The Phenomenon of Sherlock Holmes

A couple of weeks ago I attended the inaugural lecture of Creative Writing Professor Neil McCaw, who entertained university and public people alike upon the effect of Sherlock Holmes on the world. McCaw assessed the fact that Sherlock Holmes was a world-wide phenomenon who was used in a variety of ways including increasing morale during war-time, and his presence in detective work in modern times. There are interpretations of Arthur Conan Doyle’s stories in nearly every country with Antarctica being the only region having no affiliation that McCaw could find. Doyle’s work came out of the end of the original detective genre popularity boom in the nineteenth century. His fictional sleuth Sherlock Holmes was by far not the first detective to gain infamy but Holmes was the first to capture a lasting effect upon peoples imagination. But of course this is a study of literature so it is necessary to acknowledge Holmes significance within history for a history blog. Holmes is one of the most portrayed movie characters in all of cinematic history and has been produced multiple times most notably in England, America, Russia and China. But Holmes’ character had specific connotations in how Doyle’s character was used during the Boer War and First World War.

Holmes first appeared in a serialised set of short stories in The Strand Magazine in 1891, which continued with overwhelming success until 1927. It consists with four complete novels and fifty-six short stories. They appeared during the time that the police were considered mistrustful and were disliked by the Victorian and Edwardian public. But Conan Doyle reflected upon a character that took on extraordinary cases and solved them through deduction and the occasional opiate induced violin frenzy.  His address was 221B Baker Street also occupied by the medical doctor Mr Watson and his rarely mentioned landlady, Mrs Hudson. His residency in London recognized a need for a detective capable of solving abnormal crimes, especially since the audience were living in the aftermath of the horrors of the Jack the Ripper murders. The inspiration for such a character Doyle stated was Joseph Bell, a surgeon at the Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh who was capable of solving medical mysteries from minute observations, which whom Doyle worked with as a clerk. Holme’s appearance in the books of the deerstalker hat and cane is shown in non-contemporary illustrations, mostly by Sidney Paget, but this is the image we would recognise today, even though Holmes’ outfit was not specifically described in the stories.

Holmes significance during the World War of 1914-18 was his use in raising morale. His Last Bow was Doyle’s first attempt at ending his journey with Holmes character was published in 1917 near the end of the First World War. Doyle’s portrayal featured British and German spies and could be described as spy fiction rather than detective fiction. This short story was serialised and sent out to the British troops in the trenches to raise morale with propaganda. The story was set on the eve of the First World War were a German agent Von Bork was attempting to leave England with vital intelligence on the British military stance. Holmes identified there was a security leak in British Intelligence that allowed German spies to access information and was able to trace Von Bork before he was able to leave England. Doyle referenced to the impending war by suggesting there was a ‘cold wind’ coming in from the East thus allowing the audience to interpret from whom the threat was coming from. But it also included a message for hope as shown in this extract:

“Good old Watson! You are the one fixed point in a changing age. There’s an east wind coming all the same, such a wind as never blew on England yet. It will be cold and bitter, Watson, and a good many of us may wither before its blast. But it’s God’s own wind none the less, and a cleaner, better, stronger land will lie in the sunshine when the storm has cleared”

At the point of this story ending the war was not yet over but it was an attempt to ensure the troops continued fighting in the hope to defeat the enemy. But thankfully end it did with the victory on the British side in 1918. The use of Holmes as a morale boost was strong since it continued through film in the Second World War. Sherlock Holmes was portrayed by Basil Rathbone in a series of Sherlock Holmes movies, created by Twentieth Century Fox, from 1939 to 1946 beginnings with The Hound of the Baskervilles. However Holmes was used as propaganda tool which is purely evident in Sherlock Holmes and the Voice of Terror released in 1942. This movie was based upon The Last Bow which followed the storyline with the German Agent bearing distinctive Nazi markings. The next in the series in released in 1943 Sherlock Holmes and the Secret Weapon featured doctors attempting to flee the Gestapo with Holmes being captured by Professor Moriarty, Holmes’ nemesis, being shown to be a Nazi scientist. Moriarty is one of the most enduring enemies in fiction also immortalised in his frequent cinematic depictions. This thread of the British and American film producers constantly portraying Holmes fighting, and beating, the German Nazi regime was to ensure the public kept going during one of darkest periods in world history. The slight problem with this ideology is that these movies were found in Hitler’s bunker, who was said to have shown these movies as entertainment to his German officials suggesting that the propaganda morale boost was felt by only Britain and America for the amusement of the other side.

