Monday, September 14, 2015

Did the Annotated Sherlock Holmes Introduce you to the World of Sherlock Holmes?

As a youngster, at about the age of seven or eight, I was mesmerized by the Sherlock Holmes stories being read to me by my cousin Maryjane.  I purchased The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, my first book, shortly thereafter.  I satill have it — a 1920 A. L. Burt edition that is today quite fragile, as the cover is tattered and worn, hanging by threads to the yellowed pages. I have kept it all these years.  Soon this copy will be 100 years old, but the shabby volume will remain on the shelf, because it was the first of my collection.  My study of Sherlock Holmes remained, as did the book on the shelf, dormant for many years of school, and through College.  Then I detected William S. Baring-Gould’s The Annotated Sherlock Holmes.

To be honest, to the seasoned Sherlockian, this tome added little to the literature of Sherlock Holmes.  Many had written about these narratives; The Baker Street Irregulars, and their scions had been meeting for years; and Chronology has been a major area of study since the first adventure appeared in print.  However, to the world outside this tight little circle, where the secrets were confined to meetings — often by invitation only — it was invaluable.  The dream of finding like minded individuals to share my ideas with seemed remote so remote in 1972; but now years later, the scion that found its roots in Baring-Gould’s Annotated, has held over 38 years of monthly meetings. In short, he opened a world to people like myself that we doubted we could join.  However. I am pleased to report, I was wrong. 

Baring-Gould’s efforts were a revelation to the uninitiated devotes who, heretofore, had no outlet for their keen interest in the world’s first consulting detective.    The unflattering criticisms of Baring-Gould’s efforts were varied.  He suggests many facets of Holmes’s early life that are not reenforced by Dr. Watson’s narratives to the point that it is declared fictional.  However, to active minds: the fact that Holmes may have personally known Jack the Ripper; or that Moriarty may have been his tutor; or he may have had an affair with Irene Adler, etc, were proportionate to references to works of other scholars.  In short, he opened the floodgate to those who did not know of their very existence.

In an article entitled “A Singular Set of People,” Baring-Gould bears witness to the existence of The Baker Street Irregulars of New York.  He individually lists the names of early scion societies, founded by members of the parent society.  He discusses some of their activities.  In short, to those in the remote, rural communities throughout the world, he gave encouragement that they did not stand alone.  Such was the case of “The Occupants of the Empty House,” formally formed on 22nd  January 1977.  We had read the “Buy Laws” of the Baker Street Irregulars, and decided to hold our first meeting as per these sanctified scrolls.  To our surprise, those 22 individuals who gathered that evening voted to meet once per month, contrary to the laws established by Elmer Davis.  We formed our society without realizing the condition that many of these early scion societies were established by an existing member of the parent organization.  In truth, we did not care.

The first time I read 221b by Vincent Starrett was from the pages of The Annotated.  They are 14 verses of pure ecstacy.  There has never been a more complete and definitive description of devotion to the 60 cases.  One shudders to think that what may have been had my eyes never seen these immotal words about the “two men of note.”  Thus, it was Baring-Gould who introduced me to Vincent Starrett.  Notwithstanding, he also introduced me to Knox, Bell, Morley, and many others who have become life long friends.

Long live William S. Baring-Gould.

William R. Cochran

Saturday, September 12, 2015

Holmes and the Inscrutable Chinese of London

by Janet Bensley

In “The Adventure of the Dying Detective,” Watson tells us, and Mr. Culverton Smith, that Holmes has contracted an illness while “… in some professional inquiry, he [Holmes] has been working among Chinese sailors down in the docks.”  This little snippet, along with another referring to “the Chinese in the East End,” hints at the cosmopolitan nature of the population of London at the time.      William S. Baring-Gould places the tale as occurring on November 19, 1887, although the literary agent Sir Arthur Conan Doyle did not have it published for Watson it until November, 1913.  So what was the Chinese community like during 1887?  And how did it change from 1887 until 1913?  (Since we do not know for certain exactly when Watson penned the tale, and since he often used more current scenarios in his works in order to “blur” distinctive details, we should cover all contingencies.)

