Wednesday, 30 December 2015

The Gladstone Bag for Travelling and Business

It wasn’t just doctors and lawyers who made the Gladstone Bag popular when it first appeared in the nineteenth century.  In fact many workmen also found the roomy Gladstone Bag just perfect for carrying tools and work manuals.  Electricians and plumbers, for example, also apprentices in various trades, viewed the Gladstone Bag as the perfect way to transport tools, sometimes very big and dirty, also extremely heavy, between jobs and travelling to work each morning and back home at night.

For long distance travelling, on trains and ships, for example, the Gladstone Bag presented a much more elegant impression than flat and boring suitcases, as well as being wider than most suitcases and so easier for travellers to store larger items.  The flat base of the Gladstone Bag was, and still is perfect for transporting delicate items in an upright position and to avoid them falling about and breaking in suitcases usually made from thin flexible leather. 

Another benefit of the Gladstone Bag over conventional suitcases was the opportunity for two people to transport personal items in one bag, each person taking one compartment each in the Gladstone Bag.

The Gladstone Bag in Historical and Modern Day Times

The Gladstone Bag was named after a British Prime Minister of the same name in the 1800s and remains as popular today as it was in Victorian times.  The bag was designed by J. G. Beard, the owner of a leather shop in Westminster in London who was a keen supporter of William Gladstone after whom he named his creation.  The bag was and still is built on a rigid frame that splits into two separate compartments and although made solely from leather in Victorian times, the Gladstone Bag can be found in a wide range of fabrics today.

The history of the Gladstone Bag is as varied as fabrics and features used in designs for the bag today. The bag has been known by various other names over the decades, including ‘portmanteau’ and ‘doctors’ bag’, alongside other names, all usually incorrect because the Gladstone Bag is a very specific design that hasn’t changed since its original appearance.

Here are a few ways in which history has led to the bag becoming an iconic part of the British fashion scene:

*  Many great writers have featured the bag in their work, including Joseph Conrad who in ‘The Secret Agent Drama’ writes ‘Giving a slight kick to the Gladstone Bag on the floor ….’  In ‘Victory: An Island Tale’ he writes ‘Ricardo caught hold of the ancient Gladstone Bag and swung it on the wharf with a thump.’

*  Sir Arthur Conan Doyle talks of Sherlock Holmes himself and various characters in his work using the Gladstone Bag.

*  Though the Gladstone Bag is considered purely English in design, it was actually based on an earlier French design for a large travelling bag.

*  The bag isn’t always associated with high fashion and quality craftsmanship, having been associated with a murder in Eastbourne in 1924 when it became known as the ‘Murder Bag’ as a result of having been used to hide a knife used by Patrick Mahon to murder former girlfriend Emily Kaye.

Thursday, 24 December 2015

History of the Gladstone Bag

The Gladstone Bag was named after a British Prime Minister of the same name in the 1800s and remains as popular today as it was in Victorian times.  

The bag was designed by J. G. Beard, the owner of a leather shop in Westminster in London who was a keen supporter of William Gladstone after whom he named his creation.  

The bag was and still is built on a rigid frame that splits into two separate compartments and although made solely from leather in Victorian times, the Gladstone Bag can be found in a wide range of fabrics today.

The history of the Gladstone Bag is as varied as fabrics and features used in designs for the bag today. The bag has been known by various other names over the decades, including ‘portmanteau’ and ‘doctors’ bag’, alongside other names, all usually incorrect because the Gladstone Bag is a very specific design that hasn’t changed since its original appearance.

Here are a few ways in which history has led to the bag becoming an iconic part of the British fashion scene:

*  Many great writers have featured the bag in their work, including Joseph Conrad who in ‘The Secret Agent Drama’ writes ‘Giving a slight kick to the Gladstone Bag on the floor ….’  In ‘Victory: An Island Tale’ he writes ‘Ricardo caught hold of the ancient Gladstone Bag and swung it on the wharf with a thump.’

*  Sir Arthur Conan Doyle talks of Sherlock Holmes himself and various characters in his work using the Gladstone Bag.

*  Though the Gladstone Bag is considered purely English in design, it was actually based on an earlier French design for a large travelling bag.

*  The bag isn’t always associated with high fashion and quality craftsmanship, having been associated with a murder in Eastbourne in 1924 when it became known as the ‘Murder Bag’ as a result of having been used to hide a knife used by Patrick Mahon to murder former girlfriend Emily Kaye.

The Gladstone Bag and the ‘Grand Tour’ of Victorian Britain

When Victorian men and women went on the Grand Tour, they’d usually be seen carrying a large sturdy holdall, called a ‘carpet bag’, and usually resembling one of the most fashionable and functional forms of luggage, then and now, and referred to as a ‘Gladstone Bag’.

But in reality there were usually several major differences between the carpet bag and the Gladstone bag, one being the carpet bag sometimes contained just one compartment, while a true Gladstone Bag contains two separate sections, typically used to keep certain items separate, such as to avoid medicines spilling out onto important papers in the other compartment.

Another difference was that true Gladstone Bags were, and usually still are made from quality leather, while a carpet bag has always been adequately manufactured from sturdy material, rather like carpeting. 

In earlier times, politicians like Gladstone would carry important papers in a Gladstone Bag, a tradition that continued for many years after Gladstone left office and which resulted in Chancellor of the Exchequers from Victorian to quite recent times transporting their budget speeches to the Houses of Parliament in a Gladstone Bag.

Maxwell Scott Gladstone Bags

Maxwell Scott is a family run business specialising in making handbags and luggage, also briefcases from high quality leather and British design coupled with fine Italian style.  Their range of doctors’ bags are among the most attractive and desirable and are preferred by some doctors to the traditional Gladstone Bag for carrying their medical equipment and tools of the trade.