The phenomenon of Sherlock Holmes did not and does not end with the World Wars, Russia has used Holmes to interpret communism. America’s president Theodore Roosevelt attempted to justify that Holmes was actually American but chose to fight crime in the more needy London. This came about due to America being the home of the first Sherlock Holmes Society of which Teddy Roosevelt was a secret member.  Comic books portraying Holmes as a crime fighting ninja is a popular theme and the Japanese puppet version of Holmes’ is in my opinion slightly terrifying. But the ideology of a super detective sleuth being on your side of a war that affected the people, landscape, and emotion of nation would have been incredibly reassuring in the history contemporary to the release of the Sherlock Holmes stories. There is a vast wealth of information on the use of Sherlock Holmes in recent history, I have barely scratched the surface here but McCaw’s lecture has certainly inspired me to search for more.

3/03/2011 Trussel’s Benefactors of Winchester, By Robert Smith

The third of March we attended to the Hampshire Record Office. We got there without even knowing who the so-called Trussel was, or what was the talk about. The mystery was though revealed by Robert Smith, who introduced us to an unknown aspect of the history of our own city. Robert Smith is currently at the University of Southampton doing an MRes course under Ros King. He is currently working towards upgrading this interest in Trussel into a PhD.

For many of us, the figure of John Trussel  might be unfamiliar. Trussel was an antiquarian and an important figure in Winchester between 1600 and 1648, although little of him is now remembered. His work ‘the Benefactors of Winchester’ was the most important document that he wrote and one of the main sources that R. Smith has used whilst undertaking his research. Despite of the fact that he is not a well-known figure, some people have studied him before. The most relevant, and who produced more useful material about him was Thomas Atkinson.

John Trussel was originally born in London and lived between 1575 and 1648. He might have been a scholar at Westminster. He was a poet that especially wrote ‘old fashion love’ verses. We know that he came to Winchester before 1603 and was recorded in 1606 in the civic records as being a freeman of the city. The evidence suggests that he was a Roman Catholic, since he attacked Puritanism in his work and was a Royalist during the English Civil War. In one of his longer declaration poems, the city of Winchester narrates the horrible damage which has been done to her during the Civil War. This reflects Trussel’s own anger about the fact that the city was sacked two times and the extensive damage done to the cathedral such as destruction of saint’s relics and the stained glass window in the West of the building. There are also references to doing good works in some of his poems, which plays a part in the Catholic faith, as well as pointed silence over executions of Catholics who were locally executed in 1603. However, it is hard to verify this as he would not be able to overtly make this clear in his work; in fact he tends to avoid religious issues, and could just have been a High Anglican instead. He served as a bailiff in 1616-7 and was elected as mayor of Winchester in 1624 at Michaelmas and again in 1633-4 before later being debarred from standing for office again in 1646. It was the fact that he was from an old gentry family and married into the Colley family, who were among the social elites of Winchester, that he was able to come into these positions of power. As well as being a history enthusiast and a civil servant, Trussel also wrote poetry such as ‘The First Rape of Fair Helen’ as well as longer poems that reflected his sentiments about political ongoing circumstances.

Trussel & The City

For us it is interesting and quite remarkable the love that Trussel seem to have towards the city of Winchester. This could be identified as some sort of patriotism or romanticism ‘avant la lettre’. Winchester, although it was not his motherland, was his home. In his writings about the city some influences from Virgil could be found. This is shown by the way in which he sees the city from the point of view of the past, of the days of glory before this terrible decadence. The way it refers and describes the details embrace the classical style from the Aeneid.

