Morbid Fancies: Victorian Mourning Jewellery

To say that the Victorians had an obsession with death is putting it mildly. They were addicted to death; fascinated by it; entranced by it! Everyone has some sort of morbid interest in death, but to the Victorians, death and the rituals surrounding it were as important to them as the rituals concerning life. This fascination with death followed the Victorians everywhere and they revelled in it as much as they were repulsed by it. It was during the Victorian era that big leaps in medical science were being made. People were now starting to live longer, happier, healthier lives. But everyone knew that death was just below the surface. And everyone from Queen Victoria downwards, was fascinated by the subject. When her husband died, Queen Victoria wore black mourning dress for the rest of her life and she would sleep with a cast of Prince Albert’s hand next to her pillow so that she could hold him as she slept! She insisted that every single day, her husband’s clothes should be laid out, that his breakfast be prepared and that hot water be brought to his room every morning so that he could shave…even though he was already dead!

The queen was also fascinated by seances, psychics, mystics and the paranormal and this craze soon caught on with her subjects. It even became popular starting in the 1850s, to have mourning portraits done! What is a mourning portrait? Have a look below…

Also called a memorial portrait or a mourning photograph, these were photographs of the deceased taken shortly after death so that living relatives would always have a pictorial reminder of their dead loved ones to keep with them all the time. If you haven’t figured it out yet…the girl in the middle of her two parents is a corpse, dressed as she was in life and photographed leaning against her father’s chest.

Mourning portraits hit their peak before the turn of the last century and gradually died out during the early 1900s. But one of the most famous examples of the Victorian obsession with death isn’t the mourning portraiture, it isn’t Queen Victoria sleeping with her husband’s hand and it isn’t laying out clothes and preparing shaving water for a ghost who never comes to use them…it’s mourning-jewellery.

What is Mourning Jewellery?

Mourning jewellery was jewellery worn by both men and women on the occasion of a friend or relative’s death. Going into mourning traditionally meant wearing black attire for a period during and after the funeral, but also meant wearing mourning-jewellery.

Of course, mourning jewellery does predate the Victorian era, it’s been around for centuries, but it was a style of jewellery that is most closely associated with the Victorians due to their constant awareness of the fragility of life and the strict protocol that they had to follow when in mourning for a loved one. Pictured below is a typical example of Victorian mourning-jewellery:

If you think this is an ordinary watch-chain…think again. This is a Victorian-era mourning chain which a man would wear with his pocketwatch on the event of a relation or a close friend dying. Want to up the creep-factor? Those braids in the watch-fob aren’t made of cotton. That’s actual human hair! It was common in Georgian and Victorian times to keep lengths of hair from loved ones and braid it into ropes, necklaces and fobs to act as remembrance-tokens of deceased relatives.

Why Did People Wear Mourning-Jewellery?

Upon a person’s death, it’s always been traditional in Western society to wear black during a funeral. It was also traditional for a period after the funeral, to continue wearing black to indicate that you were in mourning for a close friend or relative who had recently died. Victorian morals dictated that it was disrespectful to wear glitzy, flashy jewellery when you were in mourning. Stuff like diamond earrings and pearl necklaces, solid gold pockewatch-chains and sapphire rings were to be worn for celebratory purposes such as weddings and anniversaries! They were totally unacceptable accessories to wear when mourning for a dead loved one! It was to fill in this empty hole in the jewellery market that mourning-jewellery was created.

A Victorian-era mourning-ring, again incorporating a lock of the deceased’s hair

People purchased and wore mourning-jewellery so that they could continue to dress up, but in what they felt was a more sombre and respectful manner, to reflect their current status of mourning. A wide range of mourning-jewellery was manufactured for both men and women, but it was almost always black, or at least had life and death motifs in their designs, such as hearts, coffins and skulls.

Traditions of Victorian Mourning

If Victorian social etiquette was strict, then Victorian mourning etiquette or protocol was evern stricter! Upon the death of a loved one, both men and women were expected to follow strict rules on how society expected them to act, dress and conduct themselves around others. Upon the death of a husband, a widow was expected to go into a period of Full Mourning, also called First Mourning, for 366 days exactly. During this time she was only allowed to wear black and could not appear in public without it. Neither was she allowd out in public without a black mourning-veil over her face to show that she was now a widow. If the woman was poor or if she had children to support, she was allowed to look for a new husband after this period of full mourning. If, however, she had no dependents or serious need for money, she would then enter a period of Second Mourning, which lasted for nine months.

Second Mourning meant a relaxation of the rules. The veil could be removed or at least raised when out in public, but mourning etiquette dictated that black was still the only colour that was permissible for clothing. It was during this nine-month period of Second Mourning that mourning-jewellery was created, and it would be the only kind of jewellery that a widow was allowed to wear until the official ending of her mourning.

After Second Mourning came the final stage of traditional Victorian mourning: Third Mourning. Also called half-mourning, a widow’s Third Mourning lasted anywhere from three to six months. During this time she could gradually start wearing more colourful and sociable clothing again. She would put away her mourning jewellery and start wearing ordinary jewellery again. If she was an independent woman or a woman of means, now was the time that society considered it acceptable for her to start looking for a new husband. Some women never got over the deaths of their husbands, however, and they could wear mourning-dress and mourning-jewellery right up until their own deaths. Queen Victoria was an extreme example of this. Her husband died in 1861, but she remained in mourning-dress for the rest of her life, another forty years, until her own death in 1901!

Mourning traditions for men were similar to women in that they were expected to wear black and wear no jewellery, or mourning-jewellery only, but male mourning protocol was different from womens’ mourning protocol because of the man’s role in society. A widower who had lost his wife was expected to mourn for two years, however as with women with dependents, if a man had children to care for, society did allow for him to end mourning sooner and go back to conducting business or work. An unmarried man who had lost a close relation such as a mother, sister or cousin, might carry out the full three stages of mourning, same as widows did, lasting the full roughly two to two-and-a-half years. With people dying every single day, you can bet that the industry concerned with the manufacture and sale of mourning-jewellery was big business in the Victorian era.

What was Mourning Jewellery Made Of?

One of the most popular materials used for the manufacture of mourning-jewellery was a semiprecious gemstone called jet. From which we get the term “jet black”. Although it was tricky to cut and carve, jet became very popular for jewellery during the second half of the 1800s up into the 1920s. An example of jet mourning-jewellery is shown below:

This 19th century mourning-brooch is made of jet

Jet was used to make traditional mourning-jewellery such as watch-fobs, necklaces, rings, clasps and brooches, but as mentioned above, the other popular material for the manufacture of mourning-jewellery was human hair! Not always black, it was common for people to keep a lock of a loved one’s hair after their death and perserve it as a momento of their deceased relatives. Depending on the amount of hair taken from the corpse, the momento might be braided into a rope and used to make a watch-chain (such as the one above) or a necklace. Shorter snippets of hair might be placed inside mourning-lockets such as the one pictured below:

Mourning lockets such as this one (made of gold, black enamel and pearls) were another very popular piece of Victorian-era mourning-jewellery and they often had little compartments or windows in the back where a lock of the deceased’s hair could be stored as a momento. Lockets like this one would have had a chain or ribbon run through the ring at the top of the locket and then it would be tied and hung around the widow’s neck as a pendant and necklace.

The End of Mourning Jewellery

Rather fittingly, the Victorian protocol of mourning, along with Victorian mourning jewellery, ended…with Victoria. When the queen died in 1901, traditional Victorian mourning clothes, jewellery and protocol died with her. People no longer wanted to wear black and be reminded all the time, of the constant presence of death. Changing values meant that such things were taboo and shouldn’t be mentioned in polite society. Death was everywhere and there was no need to have to remind people of it all the time. As the 20th Century progressed, Victorian-era views on mourning, how one should conduct oneself when in mourning, how long mourning should last and what a person could or could not wear during mourning, rapidly began to die away. A hundred and ten years after Queen Victoria died, all that most people today would know about traditional mourning rituals and protocol is that it’s traditional to wear black. Other aspects, such as the once common fashion of wearing mourning-jewellery, has been consigned to the graveyard of history.


Black and White – All about the Tuxedo

I think I should start this off by saying that this isn’t a fashion and style blog and it ain’t a menswear blog. It’s a history blog. I won’t be covering every single itty-bitty-titty-kitty detail about the do’s, the don’ts and the faux-pas of how to and how not to wear a tux. If that’s what you came here for, then you probably won’t find it.

The tuxedo is the ultimate men’s uniform. You see it at fancy parties, awards ceremonies, Christmas balls, royal gatherings, state dinners, weddings and anniversary celebrations. James Bond would never be seen without one. But it seems like these days, nobody really knows what a tuxedo is. They have a vague idea that it’s black and white and it’s mandatory daily attire for penguins…but that’s about it. What is a tuxedo, what makes up a tuxedo, when do you wear one? Why?…And why the hell is it called a ‘tuxedo’ anyway? That’s what this article is about.

All dressed up and no place to go…

The History of the Tuxedo

The tuxedo was born in the late Victorian era. By the 1870s and 1880s, people looking for a night out in snappy clothes were looking for a snappier alternative to having to wear glitzy, glamorous, over-colourful clothes that made them look like clowns. Stuff like frock-coats, cravats, buckled shoes and coloured waistcoats other articles of clothing, simply did not say “classy night on the town”. They wanted something simple, easy and sharp that would always look good. Black and white. Crisp and elegant. Enter the tuxedo.

The tuxedo was born in England in the 19th century. Elements of it had existed ever since Georgian times, but it wasn’t until the second half of the 1800s that the tuxedo really began to emerge in the form that we know it today. To understand how it came about, we need to understand when it was worn.

Victorian high society was all about social connections. Who you were depended on what you did, how you did it, who you did it with and who you knew. Connections and friendships were important. The way to meet people was at big social gatherings, events like garden parties, balls, dinner parties, luncheons, high teas and sporting-events. There was no Twitter, no FaceBook, no MySpace back then. You had to go out and find people to talk to!

Of course, part of being received in upper-class society was knowing what to wear. And you didn’t just wear anything to any occasion. There were amazingly strict wardrobe rules for every single event for every single hour of the day. There was morning dress, daytime dress and evening dress. The tuxedo fell under the umbrella of “Evening Dress”, meaning that you put it on after the sun went down. Typically, this meant changing into your tuxedo after six o’clock in the evening or at sundown (whichever came first). This is also why the black tuxedo jacket is also called a ‘dinner jacket’. The tuxedo was further broken down into “Evening Dress” and “Full Evening Dress”. Here’s where things can get complicated.

Black and White

‘Tuxedo’ is a very loose term. Like I said, people generally have a vague idea of what it is, and that’s all. But it’s rather more complicated than that. Traditional men’s evening dress is divided into two categories. Evening Dress and Full Evening Dress.

‘Evening Dress’ is the classic tuxedo. Also called ‘Black Tie’. A black dinner-jacket, a white dress-shirt with studs and a detatchable collar and french cuffs which had to be held shut with cufflinks and, as the name suggests…a black bowtie. Evening Dress was worn during semiformal social occasions between friends and professional acquaintenaces that took place after sundown, typically dinner, nights at the theatre or when providing private entertainment. Black Tie is what most people are familiar with today as being the classic tuxedo and which tends to end up as the dress-code on most formal social-event invitations.

The pieces of a traditional Black Tie tuxedo included…

Black one or two-button dinner-jacket or ‘Tuxedo’ jacket.
Black Tuxedo trousers.
Black low-cut Tuxedo waistcoat (optional. If you wear this, wear suspenders; ditch the cummerbund)
Black patent-leather shoes.
Black socks.
White dress-shirt with studs and cufflinks.
Black bowtie.
Cummerbund (that goes around the waist) or a pair of black suspenders that go over the shoulder, hidden by the jacket (which is usually kept closed).

Pierce Brosnan as James Bond wearing Black Tie

Less common today is the more formal ‘White Tie’ enssemble, which people tend to confuse. There are very few White Tie events that call for a dress-code like this, so people aren’t always aware of what to wear or what to expect.

German bandleader Max Raabe wearing classic White Tie complete with waistcoat, dress-shirt and studs, white bowtie and detatchable wing-collar

‘White Tie’ is the highest level of formality in male attire. White Tie is the kind of stuff you put on when you’re going to meet the Queen. The components of White Tie traditionally include…

Black tailcoat.
Black tuxedo trousers.
Black patent-leather shoes.
Black socks.
White, collarless dress-shirt, held shut with shirt-studs.
White detatchable wing-collar, held onto the shirt with collar-studs.
White bowtie. As the collar doesn’t fold down to hide the tie, it must be one that the wearer can tie. Not a clip-on.
White, low-cut waistcoat, usually with three or four buttons. For a time, black waistcoats of a similar cut were popular, but white is the most traditional.

In searching YouTube for those hideous “modern fashion-and-style guide” videos, I came across one that said that the only difference between Black and White Tie is that you change the jacket from black to white…WRONG! Black Tie is Black Tie, White Tie is White Tie. They are not interchangable and they are not synonymous. Show up for a White Tie event wearing a Black Tie enssemble and you’ll probably be kicked out.

Traditionally, studs and cufflinks would be white or mother-of-pearl. During funerals or wakes, especially during Victorian times, it was acceptable to wear black studs and links, as they were part of acceptable Victorian mourning-jewellery (jewellery that was jet black, in order to reflect the solemnity of the occasion). A thin and discreet dress-watch is one of the acceptable choices of timepiece for Black or White Tie. The best option is a gold chain and pocketwatch or no watch at all (wearing a watch suggests that you need to keep an eye on the time because you have somewhere else to be. And if you’re busy on the night that you’re attending a Black or White Tie event, then you really shouldn’t be there anyway!)

When to Wear Black or White?

Although both are only ever worn after six o’clock in the evening, as I said above, Black Tie and White Tie are not interchangable and one does not stand in for the other. So when do you wear what?

Black Tie is usually worn for events such as going out to dinner with friends, going to a friend’s house for a party, going to the theatre, attending a dance or a party and attending institutional functions, such as those held by schools or universities. You wear Black Tie when you go out for a classical concert or an evening at Carnegie Hall.