Each Maxwell Scott bag is hand crafted using premium vegetable tanned Italian leather and containing linings and locks, also fittings from the very best available.

Maxwell Scott products are designed individually for the customer and offer a lifetime of service.

At Amazon.UK Maxwell Scott items are available in a large range of designs, from the traditional Gladstone Doctor Bag in deep brown and made from luxury leather, to briefcases and attaché cases, all in quality leather and made by the world’s most talented crafts men and women.


Click on any of the images shown above to study a wide selection of Maxwell Scott bags, in briefcase and Gladstone Bag, and other popular designs.

Jack the Ripper and the Gladstone Bag

The Gladstone Bag has featured in macabre tales of murder and mystery, fictional and fact, and was once widely associated with the original Jack the Ripper who roamed the streets of Victorian London. 

Many people, then and now, believe the Ripper was a doctor, probably an American, making regular trips to London, and using a Gladstone Bag to carry the tools of both his ethical and immoral trades.

If he was indeed a doctor, it’s very likely the Ripper did carry a Gladstone Bag, as did many other professional people, not only medical types.  However, wide popularity for the two compartment Gladstone Bag among doctors led to the Gladstone Bag also being known as a ‘doctor’s bag’. 

And that is why Victorian newspapers of the day commonly described Jack the Ripper as roaming through foggy London streets, trailing alongside the silhouette of a tall man wearing a top hat and carrying a Gladstone Bag.

But even with his giveaway Gladstone Bag trademark, the man stalking and killing London prostitutes was never officially identified.  Even so, many people of Victorian and later times who studied the case of the Ripper, professionally and for pleasure (!!), believe the most likely culprit for a host of murders in Whitechapel, London, was an American surgeon who allegedly removed rings from the fingers of some of his victims and apparently died holding those souvenirs close to his chest. 


But what of his Gladstone Bag?  What became of that?  The answer is anyone’s guess.

Gladstone Bags and the Titanic Tragedy

Gladstone Bags represent just a few of numerous large items of luggage found amongst articles discovered recently from the wreck of the Titanic which went down with a massive loss of life in 1912.   It is believed that ship’s staff stuffed large cases and bags, like Gladstone Bags, with money and jewellery and other valuables from safe deposit boxes used by wealthy passengers.  The intention was to keep valuables contained in one or two places, including Gladstone Bags belonging to doctors and other professional passengers, and so avoid valuables being spread far and wide as the ship was actually going down. 


An expert Titanic historian tells how Gladstone Bags, being made from leather using a turn-of-the-century tanning process, prevented microorganisms found on the ocean floor from eating the fabric used to make most early 20th century Gladstone Bags and in so doing Gladstone Bags and their contents have survived the decades since the sinking in relatively good condition.

The Gladstone Bag as a Fashion Accessory for Women

Once very definitely an accessory for men, the Gladstone Bag has become increasingly popular with women, especially those who like to take everything but the kitchen sink with them on journeys away from home.  That’s sarcasm, of course, but some women do carry much more baggage than others, and usually more than almost all men, and the Gladstone Bag is admirably equipped to benefit the obsession many women have with large bags. 

The Gladstone Bag in its original format was a very room affair indeed, designed mainly for working men to carry the tools of their trade and until the last twenty years or so it was very unusual to see a women with a Gladstone Bag on her arm.

But the Gladstone Bag is incredibly roomy, more like a big box than a handbag, and where once big name designer fashion houses would spend all year producing small clutch bags and other fancy bags that are more of a fashion statement than useful for carrying items, today many big name designers are focussing their efforts on creating bigger bags for women.  Gladstone Bags, in fact.


The Gladstone Bag and William Ewart Gladstone

The Gladstone Bag was named after William Ewart Gladstone who was Conservative Member of Parliament for Newark -on-Trent and served from more than ten years from being first elected in 1832.  His constituency office, the Clinton Arms Hotel in the market place at Newark, still houses a plaque marking his Parliamentary acceptance speech from the balcony of the hotel.  Gladstone served four terms as Prime Minister ending in 1894.

His political career was immensely interesting with plenty of funny and very serious anecdotes having been recorded for posterity.  But it's for giving his name to an iconic bag that remains as popular today as in Victorian times for which William Gladstone is better known today.


This lens details the history of the Gladstone Bag.

Gladstone Bags for Real Life Doctors and Actors Masquerading as Doctors in Television, Film and Theatre Productions

Gladstone Bags have been made for many decades and typically today’s medical and legal professionals will purchase a new Gladstone Bag to carry the tools of their trade.  And those Gladstone Bags can be purchased literally from hundreds of makers today, in most countries, and in many cases a specific new design of Gladstone Bag will be readily available from sellers on eBay and Amazon.

Some modern day professionals prefer antique Gladstone Bags, however, often because they were created in slightly different designs to today’s Gladstone Bags, and sometimes because bags created in the early to late 1900s, for example, were hand made from superior materials.  That isn’t to say that quality Gladstone Bags made from high quality materials and created by hand are not available on the market today.  In fact, many top manufacturers of Gladstone Bags do create items every bit as good as their decades old counterparts.

However, some bags masquerading at Gladstone Bags made by hand from superior materials, are actually machine made and mass produced and created from low quality materials and sometimes leather lookalike fabrics when in earlier times a Gladstone Bag was almost always made from quality leather. 

So someone wanting to purchase a quality brand new Gladstone Bag today must query the seller of a potentially appropriate product before handing over his or her cash and subsequently finding themselves very disappointed.

