“The Red-Headed League,” like Doyle’s other detective stories, presents a detailed portrait of turn-of-the-century London and gives readers glimpses of a society undergoing rapid change. Among these changes are alterations in the class structure, Britain’s rise as a world economic power, and urban growth-along with a rising crime rate. As he attempts to restore a social order threatened by criminals like those in “The Red-Headed League,” Sherlock Holmes embodies the values of intelligence and individual achievement.
When Jabez Wilson shows Holmes and Watson the newspaper in which he first learned of the Red-Headed League, we learn that the events of the story take place in 1890, only a year before Doyle wrote the story. Few details allow a reader to picture Holmes’ rooms at 221B Baker Street, where he interviews Wilson and where over half the story takes place. However, Doyle gives readers the flavor of late-Victorian London when Holmes and Watson venture outside to examine Wilson’s pawnshop and its surroundings. We catch glimpses of the bustling commercial district, gas-lit evening streets, and the Underground (subway). The most fully developed setting is the bank vault, where increasing detail draws out the story’s climax and increases suspense.