In fact Winchester was “an ancient city, like a body without a soul”.When Trussel came to Winchester, the city was in a diminished state, its population only numbering about 3,120 in 1904 and many of its areas going back to nature; gardens and orchards being prominent. This meant that there was a significant need for poor relief, which included poor relief and charitable donations.

Trussel & Charity

Fitting into a trend of Christian charity at the moment, despite the fact that good works were no longer officially needed, it still meant that people were still able to try to curry favour with the divine. The kinds of people who made these charitable donations were varied; from noblemen to people from more modest backgrounds who just paid what they could. Some were given to provide people with certain things, while others were an annual sum that was paid for a certain period of time. Some of these alms were to be delivered in the public eye or sermons were said on a certain day, and R. Smith suggested that this served as a way wherein their names and acts could be recorded and remembered. However, this generosity could ultimately give rise to jealously and have other political consequences.

Trussel & Political Issues

Trussel wrote letters concerned with who politics should be conducted, and it is likely that they were meant to be read aloud to a combined audience or were in circulation. They detailed complaints about how people were not observing the proper hierarchy as well as touching on the issue of corruption. He seems to have been in an intellectual conflict with his fellowmen. He had one idea in mind, that contrasts with this environment of corruption: the Public Good, following the steps of Cicero. In addition, poems were written, in an often sharp and formulaic manner, sometimes being in rhyming couplets, and effectively put forward the point that Trussel was trying to make. These included observations about local well-known figures in Winchester such as Edward White, but there is also one that Trussel has addressed to himself, which demonstrates a certain sense of humour. He demand general higher standards of the conduct of the Corporation (to which R.Smith refers as a ‘mafia/mob alike institution’), and thought that advice that he had given on this subject was not properly realised until it was too late for it to be taken. Apparently, he thought about himself as a victim. He had the feeling that the whole world was against him. This paranoid attitude was not totally wrong; the people did not understand completely his way of doing and seeing things.

Trussel & History

Trussel was considered to be the last of a dying breed of historians by the 1640s, and is described by R.Smith as being ‘combative, crotchety [and a] loner’ and who was also not afraid to rock the boat and try to make his opinion about this subject known. He was a defender of older historical thought, such as the myth that England was formed by Brutus. Trussel can also be identified as belonging to an older school of antiquarians, due to the fact that he did not recognise that historical thought that progressed, and equating myth and popular thought on the same level as modern research that had been carried out. Furthermore, he also put undue weight on older sources which other historians at the time were rejecting or criticising. He also had a narrative conception of history, believing that historians would continue to write out the story of history without analysing it further or rewriting it in light of new sources which have been found.


Trussel was a proud resident of Winchester who, as he stated in a letter written in 1636, wished write something that would prove as a monument to Winchester itself and to preserve the names of the Christian benefactors who provided some much-needed aid in the city. Nonetheless, this seems to mean nothing nowadays. We have indications and details about his life and his career, and his connection and importance in Winchester. But it seems that he did not have any sort of impact, that he did not make a difference. Is this true? Maybe he has this recognition but in a more local or regional way? Whatever the answer is, he though deserves all our respect. He might not have been a very important man in the making of history…But R.Smith has made him some justice by telling us the story of his battle. And he has also remind us the importance of the lost causes in history. History is written by the winners, it is popularly said. But we cannot forget, that those that failed, those that had not been recorded are ALSO part of history…And maybe without them History would not be the same.

Caroline, Sophie, Lillian and Scott

17/02/2011 “Excavations at St.Mary Magdalen Hospital” By Dr. S. Roffey

On Thursday 17th of February we attended to the Hampshire Record Office in order to discover about the Excavations of St. Mary Magdalen Hospital. The Lecture was given by Simon Roffey. Dr S.Roffey is an archaeology lecturer in the University of Winchester. He studied his degree in the University College of London, and in Winchester for his PhD.

In his lecture Dr Roffey introduced us to the world of Medieval Hospitals, and Lepers Houses. Apparently the institution founded at the hill was a leper hospital but only for a small period. It is known that they deal there with leprosy because of the archaeological evidences provided by the human remains.