White Tie is worn for only the most exclusive of social functions. State dinners, meeting heads of state, attending the Opening Night of a theatre-production and attending evening weddings. White Tie is for those events where you need to know people in order to get one of those handwritten, security-watermarked invitations to get past the security guys wearing sunglasses and black T-shirts to enter the glitzy ballroom filled with celebrities.

The Tuxedo Through the Times

The modern Black and White Tie enssembles started showing up in the late Victorian-era as an alternative to the more colorful and flashy clothes that were typically worn by men of the period. Black Tie and White Tie were on the rise during the 1880s and through to the 20th century, reaching a peak around the 1920s-1950s, when it was popular to go out nightclubbing or fancy restaurants to see famous jazz-orchestras putting on a show or seeing great West End or Broadway Shows, which boomed during this interwar and immediate postwar era. Starting in the 1930s, the white dinner-jacket began to replace the traditional black or midnight blue one (as seen below) when a more comfortable alternative was needed when wearing Black Tie in a warm or tropical climate. Black absorbs heat so wearing full traditional Black Tie in a place like Florida or Singapore would be far too uncomfortable. White, which doesn’t absorb heat, was the natural and acceptable alternative.

During the 1920s, 30s and 40s, some swing-jazz big-bands would give live performances dressed in Black or White Tie. Occasionally, their version of Black or White Tie would be slightly altered so that party-guests wouldn’t mistake the musicians for other guests or staff working at the performance venue.

In the above photo, you can see Benny Goodman (front, with clarinet) and His Orchestra performing; ca. 1938. Bandmembers are wearing Black Tie, but with a more informal white jacket instead of the more traditional black, possibly to differentiate themselves from the audience. Sometimes, bandmembers would wear Black Tie while the bandleader would wear White Tie in order to make him stand out to the audience, such as in this photograph of the Paul Whiteman Orchestra taken in 1921:

Whiteman may be seen wearing White Tie (second from right, standing next to the pianist) while the other bandmembers wear Black Tie

Where did ‘Tuxedo’ Come From?

They’ve always been called ‘Black Tie’ or ‘White Tie’, differentiated by the colour of the bowtie and the presence or lack of a white waistcoat, but why do we also call them ‘Tuxedos’? Where did this term come from?

To be clear, the ‘Tuxedo’ is not the full getup. Traditionally, the ‘tuxedo’ was the black dinner-jacket. It wasn’t until later that the word ‘Tuxedo’ referred to the jacket and the black trousers as well. The word ‘Tuxedo’ comes from the town of Tuxedo Park in New York State in the United States of America.

Black Tie and White Tie Today

White Tie isn’t as common today as it used to be, unless you’re a filthy rich billionaire going to a charity fundraising dinner-party or something, at least. Black Tie still remains fairly common though, although it seems that there will always be a number of people who don’t know what it is or how to wear it…President Barack Obama for one…

…If you haven’t figured out what’s wrong here, Obama’s missing the wing-collar which goes under the bowtie and he’s missing the white waistcoat as well. Obama is supposedly famous for his high-fashion faux-pas…

Looking for more information? Then check out the Black Tie Guide, the definitive internet authority on Black and White Tie, what it is, how to wear it, where it came from and what makes it up.


A City Divided: The History of the Berlin Wall

“Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!”
– Former President Ronald Reagan; Berlin, 12th of June, 1987.

There are a lot of famous walls throughout history. Hadrian’s Wall. The Great Wall of China. The Wailing Wall in Jerusalem…but walls are built for a lot of reasons. To protect, to defend, to hold up an important building…or to seperate a people. In this last category we have one of the most famous walls of all. The Berliner Mauer…the Berlin Wall.

For those born after the era of the Soviet Union, the Berlin Wall is something you read about in your history-books. It sure as hell was something I read in my history-books when I was in school even though when I was born, the Berlin Wall was still up. It’s a structure that’s fascinated me because it’s something that we imagine was built a long time ago and which was pulled down a long time ago and was significant a long time ago…but ain’t anymore, which is why it’s in the history books. But it wasn’t! It was still around when I was a kid, even if I wasn’t aware of it. And that was just a little over twenty years ago, which is a tick of a clock in the eyes of history. So what was the Berlin Wall? Where did it come from? What was it for? How did it come down and how did you get to the other side?

The Berlin Wall was a product of the Cold War that started escalating as soon as the ‘hot’ Second World War started cooling down in 1945. To understand where the wall came from, we need to crank the clock back over sixty years to the close of World War Two and what happened immediately after it.

Berlin, Germany, 1945

Japan is defeated. Germany has surrendered. The nuclear bombs have blasted Hiroshima and Nagasaki into the history books and the German capital of Berlin has been pulverised to rubble. It has been shelled, bombed and blasted for days and weeks on end by Allied bomber-planes and Russian field-artillery during the Battle of Berlin. The Allies have steamrollered in against the desperate and pathetic defences thrown up by the Nazis that consist of Hitler Youth divisions and World War One veterans pressed into service for the ‘Fatherland’. The Soviet Hammer and Sickle flag flies over the Reichstag, the German parliament building. The war is over.

…or not.

The moment the Second World War ended, another war started. A war between ideologies. Between the capitalists and the communists. The Western Allies were not idiots. The Germans had started the Franco-Prussian War, the First World War and the Second World War. And the Allies weren’t about to let the Krauts have another crack at the cannons, so to ensure they couldn’t, the German nation was occupied.

Germany was split in two. The Americans, the British and the French took joint control of West Germany while the Soviets took control of East Germany. So far, so good. But what to do with the German capital city of Berlin? The problem was that Berlin was located smack bang in the middle of East Germany. The Allies refused to allow the capital to become communist, so the city too, was divided up. Eventually, Germany and its capital were split into two camps. On the West was the Federal Republic of Germany. On the East was the German Democratic Republic. The names sound very similar, but how they operated was very different.

The Berlin Airlift; 1948

Trying to sieze control of the German capital, the Soviets attempted to starve Berlin into submission. All road transport and rail transport to Berlin was cut off. Roads and railway lines were barricaded and utility-supplies were cut off. The Allies were not happy. They wanted their slice of Berlin. And they wanted it now.

Berlin was no longer seen as the ‘enemy’. It was not Nazified anymore. It was an ordinary city just like any other. But it was a city that wanted to be free and capitalist and which was being held hostage by the Reds who wanted it all for themselves. The people of Berlin were trapped in a hole.

It was to save the citizens of Berlin that the Allies started the ambitious ‘Berlin Airlift’ in 1948. The airlift was nothing less than dozens of day-and-night deliveries of food, clothing and other supplies to the city of Berlin by air, from West Germany to East Germany. The Soviets were trying to starve the city into submission and the West wasn’t about to let that happen. The airlift began.

The Berlin Airlift ran from June, 1948 until April of 1949. During those few months, Western planes flew over Berlin, dropping parachute-lowered supplies of food to the people of Berlin. Everything from milk to bread to chocolate bars were dropped into Berlin to keep the morale of the people high and their bodies healthy. The airlift was a big success and a total humiliation to the Soviets who thought that they could overpower the West and keep a stranglehold on the German capital. When the Soviets realised that the West would not stop with its airlift, they had to admit defeat and the blockade on Berlin was lifted.

It was after this time that Berlin was divided into two cities, informally at first, but as time went on, in more and more physical ways.

Berlin: Gateway to the West (1949-1961)

When the Soviet blockade of Berlin failed, the Soviets had to bow to pressure from the West to divide Berlin between the Capitalists and the Communists, just like the rest of the country. This division formally took place in 1949. For the next forty-one years, West Berlin would become an island of capitalism amid a sea of communism, surrounded on all sides by East Berlin and East Germany. East Berlin, by comparison, became part of the Soviet Union, a prison city with its people under siege. If you think that Berliners were all cool with this and just went back to building luxury cars, eating bratwurst and watching soccer on TV…then let me correct you.

Berliners were terrified of living under the heel of the Soviets. They had absolutely no desire at all to live in a Soviet city. They wanted out. And they wanted out NOW. Between 1949 and 1961, thousands of East Berlin citizens fled to the West. They moved across the border, they took the subway to Western stations and they packed everything into their cars and drove! Berliners were getting scared off and the Soviets were getting pissed off. Not only did thousands of fleeing civilians make the Soviets look big and scary and mean…which they probably were…but it also meant that a lot of vital manpower and skilled labour was running out of East Berlin as fast as their feet could take them! There was no Berlin Wall during these years of the city’s history and East Berliners could flee to the West with relative ease, however, Berliners weren’t the only people running.

Germans fleeing the Soviets wasn’t just confined to the citizens of Berlin. East-Germans everywhere were fleeing from the Soviets, not just those living in the capital. However where East Germans could flee to was confined to Berlin. If this is confusing, then let me explain.

People living in East Germany, controlled by the Soviets, wanted to get out of Soviet territory into Western territory, where they felt safe. Only, they couldn’t go from East Germany to West Germany due to travel-restrictions. However, there was no reason why the Soviets should restrict travel within East Germany. And Berlin was in East Germany. So Germans wanting to flee the Soviets went to Berlin instead. And they entered the city through East Berlin and then went to West Berlin, where they could fly out of the city and over Soviet Germany to the capitalist West Germany, nice and far away from the Reds. It was a roundabout way of escaping the Soviets, but it did work. And it was something that the Soviets were wising up to. And they weren’t having any of it.

See, once you got into Berlin, it was easy to get to the West. There was no barrier and once you got the paperwork you could just go across, or you could simply hop on the Berlin subway system and take a train that was going to a West Berlin station. It was pretty easy. The Soviets were worried that it was too easy. They were worrying about a ‘brain drain’ on East Germany. They were scared that all the talent, knowledge, brains and know-how of the East Germans would flood into the West leaving East Germany and East Berlin as a dried up husk of a place full of idiots. So to stop this, they built a wall.

The Berlin Wall; 1961

Even though there had been tension between the Soviets and the West ever since the end of the Second World War in 1945, it wasn’t until 1961 that the Soviets actually tried in any serious capacity, to stop people from getting to the West. This all changed on the night of the 12th of August, 1961. That evening, the order was given for the border between East and West Berlin to be officially closed and for a wall to be erected. In the truest form of German efficiency, the wall was put up in record time! By six o’clock in the morning of the 13th of August…Berlin was a city divided. A wall ran all the way from the northern border of Berlin down the middle of the city to the south of Berlin. People in East Berlin suddenly realised that the Soviets were serious about keeping them penned in, and they were not happy.

1961; Building the Berlin Wall

What some people may not know is that the Berlin Wall was not just one wall. It was a series of walls. Berliner Mauer Model A came out in 1961 as a simple, slap-up overnight job of wood, brick, concrete blocks and barbed wire. People who were desperate or quick-witted enough, could still get across to the West. They got through the wall by pushing or cutting away the barbed wire fences and running to the West, they even used car-bombs to blast holes in the wall so that they could get through. They rushed checkpoints and some people even just climbed out the window! Yes it’s true.

See, to make the wall in 1961 in record time, the East German army took a few shortcuts. Where possible, they followed roads and streets to make the wall as straight and as short as possible. They incorporated the walls of buildings into this first generation of the wall so as to speed up construction. But what they probably forgot was that…buildings have doors and windows…duh!

So when East Berliners woke up and found themselves imprisoned, some citizens realised that their houses and apartment blocks had been incorporated into this new wall. What did they do? They packed their suitcases and jumped out the window or broke open their own front doors, ran across the street and over to the West. The Soviets were quick to see the loophole in their design, however, and quickly bricked up windows and doorframes that opened out into West Berlin.

In the early days of the Berlin Wall, it wasn’t so much a wall as it was a fence. Because the wall was put up so fast, the East German soldiers used the simplest materials to build it. Cinderblocks, barbed wire and bricks. In some areas of the wall, the only thing keeping East and West Berliners apart was a few feet of barbed wire stretched out across a road. People who were brave or desperate enough, could just jump over the wire into the West. That’s exactly what East German soldier Conrad Schumann did on the 15th of August, 1961. That’s him up there in that photograph, jumping over the barbed wire division between East and West, defecting from Soviet Germany to the capitalist West. Schumann wasn’t the only person to do this, however. Hundreds of people took advantage in one way or another, of the hasty construction of this first version of the Berlin Wall, to change their lives forever…and in most cases, for the better.

Berlin’s historic Brandenburg Gate is right in the middle of the city. This photo taken in mid-August, 1961, shows East German soldiers forming a human blockade in front of the gate, preventing East-to-West migration after the border was officially declared closed

The Berlin Wall; 1962-1965

Like I mentioned above, the Berlin Wall was not one single structure. It was several structures that changed, evolved and which were torn down and rebuilt several times over the years. By 1962, a second, more permanent wall was being built between East and West Berlin. The Soviets could see that their initial barrier was not working and that it needed strengthening. Between 1962 and 1965, the second and eventually, third versions of the Berlin Wall were constructed, not of bricks or cinderblocks, but of huge slabs of concrete that were tough, high and impossible to blast through, ram with cars or climb over. Anyone who did try to climb over the wall was impeded by a smooth, cylindrical drainage-pipe which the East-Germans put on top of the wall. The smooth curved surface on top of the wall made it impossible for people climbing over to get a grip and pull themselves up, over and into West Berlin. It was around this time that the wall was also lengthened as well as strengthened.

Eventually, by the early 1970s, the Berlin Wall didn’t just divide the city, it completely encircled it. The entirety of West Berlin was surrounded by a huge, twelve-foot high wall of solid concrete sections that completely cut it off from all of East Germany that was around it on all sides…to say nothing of it also cutting it off from East Berlin.

Getting Through the Wall

Life in Soviet Berlin is hardly pleasant. The East Berlin secret police, the Stasi, keep tabs on everyone. Who they are, what they do, where they live, who they know, what their jobs are, where they are, where they’re going and why they’re going there and what they intend to do once they’ve reached there. Up to one third of the East Berlin population is under surveillance by the Stasi at its peak. Apart from the presence of an oppressive police-state, the quality of living in East Berlin is a pale imitation of life in the West. Although legally still under Allied occupation, people in West Berlin enjoy the latest entertainment, inventions and consumer-goods.