One time when potential buyers can not purchase items new is when those professionals are working in television and theatre, or in film and other media, where the focus is on medicine in bygone eras.  In such cases, and where a Gladstone Bag might be required for just a few minutes of filming, it makes little sense to purchase an older or modern day design outright, and in a great many cases the media company will rent a Gladstone Bag from one or many prop rental companies operating worldwide.


Gladstone Bags Selling on eBay

Since its introduction in the mid-19th century, the Gladstone Bag has developed into more than just a simple container for carrying working papers and other paraphernalia for doctors and lawyers of the day.  Today’s Gladstone Bag is a high profile fashion accessory, used by men and women, and not only attractive but also having a much bigger interior than most modern day handbags. 

To prove how popular the Gladstone Bag has become, on eBay UK today more than 200 listings are in place for Gladstone Bags from the late 19th and early 20th centuries, alongside numerous modern day designs, not all truly resembling the traditional design of a genuine Gladstone Bag.

Of older Gladstone Bags listed on eBay today, the majority are made of fine leather, usually coloured black and brown, and frequently fetching one hundred pounds plus for bags in good condition and, most importantly, with their original keys accompanying them.


Not intended to carry more than a few matchsticks or tiny amounts of perfume, on eBay you’ll also find vesta cases and perfume bottles shaped as Gladstone Bags and fetching upwards of £50 a time.

A Gladstone Bag made from 200-Year Old Reindeer Hide

A Gladstone Bag offered by shoe and bag maker G. J. Cleverley of London was made from Russian Reindeer hide taken from the wreck of the 'Metta Catharine von Flensburg, a Danish ship that went down in a gale in Plymouth Sound in 1786.  The ship was located in 1973 when Plymouth Sound BSAC found a bell over mud concealing the wreck on the sea bed.  The Gladstone Bag was made from one of hundreds of Reindeer hides found to be in excellent condition.  The hides were made into shoes and bags, ranging in price from a few hundred pounds to £4,500 for the Gladstone bag with goatskin lining.


Gladstone Bag Collectibles.

Gladstone bags are not just Gladstone bags in the normal sense of the phrase, namely as something used to transport items or act as a fashion accessory. 
 
To prove it, just take a look at eBay UK right now and check out other items selling with ‘Gladstone bag’ in their titles. 

A great many of those items, fetching three and four hundred dollars a time, are small collectibles shaped as Gladstone bags. So an inkwell shaped as a Gladstone bag and measuring less than one inch high has recently sold on eBay UK for £351.  A few days later a Brass Travel Desk Perpetual Calendar shaped as a Gladstone bag fetched £101.01, and a short while later a handful of other small items merely shaped as Gladstone bags fetched close to one hundred pounds each.

For example, on 2nd January, 2012, a silverplate vesta case shaped like a Portman Gladstone bag sold for £59.99.

It isn’t just ornaments and collectibles, or Gladstone bags per se, that fetch high prices on eBay, as a print advertisement for a Gladstone bag that sold for twenty dollars goes to show. 


Also popular are cat ornaments, showing felines sitting in colourful Gladstone bags and selling consistently on eBay.com at around seventeen dollars a throw.

When is a Gladstone Bag not a Gladstone Bag?

Simply when it is another kind of bag or piece of luggage that lacks the elegance and style of the compartmentalised briefcase that formed the design of the original Gladstone Bag.  The truth is, however, that no better, more practical, more attractive design of luggage or carrying bag has yet been created to beat or even match the original Gladstone Bag.  But many types of luggage, new and old, gain status and a higher perception of value among possible buyers purely because their name includes those iconic words ‘Gladstone Bag’ even though their design bears little similarity to the original.

It isn’t just definitions that vary, the Gladstone Bag also has different spellings depending on who you ask or where you look.  Oddest by far is the hyphenated spelling often given to the bag which denies the fact the bag was named after someone without hyphenated or double-barrel surname, namely William Gladstone (1809 – 1898), four times the Britain’s Prime Minister.

Encyclopedia.com, for example, uses the hyphenated spelling for Gladstone bag, erroneously we think, even though their definition is highly accurate:

‘Glad·stone bag • n. a bag like a briefcase having two equal compartments joined by a hinge. (encyclopedia.com)’

Just as definitions and spellings vary, so do the materials and craftworking skills used in creating these supremely British high status travelling bags.  That’s because the original Gladstone Bag was built on a hand made frame from top quality leather, all tanned and applied to the frame by hand, often by highly skilled craftsmen, while today many so-called ‘Gladstone Bags’ are created by machine and mass manufactured from poor quality leather or no leather at all.  

History of the Gladstone Bag

The original Gladstone Bag developed in the mid-19th century and represented a kind of suitcase built on a rigid frame that could be split into two separate parts.  It was usually made of very strong leather and was often 'tied' with lanyards also made of leather.

The Gladstone bag was designed by leather shop owner J. G. Beard who traded in Westminster and was a keen supporter of William Gladstone, the Prime Minister of the day who was renowned for his love of travelling and after whom Beard named his invention. 

It was the Gladstone bag from which developed suitcases as we know them today, even though many items today described and even sold as 'Gladstone bags' are very little like the original design Beard gave to his invention. 

Although the Gladstone bag is considered typically English in design it was actually based on an earlier French design of travelling bag.


The Gladstone bag has long been considered the epitome of fashionable travel and considered worthy of mention in iconic books and films such as The Picture of Dorian Gray in 1891 in which Oscar Wild, referring to the Gladstone bag, says 'What a way for a fashionable painter to travel.  A Gladstone bag and an Ulster', the latter being another very elegant form of luggage for the wealthy traveller.