The first Chinese immigrants in London arrived in the 1780s.  Most were sailors who worked for the East India Company and the Blue Funnel Line, often as cooks.  In 1856 the “Strangers’ Home for Asiatics, Africans, and South Sea Islanders” was established on West India Dock Road, providing one area around which a growing Chinese community would form.  The 1881 census records 22 residents of the Home, including eleven who gave their place of birth as China and two as Singapore. Of the rest, six came from India or Sri Lanka, two from Arabia and one from the Kru Coast of Africa.

It is impossible to know the exact number of Chinese migrants in London, but census figures suggest that the Chinese presence grew steadily during the nineteenth century.  The 1861 census for London records only 78 Chinese-born residents, but by 1911 there were over 247.  To help put this into context, in 1881 census figures indicate a total of 224 Chinese in Britain.  Census records of 1891 indicate 582 Chinese-born residents in Britain.  By 1896 the census records indicate a decline in the number of Chinese-born residents to 387, of whom 80% are single males between 20 and 35, the majority being seamen.  After the turn of the century the numbers begin to increase once again with the 1911 census indicating 1,319 Chinese-born residents in Britain and 4,595 seamen of Chinese origin serving in the British Merchant Navy. (These census figures errs on the conservative side, as the Chinese living in Britain tended to treat all agents of the British state with suspicion and hide themselves from census officers.) 

Chinese immigrants settled predominantly in the East End of London, particularly in the boroughs of Poplar and Stepney, near to the docks and the “Strangers’ Home.”  In 1881 sixty percent of Chinese-born Londoners lived in the two boroughs. By the 1920s a significant number of Chinese had moved westwards, settling in Westminster, St Pancras, and Marylebone, while small communities could also be found in Hampstead, Kensington and Wandsworth.
    By the turn of the twentieth century social commentators were beginning to talk of London’s “Chinatown” located along  the narrow streets of Limehouse Causeway, Pennyfields, West India Dock Road, Birchfield Street and North Street Lower.  Although this community was relatively small, the Chinese presence had a disproportionate impact on visitors and commentators. Writers such as Oscar Wilde and Charles Dickens the Younger wrote of the enigmatic Chinese shops and restaurants they encountered along Limehouse Causeway.  Other authors, such as Sax Rohmer and Thomas Burke, created popular fictionalized accounts of the exploits of shadowy Chinese immigrants intent on world domination. As a result, Limehouse came to possess a dangerous and sinister reputation where Chinese men fraternized with young white women and smoked opium.  In its full form, the East End Chinese “opium den,” with its trappings of drug addiction and easy sexuality, only really existed in the imaginations of excitable novelists and hopeful social investigators.  But in this area Chinese shops and restaurants, laundries and lodging houses sprang up to cater for the needs of a growing community, including the social consumption of opium.  Once such dens were mixed along the streets of Limehouse with the brothels catering for the maritime trade, all the ingredients of a dangerous and titillating reputation were in place.

Although the majority of Chinese migrants were involved in seafaring, census data suggests that the Chinese in London were employed in a wide range of occupations. A large number were employed as cooks and waiters in the numerous restaurants and public houses of the East End, and a similar number worked in laundries.  A smaller proportion were employed as clerks, firemen, carpenters and interpreters.  Chinese restaurants and cafes were the main social hub of the local community, providing a venue in which to conduct business, and serving secondary functions as informal post offices and banks.

Many of the Chinese migrants did not find the streets of the East End a warm and welcoming place. Stranded in a foreign country with little local knowledge and limited English, many struggled to make ends meet. In 1812 the government ordered the East India Company to provide satisfactory food, clothing and accommodation for the seamen, and a parliamentary committee was established to investigate what could be done to improve the conditions. The “Stranger's Home,” founded in 1856, provided some assistance.  Nevertheless, even at the end of the nineteenth century, Limehouse figured largely in the comprehensive enquiries into London poverty and squalor done by Charles Booth (philanthropist and social researcher) .

However, not all Chinese immigrants were poor or uneducated.  From the late 1880's until the early 1900's a steady flow of students from China arrived in Britain to study at Cambridge.  Many of the graduates stayed on in Britain, rather than return to China.  As an interesting note, the first Chinese student to graduate from a British university was Wong Fun who received his MD in 1855 from Edinburgh.  It is interesting to note that a mere thirty years later, in 1885, Arthur Conan Doyle also received his MD in Edinburgh.