In East Berlin (and indeed, in most of the Soviet Union), basic household necesities are in short supply. Whitegoods for the home, automobiles, televisions and other appliances and machinery that the West take for granted are sold to the East Berliners on a first-come, first-serve basis. People have to go on waiting-lists that can last for weeks…months…even years…before they can even think of buying something that their Western counterparts could go out and buy at the shop the next day. The severe shortage of Soviet-made consumer-goods means that life under communism is hardly the “Worker’s Paradise” that the Soviets were hoping to achieve.

In the early days of the existence of the Berlin Wall, getting across to the West was relatively easy. You just needed a bit of luck and good timing. But after the first few weeks and months, the Berlin Wall has become an imposing and impassable barrier. Getting across is much harder. People get through by using forged identity and travel-permits and passports, they dig tunnels, they’re smuggled through the checkpoints in automobiles; two families gather up a whole heap of cloth and even floated over the Wall to the West using a homemade hot-air balloon! But nobody actually climbs over the wall to escape to the West, and here’s why…

The Berlin Wall; 1975

In 1975, the fourth and final version of the Berlin Wall was constructed. This wall is less like a simple wall and more like the impenetrable perimeter-fence of a maximum-security prison. It consists of two huge walls, watch-towers, trip-wires, barbed-wire fences, ditches, machine-guns, spotlights and vehicular-traps to prevent cars getting through. Between the two walls that made up this great barrier, apart from the tripwires, guns, searchlights, sirens, barbed-wire fences and the guards, there was also a kill-zone and even attack-dogs on long leashes! As you can see, getting across conventionally was not going to be easy, and 171 people died trying to do it. The most famous person who gave his life to freedom in this dramatic way was an 18-year-old East Berlin teenager…

Peter Fechter and his friend, Helmut Kulbeik attempted to jump Berlin Wall #2 in 1962. Kulbeik made it across safely but Fechter was shot in the leg by East Berlin guards. Although only a single shot was fired, the bullet severed a major artery in his injured leg and Fechter would bleed to death on the Soviet side of the wall, just a few feet from freedom. Western powers were outraged, but could do nothing to help him get across due to the threat of Soviet violence. The photograph above was taken by a Western photographer as Fechter lay bleeding on the ground. His body was eventually removed by East Berlin authorities.

A diagram showing what the Berlin Wall looked like, ca. 1980

The Berlin Wall; 1989

By the 1980s, generations of Berliners and people around the world had grown up with the Berlin Wall. It was a part of their lives. It was a part of world affairs. It was a part of Berlin. Nobody ever envisioned a day when it might not be a part of their lives, the news, the world at large or a part of Berlin. It had simply been there too long for it to suddenly just disappear! And even if it was going to be pulled down, it would take some huge, amazing, monumental and earthshaking events to even get the Soviets thinking about such a ludicrous thing…right?

Well probably. We’ll never know. Because that’s not how the wall came down. Believe it or not but the fall of the infamous Berlin Wall happened quite literally by accident.

It is the 9th of November, 1989. The Berlin Wall has fallen! People are streaming across the border between East and West Berlin. A momentous and historic occasion! But how did it happen?

To understand, we need to backtrack a few weeks. In August of 1989, other countries in the Eastern Bloc are beginning to relax travel restrictions, even if East Germany is not. Border controls between Austria and Hungary are relaxed. People start moving freely between these two countries. Amongst these people are East Germans. While in Hungary, East Germans take refuge in the West-German embassy in Budapest, not wanting to go back to East Germany. This show of resistence sparks off a series of protests throughout East Germany by people who want to be free. East German travel-restrictions are amongst the tightest in the Soviet Union and the people are getting tired of them. Not wanting a full-scale riot on their hands, East German authorities decided to allow for a relaxation of travel-restrictions between East and West Germany. This relaxation of such restrictions was supposed to start on the 17th of November, 1989. But it all went wrong from there.

The person charged with the job of spreading the news about the relaxed travel-restrictions between East and West Germany was a man named Gunter Schabowski, an official working for the Socialist Unity Party of Germany, the communist party that ruled over East Germany during the Soviet era. Schabowski had been told about the relaxation of travel-restrictions…a last-ditch attempt by East German politicians to stop the rising tensions in East Germany…but he had not been fully briefed on when these relaxations of restrictions were to take effect.

On the 9th of November, 1989, Schabowski was a member of a panel being interviewed in a live televised press-conference which was meant to spread word about these modified travel-restrictions. Not in full posession of all the facts, Schabowski was unprepared to give a proper answer when, after announcing the plan to relax travel-restrictions, a journalist asked a single, simple question.


Unaware of the actual date (17th of November), Schabowski consults his papers. Mumbling and fumbling for time, he accidently says “Immediately!”.

And that was the simple accident that caused the downfall of the Berlin Wall.

His one word sealed the Wall’s doom. Within hours, hundreds of East Berliners were charging towards the crossing-points between East and West Berlin, along the length of the Berlin Wall. They had heard about the opening of the border and they wanted out of East Germany and into West Germany. And they wanted it now! Border-guards were caught off-guard by the rush of hundreds and eventually thousands of people. Unable to hold their posts and been given no instructions not to let people go through, the guards opened the gates allowing thousands of people to stream from East Berlin into West Berlin! The Wall was now starting to fall.

The famous ‘Checkpoint Charlie’ border-crossing of the Berlin Wall; November 9th, 1989

Over the next few weeks and months, Berliners from both sides of the city would crowd at the wall to meet, greet and party and to celebrate the hopeful reunification of their city and their country, split in half by nearly fifty years of opposing political camps. People even showed up at the Wall carrying sledgehammers, pickaxes, jackhammers and drills. These were the “Wall Woodpeckers”, ordinary civilians who had come along to quite literally get a piece of the action. Over the next months and years, the Berlin Wall would be torn down, bit by bit, piece by piece, yard by yard. While most of it would be torn down with mechanised help, several Berliners hack into the structure of oppression with ordinary hand-tools, chipping off chunks of the Wall to keep as souveniers.

The Wall Today

The majority of the Berlin Wall was pulled down during the early 1990s as people rushed to bring an end to communism in Germany. Some sections still remain, although these are few and far between. In Berlin today, a cobblestone line runs through the city, marking the path that the Wall once took through the streets of the German capital.

A segment of the Berlin Wall (left, with all the graffitti) in central Berlin today


Plumbing the Depths: Joseph Bazalgette and the Great Stink of London

Have you ever wondered what happens when you press the ‘Flush’ button on your toilet and wondered where all the contents of your toilet-bowl vanish off to? Everyone’s wondered that at one point or another in their lives. Have you ever pondered what happened to mum’s wedding-ring after it got washed down the sink and didn’t show up in the U-bend at the bottom of the pipe? Back in Victorian London, people didn’t have to wonder about things like this. They knew where their sewerage went…and that’s exactly what this article is about.

Admittedly, writing an article about a 160-year-old sewer-system is not the biggest thing on the list of subjects to write about for any writer, but the story London’s Victorian sewer-system is about a lot more than huge pipes in the ground that haul away rainwater, bodily waste and general sewerage…It’s about an ambitious and dangerous civil engineering project, it’s about the vastly changing opinions on the causes of disease, it’s about ambition and determination and, as is more often the case than is not, it’s about how the hands of the mighty are only swayed by mighty events. This is the story of Sir Joseph Bazalgette and the sewers of London.

London, 1850

The Industrial Revolution was not called such for no reason at all. It revolutionised alright. It revolutionised bigtime. It revolutionised everything in the world. And unfortunately, it also revolutionised London. The city’s population skyrocketed during the Victorian era, with more and more people surging into the British capital looking for money, work and a better livelihood for themselves and their families. Slums sprang up, houses were built, new businesses were opened and all over town, people were settling into their new lives.

But as the city of London grew above ground, below the streets and buildings of the great metropolis, there was a horrible, unimaginable and unseen disaster waiting to explode.

For centuries, London had existed without sewers. What few public sewers and drains that there were existed as old trenches or tunnels which were covered over as the city grew, or were pipes, channels or streams that ejected their contents directly into the River Thames. The majority of households still relied on daily visits by the nightsoil-carrier or gong-scourer, who would come by each evening to empty their chamberpots and cesspits. What drains that did exist were by the 1850s, centuries old. They were frequently blocked by sewerage or overwhelmed by the frequent heavy rainfalls for which London is globally famous. Streets flooded, sewers backed up and overflowed and disease and stench were rife throughout London. By 1850, there had already been one outbreak of cholera in which over 14,000 Londoners died from drinking the incredibly contaminated water, which had been polluted by the overflow of sewerage within the confines of London. A solution to this increasingly unavoidable problem was needed…and it was needed yesterday!

In charge of the sanitation of London was a body of men called the Metropolitan Commission of Sewers based in Soho Square. Try as they might, they were unable to find a single reasonable method of removing sewerage from London. This all changed in 1849. In August of that year, a new assistant engineer was appointed to the Commission, a thirty-year-old engineer named Joseph Bazalgette.

Bazalgette didn’t have any idea of how to combat the growing problem of London’s sewerage either, but when he saw the products of those people who thought they did, he began to realise that something serious had to be done. Unable to find a way to remove sewerage from London, the Commission printed a letter in the Times newspaper, asking its readers to post suggestions to them on how to clean up London. It was up to young Bazalgette to sift through every single one of the 137 replies…none of which he deemed suitable for replacing the narrow, clogged and overflowing channels that served as ‘sewers’ up to that point in London’s history.

In 1855, the Commission of Sewers was replaced by a new body, the Metropolitan Board of Works. Another cholera epidemic (in 1853) had proved how ineffectual the Commission had been in finding a solution. The MBW as it was sometimes called, apart from being a new organisation, also had a new leader: Joseph Bazalgette.

Planning the Sewers

Now that he was in charge of his own organisation, Bazalgette set to work. He carried out surveys and measurements, he examined the tidal flow of the River Thames, he carried out explorations of the old sewers and checked their general condition and he drew up bold plans for a vast network of tunnels underneath London which would draw the sewerage away from the capital to pumping-stations where it could be pumped out into the Thames each day at the changing of the tides. The poweful river-currents would drag the sewerage right out to sea and London and the River would be clean and healthy forevermore.

Or at least, that was the plan. The reality was very different.

The government was not pleased. They complained endlessly that Bazalgette’s plans were…too dangerous…too big…would take too long to build…were far too expensive…involved tunnels that were not long enough as to draw the sewerage a satisfactory distance from London…and which the government, as a result, would not give him permission to build. The Metropolitan Board of Works…ground to a halt. For three years, all that Bazalgette could do was redraw his plans…over…and over…and over…and over…and over again. And every single time, the government said ‘No’. All the while, the threat of another catastrophic cholera outbreak was lingering just below the surface.

Cholera and Snow

While Bazalgette struggled with the government and its refusal of his bold new plans for London’s sanitation, nearby, physician Dr. John Snow was battling with the London medical establishment, a battle he would eventually win…posthumously.

Dr. Snow was a researcher and a theorist. As a physician, he was fascinated by the spread of disease and in the 1850s, the disease to study was cholera. Leading medical minds of the time were convinced that cholera was spread via “Miasma” (‘My-as-ma’), a term that literally means ‘Bad Air’. The Miasma theory came up in the early Georgian period to replace the previously widely-held theory of the Four Humours, a medical theory that dated back thousands of years to the ancient Greeks…and which had absolutely no scientific basis at all. The Miasma Theory purported that strong stenches, odours and smells spread disease through the air and that such foul contaminants came from places such as graveyards, rubbish-tips, chimneys, polluted waterways and the bad breath of ordinary people. It was the first, semi-scientific link between the containment of disease and the vital necessity for cleanliness. However, in mid-Victorian times, in an age where the Germ Theory that we know today, would not arrive for several more decades, everyone believed that all diseases were airborne miasmas and that the best way to handle such miasmas was to keep things clean and the air fresh.

This did not, unfortunately, extend to the vital necessity of keeping waterways clean. The idea that disease could be waterborne as well as airborne, simply hadn’t entered the minds of the medical community. But it had entered the mind of Dr. Snow. Through careful plotting, study, observation and record-keeping, he determined that water consumed from a particular pump in Broad Street, East London, caused an unnaturally high rate of cholera cases. By studying which people on Broad Street drank what, when and where, he was able to trace their illnesses back to contaminated water and therefore prove that cholera was a waterborne disease…something that many other medical minds of the day, cast off as ludicrous.

Building the Sewers

Ever since the late 1840s, London had been struggling with the monumental task of trying to find a way to remove vast amounts of sewerage from its streets and arterial river, the Thames. Theories, proposals, ideas and even plans had been put forward as possible solutions, but none of them were even so much as entertained by the government, all cast off as being…too expensive…too dangerous…too impossible…too outrageous. And so for ten years, nothing was done.

That all changed in 1858. By this time, London had become so incredibly polluted that the air had become almost unbreathable. In the summer of that year came the famous ‘Great Stink’. Extreme summer temperatures caused the water in the River Thames to heat up by several degrees and this caused the sewerage contained within it, to give off powerful odours and smells, which wafted all over London. So bad was the smell that Parliament had to relocate outside of London to get away from the unimaginable, nose-wrinkling, eye-watering stench! How could such a great, powerful, technologically advanced city at the heart of a great empire smell like something that had crawled under a bed and died? Finally forced to face the inconvenient truth that London required a serious and long-term solution to its sanitation problems, the government contacted Joseph Bazalgette, the head engineer of the Metropolitan Board of Works and asked him how quickly he could start digging.

This cartoon from 1858 shows Father Thames (right) introducing his children (Diptheria, Scrofula and Cholera) to the fair city of London (left). This shows just how bad the pollution of the Thames had become by the time of the Great Stink

The project was never going to be easy. And it was never going to be cheap. London had existed for centuries and had grown for centuries, without any modern sewerage system of any kind at all…and now in a matter of years, they were going to try and undo the lack of foresight that had lasted ever since London had been established back in Roman times! Bazalgette was given three million pounds sterling (unadjusted for inflation) and told to start at once.