The Gladstone Bag And Why It Makes the Perfect Christmas Gift for Professional Men and Women

When it comes to style and perfectly executed craftsmanship, few items of luggage are as attractive or iconic as the Gladstone Bag.  This classic bag is not only an extremely attractive status symbol, but the design is also immensely functional, serving the needs of doctors and lawyers, entrepreneurs and business owners, and other professionals besides.  As a Christmas gift the classic Gladstone Bag is hard to beat.

The original Gladstone Bag developed in the mid-19th century and represented a kind of suitcase built on a rigid frame that could be split into two separate parts.  It was usually made of very strong leather and was often 'tied' with lanyards also made from leather.

The bag was designed by leather shop owner J. G. Beard who traded in Westminster, London, and who was a keen supporter of William Gladstone, the Prime Minister of the day who was renowned for his love of travelling and after whom Beard named his invention. 

It was the Gladstone bag from which developed suitcases as we know them today, even though many items today described and even sold as 'Gladstone bags' are very little like the original design Beard gave to his invention.  Although the design is considered typically English in design it was actually based on an earlier French design of travelling bag.


No matter how today’s designers try to emulate the original design no other bag or item of luggage possesses the elegance and style of the compartmentalized briefcase that formed the design of the original design.  

The Name Behind the Gladstone Bag

William Ewart Gladstone was elected Conservative Member of Parliament for Newark-on-Trent in 1832 and served for more than ten years.  Gladstone’s constituency office was based at the Clinton Arms Hotel in Newark’s market place where a plaque on the wall marks his acceptance speech from the balcony of the hotel.


Gladstone eventually served four terms as Prime Minister of Britain and Ireland ending 1894.

Comedy and the Gladstone Bag

There was one a comedy duo called ‘Mr Gladstone’s Bag’ who thrilled audiences with their sketches accompanied by loud banging drums and poking fun at the life and times of the people of Victorian England.  During their act they would pass bunting flags through the audience in the pubs and clubs where they worked.  ‘Mr. Gladstone’s Bag’ comprised Mike Clifton and John Watcham whose names are still referred to and their act reminisced about today in Internet forums and entertainment blogs.

The ‘Gladstone Bag’ Murder

The so-called ‘Murder Bag’, based on a murder where a Gladstone bag featured prominently, represents one of the most important breakthroughs in crime detection.  The story begins with a particularly macabre murder in Eastbourne in 1924, centering on Patrick Mahon, a salesman whose wife believed he was having an affair and decided to investigate.  Mrs. Mahon found a left luggage ticket in her husband’s pocket for an item held at Waterloo station which she expected to contain love letters or other proof of her husband’s infidelity.  She employed a private investigator to access the Gladstone bag.

The presence of Mrs. Mahon’s investigator, John Beard, led to local police getting involved and placing a watch on the Gladstone bag until Mr. Mahon arrived to collect it and was taken into custody.  At Scotland Yard the bag was opened and Mahon asked to explain the contents which included female underwear, a scarf and a knife, all coated in blood.

Eventually Mahon led the police to a bungalow in Eastbourne where the eminent pathologist Sir Bernard Spilsbury discovered two saucepans filled with boiled flesh and dishes and boxes containing flesh and fat alongside a large quantity of burnt bones in the fireplace and outside in a coal box.  Spilsbury found in the region of one thousand bone fragments which were later identified as belonging to Emily Kaye who had died at the house.  Mahon claimed he was defending himself when she attacked him and that she hit her head and died as a result.  But the head, the piece of evidence that may have proved his story, was missing from the rest of the body.

The story goes that Mahon had placed the missing head in a Gladstone bag which he took by train to Waterloo station and disposed of the head through a window on the train while placing the bag itself in Waterloo’s left luggage office.

When Beard arrived at the station to retrieve the luggage there was something about the Gladstone bag that prompted him to alert Scotland Yard.  That’s ‘something’ was probably a piece of blood stained fabric poking out from the bag.

However, despite long and complicated arguments by defence lawyers no reason was found to support Mahon’s claim of self-defence to the charge of murder and he was hanged on September 3rd, 1924.

Spilsbury claimed the case was the most challenging of his entire career and had equipped him with new skills and insights, the body of which became known as ‘The Murder Bag’ and became essential training for police involved in murder cases. 


Gladstone Bags, Usually Leather, But Canvas Gladstone Bags Also Find Popularity in Major Film Presentations

Recall an image most commonly brought to mind from the film ‘Mary Poppins’ and it’s probably Julie Andrews floating through the sky with an umbrella in one hand and a Gladstone bag in the other.

Julie’s bag contains potions and medicines to benefit the children in her care and, unlike most Gladstone bags of the day, made from leather, hers is made from brightly coloured patterned canvas which led to a whole new interest in Gladstone bags as accessories to complement men and women’s contemporary fashions.

Look on sites like Amazon and other online marketplaces and you’ll find a massive range of Gladstone bags on offer, ranging from leather to canvas, hand painted to crafted from silk and piled with lace.  Enough to please all tastes at usually much lower prices than their hand-made quality leather counterparts.

Also in ‘Mary Poppins’ we are introduced to nurse Andrew, a tyrant of a women dressed head to foot in black and carrying a black leather Gladstone bag!


The Gladstone Bag in Literature and Films

Sometimes it isn’t just their novels or stories that cause the names of many great writers to become associated with the Gladstone bag. 

The name of Somerset Maugham, for example, was inextricably linked to the Gladstone bag by English novelist Christopher Isherwood who compared Maugham to “an old Gladstone bag covered with labels.  God only knows what is inside.”

