. Today the entrance of the hotel is lined with topiaried bay trees and guests are greeted by a suited and booted doorman, who welcomes with a smile.
In keeping with the design sensibilities of Sir Edwin, the interior of the hotel is elegant and opulent but not ostentatious, with carpets and walls in a rich palette of ruby, russet and deep pink burgundy and works of art on the walls (some available to buy), while glistening chandeliers are a reminder of its heritage – and oft time royal patronage. There are replicas of Lutyens’ famous furniture designs, too, including the assymetric Napoleon Chairs – a Lutyens or two is perfect for lounging across my son Joe discovered – and the Spiderback Chair with its striking web motif. The building also retains many of its original architectural features and connects with its literary heritage through the book-lined Seamus Heaney Library, named after the late Nobel Laureate, who was a regular guest.
Rooms The hotel has 153 rooms and suites. Our Luxury Studio Suite was spacious with a huge kingsize bed which would usually be Joe’s first port of call to test out its springiness. In this instance, however, there was something far more enticing. A fancy Field Candy teepee decorated with rocking horses and made cosy with a mattress and covers. Inside, a nattily dressed Bloomsbury Hotel teddy bear had taken up residence, alongside a lantern, which would presumably come in handy for covert midnight reading of the book that had also been left for Joe: Lupo And the Secret of Windsor Castle, which tells the ‘adventures of a royal dog’ – a rather more affable alternative to a Baskerville hound!
Having tested out his teepee, Joe’s investigative attentions turned to the lavish bathroom – which very much met with his approval . “They’ve got one of those fancy butt-washers!” he enthused after discovering the bidet. “And a TV! In the bathroom!” Meanwhile, I was already imagining the pleasures of languishing in the roll-top bath filled with Aromatherapy Associates bubbles, and Joe was pleading to actually sleep in the bath (He got as far as putting pillows and cushions in the tub and flicking through the TV channels before deciding that perhaps this wasn’t the best idea).
Eating The Sherlock Holmes Afternoon Tea, taken in the Lutyens Lounge, is included in the package. Delectable detective delights on offer included two special blends of loose leaf tea in honour of Sherlock (“an exotic, mysterious and perhaps a little bit insane blend” with smokey tones of Lanpsang Souchong and cinnamon bark) and Watson (a softer blend of green tea). Alongside my brew (I opted for Watson, my dear fellow), I sampled a very sprightly and refreshing Hendrick’s Cucumber Martini – the green vegetable somehow feeling rather appropriate as Joe told me he was a big fan of Benedict Cucumber.
There’s a charming story of the young Queen Elizabeth II enjoying a rare day trip out with her sister Princess Margaret and their governess stopping off at the YWCA Central Club for tea. When Lilibet, as the young princess was known, accidently left her teapot at the self-service counter, the lady in charge bawled out ‘If you want it, you must come and fetch it.’
There’s certainly no sign of any such surly brusqueness from the friendly and attentive staff these days. As our waitress brought me caskets of the tea to sniff, Joe was quickly making the acquaintance of our amiable waiter, his namesake but with a rather more exotic Portuguese spelling of Joao. The two bonded instantly, and Joao had friendly chit-chat every time our paths serendipitously crossed – in the lift, in the corridor, at the front door.
There followed a three-tiered extravaganza of dainty little sandwiches of cream cheese and slithers of cucumber, salt beef, smoked salmon in teeny bagels and a miniature toasted cheese ploughman’s, and the requisite scones with clotted cream and cute little pots of strawberry jam.
The pastries paid homage to Sherlock with a shortbread Treacle Tart in the shape of a magnifying glass and to Sir Edwin Lutyens’ Spiderback Sable biscuit with a chocolatey web icing that Joe declared was best when licked, turning the web into a blurry mass.
As we leisurely worked our way through, our drinks were copiously replenished – and I switched from Sherlock tipples to more traditional Earl Grey and a glass of champagne. We were reluctant to leave the remainder of cakes and scones, but no matter. Our waitress said she would arrange for them to be sent up to our room, so we could enjoy them later at our leisure.
We ate equally well the following morning in the Landseer restaurant, which offered a handsome buffet of fruit, cereals and cold meats, as well as hot dishes served fresh from the kitchen. Joe chose waffles one day, pancakes the next, while I opted for an edifying Full English, complete with black pudding one day, and a more modern (and healthier) avocado and sun-dried tomato on Guinness bread the following day.
In the area You are supremely well located for West End shopping, and we sauntered our way up to Oxford Circus, stopping off at the new Tiger store which is great for fun, quirky toys at pocket-money prices. Joe spent his pennies on the eternal schoolboy favourite: a Whoppee cushion. The next day, he found it had been strategically hidden in his teepee by the maid who obviously had a mischievous sense of humour!
The British Museum, famous for its starring role in the latest Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb movie, is a five-minute walk along Great Russell Street, so you can arrive early when it is less crowded and wander around the mummies and artefacts of the Ancient Egyptians. The museum also has an excellent children’s program and lots of family events, including a ‘Night at the Museum’ Sleepover, and art and craft activities at the weekend and during school holidays.
