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  • "In the character of a groom out of work"

    Hi all

    Being currently reading the complete Sherlock Holmes stories in English, with illustrations from the Strand magazine, I was struck yesterday evening by a passage of the second chapter of A Scandal in Bohemia (first published in 1891).

    On the 21st of March 1888, Dr Watson is waiting (in Baker Street) for Holmes to return from his enquiry. Then :

    "It was close upon four before the door opened, and a drunken-looking groom, ill-kempt and side-whiskered, with an inflamed face and disreputable clothes, walked into the room."

    This groom, of course, is Holmes, as he explained :

    "I left the house a little after eight o'clock this morning in the character of a groom out of work."

    What strikes me is the fact that a groom out of work seems to have been quite a familiar and common figure back then.

    I understand it doesn't mean a lot, but I can't help thinking that it somehow echoes the Astrakhan-Man figure.

    On the one hand, a convenient scapegoat, a popular Super-Villain as a suspect ; on the other, a common but distinct character as a witness, a poor fellow among many others (Conan Doyle makes it clear that there was many a groom out-of-work in London), rather easy to embody.

    As if the man who called himself Hutchinson had a genuine but limited imagination.

    http://t3.gstatic.com/images?q=tbn:A...mImquTwRtY5AgF
    Last edited by DVV; 08-02-2013, 04:31 PM.

  • #2
    Originally posted by DVV View Post
    Hi all

    Being currently reading the complete Sherlock Holmes stories in English, with illustrations from the Strand magazine, I was struck yesterday evening by a passage of the second chapter of A Scandal in Bohemia (first published in 1891).

    On the 21st of March 1888, Dr Watson is waiting (in Baker Street) for Holmes to return from his enquiry. Then :

    "It was close upon four before the door opened, and a drunken-looking groom, ill-kempt and side-whiskered, with an inflamed face and disreputable clothes, walked into the room."

    This groom, of course, is Holmes, as he explained :

    "I left the house a little after eight o'clock this morning in the character of a groom out of work."

    What strikes me is the fact that a groom out of work seems to have been quite a familiar and common figure back then.

    I understand it doesn't mean a lot, but I can't help thinking that it somehow echoes the Astrakhan-Man figure.

    On the one hand, a convenient scapegoat, a popular Super-Villain as a suspect ; on the other, a common but distinct character as a witness, a poor fellow among many others (Conan Doyle makes it clear that there was many a groom out-of-work in London), rather easy to embody.

    As if the man who called himself Hutchinson had a genuine but limited imagination.

    http://t3.gstatic.com/images?q=tbn:A...mImquTwRtY5AgF
    David,

    I like this thought that an out-of-work groom was somewhat cliche`. The readers would have instantly recognized such a figure methinks. Then, that could mean Hutchinson wasn't imaginative enough to come up with a better background story and pulled out the most familiar character he could come up with.

    Mike
    huh?

    Comment


    • #3
      Yes , Mike, something of the sort. Just like Astrakhan seems to have been inspired by a cheap novel.

      Comment


      • #4
        Hi DVV,

        Funny you mentioning the inspiration of a cheap novel.

        On Thursday 30th August 1888, the day before Polly Nichols' murder, a book began weekly serialization in the Pall Mall Budget. It ran over 10 weeks, with the final installment appearing on Thursday 8th November 1888, the day before the Millers Court murder.

        The book was "The Mystery of Cloomber" by Arthur Conan Doyle.

        It was illustrated in part by George Hutchinson, who went on to illustrate some of the Sherlock Holmes stories.

        Regards,

        Simon
        Never believe anything until it has been officially denied.

        Comment


        • #5
          Hi Simon, thanks.

          We have recently come across a possible origin for "James Evans" and now you are just suggesting one for.... aaargh ! don't tempt me...!!!

          Comment


          • #6
            Interesting observations, Dave.

            Speaking of inspiration for the Astrakhan story, I've always suspected it was at least partially based on an account he may have read in the Daily News, 10th November:

            There are conflicting statements as to when the woman was last seen alive, but that upon which most reliance appears to be placed is that of a young woman, an associate of the deceased, who states that at about half past 10 o'clock on Thursday night she met the murdered woman at the corner of Dorset street. Kelly informed her that she had no money, and it was then she said that if she could not get any she would never go out any more, but would do away with herself. Soon after they parted, and a man who is described as respectably dressed came up and spoke to the murdered woman Kelly and offered her some money. The man accompanied the woman to her lodgings...

            Sounds extremely familiar, doesn't it?

            Notice the exact expressions "met the murdered woman" and "murdered woman Kelly" later appeared in Hutchinson's statement. Moreover, the common room of the Victoria Home had a selection of newspapers available, which means Hutchinson could have acquired this "inspiration" without having to pay a penny for it.

            All the best,
            Ben

            Comment


            • #7
              Two things occur to me:

              In the LVP before the introduction of the motor car, London was awash with horses, carriages and other horsedrawn vehicles. There must have been an army of grooms, ostlers, stablemen and coachmen.

              For those not familiar with London, all those rows of imposing stuccoed houses (think Upstairs-Downstairs) had behind them rows of "mews" - a term still used for the royal stables attached to Buckingham Palace. These mews were narrow (comparatively) cobbled lanes with terraces of small houses either side. On the ground floor was the stable and carriage house, above was the living quarters for the coachman or groom. (These are now sought-after and hugely expensive town houses for the wealthy.)

