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7th Annual 12th Night Giveaway: Day 6

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Berkeley Square, London, c. 1880

Christmas, 1886


Well, as I am sure you’ve been able to tell, I’ve been following Christmas year-by-year, beginning the year Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson met. I was thinking of doing a recipe this time, or maybe a look at Christmas cards. Maybe something about blackmail. And then I found…this. This very strange story, in the 23 December, 1886 issue of the St. James Gazette. If Sherlock Holmes had read it–and we do know he kept up with the London papers–how would he see it? As a piece of black humour? Satire? A holiday homage to DeQuincey? As a creepy story? Or perhaps as a…confession? See what you think.



At rest by my good sea-coal fire, my pipe at hand, the curtains of my room  pinned together with pen-nibs, I dream back to a Christmas Eve of the long-ago. The sleet flings itself at the windows, to fall back exhausted like–like–like salmon trying to mount a caul. Far below, the waits are singing in the street. It will be precisely–yers on Friday night since I throttled the waits and buried them in Berkeley-square. I have made allowances for the waits ever since; fearing too often that I have a crime on my conscience. Did I do right? After all, may not these men have had their feelings?

It is so long ago that I cannot be expected to remember all the details. Indeed, I am never quite sure whether there were two of them or three. There wee certainly two, and I remember that I took the man with the beard first. The incident would have made more impression on me had there been any talk about it. So far as I could discover, it never got into the papers. The police did not seem to think it any affair of theirs, though one of them must have guessed wha I invited the waits upstairs. He saw me open the door to them; he was aware that this was their third visit in a week; and only the night before he had heard me shout a warning to them from my study-window. But of course the police must allow themselves a certain amount o discretion in the performance of their duties. Then there was the gentleman of the next door but two, who ran against me just as I was toppling the second body over the railing. We were not acquainted, but I knew him as a man who had flunga flower-pot at the waits the night before. He stopped short when he saw the body (it had rolled out of the sofa-rug), and looked at me suspiciously. “He is one of the waits,” I said. “I beg your pardon,” he replied, “I did not understand.” When he had passed a few yards he turned round. “Better cover him up,” he said, or people will talk.” Then he strolled away, an air from “The Grand Duchess” lightly trolling from his lips. We still meet occasionally, and nod if no one is looking.

I am going too fast, however. What I meant to say was that the murder was premeditated. In the case of a reprehensible murder, I know this would be considered an aggravation of the offence. Of course it is an open question whether all murders are not reprehensible; but let that pass. To my own mind I should have been indeed deserving of punishment had I rushed out and slain the waits in a moment of fury. If one were to give way to his passion every time he is interrupted in his work or his sleep by bawlers–be they waits or Socialists or what not–our thoroughfares would soon be choked with the dead. No one values human life or understands its sacredness more than I do. I merely say that  there may be times when  man, having stood a great deal and thought it over calmly, is justified in taking the law into his own hands–always supposing he can do it decently, quietly, and without scandal. I am a physician with a practice which keeps me hard at work until late in the evening. What repose I get is late at night, after my household have retired to rest; and it is my custom to sit up into the small hours, thinking over my more dangerous cases. Often I have been rung up just as I had got into bed and had to go off to see a patient. I never grudged that. But the epidemic of waits was another matter. It broke out early in December, and every other night or so these torments came in the stillest hours and burst into song beneath my windows. They made me nervous. I was more wretched on the nights they did not come than on the nights they did; for I had taken to listening for them, and was never sure they had gone into another locality before four o’clock in the morning. As for their songs, they were more like music-hall ditties than Christmas carols. So one morning–it was, I think, the 23rd of December–I warned them fairly, fully, and with particulars, of what would happen if they disturbed me again. Having given them this warning, can it be said that I was to blame–at least, to any considerable extent? Surely not; especially at this time of year, when charity is in the very air and we are all expected to be lenient one to another. I do not pretend to be faultless.