Leper Hospital in England

We know little about them before the Norman Conquest (maybe we are looking in the wrong places). Hospitals used to take care of those who suffer from leprosy from the late 11th century until the 14th century. Apparently by the 15th century the epidemic seems to disappear, decline or just transform into something else. Because of this reason many leper houses and hospitals turned into alms houses or they keep being hospitals but they changed their policies, patients and structures. It is known that quite often lepers were considered outcasts, reason why many of this institutions were in the outskirts of the towns. (However, C.Rawcliffe portrys the image of lepers as those who has been blessed by God: they experienced purgatory on Earth therefore their suffering in the after life would be shorter and less miserable). Unfortunately, not much is known about the origin of these institutions: although there are some surviving buildings in Norwich, Glastonbury and Stourbridge from which we can infer some material.

St.Magdalene’s Hospital in Winchester

Fortunately our hospital is an untouched site, potential for extensive excavations. There are historical records that refer to the ‘lepers on the hill’ (Winton Domesday c. 1148). Some other details that we know about it are the following. By 1336 the hospital was ‘slenderly endowed’ and in decline. During the 14th and 15th centuries it suffered reforms. From c. 1550 to 1600 it was an almshouse (went from being built by masonry to being brick-built) Later on, it became a royalist camp and then prison (1660s): there were  around 3,000 prisoners from the Anglo-Dutch war. In 1788 it was demolished. In addition, the place became one of the biggest First World War bases in Hampshire, and the site appeared in a Time Team show, 2000.

Some Notes and Details on The Excavations

  1. 10th century Reforms and the Building during the reign Alfred ‘The Great’: Regulation and enclosure of monastic space (same provisions also made for the sick?). Oswald’s lost monastery (perhaps the hospital?)
  2. Artefact from the 10th and 11th century: There was an earlier cemetery (other side of the chapel under the medieval layer: an under chapel?). Similar burials to ones in Lincoln. Mode of burial – Anglo-Saxon?. Carbon dates form bodies – 890-1040. Grave markers (had a structure and was given lids,people buried with respect)Early hospital?: Leech Books (set of books for medical treatments,treatments for leprosy are mentioned)
  3. Pre 12th Century period: Burials. There might be an earlier building under the chapel. Evidences of transitional architecture. 12th century wall sitting inside the structure – sits underneath the infirmary.
  4. From 12th to 14th century-Leper Hospital period: There was an infirmary and a parallel chapel with a yard in the centre. The chapel was a flint structure with dressed cornerstone with a structure in the middle. There were interior burials (they were plaster lined and had a marble slab)
  5. Late Medieval Period: Earlier structure – probably a master’s lodge. Earlier master’s lodge attached to the side of the infirmary (example of the growth of the idea of having private space)
  6. Post Medieval Period: 1570-depiction of the chapel. The Masters lodge had a red-tiled corridor. Rubbed out trenches and bricks were later reused. Latrine: in which Tudor artefacts were found
  7. Current Excavations Looking for: The early medieval infirmary under the chapel and underneath the infirmary, looking into the burials and outlying areas of the hospital for burial pits.

We would like to thank Dr Simon Roffey for this information, and to wish the excavation team good luck for the future. The unknown world of St. Magdalen’s Hospital is in your hands- in good hands.

Lillian, Sophie, Scott and Caroline


-Dr. Simmon Roffey-University of Winchester:

-Simon Roffey´s Website:

-Winchester Archaeology:

10/2/2011 “British History in the New Age of Austeriry” by Pr.M.Taylor

On Thursday the 10th of February, we attended a talk hosted by the Modern Research Center (University of Winchester) given by Professor miles  Taylor, current director of the I.H.R (Institute of Historical Research) and previously a professor at both Southampton and York universities. The title of the lecture; British history in the new age of austerity…

The talk began with a discussion of modern history and when does it actually begin, which is a very good question.  Oxford has the modern period starting at the end of the middle ages, Scotland with the act of union in 1707, or is it in the 18th century with the rise of industry leading in Britain to the industrial revolution.  But the question perhaps is what do you consider as modern is it the growth of industry or the rise in democracy. This makes dating in history  both a help and a hinderance which professor Taylor demonstrated in his talk. I suppose to an extent post modernism is true in that it is perhaps the memory of the event that is more important and therefore dates don’t really matter, a radical concept for you to think about.

