The Other Sherlock And Moriarty Of Baker Street

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By M@
The Other Sherlock And Moriarty Of Baker Street

Green plaque to Dame Sheila Sherlock, professor of medicine

Ever spotted Sherlock’s plaque near Baker Street?

Dame Sheila Sherlock lived for the last 30 years of her life on York Terrace East — one of those stuccoed Nash terraces that few people ever wander down, south of Regent’s Park.

Her home was a five minute walk away from that of her fictional namesake at 221b Baker Street. I bet she got sick of the jokes.

Dame Sheila’s life was a remarkable one. One of the world’s leading liver specialists, you only have to look at her postnominals — Dame Sheila Patricia Violet Sherlock DBE, FRCP FRCPE FRS HFRSE FMGA FCRGA — to get an idea of how distinguished a career she enjoyed.

Her abilities were noticed early. In 1941, she made national news after being declared Edinburgh University’s most impressive graduate, gaining eight special awards to go alongside her medical degree. Ten years later, aged 33, she became the youngest woman ever elected as a Fellow of the Royal Society of Physicians. She would go on to become the UK’s first female Professor of Medicine, at the Royal Free Hospital School of Medicine (now UCL Medical School).

Photograph of Same Sheila Sherlock

One of her greatest contributions was setting up a pioneering liver research unit at the hospital, in a temporary wooden structure on the roof of a building on Gray’s Inn Road. The unit made many important advances in the field of hepatology (the study of the liver). It’s still going strong today, as the Sheila Sherlock Liver Centre at the Royal Free in Hampstead.

And Also A Moriarty

As chance would have it, the Baker Street area was also home to an important figure called Moriarty. As street directories show, Mary A Moriarty served as Matron at St Ann’s Catholic Orphanage in the 1880s and 90s, just round the corner from Baker Street on Alpha Road (now Alpha Close).

At the same time (1891), Arthur Conan Doyle set up an eye clinic on nearby Upper Wimpole Street. He had few patients, and spent his idle time penning the first Sherlock Holmes short stories (two full novels had already been published). Was Matron Mary Moriarty, of the nearby orphanage, the inspiration behind the name of his most famous villain?

Unlikely. Moriarty is a reasonably common Irish name, and it seems Conan Doyle knew at least two people of that surname from his school days. More detective work is needed, perhaps.

With thanks to Robert Sharp for information on the Moriarty connection.

Last Updated 11 May 2021