Christmas Eve had worn into Christmas morning, before the waits  arrived on that fateful occasion. I opened the window–if my memory does not deceive me–at once, and looked down at them. I could not swear to their being the persons whom I had warned the night before. Perhaps I should have made sure of this. But in any case these were practised waits. Their whine rushed in at my open window with a vigour that proved them no tyros. Besides, the night was a cold one for lingering long at an open casement. I nodded pleasantly to them, and pointed to my door. Then I ran downstairs and let them in. They came up to the study with me.As I have said, the lapse of time prevents me remembering how many of them there were; three, I fancy. At all events, I took them into my ante room and strangled them one by one. They went  off quite peaceably; the only difficulty was in the disposal of the bodies. I thought of laying them on the kerbstone or in different passages; but I was afraid the  police might not see that they were waits, in which case I might be put to inconvenience. So I took a spade, and, climbing into the gardens of Berkeley-square, dug two (or three) large holes. Then I carried the bodies to the place in my rug one at a time, shoved them in, and covered them up. A close observer might have noticed in that part of the garden, for some time after, a small mound, such as might be made by an elbow under the bedclothes. Nobody, however, seems to have descried it, and yet I see it often even now in my dreams.

The worst of the affair’s attracting no attention is that it does not serve as a warning to other waits. They were never harder at it than they have been this year. However, I have done what I could, and I have no intention of making an annual thing of it. I may have been wrong, but I acted for the best; and, after all, motive is everything in these cases.




Of course the murderer wouldn’t actually be a physician living in Berkeley Square. But the bones of the story–could they have been true? It’s interesting to think about the “what if’s.”

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I was perfectly sane before those blasted waits….

Every story in the Canon involves people with secrets–and secrets have a way of coming out, particularly when Sherlock Holmes gets involved. The 3 adventures Baring-Gould says take place in 1886–“The Resident Patient,” “The Noble Bachelor,” and “The Second Stain” all feature people trying to hide their pasts. Who are they–and what are they trying to hide?

Like our hero, Sherlockians are all about “what really happened,” and have been for well over a century now. Today’s prize is a classic in that field:


Ronald Burt DeWaal, BSI (“The Wigmore Street Post”) who died this past July, was a librarian, exhibit curator, and professor whose most famous Sherlockian achievement is his bibliography of all known material relating to Sherlock Holmes–as of 1974. He followed it with 1980’s The Universal Sherlock Holmes, and, ultimately, with 1994’s multi-volume or electronic Universal Sherlock Holmes, edited by George Vanderburgh.* To enter the drawing to add this volume to your Sherlockian shelf, just send your answer in via blog comment or FB message!

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Kristen Franseen is the winner of the bag of Holmesian goodies! For her “bad gifts,” she chose the box of salted ears sent by Jim Browner to Susan Cushing (“The Cardboard Box”), and the ivory box of tropical disease Culverton Smith sent to Sherlock Holmes (“The Dying Detective”). Others of you mentioned the 5 orange pips Elias Openshaw received from Capt. James Calhoun (“The Five Orange Pips”) and the “bequest” Jonas Oldacre made to the unhappy John Hector McFarlane (“The Norwood Builder”).


*If you are interested in this work, contact Mr. Vanderburgh at:

George A. Vanderburgh, M.D.
The Battered Silicon Dispatch Box
P.O. Box 50, R.R. #4
Eugenia, Ontario
Canada N0C 1E0

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7th Annual 12th Night Giveaway: Day 5


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Christmas, 1885


What’s the worst Christmas present you’ve ever received? Santa’s “Norbury,” as it were?

For me, it was two pair of striped socks–one green and yellow, the other, black and orange, from my grandmother when I was 12. I had reached the age where I knew there was no Santa, I no longer played with toys, and, like many adolescents (I’d be 13 in a few weeks) expected for people to somehow “know” me. The socks were a perfectly reasonable gift–and I wore the green and yellow ones quite a bit once I got over myself–the problem was never with them, only with me.

