What I like about The Priory School is just how much it is like a jigsaw puzzle and how Sherlock Holmes arranges every single puzzle piece properly, step by step.
Holmes uses pure logic and his powers of deduction to reconstruct almost every single thing that happened when the crime was committed.
If you had to have a reason to read it, my reason would be this:
Read it because it's a superb example of Holmes working backwards and deducing the deuce out of the case ;-)
Then of course, there's also the stunning twist in the end.
I was shaken when I first read it.
The crux? The Priory school is a great Sherlock Holmes story. Holmes' deductions are fantabulously..incredulously..stupendous..er.. You get the point. And the ending is - splendid.
Here go my ratings for the story!
Thorneycroft Huxtable runs a 'preparatory school' for kids - basically a school for pre-teen children. And he's in big trouble.
A Duke's 10 year old son, who studies in the school has just vanished!
Now if anyone vanishes from the school, that's a problem for our Huxtable guy. But if it's a Duke's son, that's a really big problem. This Duke is one of the most powerful men in England.
Sherlock Holmes needs to find this missing boy.
Mr. Huxtable is talking about the missing boy. The original picture's by Sidney Paget.
There are many strange things that make this boy's disappearance even more confusing.
It is up to Holmes to sift through the facts and join the dots. Until he figures out exactly what took place, that is.
PS: The reward money is quite impressive in this story. It's a total of £6000 for the guy who can find the lost boy and help catch the guys who seized him.
And this is £6000 in those days.
When the Priory School's principal comes in, he doesn't tell Sherlock Holmes when the boy went missing. Holmes matter-of-factly asks why he's come three days after the event.
You see, the principal - Dr. Huxtable, has not shaved. He's in a wretched state physically and mentally - so much so that he faints on entering Holmes' apartment!
Holmes deduces that the hair growth on his chin shows that he's not shaved for 3 days. So the boy must have gone missing 3 days ago.
Why else would the principal of a supposedly good school have an unkempt, 3-day-old beard?
I love the way Holmes notes this tiny detail and deduces something really useful out of it - while the principal is unconscious.
A magical moment for me.
The German teacher, who had escaped with the missing boy - had escaped on a bicycle.
When Holmes and Watson search the moor nearby, they find bicycle tracks.
Watson almost jumps with joy but Holmes points out:
This is definitely a magical moment for me.
Holmes immediately points out which company the German teacher's tires belong to, and which company these tires belongs to. Apparently, the German teacher's cycle had tires with longitudinal stripes. These other tires have a patch.
They do not belong to the German teacher's bicycle.
Take a peek at my guess of how those two different tires might have looked:
And then Holmes tells Watson that he can recognizes 42 different tire impressions...
When I read that, I was like: how cool is that?
As Holmes and Watson search for the missing boy, they get a bit frustrated. I mean, there's just no consistent clue!
Now, any other guy would reply with either of the two things.
He would say something like, "Yeah. Even I'm frustrated."
Or, he or she would say, "Nope. We'll keep going and we'll somehow figure it out."
Holmes says neither. He says:
"Admirable! A most illuminating remark. It IS impossible as I state it, and therefore I must in some respect have stated it wrong."
I love this quote. I mean, he's actually learning something from Watson exclaiming, "Impossible!"
He's like: That's right Watson, it is impossible. So we must have formed some wrong conclusion. Let's find that out.
Holmes' humbleness, his complete focus on finding the truth and his conviction that if something was impossible, then there must have been an error in observing the facts - that's what I like here.
Quite a magical moment for me.
As Sherlock Holmes and Watson search for the missing boy, they find footprints of cows everywhere on the moor.
After a frustrating search though, they're both confused. I mean how far can footprints of cows take you, right?
So finally, Holmes and Watson - tired and weary - end up in an inn nearby. The inn owner tells them that he has two horses.
That's when a fascinating brainwave hits Holmes' mind:
There were footprints of cows everywhere, but there wasn't even one cow that they had seen. Could it be that it was a horse cart that had passed through the moor - such that the horses had 'cow shoes' on?
This is a radical idea - disguising the footprints of horses to make them look like those of cows!
An 'out of the box idea' that changes everything. Because, if this is true - then suddenly they have loads of clues to work with!
Holmes says to Watson:
Holmes observes that while the footprints were those of cows, the patterns were those of horses' feet with gallops and runs included.