Also  in his talk Professor Taylor discussed how changes in politics and ideology have impacted on the study and the writings of history. A modern example of this can be found under the 18 consecutive years of conservatism led by Margaret Thatcher in Britain.  Historians leaving for America where there was more money and better opportunities for research, where a degree was useful in its own sake and not had to have a use or purpose as in Britain.

 Wider changes to the historiography can be found in the growth of patriotic and revisionist history and also a rise in the role and workings of politics in a more general sense in order to understand why events turned out the way they did, this was without hindsight. British historiographical studies also experimented the re-emergence of the 18th century as an important period in English history. In addition, gender studies in history and a re-evaluation of women’s role within the historical framework began to be explored. Also, the issue of populism appears. It looks at wider political movements that have influenced the politics and of course history , i.e . the suffragettes and fascism and also there was a disappearance of a the focus being on the history within the classes, both separately and on a wider scale.

Cool Britannia? Under new labour, lots of members of the cabinet have a history degree and background. The party itself becomes self-conscious and used its own history to promote what ‘new labour’ was about in the modern world, moving away to an extent from its more socialist roots for example the dropping clause 4. There was also a re-assessment of the second world war, with the focus on the home front, and an interest in race and immigration as well as patriotism. Finally, religious studies, have perhaps become more important given todays  multicultural society. For example, the use of ‘jihad’ by some people to refer to Islamic attacks on the western world, which  originally means holy war/crusade, therefore referencing to the  original crusades. Thus showing how history has a definite impact on the present.

Lastly professor Taylor brought his talk right up to the modern-day by telling the audience how David Cameron, Prime Minister, wants to be remembered  for the coalition. Well… time only can tell if this is will be true. Nonetheless, we have to consider that we are, once again, in a new period of austerity, with  cuts to the humanities… I wonder  if current and future historians will remember him in the way he wants. We shall see as professor Taylor said “we are in different times”

Finally, quite timidly, we found the courage to go down the auditorium after the lecture was finished and asked Professor Taylor a couple of questions concerning his talk and history in general. This is what we got:

Does politics has a significant impact on history and is this a positive or negative thing ?

Politics has a big impact in the study of history. In the last 30 years there have been long and several periods in which one political party have been in power (not only in England, but in the rest of the world i.e George Bush and the Republicans in the United State). This is important considering the new studies on the very recent past as it’s all marked by politics and international relationships. Professor Taylor considers this is a good thing as it brings to the study of history new areas of interest, but also he thinks that this can be a disadvantage as it will deeply influence historical thinking and writing, and we all know it is extremely difficult to write good history without being totally biased, there is not such a thing as absolute detachment. He also stated that the past is the prelude for the modern times, and so we should learn from the mistakes made in the past, especially politicians as many political scandals and disasters have taken place and could be, unfortunately, repeated.

Why does history matter?

Professor Taylor truly believes that history matters, as we can learn lessons from it. It provides us with an identity and helps us know how we understand the world and how it works.  There few countries that have continuous evidences of history ( America just became a nation about 300 years ago, and some other places in the world do not even have a traceable history of their past and community). He thinks people need to get interested in the subject, or then we will have something else to add to the so-called ‘dead subjects’ like Latin or Greek. To create a general interest in history, Professor Taylor criticizes his own environment and world by saying that we as historians need to communicate better about our own area of knowledge…We have to develop those social skills the politicians have (and the scientists in their very clear explanations on what they do and how they do it…although to be fair they have shiny moving things to attract people…we just have lots of archaeological remains…and books)

What is the future for historians?

Professor Taylor seem to fear that the new generations of historians will get distant from what is history itself. History is tactile, and there is the danger that we would lose our contact with the material culture. Hopefully we would not assume that everything we need is on the Web and save us from destruction.

We hope you enjoy this, and thank you Professor Miles Taylor for your time!

Sophie and Lillian