That being said, some gifts are truly awful, even in Victorian England. While many  people were unwrapping candy, tea in pretty containers, bottles of liquor or wine, fine tobacco, gloves, or even jewelry or watches, some unfortunates found these in their stockings on Christmas, 1885:

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Although, to be honest, children were probably thrilled. I’m thinking more of the parents.

I have to wonder if Holmes or Watson ever thought of one of these–to give Mrs. Hudson a little fright….

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Ok, that is just cruel. One hopes they were only “warranted” to play for a few days.

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If only a certain doctor had stuck to these….

These ads were all screen-shot from Ally Sloper’s Half Christmas Holiday, the Christmas edition of Ally Sloper’s Half-Holiday, the first comics magazine featuring one character–“Ally Sloper,” a lazy man who spent a good deal of time hiding from his creditors. It was very popular in its late Victorian heyday, although, looking through it, I have to say that much of its humor is beyond me.

There are a few bad–even wicked–gifts mentioned in the Canon. Can you name two? And how about the giver, and the recipient? Send your answers in and hopefully you’ll find this gift a little more to your liking….

Like the items above, it is a bit of a mixed bag–but a good one, I hope!


There is a tote bag, a big green notebook, a small yellow notebook, a pair of socks and a finger puppet. So if your stocking was lacking in Holmes this year, send your answer to the above question in via blog comment, or FB message!

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Jim McArthur is the winner of the BSJ subscription!  The answer, to quote Holmes himself, in “The Problem of Thor Bridge”: “There is little to share, but we may discuss it when you have consumed the two hard-boiled eggs with which our new cook has favored us. Their condition may not be unconnected with the copy of the Family Herald which I observed yesterday upon the hall-table. Even so trivial a matter as cooking an egg demands an attention which is conscious of the passage of time and incompatible with the love romance in that excellent periodical.”

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Attenta! Special Announcement!

Ok, obviously my brain was not functioning today, as I neglected to post a link to Day 4’s post on FaceBook. To make sure the FB people have plenty of time to play, I will therefore draw for both the Day 4 and 5 prized on the evening of Saturday, December 29th.

So sorry, guys!

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7th Annual 12th Night Giveaway: Day 4


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“Such romantic exaggeration, Watson! My papers are not stacked ‘to the rafters!'”

It probably goes without saying–although we are going to say it–that Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson are great readers. Whether  engrossed in Clark Russell’s sea stories or the  stacks of philology books in aCornwall cottage, they spend a great deal of any free time they have filling their brain attics with things they deem valuable. It’s fairly reasonable, then to imagine that they looked forward to Christmas and its flood of “Annuals”–special magazine issues with stories and articles by premier authors and the occasional up-and-comer.

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Like this one.

Of course, we’re a few years too early, still. Here are some of the Christmas annuals for 1884….

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Screenshot from Pall Mall Gazette, December 4, 1884 (British Newspaper Archive)


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This was probably more Mrs. Hudson’s style, although Watson does know a lot about women’s clothing. Screenshot from the London Evening Standard, December 2, 1884 (British Newspaper Archive)

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Body-snatching. It doesn’t get any more Christmassy than that. Screenshot from St John’s, Oxford, Special Collections Blog.

You know what other periodical does a special annual Christmas volume? Yep. That’s the one. And if you win today’s drawing, you’ll receive your own subscription to the Baker Street Journal–the name in Sherlockian scholarship. From serious research to “playing The Game,” you’ll find it in the five volumes (4 quarterlies and the Christmas issue) you’ll receive in the coming year.

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To be eligible for the drawing, just send in your answer to this question:

While I don’t see any cases listed for 1884 in Baring-Gould’s chronology, there are 3 mentions of magazines or periodicals in the Canon. My question is this: What connection can you make between The Family Herald and breakfast?

As always, send your answers to me via blog comment or FB message–either the Well-Read Sherlockian page’s account, or my own, if we know each other “in real life.”