Finally given the green light, Bazalgette immediately began surveying the land, measuring distances and determining exactly where each and every tunnel, channel and watercourse would go. How big it would have to be, how high, how long and most importantly…what angle of gradient the tunnels would need to have. There was no space for large, steam-powered pumping-appratus in the middle of London, so every last cubic inch of the sewers had to be angled downwards, towards the East, where the force of gravity would draw the sewerage out of London and down the Thames Valley.

Where possible, the sewers were constructed just a few feet below street-level using the ‘Cut-and-Cover’ method which was also being used for some of London’s Underground subway-tunnels. It was simple…Dig a trench, build the tunnel and then put the earth back on top. In total, there were to be five huge main tunnels, three going underneath London north of the Thames and two going under the areas of London south of the Thames. These great sewers were to intercept smaller sewers that ran north-south (towards the river’s edge) and then take the sewerage far out of London to enormous holding-tanks. Here, vast, steam-powered pumps would pump the sewerage into the river each day at the changing of the tides. As the Thames is a tidal river, all that the people at the pumping-stations had to do was to wait for the tide was at its highest and then, when it began to change, discharge the sewerage. The strong currents would pull it right out to sea.

Although Bazalgette was as careful as possible with his tunnel-construction, insisting on all safety precautions, quality-control checks on the cement and the millions of bricks that would be used to construct the tunnels, a few men did die in their construction; mostly from cave-ins or other work-accidents.

Completing the Sewers

The main components of the sewers were completed in 1865. On the 4th of April, the Prince of Wales (the future King Edward VII) turned on the pumps at the Crossness pumping-station outside of London and for the first time in centuries, London’s water supply began to clean up its act. Cholera disappeared from London as pollution of London’s water-supply began to disappear. It was for this action of constructing London’s sewers, and of many other engineering successes of his throughout London, that in 1875, Joseph Bazalgette was knighted by Queen Victoria and became Sir Joseph Bazalgette.

The Sewers Today

London has grown enormously since Bazalgette’s time. Today, his original, Victorian-era sewer-system makes up only a small portion of the additions that have been made in the over 100 years since he died in 1891. But even without modern additions, Bazalgette was a man of foresight. He had made the sewerage-tunnels as big as possible so that they were able to take twice the amount of even the highest level of rainfall and sewerage that London could produce at the time, meaning that it wouldn’t be necessary for decades to expand and improve his original system until well into the 20th century.


A Medical Monster: The Story of the Elephant Man

Imagine if you will, that you were born normally. That life was normal and that everything in it was good. But then suppose you started developing a horrible, disfiguring condition that would cripple your whole body, that would contort it and twist it and bend it and affect the very bones of your skeleton. Imagine that this condition is untreatable and incurable and that you would have to live your entire life as a misshapen and horrific monster, shunned by society all over the world. Imagine that this is real…and that it happened a hundred years ago, when such people more likely than not, either died horribly alone, or became freakish attractions at travelling carnival shows that toured the country, exposing your horrific, twisted form for all to see, to be shocked by and to laugh at, to be repulsed by and to be terrified of.

Meet the Elephant Man.

Who was the Elephant Man?

His name was Joseph Carey Merrick, born on the 5th of August, 1862. For almost all of his rather short life, Merrick was known as a horribly deformed freak, so ugly that even his family would have nothing to do with him. He lived in workhouses, he joined a travelling circus and he became famous for all the wrong reasons, with people being drawn to see him purely to see if such a person as Merrick could really exist on Earth. His life is a mixture of loneliness, desperation, hope, compassion and understanding.

Joseph Merrick was born in the city of Leicester in England in August, 1862. He was the first of three children born to Joseph Rockley and Mary Jane Merrick. Up until the age of about five, Merrick was normal, but then he began to show the symptoms that would mark his place in history. His skin grew at a disproportionate rate to his body. It thickened up and toughened and his skeleton and joints began gradually to deform. Gradually, his spine and the majority of his body would become horribly twisted and his skin would become thick, rough and dry, which gave him the name the ‘Elephant Man’. So bad were Merrick’s deformities that he was unable to walk properly. A fall as a child badly damaged his left hip which left him with a permanent limp.

Suffering from constant abuse from his family, Merrick left home permanently at the age of seventeen. Throughout his teenage years, he struggled to find work. His increasing deformities and physical limits meant that he was unable to do even the most basic of menial jobs, such as cigar-rolling (which he had to stop when his right hand became too deformed), street-hawker and door-to-door salesman. His mother, the only person who showed him any affection, died on the 19th of May, 1873.

His father’s brother, and therefore, Joseph’s uncle, Charles Merrick, was a local barber and attempted to give Merrick a safe and comfortable home, but the strains of his deformities and the medical bills associated with them meant that Charles could only support his unfortunate nephew for a short period of time and before long, Joseph Merrick ended up back in the streets before ending up in the local workhouse, where he lived on and off, for four years. In 1882, Joseph underwent an operation to try and correct some of the most serious deformities around his mouth, to allow him to speak and eat better.

Joseph Merrick: The Freak Show

Increasingly unable to find work, Merrick turned to becoming a human freak to try and support himself. He became acquainted with two men, Samuel Torr and Thomas Norman, a pair of freakshow managers. Merrick first approached Torr who referred him to Norman. By now, Merrick was suffering increasingly from the symptoms of his mystery illness and was having a harder and harder time speaking and eating due to bronchitis. Norman managed to secure medical help and Merrick recovered to a level where he was able to ‘perform’ as a human freak.

Tom Norman, Merrick’s freakshow manager

For a while, Merrick did well. Norman made Merrick a moderately wealthy man and Merrick managed to earn about two hundred pounds, a decent sum of money for sideshow freaks. Merrick lived in a back room of Norman’s curiosity shop and for a small fee of 1d (a penny), folks could go into the shop’s back room and be amazed and horrified by the ‘Elephant Man’ as Norman called his new discovery.

By chance, Norman’s shop was directly across the road from Whitechapel’s main medical institution, the London Hospital, a charity hospital for the poor of the East End since Georgian times. One of the visitors to the Elephant Man freak-show was a surgeon named Mr. Frederick Treves. Treves was horrified by Merrick’s disfigurements and suggested to Norman that he submit Merrick to a medical examination, to which Merrick and Norman both agreed.

To aid in Merrick’s short journey from the shop to the hospital, a special set of clothing was developed for Merrick so that people would not be frightened by his horrific appearance. The most famous article of which was the famous masked cap, which was reproduced for the film ‘The Elephant Man’.

Joseph Merrick’s hooded cap, that covered his face from public scrutiny

Merrick visited the London Hospital three times. Treves the surgeon took measurements of Merrick’s head and body, examined his health and other bodily anomilies, such as his limp. Treves photographed Merrick and in one of their meetings, gave the ‘Elephant Man’ his calling-card in case he might ever require his assistance. Merrick had grown tired of being poked, prodded, exhibited, measured and photographed at the hospital and wasn’t keen to return.

By the late Victorian period, tastes in entertainment were changing. People didn’t want to see freak-shows anymore. They considered them inhumane, degrading and immoral. There were several police crackdowns and eventually, even the well-meaning Mr. Norman had to close his shop down. Merrick then went on a tour of Europe and headed to Belgium.

While in Europe, Merrick was again abused and tricked and he lost most of the small fortune that Norman had helped him to earn. Broken and ill, Merrick sailed back to England and caught a train to London.

Frederick Treves – Surgeon

Merrick returned to London on the 24th of June, 1886. When he arrived in London, he got off the train at Liverpool Street Station. He was incredibly sick, suffering from malnutrition and again from bronchitis. His deformities meant he was unable to speak clearly and when he asked for help at the station, people were unable to understand him, and even more unable to look at him. A passing policeman forced away the crowd that was now forming around Merrick and took him away to an empty waiting room where Merrick collapsed in the corner, exhausted and hungry. Unable to speak, Merrick took out the one thing that could make himself be understood by others…Frederick Treves’s calling-card.

Treves was sent for at once and he immediately had Merrick admitted to the London Hospital for examination and treatment. Treves discovered that not only was Merrick suffering from a lack of food, a bronchial condition and increased impediment from his deformities, but that he was also suffering from a heart-condition.

Treves deduced from Merrick’s general condition that he was already dying. Slowly and surely, but dying nonetheless and he suspected that the Elephant Man would only have a few years left to live. It was clear to Treves that Merrick needed somewhere safe to stay. He couldn’t go back to being a travelling freak, that was for sure, and no workhouse would accept him as an inmate. Treves appealed to the chairman of the London Hospital, Mr. Francis Carr Gomm. While Carr Gomm allowed Merrick to be admitted to the hospital as a patient requiring treatment and while he understood the necessity for long-term care and constant medical supervision for one Mr. Joseph Carey Merrick, he was unwilling to allow Merrick to stay at the hospital. The London was a charity hospital for the poor which relied on donations from the public to keep operating. It simply did not have the staff or the funds to keep Merrick at the hospital interminably, as an ‘incurable’. Indeed, the hospital had a longstanding policy of not housing incurables due to the strain on the hospital’s system.

Joseph Merrick photographed in 1888. Note the extreme difference in size between his right and left arms

Unwilling to throw Merrick out into the street, Mr. Carr Gomm wrote letters to hospitals and medical institutions that specialised in long-term care for the terminally ill, however, none of them were willing to take on such a difficult case as that of Joseph Merrick, the Elephant Man, and they all said ‘No’. In desperation, Carr Gomm wrote a letter to the Times newspaper, asking the public for suggestions about what to do with Merrick and how to handle his long-term security. To the hospital’s surprise, the public outpouring of compassion was significant. Although nobody who had read the letter in the newspaper could offer a single practical solution as to what should be done with Merrick, many readers of the Times did the next best thing that they could think of, and dug into their pockets, donating money to the London Hospital to keep Merrick in comfortable circumstances.

With such an influx of money, Carr-Gomm put it to the hospital committee that they could, with more public assistance, see to it that Merrick would live at the London Hospital as a permanent patient until the end of his life. This was an unprecedented step in the history of the London, but the committee eventually agreed. Merrick was moved into a small suite of rooms in a quiet part of the hospital where he could live, safe and comfortably for the rest of his life.

Life at The London

For probably the first time in his life, Merrick felt safe and welcome and comfortable. He passed the time in his rooms by reading, writing and constructing models out of cardboard. So as not to distress Merrick any further, Frederick Treves insisted that under no circumstances was a mirror ever to be present in Merrick’s chambers.

As time passed, Treves and Merrick developed a friendship. Although intelligble speech on Merrick’s part was almost impossible, the two men were able to converse and Merrick told the surgeon as much as he dared, about his early life, his family and his time as a travelling freak. Treves changed his views about Merrick very quickly after this; he had previously assumed that Merrick was mentally retarded as well as being hideously deformed.

Merrick photographed in 1889, showing the severe contortions of his body

Shunned by society, Merrick was not used to the attention that people now gave him. He asked Treves on several occasions, to tell him about the “real world”, a place he would most likely never see. He even asked the surgeon to show him a ‘real house’; to comply, Treves took Merrick to visit his wife and to see his own house and what it looked like. Merrick met more and more people and eventually became a small celebrity in his own way. Never able to have a relationship with a woman and to have a girlfriend or a fiance, at one point, Treves even thought of sending Merrick to an institute for the blind, where Merrick might meet a girl who would not see his deformities. But when he decided that such an institute would not be able to care for the Elephant Man, he discarded the idea.

Mr. Carr Gomm’s letter to the Times had been read by thousands of people by this time and soon, the rich, powerful and elite were fascinated by this strange and misshapen creature that others called the ‘Elephant Man’. They came to meet Merrick and even sent him presents. As Merrick grew more and more used to this, he would occasionally leave his rooms and wander around. He would take strolls in the hospital grounds at night when everyone else was asleep and occasionally he even wandered down into the other wards of the hospital, but the nurses would always send him back to his own rooms, worried that his appearance might shock the other patients.

In 1887, a pair of new buildings were opened at the London Hospital and the Prince and Princess of Wales (the future King Edward VII and Queen Alexandra) came to do the ribbon-cutting. The Princess expressed a desire to meet the Elephant Man and Treves agreed to an introduction at the end of the royal tour. The princess gave Merrick an autographed photo of herself which Merrick is said to have held as one of his most prized posessions ever since.

As was shown in the film, at least once in his life, Merrick was able to attend a night at the theatre, a lifelong wish of his that he was never previously able to do.

Merrick’s Last Years

Despite the care and constant medical treatment given to him by the London Hospital, Merrick’s deformities continued to worsen. It’s believed that Merrick began to suffer from depression and he wanted more and more to do things that other people could do. One of these was to sleep like other people. Due to the immense weight of his skull, Merrick could not sleep lying down like others do; the sheer weight of bone would crush his throat and neck and kill him. Instead, he always slept more or less in the fetal position, with his back against the wall, his knees drawn up and his head resting upon them.

On the 11th of April, a house surgeon at the London Hospital came to check on Merrick at three o’clock that afternoon. He discovered Merrick lying in bed with his head upon a pillow…dead. Everyone in the hospital knew that Merrick was unable to sleep in that position, but nobody could say what made Merrick do it. Was it suicide? Or merely a desire at last, to be like other people? Was it an accident that Merrick might have slipped in his sleep? Nobody was entirely sure, but on the death certificate, Merrick’s cause of death was put down as “Asphyxia” and “Accidental”. Although identity of the corpse was hardly necessary, Joseph Merrick’s uncle, the barber Charles Merrick (mentioned earlier in this article) came to London to formally identify the body.

Fittingly, it was Mr. Treves himself who performed the autopsy on Merrick’s body. His finding was that, just as Merrick had always told him…if he ever laid down to sleep, he would die quite literally of a broken neck, which proved to be the case. Treves took casts of Merrick’s deformities and even took skin-samples. Eventually, at the end of the post-mortem examinations, Treves had Merrick’s skeleton mounted on a frame. This skeleton, together with personal effects, forms part of a small Elephant Man museum at the London Hospital.