This is definitely one of the best moments from The Priory School.
Sherlock Holmes loves drama. Period.
When he figures out that it is the Duke himself who is involved in kidnapping his own boy (in a way), he goes to him and says:
I love his mirthfulness and his style as he has fun with the Duke.
I really like the chilled out manner in which he essentially tells the Duke: Dude, I know you are guilty. Give me the cheque first though.
The Duke in the story has tons of titles and posts.
For example, he's K.G., P.C., he's been the Chief Secretary of State, he's been the Lord of the Admirality...
When I read all this, the question in my head was: what do all these things mean?
So I decided to find out! Take a look at this interesting picture to see the crux of what I've found out about all these titles.
Thanks Sodacan from Wikipedia for some of the pictures above.
There are quite some places mentioned in The Priory School.
There's Holdernesse Hall - where the Duke's son studies. There's Mackleton where the school is located. There's Hallamshire where Mackleton is located. And there's Peak District which covers a good deal of Hallamshire. ;-)
Which of these is real and which of these is fictional? Take a look at this picture to figure out exactly where which of these places is located.
And - to see which of these places were conjured up by Conan Doyle.
An interesting titbit though: there is a real place called Holdernesse in England - in the East - but that's NOT the Holdernesse in the story!
That's a different one because it's NOT located in Hallamshire. So the Holdernesse in the story does not really exist. Conan Doyle made it up.
In The Priory School, the Duke promises a reward of £6000 to anyone who can find his son and give details about the men who kidnapped him.
Now we know that £6000 is a decent amount of money even today. Exactly how much would it have meant in 1901 - the year in which the case is set?
When I tried to find that out, I found that three different reliable websites gave three different answers...
Well, there are 2 facts that I can deduce from what these sites say:
As you can see - all the sites agree that the value is in hundreds of thousands of pounds. If we take the average of the three values mentioned, we get around:
That's a lot! It's the same as approximately $ 888,000 or INR 53,500,000.
Now that's a mind blowing reward!
The boy in the story goes missing from a preparatory school in Mackleton. In fact that's the school that gives this story its name: The Priory School.
So what exactly is a preparatory school?
In the Britain of the late 1800s and early 1900s, most schools were independent schools, that is - they were privately run. These independent schools were also called 'public schools.'
Now in the beginning, public schools allowed boys from age 8 or so and educated them till they turned 18 or so.
There were a lot of issues however, with older boys abusing/bullying younger ones.
So some people said, "Let's start a new type of school - a preparatory school for the younger kids."
This school would have children from ages 8-13. After 13 years, the children could go to public schools. At that age, the children wouldn't be ill-treated by the older students.
So that's how preparatory schools came about. In a way these schools prepared children for public schools.
At the time of this story, preparatory schools were all boarding schools and they had only boys. They were considered to be uber-cool because they were expensive and were not Government run.
Where did kids who couldn't afford preparatory schools study? Well, they studied in equivalent schools run through charity or Government-run schools.
The original picture was taken by Gaius Cornelius. Thanks!
What about preparatory schools today? Well, they're there and doing quite fine. Apparently around 7 percent of British children attend preparatory/public schools these days. The rest attend Government run schools.
My conclusion? The Priory School was a preparatory school - an independent, cool, private school for rich, young kids aged 8-13.
Bicycles play a pretty important role in The Priory School.
I mean, the German teacher who disappears along with the boy, disappears on a bicycle. When Holmes and Watson scour the nearby area for clues, they find tracks of...a bicycle.
Were bicycles in 1901 the same as bicycles today?
Almost - though there was some difference. Here's a picture of a bicycle from around 1900.
As you can see, both the tires are of the same size.
Yes, the bicycles weren't really advanced or anything. They didn't have gears for example. But they looked more or less the same.
Another interesting titbit: bicycles were actually considered to be status symbols in those days.
Many rich people also used bicycles because cars hadn't hit the road yet.
Here's a popular 'status symbol' bike from 1900 called Imperial Triumph Road Racer. It cost 15 pounds and 15 shillings in those days (more than 1500 pounds now).
Thanks to Oldbike.eu for this fascinating picture!
Well, that's about The Priory School for now. What if you haven't read the story yet? I'd say: go ahead, read it!