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Congratulations to Ching Ju Teng, who knew (as did all of you), that the ill-fated Julia Stoner met her fiancé at the home of her Aunt, Honoria Westphail, who lived in Harrow. Oddly enough, Harrow is also the home of the famous school of the same name, and BBC Sherlock’s Benedict Cumberbatch is an “Old Harrovian.” (To keep things even, Jeremy Brett attended Eton).

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7th Annual 12th Night Giveaway: Day 3

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I don’t think it means what he thinks it means…. (Image from Worthpoint of an ebayUK item)

So. Christmas dinner traditions. Lots of people have them. In my husband’s family, they had a sitdown roast beef dinner with the customary sides, along with trifle and floating island for dessert. Everyone dressed formally (ties, etc.), and although they were a “Christmas Eve presents” family, no one was allowed to open anything until the dishes were washed and his father read “The Night Before Christmas” aloud.

Um, in my family, the only tradition for years was getting up at all hours on Christmas Eve to “go down to the bathroom” when we were really checking to see if Santa had shown up. Once it was determined that he had, we lay awake in our beds for about 30 hours until my parents told us we could get up and turn the living room into an explosion of wrapping paper (there were 14 kids, eventually–it was a lot of paper). When I was 13, my father decided that, for religious reasons, we weren’t going to celebrate Christmas.* We substituted with a New Year’s tradition: renting movies and eating a TON of junk food. At first, these were actually reel-to-reel movies played on a screen and projector we got from the library. Later, we rented a TV-cum-VCR from Rent-a-Center (we didn’t have a television, either).** It was tremendous fun, and even now, my favorite Christmas food is the cheese ball.

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Oh, yeah.

As we all know from classics like A Christmas Carol and “The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle,” one of the centerpieces (literally, perhaps) of the Victorian Christmas dinner table was the roast Christmas goose. Have you ever had one? I have not, and probably never will–in my head, geese (like ducks) are birds you toss treats to at the park–although geese are meaner, and a little scary once your bread-bag is empty. I can’t really imagine eating them. A lot of people could, however, and since they were apparently expensive, they were given as gifts, raffle prizes, and could be bought in installments by members of “goose clubs.”

As we’ve seen, the latter two could be problematic. Along with the poor fellow who didn’t receive his goose, etc., from the raffle, another December, 1881 article detailed the dilemma of a goose club whose treasurer absconded with all of their money. Reading these, I started to get curious about how the difference between the raffle and the “goose club,” and found this article from The Globe, dated 7 December, 1883:


A case of considerable interest to publicans at this season of the year, came into the West Riding Police-court the other day. The landlord of a local inn being summoned for allowing gambling to take place on his premises, the police gave evidence that a leg of pork had been raffled for. The defendant offered no denial, but pleaded general custom in excuse for the technical breach of law. Other publicans’ he affirmed, were allowed to have raffles for food and drink, in order to draw custom to their houses, and why should he be debarred? As the police brought forward the case avowedly as a test, it would appear that the defendant was correct in pleading general use and wont, and the bench, recognising the strength of that excuse, dismissed the case. Yet it is beyond question that raffling is gambling within the meaning of the law. Those who join, pay their money on the chance of winning something of higher value than the amount subscribed, and it matters nothing at all whether the prize be a sum of money or the equivalent in goods. Goose and turkey clubs stand on an altogether different footing, because all subscribers get, or are supposed to get, their money’s worth. But in the first half of December public-house raffles for spirits, tobacco, and other seasonable luxuries are by no means uncommon, and they will not be diminished in number by this magisterial decision acknowledging their legality.



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They’re off the hook, then. (“The Goose Club,” by Phiz; image from Victorian Web)

Now that we have that cleared up (and aren’t you relieved!), it’s time to post today’s contest. According to Baring-Gould, “The Adventure of the Speckled Band” occurred in 1883, so it is the source of today’s question:

Where did the ill-fated Julia Stoner meet her fiancé, and how does that location connect to an actor who later portrayed Sherlock Holmes?