I’m not sure whether Somerset Maugham knew he had been so compared to a Gladstone bag is, but certainly he knew about Gladstone bags as elegant and out of the ordinary compared to most luggage of the day when in ‘Of Human Bondage’ he referred to his character Cronshow sitting “in place of honour on a Gladstone bag, with his legs curled under him.”

In The Catcher in the Rye, J. D. Salinger talks about his main character Holden Caulfield packing Gladstones when taking leave of Pencey Prep.


In her  novel The Private Patient P. D. James tells how the murder victim carried handbag ‘shaped like a Gladstone Bag’ and in ‘The Man With the Twisted Lip’ Conan Doyle talks of Sherlock Holmes taking a Gladstone bag from the bathroom belonging to Neville St. Claire.

When is a Gladstone Bag not a Gladstone Bag?

Simply when it is another kind of bag or piece of luggage that lacks the elegance and style of the compartmentalised briefcase that formed the design of the original Gladstone Bag.  The truth is, however, that no better, more practical, more attractive design of luggage or carrying bag has yet been created to beat or even match the original Gladstone Bag.  But many types of luggage, new and old, gain status and a higher perception of value among possible buyers purely because their name includes those iconic words ‘Gladstone Bag’ even though their design bears little similarity to the original.

It isn’t just definitions that vary, the Gladstone Bag also has different spellings depending on who you ask or where you look.  Oddest by far is the hyphenated spelling often given to the bag which denies the fact the bag was named after someone without hyphenated or double-barrel surname, namely William Gladstone (1809 – 1898), four times the Britain’s Prime Minister.

Encyclopedia.com, for example, uses the hyphenated spelling for Gladstone bag, erroneously we think, even though their definition is highly accurate:

‘Glad·stone bag • n. a bag like a briefcase having two equal compartments joined by a hinge. (encyclopedia.com)’

Just as definitions and spellings vary, so do the materials and craftworking skills used in creating these supremely British high status travelling bags.  That’s because the original Gladstone Bag was built on a hand made frame from top quality leather, all tanned and applied to the frame by hand, often by highly skilled craftsmen, while today many so-called ‘Gladstone Bags’ are created by machine and mass manufactured from poor quality leather or no leather at all.



The Gladstone Bag and the Great Depression of the Early 1900s

One of the world’s most popular luggage suppliers, Brenner Luggage, situated in South Illinois Street in Indiana, owes a good deal to the austerity of the Great Depression of the early 1900s, during which time travellers with taste but reduced spending ability, began looking for stylish but inexpensive luggage with style to match the iconic Gladstone Bag.

An article in Indianapolis Monthly in September 1997 tells how Charles Brenner met this need ‘with overnight cases made by covering wood-framed boxes with leather-grained coated paper.  Rubber-coated canvas zipper bags were also made at this time, on machinery previously used to manufacture the Gladstone Bag.’

Still today a stylish Gladstone Bag can be purchased quite inexpensively from mass market suppliers, rarely hand made by time served craftsmen, and today’s examples are often made from canvass or other materials far less expensive than leather.

History of the Gladstone Bag:

The original Gladstone Bag developed in the mid-19th century and represented a kind of suitcase built on a rigid frame that could be split into two separate parts.  It was usually made of very strong leather and was often 'tied' with lanyards also made of leather.

The Gladstone bag was designed by leather shop owner J. G. Beard who traded in Westminster and was a keen supporter of William Gladstone, the Prime Minister of the day who was renowned for his love of travelling and after whom Beard named his invention. 

It was the Gladstone bag from which developed suitcases as we know them today, even though many items today described and even sold as 'Gladstone bags' are very little like the original design Beard gave to his invention. 

Although the Gladstone bag is considered typically English in design it was actually based on an earlier French design of travelling bag.

The Gladstone bag has long been considered the epitome of fashionable travel and considered worthy of mention in iconic books and films such as The Picture of Dorian Gray in 1891 in which Oscar Wild, referring to the Gladstone bag, says 'What a way for a fashionable painter to travel.  A Gladstone bag and an Ulster', the latter being another very elegant form of luggage for the wealthy traveller.


The Gladstone Bag and Why It Inspired So May Great Writers:

So popular and iconic did the bag become in the late 19th and early 19th century that many of the most famous pensmiths of the day found time to mention the Gladstone Bag.

Joseph Conrad

Writer Joseph Conrad (born Józef Teodor Konrad Korzeniowski; 3 December 1857 – 3 August 1924), Polish-born novelist and arguably one of the most talented story tellers of all time, was a great devotee of Gladstone Bags and featured them in many of his tales.

In The Secret Agent Drama in Four Acts he says: ‘His bag in hand, his head lowered, he strode straight behind the counter …. Giving a slight kick to the Gladstone Bag on the floor …’

In Victory: An Island Tale we hear: ‘Ricardo caught hold of the ancient Gladstone Bag and swung it on the wharf with a thump.’

And in A Personal Record, Conrad says: ‘On an early, sleeping morning, changing trains in a hurry, I left my Gladstone Bag in a refreshment room.’

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s featured the Gladstone Bag in many of his Sherlock Holmes stories, including Adventures of Sherlock Holmes where the detective talks of someone ‘needing a wash’, and a subsequent solution to the problem.  (“I had an idea that he might (need a wash), and I took the liberty of bringing the tools with me.”  He opened the Gladstone Bag as he spoke, and too out, to my astonishment, a very large bath-sponge.”)

Henry Rider Haggard
Henry Rider Haggard found ways to mention Gladstone Bags in his own great writings, including She, where he says: ‘This done, he got my travelling dressing-case out of the Gladstone Bag, and opened it ready for my use.’

