‘soon my portmanteau blackened the hatchway’

Like any sensible young gentleman, Carruthers arrives in Flensburg on September 26 with a suitcase crammed full of fashionable yachting outfits, including ‘cool white ducks’, ‘neat blue serge’ and a ‘snowy-crowned yachting cap’. That’s my outfit sorted then.

Alas, he’s in for a rude awakening when he meets Davies, who would rather Carruthers made do with a single small Gladstone bag and a few scruffy tweeds, flannels and a pair of muddy boots. The man has no sense of style, clearly.


Edwardian clothing, suitable for yachting designed by  J. J. Mitchell Co. and advertised in The Sartorial Art Journal in 1905 – via http://www.victoriana.com/Mens-Clothing/edwardianclothing.html

I thought Childers was rather over-egging the joke about Carruthers’s ‘pyramid’ of luggage nearly sinking the dinghy, and his portmanteau being too large to get through Dulcibella’s hatch, but when you go searching for early 20th century luggage you begin to realise that people like Carruthers really did travel with an enormous amount of luggage – and each piece of luggage was HUGE.


Vintage luggage – tan leather Portmanteau bag (large) by W. W. Bridge Ltd. – currently being auctioned at http://www.reemandansie.com/

For a start, a portmanteau isn’t necessarily a single suitcase, but can be two or three strapped together. And there’s a different piece of luggage for each type of clothing. Here, for example, is a hatbox – a case made only for hats – and it’s a 0.5m cube!


Leather Hat Case by W.W. Bridge – auctioned at https://www.1stdibs.com/

I’m going to suggest, btw, that W.W. Bridge could be the  brand of choice for Carruthers. The company was going great guns in 1898 taking over the premises next door on Wormwood Street. And as a supplier, it’s just a stone’s throw from the Minories, not far from where Carruthers picked up his rigging screws and his oilskins.

The East End of London generally was full of leatherworkers and in the case of portmanteau makers, a lot of the people making these things were women. Mary Harkness mentions them in her 1889 book ‘ In Darkest London’, and it’s suggested that the portmanteau making industry of the late 19th century was a hotbed of suffragettism. I’m not sure what Carruthers would have made of that.

Portmanteaus were big then, and made by strong socialist women – and they were also bloody heavy. A quality portmanteau would be made of thick leather and would have had separate heavy locks to boot. I’m beginning to have a great deal more sympathy for Davies’s idea that the bally thing should’ve been left at the local hotel.

If you want more details of about the top makers of the day, go to http://www.achome.co.uk/antiques/vintage_luggage.htm where you’ll find an excellent brief history.

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4 Responses to ‘soon my portmanteau blackened the hatchway’

  1. Matt Hall April 25, 2015 at 6:41 am #


    Have you checked out Old Town Clothing, in Holt? They make a range of (very good) clothes often based on designs from past times, including the ‘Orford’ seafaring jean worn on the Suffolk coast between the wars. Benjamin Britten was a fan, apparently.


    Just the thing for a maritime adventurer…

    • Lloyd Shepherd April 27, 2015 at 8:57 am #

      I checked them last night. Had to stop myself buying a LOT of gear…

  2. Tim Wright April 27, 2015 at 4:03 pm #


    The reason why Britten would have been a fan was he went to school in Holt at Greshams. So too did Erskine Childers’s son! He was there when his dad was put in front of a firing squad in Ireland.

    (I went there too)

  3. Matt Hall April 27, 2015 at 5:22 pm #

    Tim – as did Olivia Coleman, I learnt from the local paper when holidaying there a few weeks ago.

    Lloyd – I went there most recently on a Monday, when they’re closed. Which is probably just as well…

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