If you win, you get to go “Holmes for the Holidays”with these two anthologies, containing stories by Anne Perry, Loren Estleman, Carole Nelson Douglas, Daniel Stashower and Tanith Lee, among others. These are used books, in very good condition, copyright 1996 and 1999, respectively. And I will never get used to the 90’s being over 20 years ago.


As always, to play, send your answer to today’s question to me via blog comment or FB message. Hope your day–whether filled with traditions or not–was a wonderful one!

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…to Marie-Claire, winner of the True Victorian Crime Book Club! As many of you pointed out, there are a lot of poisoners in the Canon. Her candidates were these:
1. Enoch Drebber from STUD, killed by Jefferson Hope, poison of choice: alkaloid.
2. Brenda Tregennis, from DEVI, killed by Mortimer Tregennis (later killed himself by Leonard Sterndale; poison of choice, Radix pedis diaboli (Devil’s-foot root)
3. The baby in SUSS (who lives), poisoned by Jack Ferguson using a dart tipped with curare or another South American poison.

*So, technically, not all of my siblings had a traditional Christmas, as my youngest brother wasn’t born until I was 16.

**When our Magnavox console bit the dust in 1979-80-ish, my parents just didn’t replace it. 1980’s TV is unknown territory to me.


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7th Annual 12th Night Giveaway: Day 2


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Screenshot from the British Newspaper Archive

Christmas, 1882


Granada’s mention of Gamage’s nothwithstanding, we really don’t get a clear idea of how Holmes and Watson spent Christmas from the Canon. In “The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle,” Watson (who is not living in Baker Street at the time) comes to pay his friend “the compliments of the season” on December 27th. Later, after the whole “bonnie blue egg” bit, they apparently share a meal featuring some sort of poultry. Was Watson married at this point (it depends on which chronologist you ask)? Did Holmes spend Christmas itself with family? And if so, was it just Mycroft, or did both brothers enjoy (endure?) a visit to the “country squire” branch of the family? Was the “bird” the erstwhile flatmates shared made specially for the occasion? Or was it (as seems more likely) leftovers, either from a celebration in town, or brought home from…wherever. I’ll be honest here and say that this is one reason why I believe that Watson was not a woman. If he had been, he’d have told us these absolutely crucial details.

Looking through the British Newspaper Archive for December, 1882, then, I tried my hand at deducing how our boys might have entertained themselves that Christmas. London had no shortage of available amusements, but I have to imagine that none of them would have appealed to Sherlock Holmes like the trial of Louisa Taylor for the murder of her elderly friend, Mary Ann Tregellis. Mrs. Tregellis, 82, and her husband, William, had taken Louisa, 36-ish, in after her husband (William’s co-worker in HM Customs) died in August of 1882. In the following two months, the Tregellises caught Louisa stealing and pawning their belongings, and Mrs. Tregellis’s health declined sharply. She was quick to make the connection between her sickness and her friend’s “care,” and was able to give a deposition enumerating her suspicions to a magistrate before dying on the 23rd October. An autopsy and other evidence backed up her testimony, and an inquest jury delivered its verdict of willful murder against Mrs. Taylor in November. Her trial, billed in the papers as “The Plumstead Poisoning Case,” was held at the Old Bailey in mid-December of 1882 and contained a good deal of graphically gory testimony from Guy’s physician Thomas Stevenson. Had Holmes attended, he would have seen Taylor convicted of “a cruel and treacherous murder,” and condemned to hang. Her sentence was carried out on 3 January, 1883, and she turned out to be the last woman executed at Maidstone Prison.

