Posted by John Cottrell (December 14, 2015)

64 Baker Street

Our London office has been at 64 Baker Street for almost 10 years. Both the building and the street have an interesting history, so let’s take a pre-Christmas break from proteomics and dip into some of these connections.

For most people, the primary association of Baker Street is the fictional detective, Sherlock Holmes. 221B Baker Street didn’t actually exist in Conan Doyle’s day, but this hasn’t stopped people opening Sherlock Holmes cafes, shops, a hotel, and even a museum, in the area. For atmosphere, and to avoid the queues, the Sherlock Holmes pub is a better bet, with a replica apartment upstairs, although this is located near Charing Cross, a long way from Baker Street. When the BBC made their recent and much updated television series, they chose to use a house in North Gower Street, a mile or so to the East, for the exterior of the mythical 221B.

We’d like to think the second most popular association was Matrix Science, but that would be wishful thinking, even amongst a proteomics crowd. For those of a certain age, the Gerry Rafferty song will have a stronger resonance, with its well known saxophone solo. Jethro Tull’s Baker Street Muse is less widely remembered.

Most of Baker Street falls within the Portman Estate, belonging to one of the aristocratic families that still own large swathes of central London. If we can believe Wikipedia, Sir William Portman originally bought the land in 1532 to graze goats. Not many goats to be seen these days. Development began in the 18th century and the family were smart enough to hang onto most of the freeholds, giving the current Viscount Portman an estimated worth of £1.7 billion ($2.5 billion).

Number 64 isn’t a particularly old or distinguished building but, during the Second World War, it was the headquarters of the Special Operations Executive, which operated a network of agents across occupied Europe for the purposes of sabotage, subterfuge and guerrilla warfare. No physical traces of this period remain inside the building, although there is a memorial plaque on the front wall.

SOE plaque

After the war, the building was used for a time by EMI, once a major force in the music industry. I first became aware of this through seeing letters arrive addressed to long-gone EMI people or departments, and fondly imagined the Beatles lounging around the reception area in the Sixties. It turns out that our building was the offices of EMI Classics, so we’re more likely to bump into the ghosts of Maria Callas or Adrian Boult. There are many Beatles connections in the immediate area. The short-lived Apple boutique was at 94 Baker Street and the famous shot of The Beatles looking down a stairwell on the cover of Please Please Me was taken at another EMI building, close by in Manchester Square.

You can find lots more about Baker Street history and associations in a couple of lively View from the Mirror articles.

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