The bag was designed by J. G. Beard, the owner of a leather shop in Westminster in London who was a keen supporter of William Gladstone after whom he named his creation.
The bag was and still is built on a rigid frame that splits into two separate compartments and although made solely from leather in Victorian times, the Gladstone Bag can be found in a wide range of fabrics today.
The history of the Gladstone Bag is as varied as fabrics and features used in designs for the bag today. The bag has been known by various other names over the decades, including ‘portmanteau’ and ‘doctors’ bag’, alongside other names, all usually incorrect because the Gladstone Bag is a very specific design that hasn’t changed since its original appearance.
Here are a few ways in which history has led to the bag becoming an iconic part of the British fashion scene:
* Many great writers have featured the bag in their work, including Joseph Conrad who in ‘The Secret Agent Drama’ writes ‘Giving a slight kick to the Gladstone Bag on the floor ….’ In ‘Victory: An Island Tale’ he writes ‘Ricardo caught hold of the ancient Gladstone Bag and swung it on the wharf with a thump.’
* Sir Arthur Conan Doyle talks of Sherlock Holmes himself and various characters in his work using the Gladstone Bag.
* Though the Gladstone Bag is considered purely English in design, it was actually based on an earlier French design for a large travelling bag.
* The bag isn’t always associated with high fashion and quality craftsmanship, having been associated with a murder in Eastbourne in 1924 when it became known as the ‘Murder Bag’ as a result of having been used to hide a knife used by Patrick Mahon to murder former girlfriend Emily Kaye.