The Abbey Grange: A Perfectly Ordinary Story…

…That Sherlock Holmes Turns on Its Head!

Come, Watson, come! The game is afoot. Not a word! Into your clothes and come!

The Abbey Grange is gripping because it is one of those rare Sherlock Holmes stories in which Holmes goes wrong. Completely wrong.

He forgets his own words: he forgets facts.

He gives way to ‘prejudices.’ And he is happy concocting stories without proof…

…Until he realizes his mistake and suddenly ‘wakes up’ with a start. That’s when he returns to his original self and smashes the mystery to smithereens with a bang!

Sherlock Holmes humbled in The Abbey Grange

The Abbey Grange is not the most popular Sherlock Holmes story out there.

But, it is a unique story I adore: it’s interesting to watch Holmes suddenly wake up and how!

Here are my ratings for the story:

Average Rating: 8/10

What’s the Mystery/Problem Here?

There’s been a murder at the Abbey Grange in Kent: Sir Eustace Brackenstall is dead.

Inspector Stanley Hopkins wants Sherlock Holmes to come in at once!

Sherlock Holmes even wakes poor Watson up for this case – early in the morning…

The game is afoot but what is Watson really thinking!

But then evidence from the mistress of the house changes everything.

She’s actually seen the guys who killed her husband Sir Eustace.

Some robbers had attacked the rich dude’s house and they’d killed this Eustace guy when he had tried to oppose them. Then, they’d fled with silver from the house.

And yes: the lady of the house – Lady Brackenstall –  saw it all happen.

From her description of the robbers, it’s even obvious who the robbers are: the Randall gang.

What more evidence could one want? 

The case is crystal clear. It’s a run-of-the-mill robbery and murder. Quite a disappointment for Sherlock Holmes…

…Or is it? 

Is everything as simple as it appears? 

Or is there a plot that’s been so meticulously hidden that even THE Sherlock Holmes can’t sniff it out?

The Abbey Grange is one of those stories that appears to be absurdly simple and commonplace until…

…well, I’ll have to stop at until. 😉

Spoiler Alert: If you’ve not read The Abbey Grange, skip these magical moments and move on to the ‘Trivia’ section!

Magical Moments From The Abbey Grange

1 The Moment When Sherlock Holmes Notices the Dregs

Sherlock Holmes is pissed off when the case appears to be all too plain-and-easy.

How would a renowned mathematician feel if asked what twenty times nineteen is? That’s a bit like how Holmes feels now that he’s sure it’s just a common robbery.

And then he spots the dregs (solid remains/leftovers in a glass).

There are three wine glasses on the sideboard – all of them tinged with wine. But: only one of them has dregs of beeswing.

(Beeswing is that solid, sticky thing present in some wines.)

The famous 'dregs of beeswing' scene from The Abbey Grange

The original picture’s by Sidney Paget

The point is: anyone would ignore beeswing in a glass.

You would. I would.

But these dregs make Sherlock Holmes ask a question: Why does only one glass have beeswing while the other two hardly have any?

You see, when Holmes sees the wine bottle, he sees beeswing distributed throughout the bottle. So all three glasses should have beeswing. After all, the lady of the house even saw threerobbers drinking the wine.

But: only one glass has beeswing. The others hardly have any.

The reason, says Sherlock Holmes, is:

“…only two glasses were used, and that the dregs of both were poured into a third glass, so as to give the false impression that three people had been here.”

Definitely a magical moment that transforms the case beyond recognition.

After all, why would anyone want to convey a false impression if it’s a common, run-of-the-mill robbery?

2 The Moment When Sherlock Holmes JumpsOut of a Train!

Sherlock Holmes has been to the crime scene. He’s studied it reasonably well. The lady of the house has made an almost-perfect statement. The case is as clear as clear quartz crystals!

Holmes and Watson are about to return to Baker Street when…

…Sherlock Holmes springs out of a slow moving train and pulls Watson along with him.

He says:

“I simply can’t leave that case in this condition. Every instinct that I possess cries out against it. It’s wrong—it’s all wrong—I’ll swear that it’s wrong.” 

Everything seems clear but Sherlock Holmes has this hunchthat something’s missing.

Lady Brackenstall says that three robbers came at around 11 o’clock, they punched her and tied her up. They smashed Sir Eustace Brackenstall’s head. They had some wine. They took some silver. They went away.

The problem is…

Doubts in Sherlock Holmes' mind about the Randall Gang

This moment when it all sinks in and Sherlock Holmes heads right back to the crime scene – has to be a special one.

3 The Moment When Sherlock Holmes Notices the Bell-rope’s Other End

So, there’s a bell-pull at Sir Eustace’s house in the Abbey Grange. A bell-pull was used by the Lords and Ladies of those days to call their servants.

Here’s how a bell-pull basically works:

Bell Pull mechanism

Now, Lady Brackenstall says that the burglars who attacked her pulled out the bell-pull’s rope and tied her with it.

