The Largest Mourning Warehouse in Europe

“Then, in the winter of 1867-68, the boy’s health worsened. He was growing fast, and thin … He was taken to London to see an eminent specialist.” Sherlock Holmes of Baker Street, Sir William S. Baring-Gould, Holmes’ biographer.

Advertisement London Illustrated News:

FAMILY MOURNING,made up and trimmed in the most correct and approved Taste, may be obtained at the most reasonable Prices, at Peter Robinson’s. Goods are sent free of charge, for selection, to all parts of England (with dressmaker, if desired) upon receipt of letter, order or telegram; and Patterns are sent with Book of Ilustrations, to all parts of the world.The Court and General Mourning Warehouse,256-262, Regent Street, London; The Largest Mourning Warehouse in Europe.


Perhaps if 13 year old Sherlock had not survived, the Holmes family, living in Yorkshire, would have turned to Peter Robinson’s Court and General Mourning Warehouse. Note that “goods” may be sent along with a dressmaker, if desired, to any part of England. Talk about convenience. Then again, given that every member of the family and some of the extended family would be wearing mourning for some time to come, there was a lot of work, payment and often room and board, for the dressmaker.

Holmes’ parents and brothers, Sherrinford and Mycroft, would have dressed in mourning for six months to a year. Aunts and uncles, 3 to 6 months. Cousins and aunts related by marriage, 6 weeks to 3 months. Such mourning practice was not something confined to the upperclass, but a mainstay of middle class respectability.

Neither was it confined to the English. It’s famously true that Queen Victoria, whose husband, Prince Albert, died when she was 41 in 1861, wore mourning until 1901 when she herself died. It’s also true that Mary Todd Lincoln, made a widow by President Abraham Lincoln’s assassination in 1865, wore mourning for seventeen years until her death in 1882.

1″ X 1/2″ Victorian mourning brooch, centered on a minute woven design of loved one’s hair.

Sherlock Holmes and the Remaining Improbable by Susanne M. Dutton

The game is not afoot. The Better-Every-Day world of 1895 is gone, even hard to recall as WWI ends. From his rural home, Holmes no longer provokes Scotland Yard’s envy or his landlady’s impatience, but neither is he content with the study of bees. August 1920 finds him filling out entry papers at a nearly defunct psychiatric clinic on the Normandy coast. England’s new Dangerous Drugs Act declares his cocaine use illegal and he aims to quit entirely. Confronted by a question as to his “treatment goal,” Holmes hesitates, aware that his real goal far exceeds the capacity of any clinic. His scribbled response, “no more solutions, but one true resolution,” seems more a vow than a goal to his psychiatrist, Pierre Joubert. The doctor is right. Like a tiny explosion unaccountably shifting a far-reaching landscape, the simple words churn desperate action and interlocking mystery into the lives of Holmes’ friends and enemies both. 

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Holmes laughed. “Fifty six years ago, the Queen made a deduction regarding her husband’s hair, Watson.”

Queen Victoria’s husband, Albert Francis Wettin (1819-1861)

He slid the latest Pall Mall Gazette across the breakfast table. “Read it yourself, old man. Just there, below the photograph of the bracelet.”

I found the article.

“After the Prince Consort’s death, Her Majesty had some of his hair made into a bracelet.* Now the Queen stipulated that there were to be no joinings, but this was impossible, the Prince’s hair being too short. However the Queen’s instructions were carried out and the bracelet delivered.

Chancing to be toying with it one day, Her Majesty drew out a hair three times the length of the Prince’s hair; then there was trouble. The bracelet was inspected, and it was found that that while much of it was Prince Albert’s hair, the greater part of it was not.” (The bracelet pictured is such a bracelet, but not that bracelet.)

“Hmm,” I mused. “Let me make another deduction. When one goes about as a ‘Majesty,’ people are going to lie to you to keep you happy.”

Photo by Irina Anastasiu on

The Pall Mall Gazette (February 1897) has more to tell about “hair devices,” as momentos of deceased loved ones. Below is an example from a Swiss gentleman, Antonio Forrer, who developed what we would call a fiber art in the 1840’s, weaving hair and wool.

It seems an English woman spied some of his work while traveling, brought him to London and helped him to set up a work shop in Regent Street, where he developed a successful trade. Before long he offered work to dozens of Swiss women who helped him to meet the demand. When the craze (as the Gazette calls it) was at its height, provision would be specified in wills for mourning brooches, rings, bracelets and earrings, as well as “fiber art” creations for the parlour. In London alone, there were 100 hair-working studios. Below are other examples of Victorian momento mori, a monogramed a bracelet, choker, earrings and wall hanging featuring the deceased woman herself.

This stuff is fun, quirky, thought-provoking and sometimes hard to get our modern heads around. If you find it as interesting as I do, follow my blog. Thank you.

Susanne Dutton … Sherlock Holmes and the Remaining Improbable by Susanne M. Dutton, soon from Propertius Press