Entries M-O

Metropolitan Police Whistle

“…I just had time to blow on my police-whistle, and then I must’ve fainted, for I knew nothing more until I found the policeman standing over me in the hall…” – Mr. Horace Harker, of the Central Press Syndicate, “The Six Napoleons”.

The Metropolitan Police Whistle was the standard-issue whistle given to all London policemen from the 1880s until 1975, when they were phased out. The whistle was adopted by the Metropolitan Police Service in the 1880s when they were trying to find a suitable replacement for the bulky, heavy hand-rattles used by police at the time. Mr. Joseph Hudson, of J. Hudson & Co, manufactured a compact, pealess whistle which he marketed to the Metropolitan Police Service as a possible replacement. The whistle measures just under half an inch wide, by three inches long. It was small, tough, easy to hold, with its distinctive, tubular design. Its size, weight, lack of moving parts and simplicity to use, made it the natural replacement to the rattle. When blown, the Met Whistle lets out a piercing, high-pitched, shrilling screech that, in open air on a quiet, windless day, can be heard up to two miles away. Over the noise of chatter and traffic, the sound of the whistle could be heard a lot easier than the clattering of a rattle.

Initially, any person could buy a police whistle. This accounts for why Mr. Harker happens to own one. Later on, it was decided that all Metropolitan police whistles, with the words “The Metropolitan”, engraved on the barrels, should be sold to the London police exclusively. This ended private purchase of police-whistles and unauthorised use.

The whistles are made of brass, and are nickel-plated. Traditionally, they were secured by a hook and chain, to the officer’s uniform and were used to summon backup or to gain attention. In 1975, the Met whistle was officially declared obsolete, and was replaced with radio. The noise generated by automotive traffic made the whistle hard to hear, and therefore, no-longer effective. While J. Hudson & Co still manufacture the classic “bobby’s whistle”, it is rare to hear it in the streets of London today as most policemen don’t carry them anymore. If they are used, it’s purely for ceremonial purposes.

Napoleon (coin)

“…We had occasion some months ago to strenghthen our resources, and borrowed, for that purpose, thirty thousand napoleons from the Bank of France…” – Mr. Merryweather to Dr. Watson, “The Red-Headed League”.

A ‘Napoleon’ was the slang-term for a gold coin, minted in France during the 19th century, variously having values of five, ten, twenty, forty, fifty and one hundred francs, depending on the size. By weight, the coins contained 90% pure, 24kt gold. The main denominations were the 20 and 40 franc coins, minted, as the name suggests, during the rule of Napoleon Bonaparte.

Northumberland Hotel

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

The Northumberland Hotel doesn’t really exist anymore, unlike other places mentioned in the Holmes canon. True enough, the building exists, but the hotel itself is long gone. It was in this place that Sir Henry Baskerville was staying while in London and where he recieved his famous warning: “As you value your life or your reason, keep away from the moor”.

The Northumberland Hotel. While the building still stands today, it has since been changed to the Sherlock Holmes Pub.

Octavo (Paper-size)

“…Written on the flyleaf of a book, Octavo size…” – Sherlock Holmes, “The Man with the Twisted Lip”.

‘Octavo’ was a paper-size (much like foolscap), in the days before modern A-sized paper. Actual measurements for Octavo-sized paper can vary significantly, but ranged from 6 3/4in. high by 4 1/4in. wide, to 10in. high by 6 1/4in. wide. It was a size of paper commonly used in bookbinding.

Oil of Vitriol

Mentioned in “The Adventure of the Illustrious Client”, Miss Kitty Winter throws a bottle of “oil of vitriol” into Baron Von Gruner’s face at the end of the story. “Vitriol” is an old-fashioned term for the chemical known to modern science as…Sulphuric acid…Ouch!!

H.M.S Orontes

“I was despatched, accordingly, in the troopship Orontes…” – Dr. Watson, “A Study in Scarlet”.

The H.M.S Orontes was a British troopship that was in service from 1863 until 1893. She saw service during the Second Afghan War in which Dr. Watson was an army surgeon.



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