Cruel Joke about the Gladstone Bag
(Courtesy a short story in Liberty magazine, Spring 1974)

“Which reminds me that among the Romans women were called ‘baggage’  …..  Since then a girl has often been called “a pretty baggage”, or “bag”.  And Mrs. Gladstone, wife of the great English statesman was known as the first Gladstone Bag.”

She, Bryant and May Matches, and the Gladstone Bag

In ‘She’, author H. Rider Haggard refers several times to the Gladstone Bag, alongside several other brand name products and commercial organisations, such as Bryant and May matches, Colt revolvers, Army and Navy Stores, and Martini.  

Regular mentions of brand name products and concepts in his work resembles product placement marketing in novels and television programmes today.  Indeed, one wonders if Haggard was overtly helping promote sales of some items featured in his writing and whether his work helped the Gladstone Bag remain so popular more than one hundred years since its original appearance.

Critics, then and now, seem more concerned about close proximity mentions of commercial concerns and their impact on the quality of his writing, and perhaps demeaning and turning a brilliant novel into little more than a commercial. 

Close proximity mentions of the Gladstone Bag and other commercial goods can be found in ‘She’ where Haggard writes: ‘I wrapped up this relic of the past in the remnants of the old linen rag which had evidently formed a portion of its owner’s grave-clothes, for it was partially burned, and put away in my Gladstone Bag, which I had bought at the Army and Navy Stores - a strange combination, I thought.’

In her research paper, Dr. Julia Reid talks of the serial version of ‘She’ being ‘..frankly connected with the world of imperial commerce.  It is peppered with references to commodities, brand names, and commercial outfits, some of which also appear in the advertisements.  ….. Their (subjects in the novel) hardships are tempered by trappings of civilisation such as ‘Bryant and May’s wax matches’ and Gladstone Bags.’ 

‘It strikes a hopelessly jarring note to be dragged down suddenly from the heights of the supernatural, the immortal and the divinely fair, by the sudden and superfluous mention of Gladstone bags, shooting boots, and Bryant & May's matches .... The equipment of the African expedition at the Army and Navy Store may be a very good advertisement, but it does not work as literary art.’  (Source: ‘Studies in the Novel, University of North Texas’ http://istor.org.stable/41228675)


Widespread scepticism of frequent mentions of the Gladstone Bag and other commercial products and concerns led to most commercial references being removed from a subsequent edition of ‘She’, when the Gladstone Bag became a ‘travelling bag’ or ‘handbag’.

The Gladstone Bag and Gertrude Jekyll

Many very well-known Victorian artists, writers and craftworkers are renowned as much for their choice of luggage as for the remarkable, enduring works of art passed down for people like us to enjoy today.

Such as Gertrude Jekyll, for example, a well-known garden designer from the Arts and Crafts Movement, who lived at Munstead in Surrey from 1876, and was one of many eternally popular celebrities renowned for favouring the Gladstone bag over smaller, less durable bags and cases. 

Having been educated at the South Kensington School of Art, beginning in 1861, and apart from being a garden designer she was a talented artist and writer also, as well as a dab hand with a camera and embroidery needle.

Imagine the massive range of working implements Ms. Jekyll might carry in the course of a normal working day or on extensive trips abroad to paint flowers and study garden designs so different from those close to home.  Hence the reason she chose a Gladstone bag to carry the tools of her trade as one of the most respected gardens designers and multi-talented artists of the middle to later 1800s.


Gertrude died at her home at Munstead Wood in 1932 and visitors to Godalming Museum can see the Gladstone bag Gertrude used in her long and successful career.

Carrying Race Books to Warrnambool in a Gladstone Bag

Australian newspaper, The Standard, recently reported on Gordon Ballis who has sold race books at Warrnambool for more than 70 years.  Mr. Ballis is the current holder of a family tradition stretching back more than a century and which began with Mr. Ballis’s grandfather and later his father also selling race books, all carried to the track in a Gladstone Bag.

In 2012, Mr. Ballis was commemorated by track officials for turning up with his Gladstone Bag, complete with race books, for seventy years since he first visited the track as a twelve-year-old to accompany his father Gordon senior. 

Mr. Ballis says of his race books, naturally also his Gladstone Bag: “I can still remember heading down to the Warrnambool railway station years ago where they would bring the horses down to the May carnival by train.  The train was called the ghost train.”

It’s a fascinating story, and a great recommendation for the enduring service one can expect from a quality Gladstone Bag. 


Read more about Mr. Ballis, his race books, and his Gladstone Bag at: http://www.standard.net.au

Gladstone Bag Has Style and Charm – And Lots of Space

On 18th July, 2012, the Guardian’s online newspaper - www.guardian.co.uk - asked ‘Do French Women Grow Old in Style?’ and, among other things, concluded that La Femme Invisible ‘approaches the beach with everything planned as though for a military operation, particularly if there are grandchildren in tow.’   Naturally, the writer is considering mainly older fashionistas who on their way to the beach carry ‘The equivalent of a small Mary Poppins’ Gladstone Bag containing everything from a fishing net to sun cream and a kite.’

There’s no doubting the fact that the roomy Gladstone Bag can hold a good deal of essential and not so essential items, and the fact the Gladstone Bag has two separate compartments makes the bag even more attractive as a beach holdall.  So bathers can, for example, keep their dry clothing in one compartment of the Gladstone Bag and contain all of the wet stuff in a separate area. 

This need to keep certain things separate and unlikely to contaminate other items travelling alongside has made the Gladstone Bag allows doctors and surgeons to keep liquid medicines in one compartment to avoid leakage and damage to important patient notes and medical documents in the other.   Much the same goes for veterinary surgeons for whom the Gladstone Bag is a favourite professional accessory, alongside lawyers (I’m not sure what wet stuff they carry!), also accountants (presumably to keep tear-soaked tissues from clients safe from income tax forms), not forgetting teachers and professors, and numerous other professionals alongside.