Joseph Carey Merrick, the Elephant Man…was twenty-seven years old.

Diagnosing the Elephant Man

Exactly what the ‘Elephant Man’ suffered from has been a matter of debate for over a hundred years. Victorian doctors, while able to treat some of Merrick’s symptoms, were unable to tell what caused his deformities and could not provide Merrick with a cure. It is believed that Merrick most likely suffered from Proteus Syndrome, a severe congential disorder that affects the skin and bone-structures of the body. The main symptoms include excessive skin-growth, the appearance of tumors on the body and abnormal bone-growth. It is an extremely rare disease with only a few hundred cases worldwide. The causes of Proteus Syndrome are as yet, still not fully understood and a cure is still being developed.

Sir Frederick Treves died in December of 1923 and was remembered as a celebrated and daring surgeon. Apart from treating the Elephant Man, with the aid of another medical bigshot, Sir Joseph Lister, the two men successfully carried out an operation on King Edward VII, curing him of appendicitis just days before his coronation in 1902. Appendicitis had previously been a life-threatening condition on which operations were unsuccessful. Both Lister and Treves were given baronetcies by the king for their services to himself and to the medical profession. Their success at treating the king meant that appendix surgery soon entered mainstream medical treatment. Sir Frederick’s great nephew, also named Frederick Treves, is an actor, who played a small part in the 1980 ‘Elephant Man’ film, in which his great-uncle the surgeon, was portrayed by Anthony Hopkins.


“It is a habit of mine to have an exact knowledge of London” – London According to Holmes

Sherlock Holmes is famous the world-over. From Melbourne to Maine, from Singapore to Shanghai, New York to New Orleans, Paris to St. Petersburg. Everyone knows who he is and what he does, what he looks like and where he lives. Billions of people have read his exploits and wondered and mused about the places that he’s been to and to which they themselves might never go. Many famous London landmarks are mentioned in the hefty Holmesian canon (hefty? 1,408 pages in the ‘Complete Sherlock Holmes‘ published by Wordsworth), but rarely are illustrations of these great institutions ever included in any print-run of any combination of the stories contained within the Canon. So where are these places, what are they and what do they look like?

London According to Holmes…

“You know that I cannot possibly leave London!…Scotland Yard feels lonely without me, and it causes an unhealthy excitement among the criminal classes”
– Sherlock Holmes; ‘The Adventure of Lady Frances Carfax’

Holmes was addicted to London. And at any rate, as he so wisely said, it would be unwise for him to leave the metropolis for any extended period of time, and certainly never to leave the confines of the British Isles. His world was the West End of the capital of the glorious British Empire. And there he remained until he retired and became a bee-keeper. So what are these famous locations which are peppered throughout the books? Where are they and what are they all about? A great number of fictional locations and addresses such as 221B Baker Street and the Diogenes Club, of which Sherlock’s older brother Mycroft is a member, are included in the Holmesian Canon, but there is also an equally large number of actual London landmarks buildings mentioned in the five dozen stories that make up the complete Holmesian collection. This article will introduce you to as many factual London locations as are mentioned in the canon as it is possible to do. We shall start with where Sir Arthur Conan Doyle himself started…

A Note on Addresses

Where possible, the addresses of the buildings mentioned in this article have been supplied, together with their postcodes. London postcodes are determined by compass-direction. ‘N’ is North, ‘S’ is South, ‘E’ and ‘W’ are obviously ‘East’ and ‘West’ respectively. There are also postcodes starting with ‘C’ which stands for ‘Central’. So ‘EC’ stands for “East Central’, and so on. Additional letters and numbers indicate further subdivisions of postal districts within the main district.

The Criterion Restaurant

…I was standing at the Criterion Bar when someone tapped me on the shoulder…
Dr. J.H. Watson; ‘A Study in Scarlet’

Entrance to the Criterion Restaurant

Address: 224, Piccadilly, Piccadilly W1J 9HS

The Criterion is one of the most famous restaurants in London. Founded in 1874, it has been one of the city’s greatest dining hotspots for over 130 years. Famous people such as Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Oscar Wilde, science-fiction writer H.G. Wells and politician Sir Winston Churchill have all dined here. The restaurant is vast, grand and luxurious and the perfect place for a down-on-his-luck army surgeon such as Dr. Watson to bump into his old friend, Stamford, who would take him to meet the legendary Mr. Sherlock Holmes. The restaurant even commemorates this groundshaking and historical meeting…

The Long Bar at the Criterion Restaurant

The Long Bar of the Criterion Restaurant as it appeared in Holmes’s day

The ‘Alpha Inn’ (the Museum Tavern)

“There are a few of us who frequent the Alpha Inn, near the Museum…”
– Mr. Henry Baker; ‘The Blue Carbuncle’

Address: 49 Great Russell Street, Bloomsbury WC1B 3BA

There is no ‘Alpha Inn’ contained within the confines of London (at least, not in Holmes’s day), however, following the directions in ‘The Red Headed League’, we do arrive at the Museum Tavern, a popular restaurant and drinking establishment across the road from the British Museum, from which the building derives its name. The Museum Tavern was one of Doyle’s favourite drinking-spots and he most likely used it as the model for the Alpha in his stories. Directly across Great Russell Street is…

The British Museum

“…we are to be found in the Museum itself during the day…”
– Mr. Henry Baker; ‘The Red-Headed League’

Address: Great Russell Street, WC1

Established in 1753, the British Museum is one of the largest museums of history and culture in the world, with over seven million display-pieces. The Museum also used to house the British Library, until 1997 when that institution moved to its own premises. The British Museum underwent many changes over the centuries and has been expanded several times. At one point due to expansion projects, the land around the Museum was the largest construction-site in Europe.

The Admiralty

“…As to the Admiralty, it is buzzing like an overturned beehive…”
– Mycroft Holmes; ‘The Bruce-Partington Plans’

Address: 26 Whitehall, London

The Old Admiralty Building (and the nearby Admiralty Arch) were the office-buildings that up until the 1960s, housed the Admiralty, the government department that oversaw the running and management of the British Royal Navy. The Admiralty was replaced in 1964 by a new body, the Admiralty Board, which still uses the assembled Admiralty buildings today.

The Admiralty Arch

The Anerley Arms Hotel

“…I spent the night at the Anerley Arms…”
– Mr. John Hector McFarlane; ‘The Norwood Builder’

Address: 2, Ridsdale Road, Anerley, SE20 8AG

A hotel and public house in Anerley, London. This is where John Hector McFarlane stayed after his long night working with Mr. Jonas Oldacre, who tried to frame him for murder.

St. Bartholomew’s Hospital

“…I recognised young Stamford, who had been a dresser under me at Barts…”
– Dr. J.H. Watson; ‘A Study in Scarlet’

St. Bartholomew’s Hospital, London. Main Entrance

Address: West Smithfield, EC1A, 7BE

Known simply as ‘Barts’ to most Londoners, St. Bartholomew’s Hospital is one of the oldest medical institutions in London. It is the oldest hospital still in operation in London and the buildings that make up the wings of the hospital were built in the mid-18th century, even though the hospital’s existence on its current site goes back to 1123 AD. The medical college at Barts was founded in 1843 and would’ve been familiar institution to a physician such as Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.

The Carlton Club

“…The Carlton Club will find me…”
– Sir James Damery; ‘The Illustrious Client’

Address: 69, St. James’s Street

The Carlton Club is a prominent London gentleman’s club for members of the British conservative political party. The club was founded in 1832 and has moved premises three times since its creation. The first clubhouse was too small and the members moved to another clubhouse in 1835, next door to another famous London club, the Reform Club. Here the club remained (although the clubhouse building itself was rebuilt and redesigned several times) until 1940. The Carlton Club suffered a direct hit during an air-raid of the Blitz on London during the Second World War. So complete was the destruction that the members did not bother trying to rebuild, but instead moved to their third and current location at 69 St. James’s, the building pictured above.

Charing Cross Hospital

“I would suggest, for example, that a presentation to a doctor is more likely to come from a hospital than from a hunt. When the initials C.C. are placed before that hospital, the words ‘Charing Cross’ very naturally suggest themselves”
– Sherlock Holmes; ‘The Hound of the Baskervilles’

Charing Cross Hospital, London; 1939

Address: Fulham Palace Road W6 8RF

Charing Cross Hospital was founded in 1823 to serve the medical needs of the West End of London. Originally called the West London Infirmary, it received its current name in 1827. It moved from its original location near Charing Cross in London, in 1834 and moved again in the years following World War Two. The current hospital structure is built on the site of the old Fullham Hospital on Fullham Palace Road. Despite the change in location, the hospital has retained its ‘Charing Cross’ name.

Charing Cross Station

“…My collection of ‘M’s is a fine one…and here is…Matthews, who knocked out my left canine in the waiting room at Charing Cross”
– Sherlock Holmes; The Empty House’

Address: Charing Cross Station, the Strand WC2N 5HS

Opened in 1864, Charing Cross Station is one of the main railway stations that service the city of London. In operation for over a hundred and forty years, Charing Cross has undergone numerous renovations and restorations in its long history, from general maintenance-work to full restorations, such as the one carried out on the station between November 2009 and August of 2010.

Claridges Hotel

“You can report to me tomorrow in London, Martha, at Claridges Hotel”
– Sherlock Holmes; ‘His Last Bow’

Address: Cnr. Brook Street and Davies Street, Mayfair, W1K 4HR

Claridges is one of the most famous grand hotels in London. Opened in 1812, it received the name Claridges in 1854. The original Claridges Hotel was deemed too small and was demolished in 1894. A more modern hotel with elevators, running water and private en-suite bathrooms for every room, was opened in 1898. Claridges has had a long association with British royalty and aristoracy starting in the Victorian era, but increasing markedly after World War One. The hotel was expanded in the 1920s and enjoys patronage in more recent times, by a different kind of royalty…the kind that hails from Hollywood. Big names such as Cary Grant, Alfred Hitchcock, Brad Pitt and Audrey Hepburn have all stayed at Claridges over the years.

The Imperial Theatre

“My Father is dead, Mr Holmes. He was James Smith, who conducted the orchestra at the old Imperial Theatre.”
– Violet Smith; ‘The Solitary Cyclist’

Address: Westminster, SW1H 9NH

The Imperial Theatre (previously called the Aquarium Theatre) was opened in April of 1876. It had a seating capacity of 1,300 people. It was demolished in 1907.

St. James’s Hall

“When I saw him that afternoon, so enwrapped in the music at St. James’s Hall I felt that an evil time might be coming upon those whom he had set himself to hunt down”
– Dr. J.H. Watson; ‘The Red-Headed League’

Address: Regent Street

St. James’s Hall was a prominent concert hall in London during the Victorian and Edwardian eras. It was opened on the 25th of March, 1858 and could hold over 2,000 concert-goers for each performance. For the next forty-seven years, St. James’s was one of the most popular musical performance venues in London. Even Charles Dickens went there to give public readings of his famous novels. The hall was closed in the 1900s and was eventually pulled down in 1905. The photo above is of the interior of St. James’s as it appeared during its last concert in its closing year.

King’s College Hospital

“After I graduated, I continued to devote myself to research, occupying a minor position in King’s College Hospital…’
– Dr. Percy Trevelyan; ‘The Resident Patient’

Address: Denmark Hill, SE5 9RS

The King’s College Hospital was opened in 1840 as a small teaching hospital for medical students studying at the King’s College, London, operating out of the St. Clements Dane workhouse on Portugal Street. The hospital was overcrowded and constantly busy. Joseph Lister, the pioneer of modern safe surgery through the introduction of sterilisation, performed some of his first successful operations at the King’s College Hospital in the 1870s. Due to changing circumstances, the hospital moved to new, purpose-built facilities in 1909, with innovations such as electrical power for telephones and electrical lighting. The hospital treated several civilian injuries sustained by bombing during the Blitz of 1940-1941.

The Langham Hotel

“He telegraphed to me from London…and directed me to come down at once, giving the Langham Hotel as his address”
– Mary Morstan; ‘A Sign of Four’

“You will find me at the Langham under the name of the Count Von Kramm”
– The King of Bohemia; ‘A Scandal in Bohemia’

Address: 1C Portland Place, Regent Street, W1B

The Langham Hotel is one of the grandest and oldest hotels in London. And for its time, it was also one of the most modern. Opened in 1865, it featured innovations that wouldn’t be seen in other hotels for decades to come, things like private bathrooms, elevators and even electrical lighting, commencing in the 1870s. The hotel has proved incredibly popular throughout the decades and celebrity guests included the Duchess of Windsor, Wallis Simpson, cricketer Don Bradman, Diana, Princess of Wales, Winston Churchill, French president Charles de Gaulle and actor Charlie Sheen (not even the best five-star hotel in the world is perfect). Due to its high-class customers, the Langham very nearly went bust during the Great Depression, but survived to become one of London’s most famous hotels.

Lowther Arcade

“…Drive to the Strand end of the Lowther Arcade…”
– Sherlock Holmes; ‘The Final Problem’

Address: 437 Strand, London

The Lowther Arcade was a popular shopping-arcade in London during the Victorian era (comparable with the famous Burlington Arcade), and was full of all kinds of speciality shops, from jewellery, musical instruments and children’s toys.

The Lyceum Theatre

“Be at the third pillar from the left outside the Lyceum Theatre tonight at seven o’clock…”
– Thaddeus Sholto; ‘The Sign of Four’

Address: Wellingon St, WC2E, 7RQ

The Lyceum is one of London’s most famous West End theatres. A playhouse called the Lyceum has existed on Wellington St. since 1772. At first, the theatre struggled and only by constantly changing could it hope to ever make a success of itself. Its first stroke of luck came in the year 1809. The Theatre Royal, Drury Lane, caught fire and the theatre’s company moved to the Lyceum while their own theatre was being rebuilt. It was at this time that the Lord Chamberlain (the man in charge of theatres) granted the Lyceum official status as a performing theatre.

