How to Heat Your Home Like Sherlock Holmes: Victorian Firewood Logs & Briquettes

How to Heat Your Home Like Sherlock Holmes: Victorian Firewood Logs & Briquettes

Legendary detective Sherlock Holmes solved some of British literature’s most iconic cases while sitting in the warm glow of the fireplace on 221B Baker Street. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle included this traditional heating method into the stories and novels not only to create the perfect atmosphere for Holmes' contemplations and deductions, but also as an important period marker.

Consult history and you'll see that the chill of Victorian and Edwardian winters was chiefly kept at bay with the help of wood-burning stove. At the turn of the last century, virtually everyone knew how to choose good logs, store them, and light a fire. And, as we will soon learn, the great detective was no exception.

Today, the appeal of traditional wood fuel heating remains undiminished. From a purely logical (i.e. Sherlockian) standpoint, heating your home with kiln-dried logs and wood briquettes is far cheaper than doing so with gas or electricity. Not being one to waste money, Holmes would probably choose wood burner heating for this reason alone (although the ability to gather his thoughts in front of a crackling fire would certainly be a nice bonus).

In this article, written jointly by a Lekto wood fuel expert and a literary expert, we will explore the role of wood fuels in Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s fiction and try to figure out how Sherlock Holmes would keep 221B Baker Street warm if he were alive today. So what are we waiting for? The game's afoot!

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Traditional Wood Fires in the Sherlock Holmes Canon

Before we discuss how you can heat like Sherlock Holmes, let’s turn to the original texts to discuss the great detective’s relationship to wood heating and the important rule of the fireplace in Conan Doyle’s original stories and novels. If you don't wish to hear about literature and just want to understand how Sherlock would heat his home today, skip to The Role of Wood Fuel in Victorian Heating.

The log burners and open fires in Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes stories are seldom used simply as set dressings and a source of physical warmth.

Instead, the author primarily uses them as a symbol of quiet contemplation and the emotional warmth, which despite the great detective's aloof personality, exists between Holmes and Watson. The pair often gather around the fire as a home base for contemplation, deduction, and conversation. The warm glow of a natural fire provides a tranquil place for Homes to ponder his cases and share insights with his trusted friend and chronicler. Let’s dive into the stories for concrete textual evidence.

Wood fires are mentioned in virtually all Sherlock Holmes stories and novels. Listed below are just a few representative examples.

The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle (1892)

First and foremost, the fireplace is a place of contemplation in Conan Doyle’s stories. The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle is a perfect example of this. In this Christmas tale, Holmes and Watson find themselves unravelling the mystery of a lost gemstone—the titular Blue Carbuncle—which is discovered inside a goose. At one point in the story, Holmes pokes at the burning wood coals in the fireplace of 221B Baker Street as he puzzles out the connections between seemingly unrelated events.

The Musgrave Ritual (1893)

Other people’s fireplaces, on the other hand, can hide secrets. The Musgrave Ritual from the Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes contains a great example of this. In this short story, Holmes recounts to Watson one of his earlier cases, which he solved by examining an old ritual of the Musgrave family. The fireplace plays a central role in the plot of this exciting mystery as Holmes discovers a hidden compartment beneath the old family estate's hearthstone, revealing evidence that is crucial for piecing together the puzzle.

The Adventure of the Empty House (1903)

The role of the fireplace as a place of safety and recuperation is further showcased in the Adventure of the Empty House when (spoiler alert for those of you who haven’t read The Final Problem) Holmes reveals himself to Watson after faking his own death to escape the clutches of Moriarty's gang. Upon seeing a friend he had thought dead for a long time, Watson faints. Holmes brings him back to his senses, with the fireplace serving as a safe backdrop to the pair’s reunion.

The Adventure of the Bruce-Partington Plans (1908)

Another example of the fireplace being a place for the exchange of ideas. In this story, available to read for free here, Holmes and Watson discuss the case of stolen secret submarine plans in front of their Baker Street fire. Holmes often retreats to his armchair near the fire to think through the complexities of the case, using the tranquillity provided by the warmth and comfort of the fire to aid his contemplation.

The Adventure of the Abbey Grange (1904)

A similar scene plays out in the Adventure of the Abbey Grange. Upon returning to Baker Street, they sit in front of the fire while Holmes meticulously goes over the details of the murder, piecing together the events that led to the crime.

The Role of Wood Fuel in Victorian Heating

During the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the primary means of heating one's home in London and beyond was through burning firewood and house coal (read our article on the recent ban of house coal in the UK).

As can be guessed from the fact that an omnipresent smog was one of the defining features of Victorian London, coal was the more popular at manufacturing facilities and in working-class homes due to its high energy content and widespread availability. At this point, very few people knew about the dangers of burning coal.

Wood, on the other hand, was favoured in upper- and middle-class homes where the hearth served as a centrepiece of the living space, not only providing warmth but also contributing to the cosy, inviting atmosphere that is so often associated with Victorian interiors. This latter feature is the reason why a log burner can add up to 5% to the value of your home.

With the home shared by Mrs Hudson, Holmes, and Watson being decidedly middle class, it is no surprise that firewood was their heating fuel of choice.

Twenty-First Century Sherlock: Modern Wood Fuel Heating

In an era where sustainability and energy efficiency are paramount, traditional wood fuel heating is once again finding its place in British hearts and homes. And the reasons for this newfound popularity are the same as they’ve been in Holmes’ time.

