Social Victorians/Victorian Things

Victorian Things and Everyday ObjectsEdit

Barristers and SolicitorsEdit

The men in the courtroom arguing the cases are barristers, the elite of their class and profession. They went to what we could call "prep" schools together, or with boys just like them. One might hire a solicitor, or have a solicitor on retainer, for regular, normal legal advice, as for weddings and wills, taxes and finances, real estate, and so on.

Bathing MachinesEdit

Bathing machines were little wooden shacks or houses, usually on wheels, which allowed modest people a place to change to their swimming costumes and get into the water without being seen. The houses were lined up on the beach, and the users would go to their house, or the one they had rented, and enter it through a door facing the water. Inside were hooks for hanging clothing on and benches attached to the walls to sit on. When the users had changed and hung their clothing up on the hooks out of the reach of the water, the house could be rolled into the surf far enough that the users could swim out the front door and play in the water without having to stand, visible, in their swimming suits.

For much of the century women used the bathing machines and men swam nude, or at least it was common enough for men to swim nude that it would not have been shocking. There were swimming costumes for both men and women, however, which were knee-length dresses and shorts for the women, and a sleeveless top and shorts for the men. Likely to have been made of wool, they were heavy and bulky and probably itchy as well, but they covered much of the body and still were a great deal less cloth and structure than people's normal clothing.

In an email he wrote on this subject to the discussion list Savoynet, Larry Simons says, "Finally, it's worthy of mention that in the 1997 film Mrs Brown (also called Her Majesty, Mrs Brown in the USA), there is one scene in which Queen Victoria (played by Dame Judi Dench) goes for a swim and actually USES a bathing machine (" (Simons "More on bathing machines").

Lewis Carroll mentions a bathing machine in "The Hunting of the Snark" and in Alice's Adventures Underground, in the chapter called "Pool of Tears":

"In that case, I can go back by railway." (Alice had been to the seaside once in her life, and had come to the general conclusion that, wherever you go to on the English coast, you find a number of bathing-machines in the sea, some children digging in the sand with wooden spades, then a row of lodging houses, and behind them, a railway station).

In a posting to Savoynet from the bathing-machine thread, J. L. Speranza points out these citations and says, "For more on bathing-machines, see Chapter 2, Note 6, of Alice's Adventures Underground in The Annotated Alice; and The English Seaside by H. G. Stokes, 1947, pages 17-25" (Speranza "something between a large bathing-machine").

In Gilbert and Sullivan's Iolanthe, the Lord Chancellor describes something as being in size "'something between a large bathing-machine / and a very small second-class carriage."

Brand NamesEdit

Vaseline: "the word 'vaseline' was introduced as a proprietary term by R. A. Chesebrough" in 1872. According to Morris Rosenblum, "It is found in British publications in 1874 and 1876." (Baring-Gould I 450, n. 13).

Cartes des Visites, Visiting and CallsEdit

From Study Center, "Fashions in Calling Cards (for Gentlemen) from Harper's Bazaar (C.1868)":

"Visiting cards for the coming season are of unglazed card board, large and almost square. Tinted cards, especially buff, are fashionable. The lettering is in old English text, or in script. The expense of fifty cards is $3.50. One corner of the card is turned down to denote the object of the visit. In different cities a different signification is attached to these broken cards. We give the custom of New York society. On the left hand upper corner the word Visite is engraved on the reverse side. This corner is turned downed, displaying the word on the front of the card to signify that an ordinary call is made. On the right hand corner is Felicitation, to be used when making a visit of congratulation on some happy event, such as a marriage, or the birth of a child. On the left lower side is Conge, or Good-by. The remaining corner is marked Condolence." (

E-bay had some silver cases, with chain handle, for carrying visiting cards.

Judge Brack's early calls on the Tesmans in Hedda Gabler are daring and aggressive. According to Sally Mitchell, "morning calls" occurred between 3:00 and 5:00 P.M. "Morning," used in an expression like morning dress or morning coat, meant something like "daytime," the opposite of evening. Unless the calls were to acknowledge some event like a wedding, when they were likely to be no more than fifteen minutes, calls typically ran twenty minutes to half an hour. Judge Brack arrives early in the morning, as early as 7:30, even after a death in the family, which seems clearly indecent.

Food was not likely to be served.