In 1830, the Lyceum burnt down and was rebuilt and reopened in 1834. Now, the theatre’s fortunes began to change. Big names started working at the Lyceum, such as W.S. Gilbert of Gilbert & Sullivan fame and most famously of all, the actor and eventual manager of the Lyceum, Sir Henry Irving, one of the greatest stage actors of the late Victorian period.

Fire ripped through the Lyceum once again at the turn of the century and it was decided that the building could not be saved. It was pulled down and gradually rebuilt, starting in 1904 and reopening in 1907. The Victorian-era facade remains, but the theatre’s interior had been completely redesigned. The Lyceum was almost demolished outright in 1939 due to plans to widen Wellington Street, but these plans fell through and the theatre survives to this day.

Northumberland Hotel (‘Sherlock Holmes’ public house)

“…The address: ‘Sir Henry Baskerville, Northumberland Hotel’, was printed in rough characters…”
– Dr. J.H. Watson; ‘The Hound of the Baskervilles’

Address: 10-11, Northumberland Street, Westminster, WC2N 5DB

The Northumberland Hotel as an establishment no longer exists. The building it occupied still stands, however, and it has been transformed into the Sherlock Holmes public house, dedicated to all things Holmesian. It even has a recreation of Holmes and Watson’s sitting-room in it and a menu comprised entirely of Holmesian-style dishes and dish-names! How about trying the Thor Bridge angus burger with tomatoes, gherkins and chips for ten pounds, twenty-five pence?

Paddington Station

“I happened to live at no very great distance from Paddington”
– Dr. J.H. Watson; ‘The Engineer’s Thumb’

Paddington Station in Holmes’s day

Address: Paddington Station, W2 1RH

Paddington Station is one of the most famous buildings in London. A station has existed on the site since 1838, but a permanent railway station called Paddington didn’t finally materialise until 1854. In popular culture, Paddington is closely tied to the children’s character ‘Paddington Bear’ and to the book ‘4:50 from Paddington’ by Agatha Christie.

Scotland Yard (Old Scotland Yard)

“We’re not jealous of you at Scotland Yard”
– Inspector Lestrade; ‘The Six Napoleons’

Address: 4, Whitehall Place.

Scotland Yard is the name of the headquarters of the London Metropolitan Police Service (which was established in 1829). The Metropolitan Police have moved their headquarters since Holmes’s day, but in Victorian times, they were located at a suite of buildings on Whitehall Place and were located there between 1887 until 1967, when they moved to their new (and current) headquarters, which had more space for the growing police-force.

Simpsons in the Strand

“When we have finished at the police station I think that something nutritious at Simpson’s would not be out of place.”
– Sherlock Holmes; ‘The Dying Detective’

“I met him by appointment that evening at Simpson’s”
– Dr. J.H. Watson; ‘The Illustrious Client’

Address: 100 Strand, WC2R 0EW

Simpsons in the Strand is probably the most famous restaurant in London. Simpsons opened in 1828 and was originally a chess-club and coffeehouse, but it quickly grew into a London dining institution, at which only the best and most notable people of their day ever sat down to have dinner. Men like George Bernard Shaw, prime ministers Benjamin Disraeli and William Gladstone, Charles Dickens, artist Vincent Van Gough and of course, famous pair of fictional sleuths, messers Sherlock Holmes and his best friend, John Hamish Watson, M.D.

The main dining-room, Simpsons in the Strand, London

The restaurant gets its name from the forward-thinking caterer, Mr. John Simpson, who had grand visions for this place and who wanted to make it more than just a simple coffeehouse. Simpsons in the Strand can give thanks to chef Thomas Davey, who insisted that only the best British food should ever be served there, although knowing the international stereotype of British food, one has to wonder what kind of ‘best’ that is. But regardless, Simpsons’ reputation has endured for nearly two hundred years. So insistent was Davey on the ‘Britishness’ of Simpsons that he refuesd even to allow the cards on the dining-tables to be called ‘menus’. Instead, they were to be known, and only known, as ‘Bills of Fare’.

10 Downing Street

“We were fortunate in finding that Lord Holdhurst was still in his chambers at Downing Street”
– Dr. J.H. Watson; ‘The Naval Treaty’

Address: Downing Street, London.

Number 10, Downing Street, has been the official Lonon residence to the British Prime Minister (who also holds the office of First Lord of the Treasury) since the mid 1700s. It has been restored and rebuilt several times over the last two-hundred odd years due to neglect, age and at least two instances of bomb-attacks. One attack during the Blitz saw the kitchen of Downing Street destroyed by a direct hit from a German bomb. Only quick thinking on the part of Winston Churchill, who had ordered all staff out of the kitchen minutes before, prevented a potentially devastating loss of life.

One of the more curious offices held at 10 Downing Street is that of Chief Mouser to the Cabinet Office. That’s right…A cat! Almost continuously since 1924, a cat has been ’employed’ at 10 Downing Street, holding the office of Chief Mouser, whose job it is to keep mice away from the Prime Minister’s residence. The current chief mouser is Larry, pictured below:

Waterloo Station

“[Advise] me as to what I should do with Sir Henry Baskerville, who arrives at Waterloo Station” – Dr. Mortimer looked at his watch – “in exactly one hour and a quarter”
– Mr. James Mortimer, M.R.C.S; ‘The Hound of the Baskervilles’

Address: Waterloo Station, City of London SE1 8SW

Waterloo Station was opened in London in 1848, originally called Waterloo Bridge Station. It was renamed to its current title in 1886. The main reason for naming the station ‘Waterloo Bridge’ was because there were already a number of other stations nearby also called ‘Waterloo’, which created untold and immeasurable confusion for travellers in the earlier years of the station’s operation. The station was hit heavily by bombs during the Second World War, but the limited amount of damage meant that the station was restored to its original condition with relative ease in postwar years.

Woolwich Arsenal (Royal Arsenal, Woolwich)

“The man’s name was Arthur Cadogan West, twenty-seven years of age, unmarried and a clerk at Woolwich Arsenal”
– Dr. J.H. Watson; ‘The Bruce-Partington Plans’

Address: Woolwich SE18 6SP

The Royal Arsenal, Woolwich (pronounced ‘Woolich’)  has existed since Stuart times in the 1670s. It wasn’t until 1805, however, that it was named the Royal Arsenal. The Arsenal played important roles during the Crimean, First and Second World Wars. Parts of the arsenal were shut down over the years after the Second World War and the site ceased to have an active military role in 1994, after which the Arsenal was turned into a military museum.


I’d like to extend my personal thanks to my fellow members of the Sherlock Holmes fan-forum who provided me with the suggestions and information which aided in the completion of this posting.


Pen Shows: How To Play with Fire and Not Get Burnt

There’s watch-fairs, gun-shows, knife-shows, antiques markets and even book-fairs. And yes. There’s even pen-shows. And that’s what this article is about.

To the avid pen-collector, visiting a pen-show is like leaving a five-year-old kid inside Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory. He won’t care that he’s lost and high and freaking out…he’s bloody loving it, and he won’t want to leave when you come along trying to drag him away, kicking, screaming and giving you a Joe Pesci Special that’d make your ears drop off and your hair turn greener than your neighbour’s lawn. Yes. Pen shows are THAT cool.

There are many benefits to buying your pens from a pen-show instead of eBay or another online seller or from a pen-shop. You can take your time, you can chat and converse, you can examine the goods like a Russian mobster checking out African conflict diamonds and you can haggle, barter and bargain until you’re blue in the face, with the guy behind the table, who will just sit there and say “No”. You can test pens in person and see how they write, regardless of if you do, or do not eventually buy them. You can see an array of pens and writing instruments and equipment that you will never see anywhere else, all in one place and in the flesh. And you can buy amazing pens that you’ve always wanted for your collection, right there, right now, on the table. You can just keep going and going until you’ve had enough. Then you take a break and go some more.

Your First Pen Show

You’ve heard about these things called pen shows. You’re a new collector and you’ve seen other people’s collections online and they’re making you greener with envy than Eggs A’la Seuss. You want those pens. YOU WANT THEM. NOW. You want that deep red, 1920s Duofold, or the sleek, 1942 Skyline. The tasteful 1930s Sheaffer Balance or that 1910s Waterman 52. You’ve only ever seen photos of a solid gold 1905 Conklin Crescent-Filler, or that latest Montblanc Meisterstuck with the diamond star on the end. You. Want. It. NAO!!

But hold on. You need to know how to approach things. That’s what this article is for.

Finding Out about Pen Shows

So, you want to collect fountain pens. Or maybe you already are collecting fountain pens. And you want to know how to collect more. So you hear about these things called ‘pen shows’ where collectors, restorers and retailers sell, trade and chat about pens. Mad and insane as it is, you discover that this is true. But how do you find out where these mystical gatherings take place?

Your best bet is to visit the Fountain Pen Network, the internet’s biggest forum for fountain pen collectors, users, traders, repairers and sellers. Here, you can find out about all the major pen-shows that happen around the world. Most of them take place in the United States; New York, Los Angeles and Washington. But there’s also the London Writing Equipment Show and the Melbourne Pen Show in Australia. Due to the large number of shows, they often jostle for space on the calender and it’s important to check the dates for upcoming shows carefully. Some shows only go for one day each year. Some go for two or three. You need to figure out which shows you can visit and how you’re going to get there and how to transport any potential purchases back home safely. If you discover that there’s a pen show in the city where you live, you’re in luck! Most people travel hundreds of miles to visit these things.

Kitting Up for a Pen Show

You should always bring along the following essentials to any pen show:

– A bottle of ink.
– A notepad.
– Tissue-paper.
– A powerful magnifying glass or loupe.
– Pens of your own.
– Wallet with plenty of cash (not all places have EFTPOS).
– A poweful flashlight.
– A good set of nerves!

Attending the Show

When you reach the venue of the show, remain calm and collected. Head in. Greet any people you know and then wander around. Don’t buy anything…just wander. Take in the show and see where things are, who sells what and how things work. Not every person at a pen show is there to sell stuff. Some people show up merely to display their collections and answer questions. Looking at these collections can give you ideas about what you might want to add to your own growing stash of stuff. Ask questions and learn more and make friends and share knowledge. This is what you’re here for. If you wanted to buy a pen, you should’ve gone to the nearest pen-shop.

Once you’ve acclimatised to the environment and done the obligatory meet-and-greet and seen where things are, you can now take your time and start hunting for the pens you want. Shopping at a pen-show has many advantages over shopping online or at a pen shop. At a show, you can usually touch and handle the stuff you want to buy. You can get expert information and advice (as opposed to the clueless marketing-spiel you get hocked at you from every shop-counter in the universe) and you can test the product before you potentially buy it.

Buying a pen at a pen show is no different from buying a pen anywhere else. With loupe or magnifying-glass in hand, examine the pen minutely. Go over every single square milimeter and check for any and all imperfections and flaws. Decide how perfect a pen you want, ask how much the pen’s being sold for and then ask yourself if you think it’s worth that much and perhaps give a counter-offer. Remember to be civil, polite and friendly. Collectors are mutually trusting of other collectors…don’t do anything to sabotage that trust or you may not be welcome at the same seller’s table next year. Be sure to handle all pens with care, respect and delicacy. Some items for sale can be upwards of one hundred years old or more and they demand a light touch on the part of you, the potential purchaser. Always ask what is for sale, whether you can handle something and whether you can perform a dip-test to see how the pen writes. Not all people are there to sell things and not all people who sell things appreciate everyone fiddling with their merchandise.

Other things to Look out For

Pens are not the only things sold at pen shows. Keep an eye out for stuff like ink, blotting-paper, display-cases, books, diaries, pen-pouches, inkstands, dip-pens, nibs, inkwells, desk-blotters and rocker-blotters. Some shows may even branch out into other areas, selling vintage and antique wristwatches and pocketwatches, pieces of antique ivory and even some knives such as straight-razors, pocketknives and paperknives. It pays to keep your eyes open and wandering, to take in everything that a particular show has to offer.

Tableholding at a Show

If you’re a part of a local pen-collector’s club or a local pen-shop, you may get the chance (either someone offered it to you, or you asked for it specially) to become a tableholder at a pen-show. Remember to show up early, set up your displays and post clear signs about what is and what is not for sale. People will wander all over the place and peek at, and touch things that they want to see. Don’t wander too far from your table at any one time and if you must, then get a trusted party (fellow club-member, for example) to keep an eye on things while you toddle off to induge your pen fantasies. Above all – You should strive to know everything…and I mean everything…about the products on your table, whether they’re for sale or not. Nothing is more boring than asking questions of someone who looks like he should know the answers…and getting nothing in reply. You never know. It might spark a conversation that might lead onto you getting that one pen you’ve always wanted…

Whatever the case, enjoy visiting your next pen show, be it your first, second, third or 72nd! Just remember to have fun.


Arbeit Macht Frei: The Real Schindler’s List

Oskar Schindler – An industrialist, a war-profiteer, a German and a member of the Nazi Party. A saviour of over a thousand lives.

The story of Oskar Schindler is one of paradox; a Nazi saving Jews. Whoever heard of such a ridiculous thing? And yet, it is true. And it is one of the most famous stories to come out of the hell of the Second World War. It is a story of unimaginable hardship, terror, uncertainty, panic, hope and desperation. It’s a story that’s centered around row after row of letters typewritten onto a sheaf of notepaper. It’s about luck, chance and amazing fortune. It is almost fantastical, in the truest sense of the word.

Who was Oskar Schindler?

Oskar Schindler was a German industrialist. He was born on the 28th of April, 1908. He married his wife, Emilie, in March of 1928 and eleven years later, joined the German National Socialist Worker’s Partry…the Nazis.

Oskar Schindler; 1946. Photographed with some of the Schindlerjuden. He’s standing on the right, holding his hat in his left hand

Schindler had been a businessman before the outbreak of the Second World War, but never a successful one. During the Depression he started many businesses but for one reason or another, they all went bankrupt. This all changed when Germany invaded Poland in September of 1939, starting the Second World War.