Saturday, August 15, 2015

London Underground & Red H

London Underground
by Dave and Janet Bensley
Presented to the Occupants of the Empty House on 7 August 2015

In “The Adventure of the Red-Headed League” Watson visits his friend Holmes and finds Holmes deep in conversation with Jabez Wilson, a man who would be entirely unremarkable except for his blazing red hair.  Holmes asks Watson to stay and lend his assistance, claiming that he has never heard a case a bizarre as Jabez Wilson’s.
    What do we know?  Let’s see what we can dig up...
    The Red Headed League paid Wilson to copy pages of the Encyclopedia Britannica, forbidding him from leaving the office for any reason during his four-hour shifts.  In addition, Wilson worked for the League for eight weeks and was paid handsomely for his efforts.
    The tunnel was dug four hours a day for the Victorian six-day work week for eight weeks by two men, Duncan Ross and John Clay .  However, Ross did not put in the full four hours per day in the beginning, as he was supervising and dropping in on Wilson.  Based on the time Wilson was out of his establishment, that would provide 192 hours for tunneling.  Average volume excavated per hour with removal and shoring done by hand would be around 2 cubic yards per hour.  Allowing for minimal operational tunnel space of 2 square yards, a reasonable estimate of the length of the tunnel would be around 190 yards from Wilson’s business.  Since Holmes and Watson could see the Bank after they rounded the corner from Wilson’s pawnshop, the target was clearly nearby, thus the tunnel distance would be short.
    The men most likely began the tunnel in the floor of Wilson’s cellar; digging down and under the pawnshop’s foundation.  It must be kept in mind that the tunnel would have to continue to gently slope downward to some degree towards the bank, as the entry used by the men came up through the floor of the bank basement.
    In England, a cellar is an underground level or any large underground room used for utilities or storage, but generally not considered habitable.  Cellars do not have a separate entrance, unlike English basements which do have a separate entryway and are usually finished enough to be habitable.  Since access to Wilson’s cellar would be through the pawnshop (the first floor of the building), this creates another problem for the diggers – where to put the dirt from the tunnel.      The location of our adventure, Saxe-Coburg Square, is described as “a poky, little, shabby-genteel place, where four lines of dingy two-storied brick houses looked out into a small railed-in enclosure, where a lawn of weedy grass and a few clumps of faded laurel-bushes made a hard fight against a smoke-laden and uncongenial atmosphere.”  Based on this description the pawnshop is a two-story building, which most likely provides a flat (apartment) on the second floor.  Wilson himself says that once he found the League dissolved and he searched for Mr. Ross, afterwards he “went home to Saxe-Coburg Square.”  During Holmes’s questioning of Wilson, Jabez mentions that “He (Spaulding/Clay) and a girl of fourteen, who does a bit of simple cooking and keeps the place clean–that’s all I have in the house, for I am a widower and never had any family. We live very quietly, sir, the three of us; and we keep a roof over our heads and pay our debts, if we do nothing more.”  So Clay had access to the cellar essentially 24/7.  That would explain how Clay could have access on a Saturday night for the heist.  In addition, it also provides time for Clay – and probably Ross, let in by Clay – to spend their evenings/nights removing the soil from the cellar and depositing it in the railed-in enclosure across the road from the shop.
    But what of the other potential witness, the girl?  If the girl remained on the upper floor, she most likely would not have heard the digging being done during the day.  Housekeeping, even the “simple cooking” and keeping the place clean variety, would be hard work over long hours.  By evening the lass would be exhausted and retire to bed as soon as she could since she would be required to be the first up to start the fires and breakfast.  But during the day there was no guarantee that she would not descend to the pawnshop in order to go out on errands (remember, Wilson admits that he often went weeks without setting foot outside his door), or even the to cellar for some item.
    In digging this tunnel, what obstacles did the men have to overcome?  What type of soil were they digging through?
    Holmes tells Wilson that he saw on the knees of Spaulding’s trousers exactly what he wanted to see.  This could only be clay residue or staining; if the soil were wet the trousers would surely be changed.  In addition, the soil weight would impede tunneling and sediment removal.  We therefore conclude dry soil.  To put the digging into perspective: 

    One cubic yard of clay soil weighs roughly 1,200 to 1,500 pounds.  When the same soil is wet, the weight balloons to 2,300 to 3,000 pounds.