Sherlock Holmes has a hard time believing this.

I mean, come on – why would the burglars pull out a bell-rope – a rope that would ring the bell and summon all the servants?

When Holmes examines the rope, he sees that the rope has been cut 3 inches from the top. But the bell-rope should be torn at the top if it was ‘pulled out.’  Unless…

…it was already frayed 3 inches from the top.

Sure enough: one end of the rope is frayed but – the other end isn’t!

The bell pull's rope has one frayed end and one clean end - Sherlock Holmes notices this.

This clearly means one thing: Someone cut the rope with a knife and then frayed one end of the rope to make it look like it was pulled out. And this someone forgot to ‘artificially’ fray the other end of the rope.

So: one end looks like it’s cut with a knife. The other end looks like it was pulled out.


Lady Brackenstall is lying!

And Sherlock Holmes’ observation skills are spell-binding.

4 The Moment When Sherlock Holmes Conducts a Trial With Watson as the Jury!

There are moments when Sherlock Holmes is cold. Like a machine. We all know that.

But then there are some moments when he melts. And thinks from the heart. Completely!

This second thing is what happens when Sherlock Holmes forgives the culprit – Captain Jack Croker in The Abbey Grange.

When Holmes fishes out a guy called Captain Croker and asks him to confess, he does. Honestly.

He (Croker) had killed Sir Eustace Brackenstall. No denying that. He’d fabricated evidence and misled everyone with a story about ‘robbers’ – there were no freaking’ robbers.

But: he’d killed Sir Eustace after ‘serial-wife-abuser’ Sir Eustace tried to kill him. It was self-defence, not murder.

He’d also always loved and cared for Lady Brackenstall and yetacted graciously and respectfully instead of being jealous of Sir Eustace.

He’d never overstepped his boundaries with her.

When Sherlock Holmes gives Croker the option to run – so that the blame falls on Lady Brackenstall – yet again Croker acts like a rockstar.

He refuses to run!

He doesn’t want Lady Brackenstall to suffer as he runs free.

All this melts our good ol’ Holmes. The magical moment for me is when Sherlock Homes lets Croker go in style:

“You (Croker) are the prisoner. Watson, you are a British jury, and I never met a man who was more eminently fitted to represent one. I am the judge.

“Now, gentleman of the jury, you have heard the evidence. Do you find the prisoner guilty or not guilty?”

“Not guilty, my lord,” said I.

“Vox populi, vox Dei. You are acquitted, Captain Croker.”

I don’t always agree with when Sherlock Holmes lets a criminal go.

But this time, I did.

The Adventure of Abbey Grange: Cool Trivia!

1 The Abbey Grange: Must-Know Info!

When was The Abbey Grange first published and where? How many words does it have?

Here’s some fun trivia about this captivating story:

The Abbey Grange: Cool Trivia

2 So, Where Are All the Places in The Abbey Grange Located?

Is the Abbey Grange a real village? Where is it located?

Here’s an interesting picture that shows the important places mentioned in the story:

List of important places mentioned in 'The Abbey Grange'

3 What’s the ‘Fashion of Palladio’?

When Sherlock Holmes enters the Abbey Grange, he sees Sir Eustace’s building that he describes like this:

“…a low, widespread house, pillared in front after the fashion of Palladio.”

That made me wonder: what’s Palladio’s fashion all about?

After some research, here’s what I figured:

Andrea Palladio was a guy who lived in Venice from 1508 to 1580. This guy was a revolutionary architect – so revolutionary that his designs (modified ones) are used even today!

He wrote a book called ‘The Four Books on Architecture‘ which became pretty famous.

Now Palladio had certain pet peeves – styles he used again and again.

For example, many of his buildings look like ancient Roman and Greek buildings. Another feature is that there are many decorative elements in his buildings but they’re not over the top. They’re subtle and sort of hidden.

A common feature of Palladian buildings is pillars in the front like this:

Pillars in the fashion of Palladio

This is what Sherlock Holmes means when he says the building of the Abbey Grange was ‘pillared in front after the fashion of Palladio.’

Yet another feature of Palladio’s buildings is ‘Palladian windows.’

These are windows that look like this:

A Palladian window

Thanks to Orangeaurochs from Flickr for the original picture!

Palladio’s architecture has been in and out of fashion in the UK many times.

It was in fashion at the end of the 18th century, then it’s popularity waned – before it bounced back during the Victorian era – our Sherlock Holmes’ time.

4 Were All Places Lit by Candles in 1897?

The Abbey Grange has quite a few candles.

It starts off with Sherlock Holmes waking up John Watson with ‘a candle in his hand.’

Then there’s Lady Brackenstall saying that she checked if the windows of her house were closed with a candle in her hand. 

There are also three candles on the mantelpiece at the crime scene:

“I see that these candles on the mantelpiece have been lighted.” (Sherlock Holmes says this.)