After the Nazi occupation of Poland, Schindler moved East and got involved in the black market. Being a member of the Nazi Party meant that he could mix and mingle with the Gestapo, the S.S. and prominent Nazis in Poland. His connections meant that he was able to purchase an “Aryanised business”…that is to say, a Jewish business that had been turned over to non-Jewish (usually German) businessmen. Schindler eventually found himself as the director of a factory in the Polish city of Krakow which manufactured enamelware cooking equipment, the Deutsche Emaillewarenfabrik. With this factory, Schindler would slowly start to rise, after years of failure.

Schindler and the Jews

Schindler was nothing if not an opportunist. If something good came his way, he jumped at it. When he saw his chance to join a powerful political party, he jumped at it. When he saw his chance to make his fortune in Poland, he jumped at it. When he saw his chance to take over ownership of a Jewish factory, he jumped at it. And when he saw his chance to get cheap labour from the Jews…you bet he jumped on that too. Someone buy this guy a trampoline…

Schindler was completely indifferent to the suffering of the Jews. He didn’t care. Why should he? They were an inferior race and of no interest to him. But…they were cheaper to employ than non-Jews. And always out to save a few Zloty somewhere to make more somewhere else, Schindler started employing them, purely as a cost-cutting measure. Zloty, by the way, is the currency of Poland, although it would’ve been German currency (the Deutschmark) at the time. Jewish Poles were cheap and they were plentiful. Much cheaper than employing non-Jewish Poles, which is where it all started.

The Jews in Schindler’s factory were grateful for their jobs. By the early 1940s, the Nazis were establishing ghettos in Poland where all Jews were forced to live. There was a ghetto in Warsaw, a ghetto in Lodz and you bet…there was a ghetto in Krakow as well. But luckily for Schindler’s workers, his factory was located outside the boundaries fo the ghetto, which meant that they could leave the confines of the ghetto each day and go to work and at the same time, do some black-market trading and buy whateve they needed, sometimes using the goods that they manufactured in the factory for bartering.

Employing the Jews

Schindler was not interested in saving the Jews. He saw them as his workforce. As a way to make money. And if the Jews were taken away, he would lose money. He would have to employ non-Jewish Poles, which would cost him more and lose him more money. If he lost a worker, he would have to train another worker to do the same job, which wasted time, and which lost him more money…the cycle goes on.

But this all changed in 1942.

Starting at the end of May, 1942, Jews in the Krakow Ghetto were being deported to the surrounding death-camps and labour-camps. Belzec and Plazsow respectively. When he witnessed Jews being shot in the streets of Krakow, Schindler suddenly realised how delicate everything was. Over night, he could lose his entire workforce! And he began to feel terrible about what was happening to the Jews, deciding that he had to do something to save them.

Schindler did this the only way he knew how. By getting them to work. Just like you see in Spielberg’s famous movie, passes, work-permits and identity papers were forged on a vast scale. Schindler was doing everything he could, using his position as a member of the Nazi Party, to save as many Jews as he could. He turned writers, musicians, teachers, professors, lawyers, rabbis and other ordinary Polish Jews into…metal-workers, machine-operators, mechanics, welders, riveters, smithies, carpenters…he gave them any kind of tradesman’s job that he could think of, that would mean that they were “essential workers”. To be an “essential worker” meant that your occupation was essential to the German war-effort. To Schindler’s Jews, this was literally a matter of life and death. Thanks to Schindler’s intervention, hundreds of Jews were saved from going to the Belzec Extermination Camp.

Instead, they ended up in Plazsow, the labour camp. Plazsow was no Florida funpark, but it was a damn sight better than Belzec. Schindler even managed to get his Jews segregated from the other labourers in the camp so that they could live amongst themselves and feel safe. Having his own sub-camp for his Jews was essential to Schindler. He impressed on the camp commandant, Amon Goeth, that production would suffer severely if he had to pick his workers out of the thousands of others in the main camp at Plazsow every morning for work! It would be much more convenient for everyone if they had their own camp. Goeth agreed to this. What he didn’t know was that, by having his own camp, Schindler could smuggle food, medicine, clothing and other essential supplies to his Jews to keep them safe and healthy.
Schindler’s enamelware factory in Krakow as it appears today

All the while, Schindler was bribing people left, right and center in order to keep his Jews safe; everyone from Amon Goeth the camp commandant, right down to the guards who patrolled the camp. They were now over a thousand Jews working for Schindler, ranging in ages from children aged ten or younger, all the way up to retired grandparents in their sixties or seventies. Most of them were Polish, although Jews from other countries also found themselves working for Schindler. In some cases, entire families were saved and mothers and fathers worked together in the factory alongside their children. This was largely due to the influence of Stern who deliberately gave jobs to his fellow Jews to save them from the death camps.

Itzhak Stern

Portrayed in the 1993 film by the marvellous Ben Kingsley, Itzhak Stern was Schindler’s Jewish accountant. Stern was responsible for the daily running of many of Schindler’s operations and it was he who helped create all the forged employment papers that would save so many Jews from deportations to death camps, and instead, find them working in the relative safety of Schindler’s enamelware factory. He kept Schindler’s books in order and made sure that everything ran smoothly. He helped Schindler run his black-market operations and the bribes that he would give to other Germans to ensure that his factory and his Jews were kept safe. Together, Schindler and Stern worked the factory, striving to protect the Jews. Hundreds flocked to the enamelware factory, even if they had never worked in a factory in their lives.

Stern and Schindler worked under layer after layer of lies, deceit and deception, all a necessary cover to protect their growing role in saving the Jews of Krakow. Apart from giving ‘non-essential’ Jews the false paperwork to allow them to move out of the ghetto and work in the factory, Stern and Schindler even falsified the factory’s employment books! Employment-lists which had the names of every single worker written on them, were all altered or changed in one way or another. The elderly working within the factory had their dates of birth changed. Instead of being seventy, they were now fifty. Instead of being a librarian, they were now a welder. Children as young as ten suddenly became young men and women in their mid-twenties who instead of being schoolboys and schoolgirls, were suddenly metal-polishers, buffers and grinders. If the Gestapo ever took it upon themselves to examine the books…they would see a perfect German Aryan factory run by a German who employed Jews who were all professionals in their respective fields, even if they’d never picked up a welding-torch, riveting-gun or operated a metal punch-press in their lives.

Schindler’s List

The most famous part of Schindler’s efforts to save the Jews is his LIST. The famous list of over 1,000 ‘Schindlerjuden’ (literally, ‘Schindler’s Jews’), who were supposedly “essential workers” in his factory. Where did the list come from and what is its significance in this story?

The year is 1944. Schindler and Stern are struggling to keep up appearances. Schindler continues to bribe prominent Gestapo and S.S. officers and continues to try and protect his workers from everything that he can, from starvation, disease and brutal mistreatment at the hands of the camp guards and officers in Plazsow, who would visit the factory frequently to torment the workers. Schindler objected vehemently to such treatment. Short of actually showing sympathy to the Jews, he used the cover that the guards constant visits made his workers fearful. This, in turn, effected worker-morale which in turn, effected the factory’s output, which in turn, effected the factory’s contributions to the war-effort and to the overall good of der Vaterland – ‘The Fatherland’ – Germany.

It was around this time that the winds of change started blowing. Labour-camps such as Treblinka, Majdanek and Plazsow were being shut down. Along with the ghettos, they too were being ‘liquidated’, a wonderfully euphamistic term that meant that all the Jews contained within these institutions would be sent directly to the death camps, most likely Auschwitz-Berkinau. Schindler began to realise that time was running out.

Writing the List

It was blatantly clear to Schindler, Stern and every single one of the factory-workers, what would happen. The camp would be liquidated and all the Jews, without exception, would be sent to Auschwitz. Desperate to try anything, Schindler gained control of a German munitions factory. He would move his Jews there. He explained to Goeth that since ‘his Jews’ were already experienced and talented metalworkers, machinists and press-operators, it would make much more sense that he move them to the new factory and camp, instead of sending them off to Auschwitz. If that happened, then Schindler would have to find a whole new labour-force and train them from scratch, about how to operate machines and work metal and polish shell-casings so that they would fit into the cannon-breeches properly and a whole heap of other piddly things. And, it would be disastrous for the Fatherland if production of munitions would fall behind schedule, wouldn’t it?

To ensure that he could keep his Jews, Schindler needed a record of them. He needed documented proof of every single worker under his factory roof. He needed to know their names, ages (real or imagined), professions (again, real or imagined), he had to know their religions and their nationalities. He needed…

A list.

It was this list, every single last letter typed up by Itzhak Stern himself, that saved 1,200 Jewish lives from almost certain death in Auschwitz. Stern’s entry of his own name lists him as:

STERN – Isak – 25.1.01 (date of birth) – Bilanzbuchalter (Accountant).

The significance of the list is that every name on it was listed as an ‘essential worker’ for the German war-effort and therefore would be spared from extermination. Being on the list was literally life or death for hundreds of Schindler’s Jews. As the Schindlerjuden lined up to board the train going to the new camp and factory, they prayed that Stern hadn’t accidently forgotten to include them on the list!

The Schindlerjuden were packed into cattle-cars and transported by train to their new munitions factory in Czechoslovakia. The trains wre all divided up. One held men with their wives and children. Another train held women exclusively. It must’ve been absolute horror to Schindler and his Jews when the womens’ train took a wrong turn and ended up in the very place that everyone dreaded! – Auschwitz! It was only very hasty action and a lot of bribing on Schindler’s part, as well as his personal intervention at Auschwitz, that saved them all from death.

Away from the eyes of the S.S. and the Gestapo, Schindler and his Jews finally found a haven. They lived and worked in the new munitions factory. All of them. Even Schindler and his wife, Emilie. They could have lived in the villa provided for them in the hill overlooking the factory, but Schindler was so terrified of the S.S. bursting into the factory in the middle of the night to cart off his workforce that he never lived there, spending every night in his office.

Life settled into a sort of rhythm now. They would work all day and relax at night. Jewish holidays were observed and time off was given to celebrate them. The Sabbath was observed and work would cease on Sundays. Workers who died in the factory (either through accident, illness or old age…never through the intervention of the factory’s guards) were given traditional Jewish funerals, even though this was illegal under Nazi rule.

But in and amongst all this relative tranquilty and peace, Schindler was still playing games with the Gestapo the S.S. and other Nazis. As Liam Neeson famously said in the film ‘Schindler’s List’ – “If this factory ever makes a shell that can actually be fired, I’ll be a very unhappy man“.

And he was true to his word.

Schindler deliberately sabotaged the German war-effort. Every morning he would wander around the factory, fiddling with the machines. He would remove parts to make them break down. He would recalibrate them and readjust them so that the casings that they made for the shells were just that little bit too big, or too small, so that they wouldn’t fit into the guns they were meant to be fired out of. Screws were missing. Blasting-caps would suddenly not work. He did everything he could to make sure that not a single round of ammunition manufactured by his factory would ever pass quality-control.

The End of the War

Schindler and his Jews had no illusions about what would happen to Schindler and his wife when the War ended. As a Nazi and as a profiteer of slave-labour, as a persecutor of the Jews, he would be hunted by everyone – the Russians, the British, the French, the Americans…he had to escape.

Knowing that Schindler’s chances of survival were slim, the Schindlerjuden banded together. They drafted a letter that they hoped, would explain to any Allied soldiers or to other Jews, who Schindler was and the nature of his work, sparing him from death or imprisonment. This letter, translated into English, may be read here. Schindler even gave a speech to his workers before leaving. He gave the women cloth to make clothes or to sell on the black market. He gave them all a bottle of wine each, again to sell on the black market for badly needed money. He implored on his Jews to resist the temptation to take out revenge-attacks on Nazis and Germans after the end of the War and then, he and his wife fled into the night.

Schindler after the War

For all the good he did during the War, Schindler’s luck never changed. In the 1930s he was a failing businessman. In the 1950s and 60s, he continued to be  failure of a businessman. Every venture he tried led to nothing. He even set up a cement-making factory with the help of his former Jewish workers, but even that petered out to nothing. He died on the 9th of October, 1974 at the age of sixty-six. Schindler’s accountant, and eventually, lifelong friend, Itzhak Stern, died in 1969 at the age of 68.

Schindler’s Grave. It is a Jewish tradition to place a rock on or around a gravestone when paying respects to the deceased

The List Today

Amazingly, Schindler’s List survives to this day. Two copies are known to exist. One was typed up around 1942 and listed all the workers employed in Schindler’s enamelware factory. This one was discovered in 1999. A second list was discovered ten years later. This one is dated April, 1945 and listed all the Jewish workers employed in Schindler’s defective munitions factory. The original texts of Schindler’s List, along with thousands of other Schindler-related documents including photographs, speeches and Schindler’s personal papers, are now preserved in the Yad Vashem Holocaust Museum in Israel.

Do you want to read the list? The original German text is here, and a scan of the original 1945 list may be read here. The 1945 list ends at 801 entries, but the true number of people saved is nearly 1,200.


What the Victorians Did for Us: Necessity is the Mother of Invention

The Victorian era is famous for a lot of things and even though it was over a hundred years ago, we tend to forget that the Victorians gave us all our most important inventions that we have today…stuff like…the automobile…the telephone…wireless telecommunications…the elevator…the skyscraper…electric lighting…and the x-ray machine, an essential piece of kit in any modern hospital.

But the Victorians are famous for a lot more than just big fancy, world-changing, event-hogging inventions. The Victorian era was the dawn of the age of consumerism. With the Industrial Revolution, it had suddenly become much easier, than in previous times, to manufacture and sell consumer-goods. Prices were dropping and more people could buy more things with more money at their disposal. Not stuff that people needed like axes and chairs and shirts and cooking-pots, but also things that people wanted, to improve their lives and better their existences. Antiques shops, flea-markets, eBay and junk-shops are filled with the best examples of the small, everyday inventions and paraphernalia that the Victorian mind came up with to improve their lives and make themselves more comfortable, more presentable, more relaxed and more readily able to go out into their brave new world. While some of these inventions have stood the test of time, some have fallen by the wayside and end up as curiosities on television programs such as the “Antiques Roadshow”. The Victorians were fantastic inventors of all kinds of whimsical and interesting consumer-products, not all of which are as familiar to us today as they once were.