??? says it is proper to make morning calls no earlier than 11:00 A.M., though for many morning calls properly began at noon.

Mrs. Beeton discusses calls, as well.

Daniel Poole says,

If you were not well acquainted with the callee, you made your call between three and four o'clock. If you were somewhat better acquainted, between four and five, and a good friend received you between five and six. ... Certainly, no one but a great intimate would presume to actually call in the real morning, i.e., before one o'clock. (68-69)


According to A. E. Waite, Walter Moseley's "health had been seriously damaged by the use of drugs for occult purposes" (Howe 85 39, n. 3).

Baring-Gould speaks of Sherlock Holmes, as always, as if he were a biographical rather than fictional character:

Dr. Kohki Naganuma has questioned ("Sherlock Holmes and Cocaine") Holmes' use of cocaine by hypodermic injection at this time since "Karl Ludwig Schleich, of Berlin, [was] the first surgeon to use cocaine solution in hypodermic injection [in 1891].] But Dr. Julian Wolff has replied ("A Narcotic Monograph") that "although Schleich is usually given credit for priority in the use of cocaine by injection, actually the credit should go to a great American surgeon. The first such use of cocaine was not in 1891 by Schleich, as is generally supposed, but in 1884, by Dr. William S. Halsted. … 1884 was early enough so that it was no anachronism for Holmes to be taking cocaine injections when Watson said he was." It should be pointed out that, at this time, there was no popular prejudice against drug-takers. As Mr. Michael Harrison has written (In the Footsteps of Sherlock Homes): "In Holmes' day, not only was the purchase of most 'Schedule IV' drugs legal; Madeleine Smith and Mrs. Maybrick bought their arsenic; De Quincey and Dickens and Robert Louis Stevenson, their laudanum; with no more trouble than that with which they purchased their tooth-powder. No 'Dangerous Drug Act' had been passed, in its original form when Holmes bought and took his cocaine in doses that Watson's description of the typical cocaine-addition syndromes indicate to have been heavy ones. (Holmes probably purchased his supplies from either John Taylor, Chemist, at the corner of George Street and Baker Street — east side — or of Curtis and Company, No. 44, on the west side) …." (Baring-Gould I 610, n. 1; all editorial marks are sic).

  • Arsenic
  • Laudanum
  • Cocaine

Popular Medicinal DrugsEdit

The 1909 Secret Remedies: What They Cost and What They Contain says that a box of Beecham's Pills, "advertised to be worth a guinea, is sold for 1s. 1 1/2 d., and the prime cost of the ingredients of the 56 pills it contains is about half a farthing. ... The pills had an average weight of 11/4 grains, and analysis showed them to consist of aloes, ginger and soap ; no other medicinal ingredient was found." It lists the ingredients for each pill thus:

Aloes... ... ... ... ... 0.5 grain.
Powdered ginger... ..... 0.55 "
Powdered soap... ... ... 0.18 "

Liz Calvert Smith says that "aloes are 'a bitter purgative drug, condensed from the juice of the leaves of various species of Aloes'" (Smith 2003).

W. B. Yeats is said to have injected ground-up "monkey glands" in order to increase his masculinity (is this true?).


1880: Electricity "would have been theoretically possible [in England] at any time after 1880 but in practice it was most unlikely, for the original legislation was most restrictive and the first supply companies found it practically impossible to function. Only later in the eighties / were the restrictions removed." (Baring-Gould II 566-67, n. 19).

1894: Electricity was available in Hampstead (Baring-Gould II 567, n. 19).

The newspapers reported who was having electricity installed in their houses as people did. Richard D'Oyly Carte is said to have had the first house in London to have electricity and an elevator, and the Savoy Theatre, which he built, was the first public building to be lit only with electricity. The Savoy Hotel was the first to be lit with electricity and the first to have electric elevators.


