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I Tried To Be Witty

I am doing a fiction that eventually takes place at night in the home.

Did Victorians use candles or were oil lamps around and popular?

Also, was Sherlock Holmes rich or poor? Call me silly, but I never really understood and I need the information.

7/30/2010 #1

As far as I know, Victorians used both candles and oil lamps - oil lamps were used for general lighting in main rooms and such, but candles were still in use as a means of transportable light (like our equivalent of flashlights). As for Holmes being rich or poor, which part of the canon are you referring to? When he met Watson, he was looking for someone to split the cost of rooms with, thus signifying that he was - if not poor - than at least not very well off and certainly not rich. He stayed in the Baker Street rooms for most of his career (apart from the Haitus and possibly the WWI era and afterward), but that might have been more for sentimental reasons than monetary (also, it is noteworthy that Holmes was at one time - after 1894 - living alone in Baker Street, thus taking sole rent responsibility, making it likely that he was richer then than he was in 1881. Toward the end of his life, Holmes did buy a country cottage, something that would probably have taken an adequate amount of money to do. However, it is safe to say that he was never rich (except disputedly during his childhood), only moderately well-off throughout most of the canon, and definitely poor at times (probably mostly from 1881-1889). I hope this helps :)

7/17/2011 #2

I know this is several years too late to help the initial problem, but I stumbled across this during a sleepless night and have a couple of things to add that might help the one or other person with a similar question...

First, yes, oil lamps where in use in the time period, the original Sherlock Holmes stories are set in. - They are on occasion mentioned, for example in "The devil's foot" where an oil lamp, or rather its smoke guard, is used to dispense poisonous fumes. Also the lanterns they carry on occasion (Actually as equivalent to a flash light) - for example in the "Red headed league", are also fuelled by oil.

Candles are also used, as is stated in "The blue carbuncle", where a felt hat has enough tallow stains on it to suppose, the house the hats owner lives in, has no connection to the gas supply. Candles came in handy when you did not want to fiddle around in the dark all that much, as lighting an oil lamp requires more steps - for example taking of the glass lampshade - and can be fairly dangerous in the pitch dark, as you might knock it over accidentally and spill the oil. A candle requires nothing but a match to light it, and when you knock it over, while it is not lit, the only worry you'll have is finding it again in the darkness (though of course you could light a match for to have a short look around...) - so on most bedside tables, you would have found candles and not oil lamps.

I already mentioned gas lighting, and this would be the third and probably most common way of illuminating ones house at that time. Gas lighting became popular and fairly common (if you lived in town) in the second half of the 19th century. It was also comparatively cheap. We know from the original stories, that 221b Baker Street had gas lighting - it is mentioned for example in the "Dying Detective", where the culprit is asked by Homes to turn up the gas lighting and with that, unknown to him obviously, signals for the police to arrest him. Gas was also used for the street lamps.

Electricity was less common, but not unheard of, it also appears in the original stories, as Charles Augustus Milverton had electric lighting installed in his house - the story is set sometime in the 1890ies.

Just as a bit of side info: There are still several gas fuelled street lamps in London today, for example in Covent Garden and around Buckingham Palace.

As for Holmes' monetary situation:

He certainly was not a rich man in his early years, since - as was already pointed out - he was looking for someone to share his lodgings with.Considering that in Victorian times, rent was generally a lot cheaper than it is today, it can indeed be concluded, that he was rather poor. Just for reference, a small terraced house back then could be rented for as little as 30 Pounds per annum (taken from The Victorian House by Judith Flanders). But, we have of course to consider, that in today's money this would very roughly amount to around 3000 - 4500 Pounds. Still a bargain, considering that it is for a whole year. Though I could not estimate the amount they actually had to pay for their flat in Baker Street, particularly since the rent seems to include their meals. In contrast to the actual rent, food was extremely pricey and if they paid for board and lodging, they might have paid a fairly substantial amount after all. - Anyway, in the "Dying Detective", Watson tells the reader, that with the amount of money, Holmes has put into the house, he could have bought it several times over, so over the years Holmes must have made some money with his work.

There are a couple of cases mentioned, that pay him extremely well - in "The Beryl Coronet" he earns 1000 Pounds (roughly 100000 - 150000 Pounds today) and in "The Priory School" he even makes 12000 Pounds (roughly 1200000 - 1800000 Pounds today) - for which he is, at that point, very grateful, because he actually tells Watson, that he IS a poor man - though it might be taken in relative terms. There are of course other illustrious cases, that presumably will have paid him extremely well, too - on the other hand, Holmes was in the habit of dodging the well paying but uninteresting cases for the not paying at all ones as long as they where more interesting. All in all he might have been poor in his younger years, but reasonably well off later on.

11/20/2016 #3
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