Simanaitis Says

On cars, old, new and future; science & technology; vintage airplanes, computer flight simulation of them; Sherlockiana; our English language; travel; and other stuff


PERSONAL MOBILITY was essential to Sherlock Holmes in his pursuit of evil doers. And, generally, in London and elsewhere, his travels had nothing to do with internal combustion. (See for an exception to this, albeit late his career.)

Nevertheless, Holmes certainly had a variety of horse-drawn options.


“At London Bridge, Holmes wrote a telegram to his brother…” From “The Adventure of the Bruce-Partington Plans.” Image of a heavily traveled London Bridge, 1891, from Viney. The bridge was dismantled in the 1960s and rebuilt in Lake Havasu, Arizona.

This selection of Sherlockian carriage types comes from a look through William S. Baring-Gould’s The Annotated Sherlock Holmes; (see and two other references recently cited, Michael Harrison’s In the Footsteps of Sherlock Holmes and Charles Viney’s Sherlock Holmes in London (see

Fortunately (for both you and me…), I make no claim here of completeness. The standard reference on carriages, Arthur Ingram’s Horse Drawn Vehicles Since 1790 in Colour, lists 325 different types.


“…when the cabman got down from the box and looked, there was no one there!” From “A Case of Identity.” Image by Sidney Paget, in Baring-Gould.

A brougham, pronounced “brohm” or “broom,” was a 4-wheel carriage with an enclosed body. Its driver rode up front in a box. Typically its passengers had a front window; coach passengers did not.


“As we stepped into the carriage…” From “Silver Blaze.” Image by Sidney Paget, from Baring-Gould.

The term carriage was used to describe a four-wheel conveyance with a soft folding top and opposed seating for four. It was typically pulled by a pair of horses.


” ‘Now, Watson,’ said Holmes, as a tall dog-cart dashed up through the gloom. throwing out two golden tunnels of yellow light from its side-lanterns…” From “The Man With the Twisted Lip.” Image by Sidney Paget, in Baring-Gould.

Within Sherlockian context, a dogcart was pulled by a single horse, not a dog. It was two-wheeled with a pair of seats set back-to-back (dos-à-dos”). The Brit nickname “bounder” likely referred to ride quality.


“The ordinary London growler is considerably less wide than a gentleman’s brougham.” From “A Study in Scarlet.” Image from Harrison.

A growler was a slang term for a four-wheel cab. By its tracks alone, Holmes could identify a cab as opposed to a wider-gauge private carriage. Harrison suggests two hypotheses for “growler,” the rumble and creak of its progress—or the cabbie’s habit of protesting an insufficient tip.


“…and we started off together in a hansom.” From “A Study in Scarlet.” Image from Viney.

A hansom, named for its inventor Joseph Aloysius Hansom, 1803-1882, was London’s lightweight high-performance cab. Its driver sat high in back and wore a top hat (growler drivers wore bowlers). Passengers communicated through a trapdoor in the roof. The front of the hansom was open, except for two folding doors that reached up only half way.

When Watson encountered Stamford, his dresser at Barts in the old days, it was a hansom that took them to lunch at the Holborn—where the subject arose of a colleague seeking a roommate.


“…one of the smaller offshoots from Edgeware Road…” From “The Adventure of the Three Garridebs.” This omnibus plied Edgeware Road, north of Hyde Park, in 1880. Image from Harrison.

The omnibus, Latin “for all,” had another interesting name because of its Victorian approach to marketing: the “knife-board.” These four-wheel two-horse conveyances were typically two-story. The upper deck, partly protected by their advertising billboards, was reached by steps at the rear.


“We got off, paid our fare, and the trap rattled back on its way to Leatherhead.” From “The Adventure of the Speckled Band.” Image from Baring-Gould.

A trap typically had one horse, two high wheels and perhaps face-to-face or back-to-back longitudinal seating; the driver had a separate bench. As Holmes and Watson found in Leatherhead, Surrey, southwest of London, it was the transportation typically hired at a rail station in the country.


“Outside, beyond the low, white fence, a wagonette with a pair of cobs was waiting.” From “The Hound of the Baskervilles.” Image by Sidney Paget, from Baring-Gould.

A wagonette was similar to a trap, but larger with a pair of horses. (Cob: bigger than a pony; a small sturdy horse.) Driven from a bench seat in front, a wagonette accommodated several passengers on a side, face-to-face, in its aft seating.

Though Watson doesn’t mention it, a wagonette fitted with guns, ammo and other hunting provisions evolved into the shooting brake. ds

© Dennis Simanaitis,, 2013

2 comments on “HOLMES’ WHEELS

  1. Bob DuBois
    July 21, 2013

    I’m guessing the possible sound of a British trap on the rough dirt roads of the day,is the origin of the word,”rattletrap”, for an old car in poor shape ?
    And,at last, a possible origin of the term,”shooting brake”, for an English station wagon. I don’t know how many people I’ve asked about the origin of that term with no success!

  2. Pingback: The Adventure of the Bruce-Partington Plans | My Blog

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