Punch was a drink served cold or at room temperature in glasses, often colored or flavored by the citrus fruits currently in season. In 1889, Mrs. Beeton says of punch,

Punch is a beverage made of various spirituous liquors or wine, hot water, the acid juice of fruits, and sugar. It is considered to be very intoxicating; but this is probably because the spirit being partly sheathed by the mucilaginous juice and the sugar, its strength does not appear to the taste so great as it really is. Punch, which was almost universally drunk among the middle classes about fifty or sixty years ago, has almost disappeared from our domestic tables, being superseded by wine. There are many different varieties of punch. It is sometimes kept cold in bottles, and makes a most agreeable summer drink. In Scotland, instead of the Madeira or sherry generally used in its manufacture, whiskey is substituted, and then its insiduous properties are more than usually felt. Where fresh lemons cannot be had for punch or similar beverages, crystallised citric acid and a few drops of the essence of lemon will be very nearly the same thing. In the composition of "Regent's punch," champagne, brandy and veritable Martinique are required; "Norfolk punch" requires Seville oranges; "milk punch" may be extemporised by adding a little hot milk to lemonade, and then straining it through a jelly-bag. Then there are "Wine punch," Tea-punch" [sic] and "French punch," made with lemons, spirits, tea and wine, in fantastic proportions. But of all the compounds of these materials, perhaps for a summer drink, the North-American "mint julep" is the most inviting. Captain Marryat gives the following recipe for its preparation: — "Put into a tumbler about a dozen sprigs of the tender shoots of mint; upon them put a spoonful of white sugar, and equal proportions of peach and common brandy, so as to fill up one third, or, perhaps, a little less; then take rasped or pounded ice, and fill up the tumbler. Epicures rub the lips of the tumbler with a piece of fresh pineapple; and the tumbler itself if very often encrusted outside with stalactites of ice. As the ice melts, you drink." The Virginians, says Captain Marryat, claim the merit of having invented this superb compound; but, from a passage in the "Comus" of Milton, he claims it for his own country. (Beeton 1889 1220-21)

Biscuits. Mrs. Beeton covers biscuits in her Book of Household Management and provides a page of illustrations (1109). Biscuits are both sweet and savory, depending on the recipe, what we might call both cookies and crackers.


"In downtown London, in Holmes' and Watson's day, there were as many as twelve postal deliveries a day, and in Baker Street there were six. There were no Sunday deliveries, however -- if one wanted to send a message on the Sabbath, he found it necessary to hire a commissionaire or some other special messenger" (Baring-Gould I 349, n. 17).


In "A Case of Identity," Sherlock Holmes says to Miss Mary Sutherland, "I believe that a single lady can get on very nicely upon an income of about sixty pounds." Baring-Gould says that this is a "highly revealing statement on the cost of living in Britain in the 1880's. A single lady could then get on very nicely upon an income of about sixty pounds -- about $300 -- a year" (Baring-Gould I 407 and n. 13).

John Watson appears to have had his practice in the Paddington district: "It is impossible to say in which of Paddington's many streets Watson lived; he could have lived in Eastbourne Terrace, which runs alongside the west wall of Paddington Station, and connects Praed Street with Bishop's Bridge Road. ... It is far more likely that Watson lived across Praed Street, in Spring Street or London Street or even in Norfolk Square, which is separated from Praed Street only by a block of houses. He would thus be near neough to the Station to be known to the staff, which sufficiently removed from the traffic of Praed Street to enjoy a certain amount of quiet. His rent would have been (for a three-storeyed house in, say Spring Street) about £60 [$300] per annum; a four-storeyed house in nearby Norfolk Square would have been about £80 [$400]; both figures exclusive of rates" (Baring-Gould II 153-54, n. 2, quoting Michael Harrison; ellipsis mine, interpolations his).


Phonograph, Gramophone, etc.Edit

In "England in 1903, gramophone distinctly meant the Berliner-Gramophon & Typewriter disc machine, while cyclinder [sic] machines were known as phonographs or graphophones." (Baring-Gould II 745, n. 15).


  • Daguerrotype

Servants and Household StaffEdit

Sally Mitchell says that "The most typical middle-class urban household had three female servants: cook, housemaid, and nursemaid. The cook was in charge" (Mitchell 52).

When there were only two or three servants, the cook cleaned the kitchen and dining room and swept the outside steps; she might also look after children for part of the day. ...

Housemaids swept, dusted, and cleaned. If there were no menservants, the housemaids carried coal and tended fires; even if there were menservants, housemaids would be responsible for the fires in the bedrooms used by women and children. They also carried water upstairs, saw to baths, emptied slops, and looked after lamps. (Mitchell 54)

The standard outfit for female servants consisted of a washable cotton dress (usually of striped or printed material) with a full-length apron and a white cap, which was worn in the morning while cleaning. Servants who might be visible during the afternoons wore a black dress with a fancier cap and apron. (Mitchell 56)

In England, "servants made up 16% of the national workforce in 1891" (Poole 1993 220).