Thanks to Defra’s introduction of the Ready to Burn wood fuel quality standard and the Ecodesign quality standard for wood stoves, modern firewood heating is a lot cleaner and more efficient than it was in Victorian times. And you can make it even more clean and efficient if you play your cards right. Here’s what Holmes would’ve done if Mrs Hudson asked him to create the most energy-efficient wood fuel setup for her:

  • The Smartest Wood Fuel Choice. Kiln-dried firewood logs purchased from top-tier suppliers like Lekto Woodfuels are dried to under 10% moisture, which is well under the 20% threshold specified in Defra’s Ready to Burn standard. And as moisture content is what makes firewood smoke and smoulder when burning, drier wood is always more clean and efficient. Read also: Why Wet Wood Is Bad.
  • Going Beyond Ecodesign. While Ecodesign stoves are a major leap forward in terms of efficiency, they can’t hold a candle to the far more efficient clearSkies stoves. Being a perfectionist, Holmes would most likely advise Mrs Hudson to choose a clearSkies Level 5 stove, which is the most efficient level out there.

How Wood Heating Has Changed Since Holmes' Time

With almost a century and a half having passed since the publication of the first Sherlock Holmes novel.

Wood Fuel Is the Most Affordable Way to Heat a Home

What’s different from Holmes’ time is that wood fuel is no longer a luxury for the wealthy. In fact, heating with firewood is now far more affordable than relying on mains gas and electric heat. This is not because wood fuel has somehow become cheaper. Instead, it is because the other options have skyrocketed in price over the last few years (see our article on gas vs electric vs wood fuels). So instead of simply being good for your mental health (see Physical & Mental Benefits of Natural Fires), firewood heating is now also good for the health of your wallet.

100% Natural Wood Briquettes Can Now Burn For Up to 8 Hours

Another thing Sherlock Holmes would’ve loved about modern wood fuel heating is the ultra-efficient wood briquette. While wood briquettes did exist in Holmes’ time, the machinery used to create them was very primitive, which led to them being of subpar quality when compared to firewood. Modern wood briquettes, on the other hand, are far more energy-dense and long-burning than even ultra-luxury African black ironwood, which is only used for furniture.

Without a doubt, out of all the briquette fuels on the UK market, Holmes would’ve been most impressed by the ultra-long-lasting 8-Hour Night Briquettes. Being made of a proprietary mix of all-natural softwood bark, Night Briquettes can burn up to 8 times as long as conventional firewood. Not only is this very convenient but it also helps you save money by reducing your overall wood fuel consumption.

What Type of Firewood Would Holmes Use to Heat 221B Baker Street Today?

Let’s use Holmes’ signature deductive reasoning to come up with the type of firewood the great detective would use to heat his rooms if he were alive today.

Deduction #1: Selecting the Right Type of Wood

Read also: Softwood Logs vs Hardwood Logs.

The first thing for Holmes to solve would be The Hardwood-Softwood Conundum. There exist two main types of treewood: softwoods and hardwoods. So which type of wood would Holmes use to heat 221B Baker Street? Let’s take a look at the clues!

Our first suspects are softwood tree species like pine and fir. While they are quicker to ignite and make for excellent kindling, they aren’t very dense, provide less heat, and last a very short time.

The second group are hardwoods, such as oak, ash, and birch. While these are harder to light, they are denser, burn slower, and provide far more heat. This makes hardwood tree species far more suitable for heating a home during winter.

So the list of suspects narrows to hardwoods.

Deduction #2: Selecting the Right Hardwood Tree Species

Now that we know that hardwoods are better, which exact wood species should Holmes choose? This is what we’ll find out in The Adventure of the Log Choice. Using his deductive reasoning, Holmes would narrow the list of suspects to the three most likely candidates: birch, ash, and oak. Let’s take a look at them in-depth.

  • Birch Logs are a previously underrated hardwood tree species that is getting popular fast. In the past, birch logs were thought to be of lower quality as only low-quality varieties were available for purchase. These days, premium birch varieties are available and combine a low price with beautiful flames. Unfortunately, some suppliers continue selling low-grade types of birch to this very day. Holmes’ verdict: If Holmes were to choose birch for his fire, we would choose the premium variety sourced from a trusted supplier like Lekto Woodfuels. He would use birch during the warmer months of the year.
  • Ash Logs are by far the UK’s most popular choice when it comes to firewood. They are less dense than oak and premium birch, but they are denser than low-grade birch. When it comes to their price, they are less expensive than oak but more expensive than even premium birch. Today, they are mostly chosen by older generations who have an emotional connection to this type of wood. Holmes’ verdict: The only reason to burn ash these days is nostalgia. Not being a romantic, Holmes would dismiss ash logs outright.
  • Oak Logs are the gold standard of quality firewood. They burn longer and provide more heat than any other type of firewood, which makes them a must-have for cold winter days. This being said, oak logs are more expensive than both birch and ash, so they are best reserved for colder days. Holmes’ verdict: The great detective would value oak for its long-burning properties and high heat output, but his logical mind would not let him burn oak year-round. He would reserve oak for the colder months of the year.

Case Conclusion: Holmes would use premium birch logs during milder weather (as they are less expensive) and oak logs during the colder months of the year (prioritizing long burn time and high heat output).

And that draws our adventures to a close! Follow us on Twitter / X @LektoWoodfuels to find out about new blog posts as soon as they’re published.