    One cubic yard of sandy “acidic soil” weighs 1,100 to 1,400 pounds.  When this soil becomes saturated the weight can top 3,000 pounds.

    A standard size pickup truck of today can hold approximately 2 cubic yards in its bed.  Therefore visualize 190 pickup trucks hauling off and dumping soil to comprehend how much soil was removed and relocated.
    So where were Saxe-Coburg Square and the Coburg branch of the City and Suburban Bank located within London?  It could not be in the saturated zone of London since we have dry trousers and no mention of pumping.  It is doubtful Wilson’s establishment would be on a main thoroughfare given the removal of considerable sediment and the fact that Wilson, and his neighbors, appear unaware of such activity.  The fact that the trousers were clearly soiled but not sufficiently damp enough to warrant a change of clothes clearly favors London’s clay rich soil zones.
    Did this tunnel need to be large enough for a rail for a car to hold all that gold?  Or would a sledge pulled up by a rope, perhaps attached to a wench in the cellar, do the trick?  Thirty thousand gold napoleons packed in crates holding 2,000 coins packed between layers of lead foil would be heavy and awkward to move through a tunnel.  If each crate held 2,000 coins, then there would be 15 crates to move.  [A 20 franc gold napoleon, the most common, weighs 6.45 grams so 2,000 would weigh 12,900 grams or 28.44 pounds – not including the weight of the crate or the lead foil.  If each crate weighed between 30 to 35 pound, then the men would need to move 450 to 525 pounds, making seven trips for one man and eight for the other.]  
    Or, more likely, would the two men simply take the gold out through the gates and doors of the bank to the back road through the side door which Mr. Merryweather brought Holmes, Watson and Jones into the bank?  Remember, Harry Houdini, a close friend of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, proved over and over that it was much simpler to escape from inside a locked room or vault than to get in through the locks.  Ross and Clay planned to simply walk out with the gold.  It seems that even Holmes did not observe the horse and cart that the two had waiting in that back road; or perhaps he simply did not comment upon it to Watson.

Below, you can click on the link to see twt one of a kind maps.  1895 London will be a large file map you can enlarge to see the streets and mews of 1895 London.  The other map is an overlay developed in 1895 to assist in digging the tunnels for the London Underground that exists today.  Ironically, there is clay exactly where the story siad there would be clay. -- Sherlock

Just click to find maps: 1895 London Master MapLondon Soil Map

Friday, February 27, 2015

Talk about Scandals -- Bohemian or otherwise

    One aspect of Sherlock Holmes that appeals to the scholar and avid reader is provided by Watson in “A Scandal in Bohemia.”  Watson has deserted Holmes for a wife, and from time-to-time he pays Holmes a visit — perhaps in hopes of being invited to take part in another exciting adventure.  So much has been written about the phrase “alternating from week to week between cocaine and ambition,” that it was apparently the only point in the Canon the writers of the television series Elementary saw in the 60 narratives of Dr. Watson.  If they had read further, they could not have spent a boring two years focused on this fact.  Perhaps a more careful reading would reveal that this occurs when Holmes is left alone in 221b.  I cannot accept that Dr. Joan Watson staying with Holmes could be constituted his being left alone, not to mention the parade of strumpets that were a part of his research.  Furthermore, Joan Watson is exceedingly attractive and intellectually, Holmes’s equal — if not down right his superior to this television based upon Holmes’s actions in the series.  Thus, one is left to ponder why it took him so long to clean up his act?  But I digress . . . !
    One would think that the members of this scion might well focus on the rest of the statement. Watson’s complete statement includes a description concerning Holmes’s hermit-like penchant for remaining “in our lodgings in Baker Street, buried among his old books.”  Over the span of 37 years, the Camden House Occupants have demonstrated that our “drug of choice” is books of every variety.  One needs to only peruse the pages of the existing 442 issues of our monthly journal for evidence. The range of references span almost every variety of published works.
    Therefore, when one observes Watson’s words regarding Sherlock Holmes’s alternation between cocaine and ambition, it is shocking that no scholar has suggested that Watson is using these words as a metaphor, suggesting that Holmes’s ambition to read and collect old books was like an addiction to cocaine (which is a simile).  Our record of publication, and the 423 consecutive monthly meetings attest to our avid addiction to the written word.

Still keeping the Holmes fires burning