Later that month, he may have had his own poisoning case to deal with. Lloyd’s Weekly Newspaper of 31 December printed this account of an inquest held in Holmes’s own Marylebone:


Yesterday afternoon Dr. Danford Thomas held an inquest at the Buffalo’s Head tavern, Marylebone-road, on the body of John Maplestone, aged about 51 years, butler, in the service of Mr. Alfred Miles Speers, a merchant, of 13, Park-crescent. The lower part of the premises was frequented by a cat, and instructions were given to the deceased to destroy the animal. Some prussic acid was obtained, and a portion of it was entrusted to him, which he mixed with some fish oil. Later in the evening the housekeeper heard a thud in the basement, and sent down to know the cause. Soon afterwards the butler was found insensible, and expired in a few minutes. The jury returned the following verdict–viz., “That the deceased expired by poisoning from prussic acid, the deceased having drunk some from a bottle when he was attempting to poison a cat, but for what purpose, either of suicide or misadventure, there is no direct evidence to show.”

I don’t know about that one. What do you think, Holmes?

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Yeah, I thought so.

Well, if you, like Holmes, love nothing better than a good murder to pass the time, then today’s prize is for you! Because it’s literally Christmas, I am offering a “True Victorian Crime Book Club”–3 books on actual 19th century murders, the first to be delivered in January, with the other two following in February and March. The featured books are as follows:

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And to win them, you just need to answer this question:

Watson describes Holmes as being “well up in…poisons generally.” Name 3 times in which Holmes encountered murder by poison. List the story, the victim, the murderer and the poison.

As always, send your answers to me via blog comment, or FB messenger (either on the Well-Read Sherlockian page, or my personal page, if we are FB friends). Best of luck and watch your drinks!

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Our first winner is T. Rick Jones, who listed the visitors he saw in his and Holmes’s new sitting room during their first months together: Mr. Lestrade, “a young girl…fashionably dressed”; a Jewish pedlar; a slipshod elderly woman; an old white-haired gentleman, and a porter “in his velveteen uniform.”



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7th Annual 12th Night Giveaway: Day 1


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Screenshot from British Newspaper Archive, Illustrated London News, 7 December, 1881


Christmas, 1881


It was their first Christmas as flatmates, but they had been living (and solving crimes) together for nearly a year. Watson was used to Holmes’s days-long silences and impromptu violin concerts, while Holmes occasionally picked his papers up off the floor.


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“I’ll get to it eventually, Watson.”

What sort of cases might Holmes have picked up that December? What about this one, reminiscent of Mr. Baker’s Alpha Inn goose club. I can easily see this man consulting Holmes after the police failed to give him satisfaction:

CHRISTMAS CLUBS.–A working man applied to the magistrate at the Thames Police-court, on Friday, under the following circumstances:–He stated that he had drawn the first prize in a Christmas club held at a public-house in the neighbourhood. The prize consisted of a goose, two bottles of wine, six bottles of spirits, fifty cigars, half a ton of coals, and a box of matches. He had three witnesses to prove that he had fairly drawn it, but the landlord refused to give it to him. Could the magistrate help him? Mr. Lushington: Certainly not; the whole affair is illegal, and I cannot interfere in the matter. The applicant left the court apparently very much disappointed.–Reynolds’s Newspaper, 25 December, 1881

So, what do you think? Did Holmes get the landlord to pay up?

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Oh, please.


Well, fortunately for you, I am not a dishonest publican. I do have a prize waiting for you this Christmas Eve, and this contest is perfectly legal. All you have to do is answer this question. In keeping with this year’s theme, Every Year in Baker Street, this one comes from A Study in Scarlet, set in 1881:

One of the challenges Watson no doubt faced when he first moved into 221B was dealing with Holmes’s steady stream of clients. He describes a few of them in A Study in Scarlet. Who were they?

And your prize? Not a goose, or bottles of spirits. Certainly not a half-ton of coal! How about this instead?

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If you’ve ever had a chance to look through a few Strands, you’ve doubtless realized that there are more Paget illustrations than the ones we get so used to seeing on the internet. This is a wonderful volume, with text by noted Sherlockian scholar Nicholas Utechin. To win, simply send you answer to the above question to me via blog comment (I will keep them private) or FB message (either on the Well-Read Sherlockian FB page or, if we are FB friends, to my personal page. PLEASE do not send an answer via Twitter–I am just not on there much at all anymore.

Best of luck and Happy Christmas to all!!!!


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