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 item been linked with famous men and women of historical and modern times, such as the Prime Minister after which it was named, but it also featured in one of the most macabre and brutal murders of all time.
The murder happened 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 it 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 this iconic item:
* 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 a Gladstone bag 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 depicts Julie Andrews floating through the sky with an umbrella in one hand and the iconic piece of luggage 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. The group 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 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.