Sherlock Holmes and Bela Bartok in South Kensington

With his back to the former entrance to the Piccadilly line station at South Kensington and standing at the corner of Pelham Street and Old Brompton Road, is a sculpture depicting the Hungarian composer Béla Bartók (1881-1945). He visited Britain at least sixteen times, often staying in London. To save money, he stayed with his friend the diplomat Sir Duncan Wilson at least twelve times between 1922 and 1937. Wilson owned a house (designed by Basevi) in South Kensington, number 7 Sydney Place, which is just south of Onslow Square. The sculpture, depicting the composer standing on what looks like a pile of fallen leaves, was created by Imre Varga (1923-2019) and unveiled on a traffic island in 2004. This, Varga’s fourth sculpture of the composer, was moved to its present location in 2011.

Bartok statue in South Kensington

Moving northwards, possibly passing the residential Onslow Squares, we reach Queensbury Place, which connects Harrington Road with the section of Cromwell Road that runs past the Natural History Museum. A 20th century brick and concrete building on Harrington Road is home to part of a French school, the Lycée Français Charles de Gaulle de Londres. This educational institution for both French- and English-speaking children was created in 1915. After several changes of location, it moved into a building facing the Natural History Museum on Cromwell Road in about 1958. In 1980. the school was named after Charles de Gaulle.

At the east corner of Harrington Road and Queensbury Place, there is a French library. The southern half of the east side of Queensbury Place is occupied by the French Institute, whose building has an imaginatively decorated brickwork façade. This building houses cultural facilities including a library and an auditorium, which hosts the Ciné Lumière. There is also a café. It was designed by Patrice Bonnet (1879-1964) in the Art Deco style and ready for use in 1939. The edifice contains artworks by Sonia Delaunay and Auguste Rodin.

Facing the French Institute is number 16 Queensbury Place, home of The College of Psychic Studies. Founded in 1884, this organisation does the following (according to its website http://www.collegeofpsychicstudies.co.uk):

“The College of Psychic Studies offers courses, workshops and talks on all aspects of healing, self-development, spirituality, and psychic and mediumship training.”

The College moved into its current premises in 1925. A plaque attached to its building commemorates the creator of Sherlock Holmes, Arthur Conan Doyle (1859-1930). Apart from being a prolific author, he was President of the College from 1926 until 1930. The College’s website reveals much about his interest in spiritualism. He:

“… published his two volume History of Spiritualism and his novel, The Land of Mist, while he was the College’s President … [he] was tireless in helping the bereaved and spreading the word of spiritualism including urging people to join the Alliance and read the latest news in Light.”

Unlike Sherlock Holmes’s fictional address in Baker Street, this townhouse in South Kensington has a real connection with Holmes, at least with his creator.

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