“See how the folk swarm over yonder in the gaslight…” – Sherlock Holmes, “The Sign of Four”.
Some people seem to think that until 1900, everyone lit their homes with candles and that when Mr. Edison invented his lightbulb, everyone blew out their lanterns and turned on the lights. However, from the early 1800s until the introduction of electric lights at the turn of the last century, mankind had another source of illumination: Natural gas.
Gas-lighting had been used to provide street-lighting and illumination in large, public buildings since the Georgian period. By the 1860s, gaslight technology was advanced enough that it was safe to be used inside ordinary homes. Originally, you had to light the gas-jet with a match, but by the turn of the century, you could just turn it on with a pilot-light (as you would with a gas stove, today).
“He waved me to an armchair, threw across his case of cigars, and indicated a spirit case and a gasogene in the corner” – Dr. Watson, “A Scandal in Bohemia”.
A Victorian gasogene (in the middle).
A gasogene or a seltzogene was a device for producing carbonated water (also called seltzer water, hence the alternate name ‘seltzogene’), by mixing the water with tartaric acid and sodium bicarbonate, more commonly known as baking-soda, to produce carbon dioxide, the gas found in sparkling water.
“…The Diogenes Club is the queerest club in London…” – Sherlock Holmes to Dr. Watson, “The Greek Interpreter”.
For over 200 years, London has been famous for its ‘gentlemens’ clubs’…but what is a gentleman’s club and where are they found?
A gentleman’s club, such as the Diogenes (pronounced ‘Die-ah-gen-eese’), is a club for gentlemen from the respectable upper classes of London society and were found in the wealthy, West End suburbs of London. Clubs centered around common interests or connections that the members had with each other, such as gambling, politics, literature, being old students of particular schools, universities or various professions. While most gentlemens’ clubs have been around since the mid 1800s, a select few, such as the Royal Thames Yacht Club (1775), the Marylebone Cricket Club (1787), Boodles (1762) and Brooks (1764), have existed since the 18th century.
Founded in 1762, Boodles, pictured above, is the oldest surviving gentlemens’ club in London.
“…He was bemoaning himself this morning because he could not get someone to go halves with him…” – Stamford, “A Study in Scarlet”.
Victorian English is wonderfully colourful, isn’t it? To ‘go halves’ simply means to split the rent between two tenants, so that one pays half the rent and the other pays the rest.
Hansom Safety Cab
“…Hosmer came for us in a Hansom…” – Mary Sutherland, “A Case of Identity.
A typical, Victorian-era hansom cab. The driver sat at the back so that he could command a better view of the road and control the horse more effectively.
The Hansom Safety Cab, as it was originally called, these days usually shortened to ‘Hansom cab’ or just a ‘hansom’, was one of the most popular forms of horse-drawn public transport in London during the Victorian era. Invented in 1834, the Hansom cab was popular because it was light, fast, easily handled by one horse and driver, and, due to its low center of gravity, was not prone to tipping over when rounding tight corners at speed. The hansom cab carried two passengers (three, if you crammed them in) and they were a common sight on London streets from the mid 1830s until the mid 1920s, when motorised taxicabs finally made them obsolete. It is estimated that there were upwards of 3,000 hansom cabs operating in London at the height of their popularity.
“…Police-constable Cooke, of the H Division, on duty near Waterloo Bridge…” – Dr. Watson, reading the newspaper, “The Five Orange Pips”.
Before the days of call-boxes and telephones and squad-cars, policemen patrolled London in beats. The city was divided up into police-divisions and labelled alphabetically from A to Y (with other, named divisions, when letters ran out). H Division of London’s police-force covered the district of Whitechapel in the borough of Tower Hamlets. This is one of the police-divisions which handled the Jack the Ripper murders in 1888. Another police-division which handled the Ripper cases was J Division, which patrolled the district of Bethnal Green.
The Five Orange Pips takes place in 1887. In 1888, H Division (Whitechapel) had a total of 548 men, broken down into…
“… Sherlock Holmes took his bottle from the corner of the mantelpiece, and his hypodermic syringe from its neat morocco case…” – Dr. Watson, “The Sign of Four”.
A Victorian-era hypodermic syringe, with two, detachable needlepoints.
A hypodermic syringe is a syringe with a series of removable and interchangable hollow needles of varying lengths and sizes, which was used for injecting substances (usually medicines, but in Holmes’s cases, drugs), into the body.
“…It is not part of my duties to my client, but here’s a hunting-crop handy, and I think I shall just treat myself…” – Sherlock Holmes, “A Case of Identity”.
A Victorian-era hunting-crop.
A hunting-crop is a kind of whip, similar to a riding-crop, used when riding on horseback.
“…As to your practice, if a gentleman walks into my rooms smelling of iodoform…I must be dull, indeed, if I do not pronounce him to be an active member of the medical profession…” – Sherlock Holmes to Dr. Watson, “A Scandal in Bohemia”.
Iodoform is a chemical compound which was used in the late 19th century and early 20th century, as an antiseptic, to clean wounds and prevent infection and was commonly found in hospitals and doctor’s surgeries during the Victorian period. As a practicing physician, Dr. Watson would doubtless have come into contact with tihs substance on a regular basis, to keep his hands clean and to clean wounds before treating and dressing them.
“…It was not a photograph, but an ivory miniature…” – Dr. Watson, “The Noble Bachelor”.
An ivory miniature, late 18th century.
While photography was not in its infancy in the late 19th century, there were some people who still preferred paintings to photographs. An ivory miniature is a small head-and-shoulders portrait of a loved one, painted onto a disc of ivory. The miniature was set into a small frame and the frame then had a chain or a pin attached to it, so that it could be fastened onto the wearer’s clothing or put into a locket with a ring on it, which could be attached to a watch-chain.