              The main road between where I live and central Birmingham is still lined in part with large Victorian houses all of which have a coach house built in on one side. They have accommodation for the stablehands above.

              So grooms and out of work grooms would have the been ten a penny in Victorian London. As people died or moved, went bancrupt or moved up a social notch or two, staff must have been put off and taken on continually. here must also have been a flourishing trade in "temps" (temporary staff) as well as the hire trade - hansoms, growlers, broughams, etc used for cabs and rent.

              The other thing I thought was:

              Holmes would have known EXACTLY how a groom dressed - would almost certainly have based himself on one he knew.

              Astrakhan Man on the other hand, is not properly dressed - he is either flashy, or inappropriate. Spats were worn in the mornings, never later. The suit sounds too as if it is an out of town merchant but I suspect utterly incorrect for London at that time of day or ever - for a man with any pretensions to fashion.

              So, I think we are looking at a complete invention (a working class man's idea of how a "toff" would dress): or someone flashy (a pimp, or some such with money but no class); or thirdly, someone foreign who did not think or dress according to English taste or style but who thought it appropriate.

              Just my tuppence worth.

              Phil

              Comment


              • #8
                I just checked with a recent book - The Victorian City by Judith Flanders (now out in p/back I believe) Omnibuses at their peak used 40,000 horses in London.

                Pickford's Removals (think Charles Cross/Lechmere) alone kept 1,500 horses to pull its vans in 1870.

                That same year 18 million tons of coal were delivered for domestic use, almost all by horse-drawn cart.

                Apparently the exact number of horses in London before C20th is unknown as they were so ubiquitous that no one bothered to count them.

                The numbers I have given are suggestive of the vast infrastructure that must have been required to feed and care for, as well as "drive" all those horses (not forgetting mules, ponies (like Diemschitz's) donkeys etc).

                Phil

                Comment


                • #9
                  Originally posted by Ben View Post
                  Sounds extremely familiar, doesn't it?
                  Ben
                  It sure does, my friend.

                  Comment


                  • #10
                    Originally posted by Phil H View Post
                    In the LVP before the introduction of the motor car, London was awash with horses, carriages and other horsedrawn vehicles. There must have been an army of grooms, ostlers, stablemen and coachmen.

                    For those not familiar with London, all those rows of imposing stuccoed houses (think Upstairs-Downstairs) had behind them rows of "mews" - a term still used for the royal stables attached to Buckingham Palace. These mews were narrow (comparatively) cobbled lanes with terraces of small houses either side. On the ground floor was the stable and carriage house, above was the living quarters for the coachman or groom. (These are now sought-after and hugely expensive town houses for the wealthy.)

                    The main road between where I live and central Birmingham is still lined in part with large Victorian houses all of which have a coach house built in on one side. They have accommodation for the stablehands above.

                    So grooms and out of work grooms would have the been ten a penny in Victorian London. As people died or moved, went bancrupt or moved up a social notch or two, staff must have been put off and taken on continually. here must also have been a flourishing trade in "temps" (temporary staff) as well as the hire trade - hansoms, growlers, broughams, etc used for cabs and rent.

                    Phil
                    Exactly, Phil.

                    There would be grooms and grooms out of work everywhere.

                    That was a job that required no great skills nor qualification. Hardly a trade, actually. More of something anybody could do, or could hope to do, if in need.

                    Diemshutz pony wasn't Silver Blaze, was it ?

                    And while we're at it.... what a bad idea it would have been for a plumber to try his luck as a groom...

                    Comment


                    • #11
                      Hutchinson

                      Well this chap has nearly got me beat. I have checked London marriage signatures, census, all variations of his name, the works.
                      I found a groom in Margate, but descendant couldnt say if he had ever been to london. A police constable called Henry Hutchinson in London
                      The nearest so far (and thats by no means near) was a labourer called John Hutchinson born 1859 in London who was living in 9-11 Dorset Street, a common lodging house, in 1881. But after that he disappeared.
                      It is strange that he cant be found.
                      I really dont think he was the plumber

                      Pat.................

                      Comment


                      • #12
                        The Times Friday Sept 02 1887 page 11

                        I found this article amusing.
                        Well he sure likes horses so he has to be a groom !
                        Hes born 1854
                        Pat...................................
                        Attached Files

                        Comment


                        • #13
                          Originally posted by Paddy View Post
                          Well this chap has nearly got me beat. I have checked London marriage signatures, census, all variations of his name, the works.
                          I found a groom in Margate, but descendant couldnt say if he had ever been to london. A police constable called Henry Hutchinson in London
                          The nearest so far (and thats by no means near) was a labourer called John Hutchinson born 1859 in London who was living in 9-11 Dorset Street, a common lodging house, in 1881. But after that he disappeared.
                          It is strange that he cant be found.
                          I really dont think he was the plumber

                          Pat.................
                          Excellent post, Paddy.

                          Comment


                          • #14
                            Wonderful find Pat...amazes me where you find them!

                            Every good wish to you and G

                            Dave

                            Comment


                            • #15
                              That's George Hutchison, watch-stealer, I believe.

                              I don't think he's our man. No rival for Toppy's crown just yet...

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