Entries D-F

Dark Lantern

“…Mr. Merryweather, we must put the screen over that dark lantern…” – Sherlock Holmes, “The Red-Headed League”.

A dark lantern was a lighting-device that allowed its user to cover the light of the candle/s inside the lantern, by closing or sliding a shutter over the lense, blocking out the light, which would only be visible again when the shutter was lowered or opened. This kind of lantern allowed people to put out their lights without having to blow them out and allowed them to put their lights on again, without having to fumble with matches.


“…It was a dog-grate, Mr. Holmes, and he overpitched it…” – Inspector Baynes to Holmes, “Wisteria Lodge”.

A dog-grate.

A dog-grate is a freestanding, basket-shaped fireplace grate in which logs were burnt as fuel. These grates were held off the floor of the fireplace with legs, which allowed for free flow of air around the fire. Similar to ‘fire dogs’ (also called ‘andirons’) which were metal or ceramic, bar-like supports, which kept logs off the bottom of the fireplace, allowing for better air-circulation.

A pair of ornamental, brass fire dogs or andirons. One went inside the left of the fireplace, the other in the right side. The burning logs lay on top of the andirons, creating a space underneath the fire, allowing for better air-circulation.

Doncaster Racecourse

“…You remember when the stand fell at Doncaster?…” – Mr. Horace Harker, of the Central Press Syndicate, to Sherlock Holmes, “The Six Napoleons”.

Doncaster is a town in South Yorkshire, England. The stand which Mr. Harker refers to, is the spectator’s stand which would have been built around one of the town’s most famous institutions, the Doncaster Racecourse.


“…There were also two dress-circle tickets for the Woolwich Theatre…” – Dr. Watson, “The Bruce-Partington Plans”.

The ‘dress-circle’ is the first balcony up from the ground floor in main auditorium of a stage-show theatre. While you could really wear whatever you liked to the theatre, in Victorian times, to sit in the dress-circle, you had to wear full evening-dress to comply with the requisite dresscode; full evening-dress being White Tie and Tails. Dress-circles stil exist in theatres today, but the dresscode isn’t as strict as what it was in Victorian times.


“…Holmes was, as I expected it, lounging about his sitting-room in his dressing-gown…” – Dr. Watson, “The Engineer’s Thumb”.

A dressing-gown is NOT a bathrobe. They may look similar, but they do not serve the same purpose. A bathrobe is used to cover a naked body and to provide warmth once one has stepped out of the bathroom, but before one has started the process of dressing. The dressing-gown, on the other hand, while similar, was not worn over the naked body. Instead, the dressing-gown was worn over your nightclothes. I say ‘nightclothes’ because in Holmes’s day, modern two-piece pyjamas as we know them today, did not exist. Men and women went to bed in their nightclothes, typically this was undwear and a long, white linen garment, called a nightshirt, together with a nightcap or sleeping-cap, designed to keep the head warm during slumber.

It was a way to make onself presentable in front of company when there wasn’t enough time to change. You’ll notice that in the canon, dressing-gowns are almost always mentioned in chapters or stories which start in the morning, indicating that Holmes had just gotten out of bed and had put on his dressing-gown, too lazy to change his clothes properly, before recieving a client.

Another reason for dressing-gowns was to provide extra warmth. Don’t forget that in the Victorian era, not every building had the luxury of central-heating. If you woke up in the morning and wanted to make coffee or if you wanted to get up during the night to do something, you put on your dressing-gown to stay warm. Your nightshirt, nightcap, slippers and undershorts were most likely, not thick enough to keep you warm during the freezing European winters.

A dressing-gown was also used at night, although this wasn’t as common as during the day. You might, once you’d come home from the day, remove your more restrictive and/or heavy overcoat, trenchcoat, scarf and suit-coat and might walk around in your trousers, shirt, waistcoat, tie and throw a dressing-gown on top. They were meant to be kinda baggy and comfortable so that you could move around freely in them, but keep warm at the same time and still make yourself presentable to company.


“…I bought a penny-bottle of ink and with a quill pen and seven sheets of foolscap paper…” – Mr. Jabez Wilson, “The Red Headed League”.

‘Foolscap’ is a common paper-size which was used for general writing back in the Victorian era, much like the ‘A4’ paper-size today. Foolscap measures 17×13.5 inches.

Foreign Office

“…I was, as Watson may have told you, in the Foreign Office…” – Percy Phelps to Sherlock Holmes, “The Naval Treaty”.

The Foreign and Commonwealth Office (in Holmes’s time, known purely as the Foreign Office), is the British government department responsible for British international interests. People working in the Foreign Office handled matters such as trade agreements, alliances and possible disputes between Great Britain and other countries. Working in such an institution meant secrecy, security and handling matters of great national and international importance.

Fuller’s Earth

“…I was fortunate enough to discover that there was a deposit of Fuller’s Earth in one of my fields…” – Col. Lysander Stark, “The Engineer’s Thumb”.

Blocks of the clay known as ‘Fuller’s Earth’.

Fuller’s earth is a type of clay which is used to filter out animal oils, plant oils or grease from cloth. It gets its name because it was once used in the process of ‘fulling’, that is, kneading this type of clay into cloth (such as wool), to remove impurities and to rid the fabric of oils and odors, during the finishing-process, after the wool had been sheared, spun and weaved into cloth. Fuller’s earth is still used today as cleaning-agent for removing unwanted oils and grease and is sometimes applied to machines when lubricating oil must be cleaned off the moving parts.


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