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A museum for Sherlock Holmes

In the 1960’s, the castle of Lucens, in the Canton de Vaud in Switzerland, becomes the property of one of Arthur Conan Doyle’s sons. Within its walls, he decides to create a museum dedicated to his father and his work. The character of Sherlock Holmes obviously gets a prominent place : his Baker Street sitting room is reconstituted and various objects linked to the Holmesian world are exhibited.

A British castle owner in Switzerland

Adrian Conan Doyle

Adrian Conan Doyle (1910-1970)
(BCU-Lausanne, IS 4314/5/2/4/19)

Adrian Conan Doyle, second son of Arthur Conan Doyle’s second marriage, buys in 1965 the castle of Lucens. He brings there his father’s archives, consisting of manuscripts, correspondence, photographs, objects, books and paintings, along with his own collection of medieval weapons and armours.

His project is to create, in Switzerland, a foundation whose aim is to preserve the memory of his father and his work. To this end, Adrian Conan Doyle will choose a selection from the family archives to be given to the Sir Arthur Conan Doyle Foundation, which is created in 1965. Its purpose is to be the custodian of the archives which it is entrusted with and to make them accessible, both by granting access for studying them and through exhibition. 

Adrian Conan Doyle therefore installs, in the castle, a museum dedicated to his father and, of course, Sherlock Holmes, whose fictitious sitting-room is reconstructed life-size. This museum is inaugurated in 1966, in the presence of, notably, the actor John Neville, who starred as Sherlock Holmes in the then recent movie A Study in Terror (1965).

After Adrian Conan Doyle’s death in 1970, the castle of Lucens changes ownership more than once, but the museum remains open until the early 1990’s, when the castle is sold again. From then on, the new proprietor decided to keep the building for his private use and the museum was no longer open to the public. Sherlock Holmes’ sitting room was nonetheless preserved in the castle until it was relocated in a nearby house in Lucens, the “Maison Rouge“. The Sherlock Holmes Museum then reopened in 2001, with the items that were initially part of the exhibition at the château and some of the original display cases. As to the archives which had been bequeathed to the Sir Arthur Conan Doyle Foundation, they were brought, in 1975, to the Manuscript department of the Bibliothèque cantonale et universitaire of Lausanne.

“ There we find – through his reconstituted habitat and a small museum dedicated to him – the shadow of the most famous of the detectives, Sherlock Holmes, the manuscripts in which he was born, unique historical objects, in short, a fabulous treasure which found, in the castle of Lucens, a setting both strange and sumptuous. ”

P. B., “L’ombre de Sherlock Holmes au château de Lucens”, Tribune de Lausanne, 19 April 1966, p.3 (available on Scriptorium)

Victorian England as if you were there

The centrepiece of the Sherlock Holmes Museum is, without doubt, the meticulous reconstruction of the 221b Baker Street sitting-room occupied by the detective and Doctor Watson.

Rich with many details, it is based on the reproduction made for the Sherlock Holmes exhibition at the Festival of Britain, in 1951. Every object is linked with one of the 60 adventures of Sherlock Holmes. Some even belonged to Arthur Conan Doyle himself, such as the desk and its chair or the top hat, the others items having been collected from all over England. A thorough work, for which Adrian Conan Doyle enlisted the help of C. T. “Jack” Thorne, librarian at the Marylebone Library, who had worked for the 1951 Sherlock Holmes exhibition. He had also been its curator when, at Adrian Conan Doyle’s instigation, it was displayed again, in a slightly altered version, in New York the following year. It is to be noted that another reconstruction of the 221b Baker Street sitting-room exists in Switzerland : it is to be found in the second Swiss museum dedicated to Sherlock Holmes, which is located in Meiringen.

“ We met next day as he had arranged, and inspected the rooms at No. 221b, Baker Street, of which he had spoken at our meeting. They consisted of a couple of comfortable bed-rooms and a single large airy sitting-room, cheerfully furnished, and illuminated by two broad windows.

Arthur Conan Doyle, A Study in Scarlet, 1887

Reconstruction of Sherlock Holmes's sitting-room in the museum of Lucens

Reconstruction of Sherlock Holmes’s sitting-room in the museum of Lucens (photograph by André Held, Lausanne)

Early audio equipment at the Sherlock Holmes Museum in the castle of Lucens

Since its creation, the reconstruction of Sherlock Holmes’ sitting-room has been accompanied by an audio commentary, which directs the attention of the visitor to various little details. In this picture, one can see the early audio equipment used when the museum was still in the castle of Lucens.

The Sherlock Holmes exhibition at
the Festival of Britain

The Festival of Britain, organized in the United Kingdom in 1951, was a national celebration aiming to promote British accomplishments in terms of art, industrial design, architecture and science to help the population to recover after the Second World War. Events and exhibitions were thus held throughout the country, with London as the center of the festivities. The contribution of the district of Marylebone was an exhibition about the famous, though fictitious, inhabitant of one of its streets, Baker Street, namely Sherlock Holmes. There the visitors could see first editions of the Sherlock Holmes stories, foreign ones, pictures, letters, original illustrations and miscellaneous objects and documents related to Arthur Conan Doyle and Sherlock Holmes. Without omitting, of course, the life-size reconstruction of the detective’s sitting-room. Inaugurated on May 22, the exhibition was attended by many visitors, among them Queen Mary, the widow of King George V, whom one can see in this picture holding the exhibition catalogue.

Queen Mary at the 1951 Sherlock Holmes exhibition

Queen Mary at the Sherlock Holmes exhibition of the Festival of Britain (1951) (BCU-Lausanne, IS 4314/1/5/3/3).

The former Sherlock Holmes Museum of Lucens, in the castle

The former Sherlock Holmes Museum of Lucens, in the castle, between 1965 and 1990.

The current Sherlock Holmes Museum of Lucens, in the “Maison rouge”

The current Sherlock Holmes Museum of Lucens in the “Maison rouge”, inaugurated in 2001.

Stories to share

Mr Sherlock Holmes,
il est toujours avec nous, n’est-ce pas ?

Adrian Conan Doyle, Souvenir de Conan Doyle (interview, 1965)

The museum still welcomes visitors from everywhere, interested in (re)discovering the universal character that is Sherlock Holmes and his creator. The objects which are displayed there and the remainder of the archives stored at the Bibliothèque cantonale et universitaire of Lausanne constitute a rich and precious heritage for studying the life and work of this author, whose popularity extends well beyond the United Kingdom. Whether in Lucens, Meiringen, Lausanne or Davos, Switzerland maintains and perpetuates the memory of Sherlock Holmes and his creator, who both spent memorable times in this country.

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