London's Famous Residents: See How Freud, Holmes, Dickens Lived

Seeing the homes of eccentric and prominent figures makes for a different type of visit when you are in Britain's capital.

He craved more, more and even more stuff. "I think he went a bit loopy after his wife died," whispered the woman standing next to me at Sir John Soane's Museum, as we gazed at antiquities dangling from ceilings and perched on the rafters.

Was Soane eccentric? Definitely.

But London is full of houses of unusual people; some of the houses are museums, too.

One day, I set off to visit as many of them as I could - those of Soane, Sigmund Freud, Charles Dickens, Queen Victoria and Sherlock Holmes.

Behind every front door was a story.

Soane's obsession A famed British architect in his day, Soane was what you might now call a gentleman hoarder, collecting far more Roman, Egyptian and Greek statues, urns, friezes and doodads than advisable - even keeping the giant sarcophagus of Egyptian Pharaoh Seti I in his basement.

After his wife died in 1815, he used her money to keep buying and collecting items. When he died in 1837, he left an endowment to run the house as a museum.

Eventually, the British Govern-ment took over its support.

Astonished visitors will see a home stuffed with 5,888 ancient artifacts, 17,474 architectural drawings and prints, 202 engraved seals, 160 architectural models, 7,783 books and more, displayed nearly exactly as Soane had left them.

What you think of it likely depends on your sensibilities.

Some, like me, will not be able to get past the weird stuff, especially a crypt in the basement devoted to items he collected for his "imaginary friend", including a strange gold chair and a skull.

On the other hand, some will marvel at how he created an inventive personal museum for his architectural students, a way to let them see in person treasures they could not otherwise have glimpsed.

Still. Can you imagine dusting this place?

Sir John Soane's Museum: 13 Lincoln's Inn Fields; Holborn tube stop. Free. Id and ego: Freud Museum Objects that surround you are not just objects, but symbols of your unconscious beliefs, psychoanalysts believe.

If so, Freud had a whole bunch of inner thoughts. In 1938, he moved from his life-long Vienna home to London when the Nazis invaded Austria, and he brought everything.

His pretty brick home in the north of London today has an optimistic sky-blue front door and a charming rose garden. Freud lived only the last year of his life there - 1938 to 1939.

His daughter Anna continued to live there until the 1980s, when it was turned into a museum.

Most fascinating is Freud's study, where he saw patients. Rather gloomy and full of cabinets of books, his large desk is nearly totally covered with small yet priceless ancient statues - his muses.

There's the green chair on which he sat, never taking notes, and the analytic couch on which his patients lay, free-associating.

The museum when I visited also had an exhibition of art by the late British cartoonist Mel Calman.

"My analyst doesn't understand me," one panel said. Another showed God wondering "why don't I have anyone to pray to?" Given his line of work, Freud likely would have enjoyed the cartoons and the gift shop, which features "Super Ego" buttons, coffee cups labelled "Freudian Sips" and books like The Psychopathology Of Everyday Life Freud Museum: 20 Maresfield Gardens, Finchley tube stop. Entry fee £8 (RM42), Fit for a queen One part of elegant Kensington Palace in Hyde Park is the current living quarters of Prince William, wife Kate and their baby, plus Prince Harry.

The other half - the part not behind armed security fences - is an enjoyable museum about the previous tenants, including Queen Victoria, Princess Diana and Queen Anne. Inventive displays created by theatre groups keep the state rooms from being a dreary plod through acres of carpets and upholstered settees.

I especially loved the paper bluebirds skittering across the ceiling in the Queen's Apartments, as well as the beautifully laid-out story of Queen Victoria and the love of her life, Prince Albert.

In the Fashion Hall are Princess Diana's still-gorgeous gowns.

The gift shop here has everything from US$2 (RM6.30) royal pencils to US$300 (RM950) royal perfume; you can also stop here for tea.

Kensington Palace: Kensington Gardens, tube stop Queensway or High Street Kensington.

Entry fee £16.50 (RM86), /.

Hounding Sherlock Holmes Sorry to break it to you, but Holmes is not - and never was - a real person. His "house" is nothing more than a re-creation of what author Sir Arthur Conan Doyle imagined in his many mysteries. Still, lines form down Baker Street for this popular attraction.

The high point in my opinion is the gift shop, with souvenirs like detective caps, pipes and Sherlock Holmes ID cards. It's a bit ironic that this place is so popular given that the author's real home, Undershaw, located south of London in Surrey, is a deplorable wreck. Even though it's where Conan Doyle actually wrote Hound Of The Baskervilles and other classics, the home is boarded up while fans attempt to save it.

Sherlock Holmes Museum: 221B Baker Street, tube stop Baker Street. Entry fee £8-£10 (RM42-M52), Charles Dickens, every one If anyone had a sentimental view towards home life, it was Dickens. It's just that his real life didn't quite match the image.

Dickens rented this house in Bloomsbury in his 20s when he was the budding author of The Pickwick Papers and a newly married newspaper reporter.

Here is where he wrote Oliver Twist and Nicholas Nickleby . With the largest collection of Dickens artifacts in the world, it contains a wonderful and well-used desk, his favourite cane seat chair and other bucolic touches. He lived here at the start of his fame, when he and wife Catherine were happy and starting their family, many years before they bitterly separated. Here's a turquoise ring he gave her. There's the dining room table set for a crowd.

From its inscribed first edition of A Christmas Carol to a locket with Dickens' hair, this homey museum is a warm window into Dickens' life before fame complicated everything. Charles Dickens Museum: 46 Doughty Street, tube stop Russell Square. Entry fee £8 (RM42), What about Buckingham Palace?

Open your house and let the tourists in. That's the gripe here among legislators who are pressuring Queen Elizabeth and the staff of Buckingham Palace to raise quick cash to fix leaky roofs and other problems at the palace by admitting more tourists.

Right now, the palace is open for tours only 56 days a year (this year Aug 2-Sept 28, ).

"Let the Yanks bounce up and down on the beds; that's an easy £10mil (RM52.46mil) a year," suggested The Mirror newspaper, saying the queen is "down to her last £1mil cash, and the boilers are 60 years out of date".

Stay tuned. Until the queen gives her consent, Americans will have to be satisfied with visiting other homes of the famous in London. - Detroit Free Press/McClatchy-Tribune Information Services

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