As I read all this, the question in my mind was: Did people use only candles in 1897 when The Abbey Grange is set? What about gaslights?

And when did electricity barge in?

So, here’s the deal: candles were the only means of lighting for a ridiculously long time till the early 19th century when gas lights entered the scene.

While London’s streets started having gaslights in 1816, it was only in the late 1890s that people started using gaslights at home.

And yet: candles didn’t go away when gaslights came. 

In fact, as gas became cheaper, candles in sconces and candelabra became status symbols. So, if you visited a rich dude’s house in the 1890s, you’d find candelabra and sconces all around apart from all the gasoliers hanging from the top.

Here’s a picture that shows all these three things with intriguing names:

Candelabra, a gasolier ad a sconce - accessories used before electric lights came along

Thanks to Les ChatfieldCondimentasm and Rer Isi Rer for these pictures!

Also, while gas lights had started making an impact in the big cities, rural areas were still lit with candles in the 1890s.

So, if you time-travelled to a house in a village in Kent in 1897 – rich or poor, you’d most probably find the place lit up with candles. 

And: while gas lights had started rocking the scene, people still used candles like we use night-lamps and torches today. So, if you lived in the 1890s and you wanted to get up in the middle of the night and drink some water, you’d light a candle.

A candle and matches by the bedside were: a must-have!

If you’re wondering why on earth I’m talking only about gaslights and candles and not about electric lamps – that’s because those guys (electric lamps) weren’t there in the 1890s.

OK, they may have been there somewhere – but for all practical reasons, they were…

…non-existent till the 1920s!

Ah, the world’s come a long way since then.

Spoiler Alert: OK, so what you’re trying to say is that you’ve not read The Abbey Grange yet?

You need to skip the next few trivia-bits and read it right away!

5 What on Earth Are ‘Dregs of Beeswing’?

Dregs of beeswing play a big role in the story. 

The three glasses were grouped together, all of them tinged with wine, and one of them containing some dregs of bees-wing.

In fact, noticing the dregs in a wine glass is what first tells Sherlock Holmes that something’s fishy.

Now, to tell you the truth, I am a teetotaler. So, I hadn’t the faintest idea what ‘dregs of beeswing’ were when I first read The Abbey Grange.

Turns out, this is exactly what they are:

Dregs of beeswing in a wine bottle. Beeswing is actually potassium bitartarate.

Thanks to Basotxerri (Wikipedia) for the original picture

Beeswing, apparently, has nothing to do with bees but looks a bit like – you guessed it – a bee’s wing.

It’s a compound called potassium bitartarate. 

According to ‘The Wine Lover’s Companion’ published in 1995, it’s translucent, flaky and it’s generally found in older wines especially port.

It’s a by-product of wine-making.

As for dregs, the word is used for any solid residue that’s left in the end when you’ve drunk a liquid from a glass. So, if you’ve finished your coffee and you’re happy and content and then you look into your glass and see brown, sticky particles of coffee left over…

…those are dregs of coffee.

Which means, if you drink old port wine, what you will most probably see after you’re done is: dregs of beeswing.

6 What’s Up With ‘Vox Populi, Vox Dei’?

Sherlock Holmes has this idiosyncratic habit of quoting coolproverbs every once in a while.

So, what does he mean when he says “Vox populi, vox Dei” as he’s about to let the killer go?

First of all, the proverb is in Latin. It’s meaning is:

Vox populi, vox Dei - the voice of people is the voice of God.

Basically, the phrase says:

“If the majority of people want something to be done, it’s as good as God saying, ‘Yup, do it.'”

As you might’ve guessed, this isn’t always great.

After all, the majority of people may want something that’s just plain wrong. So, this proverb has been quoted both positively and negatively.

Apparently, there was this Christian scholar and teacher in the 8th century called Alcuin in York, England. This guy wrote a letter to King Charlemagne in 798 AD in which he used the phrase, ‘Vox populi, vox Dei.’

That’s how the proverb was first used.

But again: this Alcuin of York used the proverb in a negative way. The crux of what he was saying was, “What a crowd says can also lead to a riot, so just because everyone says it doesn’t make it right.”

What about Sherlock Holmes?

What did he mean when he used ‘Vox populi, vox Dei’?

Frankly, Sherlock Holmes uses it just for style here.

He’s got this soft corner for drama. So, when he’s about to let Captain Croker (the killer) go in The Abbey Grange, he doesn’t just say, “Well, I’ll let you go. What you did wasn’t wrong. Bye.”

He wants to make it look all cool and dramatic.

He asks Watson to be the jury and he makes himself the judge. Then when Watson announces Croker ‘not guilty’ – Holmes is like – “The voice of people (the jury) is the voice of God.”

Then he lets Captain Croker go.

In plain words: Sherlock Holmes is just having fun. 

It’s a pretty serious situation – letting a killer go, but as Holmes himself puts it in The Naval Treaty:

“I never can resist a touch of the dramatic.”

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