Here’s a list of some of the more interesting household devices and accessories that the Victorians came up with to better their lives and keep up appearances…


A block of solid butter, of the kind you buy at the supermarket that’s wrapped in paper and has a nice, rectangular shape to it, is called a pat, as in ‘a pat of butter’. Did you know that? They get that name because back in the Victorian era, if you lived in a rural location such as a village with nearby farms, or if you lived on a farm yourself and you made your own butter, you would form these neat little rectangular blocks of butter with a pair of specially-made wooden paddles, called ‘butter-pats’.


Not many people would recognise a collar-box for what it is, if you showed them one today. But a hundred years ago, the collar-box was an essential bit of dressing-kit for any respectable and well-groomed man about town. In the Victorian-era, the shirt was seen as an undergarment that was rarely removed and was seen much like a pair of underwear – just as a necessity, and just like underwear, one which you never exposed in public. But if you had to, then fashion dictated that you only showed the best bits – the collar and cuffs. Because collars and cuffs were easily soiled with sweat-stains, collars were replacable and you could take them off to be cleaned when required. Spare collars for your shirt were kept in the collar-box in your bedroom or dressing-room. It wasn’t until well into the 20th century that the idea of shirts having permanent collars started making serious headway.

Tie Press

If there’s any women reading this who have husbands who have large collections of ties…or if there are any men reading this who have large collections of ties, you might want one of these things. They’re called tie-presses and they’re comprised of two flat pieces of wood held together with a series of wing-nuts (two pairs in the photograph above, although there are examples with only one pair). Tie-presses were used to keep a man’s ties nice and flat and smooth. They were clamped between the two pieces of wood to press out the wrinkles and creases that formed in neckties and bowties due to the crinkling of the fabric that came about from the tying of knots.

Sleeve Garters

Sleeve-garters are a uniquely Victorian invention. Today associated with ragtime pianists and barbershop quartets, sleeve-garters were used to adjust a man’s shirtsleeves in the days before fitted, off-the-rack shirts were available to the public at large. The man would put on his shirt, do up the cuffs and then slide on his sleeve-garters. Once he’d got the cuffs to the right length on his forearms and wrists, he’d let the elastic sleeve-garters snap into place to stop the sleeves from sliding down and letting the cuffs move out of their best positioning. Shirts today are better measured than the “one-size-fits-all” shirts of the Victorian-era though, so they’re a rather rare sight today…Unless you happen to like the music of Scott Joplin.

Hat brushes

My personal hat-brush

With hats (particularly the trilby and the fedora) coming back into fashion lately, I could hardly write this article without mentioning the traditional curved hat-brush. Back in the Victorian era, when men and women both wore hats on a regular, almost daily basis, owning a hat-brush was essential. They were used to brush the dust, soot, ash and general grit off of the rabbit or beaver-fur felt that made up traditional hats. Their distinctive curved shape helped the user to brush around the circular brim of his or her hat without creasing or bending the fabric and damaging the hat’s shape.

Men’s hairbrush-sets

My set of men’s hairbrushes, with ebony handles. Made by Kent Brushes of England (Est. 1777!)

Believe it or not, guys, there was a time when men used hairbrushes just as frequently as women. Although today most men use combs, blow-dryers or even just their fingers to smooth, dry, spike, tousle or otherwise arrange their scalpy shagpile, from the last quarter of the 1800s right up until the 1950s, most men used a matched set of hairbrushes such as the ones pictured above, to comb their hair. If you’ve ever seen those slicked-back men’s hairstyles such as those on 1930s film-stars or on the men in old family photographs and wondered how they did it – they used brushes like these (one in each hand) together with a dabbling of hair-oil or hair-cream, to vigorously brush back their hair and part it to give it that classic slicked-back hairstyle.


If you’ve ever been on a commercial airliner, chances are, you’ve seen these things on the backs of every single seat in the passenger cabin, these white, almost papery sheets that cover the tops of the seatbacks. What are they and what is their purpose?

Empty macassar oil bottles

These things have been around since Victorian times and they’re called…antimacassars. They’re named after macassar oil, a hair-product that was popular back in the day (and which would’ve been applied to your hair with the brushes seen further up). Although macassar oil gives your hair a nice, slick, suave sheen and shine to it, the unfortunate downside is that…it is oil! And oil goes everywhere. The antimacassar was invented deliberately to protect chairbacks from the runoff from this popular (it lasted for over fifty years!) but messy hair-product. Although macassar oil might not be as popular today as once it was, the antimacassar has lived on for over a hundred years.

Clothes Valet

Not nearly as common today as they were back in the Victorian-era, clothes valets were once seen in almost every well-dressed man’s bedroom, and they remained there until the 1960s when people started dressing more casually and suits, sports-jackets, trousers, leather shoes, ties and cufflinks gave way to T-shirts, jeans and sneakers.

The clothes valet was used to neatly hang and store clothes that you wore on a regular basis. The bars at the bottom of the valet were used to rest your shoes on. The hanger at the back was used for your waistcoats and jackets and the top bar was used to hang trousers. The storage compartment at the top was used to keep keys, wallets, cufflinks, watches and other essential daily accessories.


See that small, metal rectangular thing sticking out of the porch between the pillars? Back in the Victorian-era, those things were as common as dirt and they were found on almost every doorstep in the world. Common as dirt because that’s what they were designed to remove. They are boot-scrapers, also called door-scrapers or shoe-scrapers. In the 1800s, streets were often filthy, filled with straw, rain, dirt, dust, ashes, horse-dung and household rubbish. Before entering a respectable establishment, business or private home, a man or woman was obliged to scrape the soles of his or her shoes across the blunted top edge of the boot-scraper to remove crud from the soles of their patent-leathers, to avoid tracking dirt inside. Some places still have these things bolted, cemented or dug into the doorsteps, porches and front yards all over the world. If you’ve ever wondered what they’re there for and if the homeowner thought that he’d put it there merely to trip you up as a practical joke…use it for it’s intended purpose and scrape the crap off your shoes before you go inside…the guy who put it there will thank you.

Shaving Scuttles

Shaving-scuttles (the thing behind the razor), are a uniquely Victorian invention. The scuttle was invented in the mid-1800s as an answer to men needing hot water for shaving but without having the modern benefit of running hot water in their bathrooms. To get a good shave, the scuttle was filled with boiling water hot from the stove in the kitchen before the shaving-brush was shoved into the spout of the scuttle to soak it. The brush was then removed and used to lather up the soap in the soap-dish on top of the scuttle. There are drainage-holes in the bottom of the soap-dish to allow any excess water to run back down into the lower chamber. These things are great for giving you nice, hot scented lather for shaving.

Barber-Surgeon’s Bowl

This rather neat little brass bowl looks all innocent and retro and quaint and unassuming, doesn’t it? It’s just as well that all that old-world charm exists, to cover up its far more grisly purpose.

That is a barber-surgeon’s bowl. Back in the old days, the barber-surgeon was the man responsible for the dual occupations of both barbering and surgery. That’s right. He would shave you and then amputate your leg. And he would use the same bowl to catch the shaving-lather…as he would…to catch the blood which came off from the stump after the amputation, or which would be drained from your body if he thought it necessary to carry out the age-old (but completely useless) task of bloodletting, where he would slice open a vein with a lancet and bleed you, collecting a measured amount of blood in the same bowl that he might just as well use for removing freshly-shaved lather from a gentleman’s chin and cheeks.

By the Victorian-era, you’ll be glad to know, the barber-surgeon was a thing of history…but they both still kept their bowls…and they both still used them…the barber for shaving and the surgeon for the collection of blood. The inward curve on the lip would go around your neck, if you were being shaved, so that the lather wouldn’t fall on your clothes. Or it would go against your arm or leg if you were having a limb amputated by the surgeon and he needed to catch the blood.

The Glove Compartment

Every car in the world…unless it’s a Peel P50…has a glove-compartment. This strange little cubbyhole, which always seems to be too small to hold anything that you would really need in a car, and which is always full of junk like instruction-manuals, letters, boxes of tissues and spare batteries, is a holdover from the earliest days of motoring, in the closing years of the Victorian era and the brief stint of the Edwardians at the start of the 20th century.

Back then, driving was a filthy and dangerous exercise. Roads were unpaved for the most part, and incredibly dusty. And even when they were paved, the roads could still be filthy and covered in all manner of filth and detritus. Not to mention that most cars of the era were open-topped affairs, susceptable to wind and rain. Keeping warm and dirt-free was essential. To aid in this, drivers wore purpose-made ‘driving-gloves’ to keep their hands clean and warm. These gloves were stored in a small box or compartment in the car so that they would always be nearby when the driver needed them.

The days of motorists needing driving-gloves are long gone, but the glovebox or glove-compartment remains.


Cute little things, aren’t they? A sweet little bunny-wabbit and a cuddly little birdy-beak. Believe it or not, as adorable as these things are…they’re not toys. They’re called pen-wipers, and their rather unimaginative name directly reflects their purpose…they’re for wiping your pens on!

Until the very last decades of the Victorian-era, all writing was done with a dip-pen, a steel nib and an inkwell. Because ink was of the powdered, ‘two minute noodles’ variety, to which you just added water, it was common for dip-pens to accumulate a crusting of dried inky gunk on them after long periods of writing. This gunk would jam up the pen and impede the inkflow. To clear the nib of the dried ink and improve writing performance, men and women would keep little cloth ‘pen-wipers’ on their desks. These were simple little decorate mats with something in the middle (like the bunny or the bird’s head) to weigh it down and stop it sliding all over the desk. You wiped the pen-nib on the cloth, clearing the nib-channel before dipping it back in your inkwell and continuing with your correspondence or work.


The Shortest Day: The Start of the Second World War

Just a few days ago, we passed the sixth of June, 2011; the anniversary of “D-Day” and the beginning of the Allied push to destroy Nazi Germany and liberate the oppressed peoples of the European continent. Everyone knows what happened on that day; how they stormed the beaches and faced remarkable resistence, how fighter-planes dominated the skies above, keeping the ground-troops protected from potential enemy air-attacks and how Tom Hanks and a group of Yanks blasted a hole through the German defenses using nothing but balls, brains and a few feet of Bangalore Torpedo.

But what about the other end of the story? What was it like on the very first day of the Second World War? We all know the big facts, but what about the little facts hidden in between them? For example, did you know that within hours of war being declared, it was military personnel halfway around the world in Australia, who fired the first Allied shots of the War? Or that a British ocean-liner was sunk by a German U-boat just hours after Britain declared war against Germany? Or that air-raid sirens were tested in London, causing mass panic? It’s all true.

Preparations for War

On the First of September, 1939, Germany invaded Poland after it was declared that the Poles had attacked German border-posts (a falsehood; no such attacks were ever launched by the Poles). Great Britain and France, allies of the Polish nation, were obliged to take action for the defence of Poland and began making military preparations, ordering the mobilisation of their armed forces. In England, evacuation of children and expectant or young mothers was already underway in the appropriately-named ‘Operation Pied-Piper’. A blackout was enforced all over England starting on the 1st of September and it would remain in place unil April of 1945.

Germany did not declare war on Poland formally and no declaration of war was ever signed by Germany against Poland. World War Two starting as a formal declaration of the commencement of hostilities by one country against another did not start until the third of September, 1939. But a lot more things happened on that day than the signing of a simple piece of paper. What follows is a breakdown of the significant events of that first day of the Second World War…

The Shortest Day

All times are in Greenwich Mean Time.

Sunday, 3rd September, 1939

9:00am – ENGLAND – Sir Nevile Henderson, British Ambassador to Germany, sends his final diplomatic note to the German government, calling for an immediate cease of all German military action in Poland.

11:15am – ENGLAND – Sir Neville Chamberlain, the British Prime Minister of the time, goes on national radio and addresses the British people. He delivers the now-famous words that “…consequently, this country is at war with Germany”.

11:30am – ENGLAND – Air-raid sirens sound across London, but it is a false-alarm. Jangled by the news of war, Londoners panic as they believe their city is under attack and run for cover.

12:30pm – FRANCE – The French government issues an ultimatum to Germany to cease all military action. Germany refuses.

3:00pm – FRANCE – The French government formally declares war on Germany.

6:00pm – ENGLAND – King George VI broadcasts his first wartime speech to the nation, live from Buckingham Palace.

A (staged) photograph of King George VI giving his famous, first wartime speech. For the actual broadcast, the king was standing, sans jacket, in front of a lectern in a small room that was specially prepared for the occasion. This snapshot was taken after the broadcast was made.

7:40pm – ENGLAND – British cruiseship, the S.S. Athenia, is torpedoed by German submarine U-30. It is the first British shipping-loss of the Second World War.

The S.S. Athenia as she appeared in 1933, docked here in Montreal Harbour, Canada. 117 people died when she was sunk in 1939

9:15pm – AUSTRALIA – The first Allied shot of the Second World War is fired. Being alerted that Australia was at war, troops manning the powerful coastal artillery-cannon at Fort Nepean near Melbourne, Australia, fire a shot-across-the-bow (a warning-shot) at a vessel steaming into Port Phillip Bay, which refused to stop for inspection. The ship turned out to be an Australian freight-ship.

Interesting Note: The main gun at Fort Nepean also fired the first Allied shot of the First World War back on the 4th of August, 1914, when it ordered an escaping German cargo-ship to heave-to. If it failed to do so, orders were given that the next shot fired was to be done so in order to sink her…wisely, the ship’s captain turned around and steamed back to Melbourne. He and his crew were arrested and imprisoned.

The Guns of Nepean. Through these two gun-barrels, were fired the first Allied shots of both World Wars. The one on the left fired the first shot of the First World War, the one on the right fired the first shot of the Second World War

By the end of the first day, the United Kingdom, France, Australia, New Zealand and India had declared war on Germany and had started a conflict that would last for nearly six years. It is to this day, the largest armed conflict ever seen. On the evening of the Third of September, 1939, everyone on earth went to bed knowing that when they woke up the next day, the world would never be the same again.