Which means the Gladstone Bag is perfect for anyone whose job or hobby involves transporting items likely to damage delicate items travelling alongside.


William Gladstone and a Fetish for Trees

Liberal Prime Minister William Ewart Gladstone was one of the most photographed politicians of Victorian times as well as possibly one of the most eccentric. 

These photographs show Gladstone posing for a photograph with his grandson seated on his knee.  The other image is of a Christmas greetings card featuring a piece of real wood and referring to Gladstone’s fame for chopping wood at his estate in Hawarden.

The story goes that Gladstone chopped wood for exercise but many think the reason was because it helped him be at one with nature and gave him time to think away from the pressures of political life. 

Gladstone himself is believed to have said “I chop wood because I find that is the only occupation in the world that drives all thought from my mind.”

Gladstone and his axe would sometimes be accompanied by family members and history tells how he wielded the axe with the experience of a skilled woodman.


When a Liberal colleague asked why Gladstone chopped trees, Gladstone replied “We cut down that we may improve.  We remove rottenness that we may restore health by letting in air and light.  As a good Liberal, you ought to understand that.”

The Gladstone Bag: Five Things You May Not Know About It.

Because it emerged so long ago you may think the Gladstone Bag has a boring history and you’d be very wrong indeed.  That’s because, not only has the Gladstone Bag been linked with famous men and women of  historical and modern times, such as the Prime Minister after which it was named, but the bag also featured in one of the most macabre and brutal murders of all time.  That murder took place in Eastbourne in England and the story goes that the murderer placed his victim’s head in a Gladstone bag which he took by train to Waterloo station and disposed of through a window on the train.  He placed the bag itself in London’s Waterloo railway station left luggage office where the police ultimately discovered it because of a piece of bloodstained cloth poking from the fastening of the bag.

Here are five more things you may not know about the Gladstone Bag:

The name of Somerset Maugham was inextricably linked to this iconic item of luggage by English novelist Christopher Isherwood who compared Maugham to “an old Gladstone bag covered with labels.  God only knows what is inside.”

*  In The Catcher in the Rye, J. D. Salinger talks about his main character Holden Caulfield packing Gladstones when taking leave of Pencey Prep.  In her novel The Private Patient P. D. James tells how the murder victim carried handbag ‘shaped like a Gladstone Bag’ and in ‘The Man With the Twisted Lip’ Conan Doyle talks of Sherlock Holmes taking such a bag from the bathroom belonging to Neville St. Claire.

*  One of the most iconic images of the bag comes from the film ‘Mary Poppins’ and it’s probably Julie Andrews floating through the sky with an umbrella in one hand and a Gladstone bag in the other.

*  There was once a comedy duo called ‘Mr Gladstone’s Bag’ who thrilled audiences with their sketches accompanied by loud banging drums and poking fun at the life and times of the people of Victorian England.  During their act they would pass bunting flags through the audience in the pubs and clubs where they worked.  ‘Mr. Gladstone’s Bag’ comprised Mike Clifton and John Watcham whose names are still referred to and their act reminisced about today in Internet forums and entertainment blogs.


*  The Gladstone Bag was named after William Ewart Gladstone who was elected Conservative Member of Parliament for Newark-on-Trent in 1832 and served for more than ten years.  Gladstone’s constituency office was based at the Clinton Arms Hotel in Newark’s market place where a plaque on the wall marks his acceptance speech from the balcony of the hotel.  Gladstone eventually served four terms as Prime Minister of Britain and Ireland ending 1894.

The Gladstone Bag, Sherlock Holmes, and a Well-Known Doctor from Edinburgh

The Gladstone bag was probably invented by a baggage maker called Beard, working in the city of London, and a great devotee of Prime Minster of the Day, William Ewart Gladstone after whom he named his new design.  ‘Probably’ is the operative word in that last sentence, because a minority of researchers say Beard’s design was similar to a bag made in France a few years earlier, and it’s the French designer who deserves credit for designing the Gladstone bag.

Gladstone was well known as a regular traveller, keen on visiting faraway places, and usually seen with a large bulky suitcase for travelling as well as visiting Parliament each day.  But although the Gladstone bag was named after Gladstone, based on his love of travel and affinity for baggy luggage, it’s uncertain whether Gladstone actually used the new design.

One thing that is quite certain, however, is the theory that Sherlock Holmes, also Doctor Watson, and the fact both men used Gladstone bags, probably stem from author Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s relationship with a police doctor in Edinburgh.  That man was Henry Duncan Littlejohn and he was a regular police surgeon in major Scottish murder cases in the Victorian era.  Littlejohn was well-known for his superior detective and forensic skills and would regularly find clues the police had overlooked.  More than this, he carried a Gladstone bag to court and to his medical practice each day.

So Henry Littlejohn became known as the man who inspired both Sherlock Holmes and his companion, Doctor Watson, even though a close friend of Littlejohn has been similarly credited with inspiring Conan Doyle’s great detective stories.

That other man was Doctor Joseph Bell, a close friend of Littlejohn, and one time employer of Arthur Conan Doyle.  Also being well-known for collecting evidence and solving cases causing difficulty for the police, Bell has similarly been likened to Conan Doyle’s characters, Sherlock Holmes and Doctor Watson.   

In reality, it’s more likely both doctors were the real life ancestors of Conan Doyle’s most famous fictional characters.

But it’s probably Littlejohn who prompted Conan Doyle to create characters whose tools of the trade were carried in Gladstone Bags; Sherlock Holmes for his spy glass and detective paraphernalia, and Doctor Watson for his medical instruments.