At the end of the 1890s, in a household in the Paddington district in London, the staff might have been paid the following:

  • cook £30 a year
  • house parlormaid between £18 to £15 a year
  • tweeny between £10 to £15 a year

(Baring-Gould II 225, n. 3, quoting M. Harrison)

Telephone and TelegraphEdit

"The telegram rate to France of twopence a word was introduced in 1889 and continued until 1920, when it changed to twopence halfpenny; the rate to Switzerland at the time was threepence a word (it dropped to twopence halfpenny in 1909 but reverted to threepence in 1926)." (Baring-Gould II 658, n. 6, quoting Kaser).


Companies making typewriters:

  • Berliner-Gramophon & Typewriter
  • Remington

"'In … the Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology (November-December, 1947) there appears a review of an article in the Police Journal, the title of which is "Identification of Typewriting," reputedly by one George McLean,' Mr. Archibald Hart wrote in 'The Effects of Trades Upon Hands.' 'Is it not apparent that some hoarder of the only existent copies of all of Holmes' brochures is now releasing them one by one under false authorships? 'McLean' urges us to note the peculiarities of each typed character, the vertical and horizontal alignment, the side impressions of each character, and the shortening of the serifs in P, D, B, and H, and the diacritic in the letter T.'" (Baring-Gould I 415, n. 28).

W. B. Yeats on the typewriter:

  • letter WBY to Lady Gregory, 10 April 1902, from 18 Woburn Bldgs: "I am working at my novel -- dictating to a typewriter. I dictated 2000 words in an hour and ten minutes yesterday -- and go on again tomorrow. This dictation is really a discovery" (Wade 370).
  • letter WBY to Lady Gregory, 3 April 1905, from 8 Cavendish Row, Dublin: "You will be sorry to hear that I have just dictated a rough draft of a new Grania second act to Moore's typewriter" (Wade 368).

Sherlock Holmes on the typewriter:

  • "I think of writing another little monograph some of these days on the typewriter and its relation to crime. It is a subject to which I have devoted some little attention. I have here four letters which purport to come from the missing man. They are all typewritten. In each case, not only are the 'e's' slurred and the 'r's' tailless, but you will observe, if you care to use my magnifying lens, that the fourteen other characteristics to which I have alluded are there as well" (in "A Case of Identity," Baring-Gould I 414).
  • "'And now I will show you what is really a very interesting study, Mr. Windibank,' Homes continued. 'I think of writing another little monograph some of these days on the typewriter and its relation to crime. It is a subject to which I have devoted some little attention. I have here four letters which purport to come from the missing man. They are all typewritten. In each case, not only are the "e's" slurred and the "r's" tailless, but you will observe, if you care to use my magnifying lens, that the fourteen other characteristics to which I have alluded are there as well.'" (Baring-Gould I 414) []September 1891]
  • G. Lestrade sends Holmes a typescript of a statement dictated to the police, "taken down, just as he made it, by our shorthand man. We had three copies typewritten, one of which I enclose" (in "The Cardboard Box," January 1893, in Baring-Gould II 204).
  • Laura Lyons in Arthur Conan Doyle's 1902 "The Hound of the Baskervilles" has "a typewriting business," and when Watson visits her, she is "sitting before a Remington typewriter" (Baring-Gould II 74).

Teddy Roosevelt was the first U.S. President to use a typewriter.

Police BusinessEdit

Francis Galton gave a paper "to the British Association … on Finger-prints and the Detection of Crime in India. Galton's method was examined by a committee appointed by Asquith in 1894. … Finger-prints as a means of detecting criminals were first used by Sir William Herschel of the I.C.S. in the district of Hooghli, in Bengal. They were recognized as superior to Bertillon's anthropometry, and were recommended for all India in a report of 1896." (Baring-Gould II 425, n. 9, quoting Vernon Rendall). Fingerprinting was adopted by Scotland Yard ikn 1901 (Baring-Gould II 425, n. 9).

Works CitedEdit

  • Simons, Larry. "More on Bathing Machines." Posting to Savoynet 22 December 2002.
  • Speranza, J. L. "Something between a Large Bathing-machine." Posting to Savoynet 22 December 2002.