Sherlock's Irregular Help

The Baker Street Irregulars are an interesting bunch. Before you ask, I'm talking about the ones in the stories rather than the American society.

I have often wondered exactly how they were organised and how many of them there were. Were they a set force or were they recruited on an ad-hoc basis? The evidence, such as it is, implies a little of both.

Led by Wiggins, we first hear of them in A Study in Scarlet when Wiggins and five others turn up at Baker Street to report on their efforts to locate a certain cabbie.

The next occasion we hear of them is in The Sign of Four where they are summoned by wire to hunt for the steam launch Aurora. On this occasion they have increased in number to twelve.

On both occasions they turn up en masse at Baker Street and Holmes instructs them to only send Wiggins up in future. Clearly Wiggins was not too good at following orders as he had to be told this twice.

So what do we know about them? Well, if Holmes was able to summon Wiggins via a wire he (Wiggins) must have had some kind of permanent address. Either that or there was a location where he could go to collect messages that wasn't a residential dwelling. If the latter, Holmes must have had Wiggins (at least) on some kind of retainer otherwise there would be no guarantee that he would check for messages. On balance, I'm inclined to think that Wiggins had a permanent base perhaps funded through regular payments from Holmes.

In SIGN they turn up not long after the wire is sent which implies that Wiggins has minimal trouble rounding up his comrades. This suggests that they all live relatively close together. Wiggins also clearly has some money as he buys the tickets for all twelve to travel to Baker Street. He tells Holmes:

"Got your message, sir," said he, "and brought 'em on sharp. Three bob and a tanner for tickets."

The Irregulars?

This is interesting as it means that the journey cost 3 1/2 pence per boy. This suggests that they travelled in by omnibus, train or perhaps even the new Underground railway. Baker Street tube station had been open since 1863 and was served by the Metropolitan Railway (the forerunner of today's Metropolitan Line).

Well you can see it certainly stops in the right place

The stations in 1871 (no Central Line until c1900)
In both STUD and SIGN it is demonstrated that the daily rate Holmes pays is one shilling per boy. Bonus payments are offered for those that complete the mission first (a tactic employed in SIGN). However it is doubtful that Holmes regularly paid all of the irregulars. This lends weight to the idea that their numbers were fluid. None - apart from Wiggins - were regularly paid but all knew the going rate when working for Holmes.

Looked at in modern terms you could say that Wiggins was staff and the rest of the irregulars were temps/contractors.

For information on Arthur Conan Doyle and his time at Undershaw please refer to my book, An Entirely New Country which is available through all good bookstores including Amazon USA, Amazon UK, Classic Specialities, and in all electronic formats including iTunes, Kobo, Nook and Kindle .

The Norwood Author is available from all good bookstores, in many formats worldwide including Waterstones UK, Amazon UK,  Amazon USA, Barnes and Noble, Amazon Kindle, iBooks for the iPad/iPhone, Kobo Books, Nook.

Close to Holmes is available from all good bookstores, in many formats worldwide including Amazon USABarnes and NobleAmazon UKWaterstones UKAmazon KindleKoboNook  and iBooks for the iPad/iPhone.

Eliminate the Impossible is available from all good bookstores, in many formats worldwide including Amazon USA, Barnes and Noble, Amazon UK, Waterstones UK, Amazon Kindle, Kobo, Nook and iBooks for the iPad/iPhone.


  1. Nice piece.
    You always hoped a couple of them at least moved beyond the street with Holmes' help.

    Some interesting stories could be told of the boys when they were older.

    Good photos also, thanks.


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