From those early days, in 19th century London, the Gladstone bag has developed into one of the most iconic pieces of luggage of all time. 



The Gladstone Bag, Sherlock Holmes, and Doctors Littlejohn and Bell

It’s pretty much certain that a London leather worker called Beard created a bag named after the 19th century British Prime Minister of the day, William Ewart Gladstone, despite some historians insisting Beard’s Gladstone bag was based on a similar design created in France a few years before.   

But few literary experts dispute the most popular reason why the Gladstone bag became indelibly linked with novels by Arthur Conan Doyle, author of Sherlock Holmes

The theory goes that Conan Doyle’s frequent reference to the Gladstone bag is due to his professional association with a well-known Scottish doctor, Henry Duncan Littlejohn.

Littlejohn was a familiar face in Edinburgh in Victorian times and a regular witness in Scottish criminal trials.  His powers of research were legendary, even during his own lifetime, and Littlejohn’s incredible success in bringing criminals to justice was based more on his detective and forensic skills than on mere medicine alone.  Contemporary news reports about Littlejohn made reference to him carrying reports and forensic evidence in a Gladstone bag.

And that is why modern day medical and forensic academics claim Littlejohn was not only the man behind the character of Sherlock Holmes himself, but may also have inspired Sherlock’s constant companion, Doctor Watson, who like Littlejohn also worked closely with the police. 

Additionally, having worked closely with Littlejohn and his famous Gladstone bag, they say, is the reason Conan Doyle writes about Holmes and Watson using Gladstone bags as tools of their trade.

Littlejohn was meticulous in his research methods and summing up skills for some of the most notorious criminal trials of the Victorian era.  

One of the most famous trials attended by Littlejohn became known as the Ardlamont case, and featured another medical witness, Doctor Joseph Bell, himself known for helping the police solve difficult criminal cases.  And that is why Bell is also widely believed to have inspired the character of Sherlock Holmes, and possibly Doctor Watson too.

Like Doctor Watson, Henry Littlejohn was appointed police surgeon, and also like his fictional character, he carried out post mortems and was a regular expert witness in criminal trials, and usually carried a Gladstone bag.  In common with Sherlock Holmes, Littlejohn was a skilled detective, often locating clues the police had overlooked.

Claims by academics that both Littlejohn and Bell gave birth to the fictional sleuth and his doctor friend, are supported by the fact that Conan Doyle had been clerk to Doctor Joseph Bell, and would be in regular contact with Bell’s close friend, Henry Littlejohn.  


Regular proximity to both men, and their famous detective and forensic skills, gave Conan Doyle a unique insight into creating main characters and the tools of their trade, including the Gladstone bag. 

The Gladstone Bag and a Letter Looking for Its Owner

A newspaper published just over one hundred years ago tells how the police of Southern Australia and Victoria were looking for the owner of a Gladstone Bag in which was found a letter from the manager of a bank in Victoria telling how the addressee was entitled to a fortune in debenture bonds.

The tale of the Gladstone Bag became even more interesting when a man was charged with unlawful possession of the bag by the Adelaide Police.  A police officer testifying to the event said the accused was seen carrying the Gladstone Bag in the afternoon when he was accompanied by an elderly gentleman.  When the accused was seen later that day, still carrying the Gladstone Bag, he was alone.


‘The Barrier’ newspaper, published in February 1913, more than one hundred years ago, can be viewed online, but sadly you may never learn how the tale ended and whether the accused was found guilty of unlawful possession, or what had happened to his elderly companion, not even if the person named on the letter found in the Gladstone Bag ever got to learn about his good fortune.

Barry Humphries and the Gladstone Bag

Australian actor and comedian, Barry Humphries, also known as ‘Dame Edna Everidge’, tells how his love of music led to him purchasing a massive stock of sheet music from a second-hand bookshop in Melbourne, Australia, and carried them all home in his ‘weighty’ Gladstone Bag. 


There’s more proof the Gladstone Bag is not just for doctors and lawyers, and other professional and business men and women, but is just as useful and attractive for conveying hobby and special interest items.

The Gladstone Bag and One of the World’s Greatest Philanthropists

Daryl ‘Doc’ Seaman earned his nickname from having carried his baseball gear in a Gladstone Bag, frequently referred to as ‘Doctors’ Bags’, hence the nickname ‘Doc’.

That was in the 1940s when no doubt he, like many people, realised the Gladstone Bag is not just created for doctors or lawyers, or other working professionals, based on the immense capacity of most types of Gladstone Bag. 

Although it was created more than one hundred years ago, as a two-component bag for professionals, by a leathermaker called Beard working in the centre of London, the Gladstone Bag is proving equally popular today as a fashion accessory and for transporting large items of personal, professional and business equipment.

The original Gladstone Bag was named after William Ewart Gladstone, prime minister in Victorian times, who was a great inspiration for the man who designed the Gladstone Bag.

But the Gladstone Bag, or rather it’s other description of doctors’ bag, was purely responsible for Mr. Seaman’s nickname, not the name by which this man would rightly be proud to be known, namely as a great philanthropist and for leaving one of the largest donations ever to the Calgary Foundation in Canada.

In the 1940s, Mr Seaman was usually seen at baseball matches carrying sports gear and personal possessions in a black Gladstone Bag.

Mr. Seaman was a well-known citizen of Calgary where he settled in 1949 and founded a major oil and gas company.   He gave time and money to the citizens of Calgary and was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame.  When he died in 2009 Doc Seaman gave most of his wealth to the Calgary Foundation.  But what became of his Gladstone Bag, I wonder?