You’re a Consulting Detective, Mr. Holmes? Other Peculiar Occupations c. 1897

The Black Eye Artist

“I suppose I’m the only one,” says Holmes of his occupation, but his was not the only curious occupation at the time. Here are three other instances as identified by Balliol Bruce in a Feb., 1897 Pall Mall Gazette article on the topic.

The photo above shows Mr. W. Clarkson, a black eye artist of seventeen years experience. Tools include greasepaint of two hues, lily powder, and carmine. The unaffected eye is painted to match. The process takes about half an hour and lasts for a week. Mr. Clarkson gave a few examples of the assortment of antics that bring patrons to his door.

  • A solicitor wanted a black eye painted out before entering court.
  • Two women, who ought to have known better, fought as they entered a Buckingham Palace drawing room. Big gratuity to the artist for this one.
  • One evening a man had a black eye painted out; came back the next night with another.
  • Angry wife threw a book at her husband, but missed him. He rushed to Clarkson to have a black eye painted in–so as to fill his wife with remorse.
  • Under Other, there are the excuses. Slipping getting into or out of bed; cab pulling up suddenly and throwing forward the occupant; baby boy whose clubbing fist flashed at his mother’s face; popular preacher, so carried away with his own eloquence that he jabbed himself in the eye.

The Height Increaser

M. Pinet of Berner Street, W. is a professional height increaser, a feat he undertakes with two methods. (Both of these continue to this day, though no one seems to be claiming the occupation, per se, on 2020 taxes.) Method one involves plush covered pads, pictured, which can be moved to from shoe pair to pair. Method two is accomplished with special boots, which M. Pinet explains can raise you as far as SIX INCHES.

Who are the customers?

  • Clerks out of employment.
  • Waitresses.
  • Policemen and others in uniform, such as Army officers.
  • Footmen (to whom stature is everything, says the Gazette.)
  • Barristers, Clerics (churchmen), Members of Parliament.
  • AND MANY OTHERS, but especially those who want to catch a particular other’s eye. M. Pinet says women use the elevators because they raise the instep and make the feet appear smaller. (Small feet, as a “thing,” no longer seem to be the rage, but considerable trouble is still taken for height.)
Photo by Scott Webb on

The professional height increaser tells a story about a man who left his elevator pads in his boots when he put them outside his hotel room door to be polished. Of course they came back minus the pads and “the gentleman was confined to his room,” because he didn’t want to make inquiries about them. When he did leave, he was somehow “lower” in the eyes of his friends. M. Pinet says the moral is “KEEP DUPLICATE PAIRS!”

Funeral Horseman

The average undertaker keeps “neither horses nor coaches, but hires these from people like Mr. Seaward, who keeps a hundred funeral horses,” according to the Gazette. These would account for just one hundred of the nine hundred funeral horses in London in the late 1890’s. These stately, expensive, and often feisty animals are imported from Friesland and Zeeland, Netherlands provinces. Seaward claims that, once, at a very small funeral, “the coachman lent a hand with the coffin; but in his absence, the horses ran amuck among the tombstones, which went down like ninepins in all directions.”

In the photo, one of Seaward’s men paints a horse’s white fetlock with a black mixture in preparation for a funeral procession. A white star on the forehead is simply covered with the animal’s own foretop. To the right in the photo hangs a fake horse tail, necessary when Seaward uses one of his no-tailed Dutch Black horses to create a kind of composite horse. The tail is strapped on for funerals, but at night it can be discarded so the horse can take people to and from the theaters.

Holmes, the world’s only consulting detective, stands with pipe

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