For a fascinating look at the history of toys, visit the charming Pollock’s Toy Museum, a few minutes walk from Goodge Street. They also have the brilliant Benjamin Pollock Toyshop in Covent Garden Piazza, filled with traditional toys and games.
Sherlock Holmes Exhibition at the Museum of London Describing Sherlock as “the man who never lived, and will never die”, the much-acclaimed Sherlock Holmes exhibition gives a brilliant insight into the Victorian London of Arthur Conan Doyle and his creation Sherlock. With posters and video clips of Sherlock’s various dramatic incarnations through the ages from Basil Rathbone, Peter Cushing, Christopher Lee and Michael Caine to Robert Downey Jnr and Benedict Cumberbatch, whose long coat from the BBC series is on display, it’s fun to see how different actors interpret the character.
Other rare archives include Conan Doyle’s original notebooks featuring his very first detective story A Study In Scarlet, as well as notes about ‘Sherringford Holmes’ and ‘Ormond Sacker’ before they became Sherlock and Watson. There’s also a rare interview recording of a rather distinguished-looking moustached Conan Doyle chuckling in a posh, hearty voice about how people seemed to think Sherlock really existed, with some eager ladies even enquiring as to whether Mr Holmes might need a housekeeper.
There’s lots of depictions of Conan Doyle’s foggy Victorian London, as well as maps that show different locations for Sherlock’s (mis)adventures and a fascinating selection of exhibits that demonstrate how Sherlock’s forensic deductions came together (looking at the footprints made by a woman’s boot or the way the sole of a man’s shoe was worn to deduce that he was a dancer – and even what dance might be his favourite!).
We also enjoyed browsing through the selection of Sherlock books and memorabilia at the museum shop.
Few can resist popping on a fancy top hat or tweed deerstalker for size, or picking up a magnifying glass and fake pipe for an impromptu photo op! Joe settled for a pair of £2 handcuffs, presumably for the apprehension of some scoundrel.
You could easily spend half a day (or more) at the Museum of London at London Wall. There’s plenty of hands-on activities, including an interactive River Thames exhibit where you can try your hand at a quiz based on the pressing issues facing modern Londoners, such as transport, housing, pollution and the changing skyline, as well as discovering what London was like in Roman or Tudor times. You’re also likely to spy all manner of London icons from pearly kings to Paddington Bear, and much more.
Why stay at the Bloomsbury Hotel For a brilliant pied-a-terre in the heart of London that gives you access to everything this vibrant city has to offer.
Who is it best for Families who like to mix and match their itineraries with a spot of culture, some shopping, theatre and dining.
Our Favourite Bit It’s a real treat to be so close to the action that you can easily nip back to your room for a power nap at any time. And Joe loved the bathroom so much that he bathed morning and night – and indulged in ‘fancy butt-washing’ in the bidet in between!
Top Tip Head to the British Museum first thing in the morning (it opens at 10am) before the out-of-town crowds descend. If the kids need space for a runaround, head further along Great Russell Street down to Bloomsbury Square where there is a sweet little playground for toddlers.
Don’t Go If you are tired of life… (Recalling Samuel Johnson’s famous quote ‘When a man is tired of London, he is tired of life. For there is in London all that life can afford.’
While You’re Here Venture a little further afield to Coram’s Field near Russell Square. This hidden gem covers seven acres with grassed areas for free play and an exciting mix of play equipment for all ages from toddlers to older children who will love the adrenalin thrill of the aerial slide. There’s also two large sand pits and a paddling pool in the summer, plus a city farm and cafe. All in all, it’s definitely worth making a detour.
Fun fact As well as designing many prestigious buildings, architect Sir Edwin Lutyens loved designing for children. He once designed a circular nursery so that no child could ever be put in a corner – just like Baby! He also designed scenery for the original production of JM Barrie’s Peter Pan and in the 1920s created the famous Queen Mary’s Doll’s House, a perfect replica in miniature of an aristocratic home that can still be viewed at Windsor Castle today.
Did you know? Sherlock Holmes lived at a fictional address of 221B Baker Street, but at the time Conan Doyle was writing, addresses in Baker Street did not go as high as 221. It wasn’t until 1932 that the Abbey National Building Society moved into premises at 219–229 Baker Street. For many years, Abbey National employed a full-time secretary to answer mail addressed to Sherlock Holmes. In 1990, a blue plaque signifying 221B Baker Street was installed at the Sherlock Holmes Museum, despite its location between 237 and 241 Baker Street.
Family packages at the Bloomsbury Hotel
- The Sherlock Holmes package starts from £295 and includes an overnight stay for two, full English breakfast, tickets to the Sherlock Holmes exhibition, Sherlock Holmes afternoon tea and a special edition Sherlock Holmes miniature book. Available until April 12 2015.
- The Easter Family Offer includes an in-room Easter egg hunt and a colourful tent for children. Rates start from £229 per night for a Deluxe Room and breakfast for 2 adults and 1 child.