I'd like to ask about the sentence from The Adventure of the Dancing Men by Conan Doyle.

But we have several small watering-places not very far away. And the farmers take in lodgers.

The sentence was uttered when asked by Holmes if your neighborhood was a quiet place? As to the part "watering-places", my dictionary says this means either a hot spring, a beach resort, or a pub. But these three are like whole different words, aren't they? So I can't really pick the one that Doyle meant by "small watering-places". Is anyone sure of the right one here, like, in those days in England it had to mean "beach resorts" or so?

  • 5
    More likely a pub. Jun 30, 2019 at 23:14
  • 1
    I disagree. I think the reference is to seaside resorts, which would attract visitors to the neighbourhood. Jul 1, 2019 at 14:17
  • @JamesMcLeod I've come across "Watering hole" as a euphemism for a pub or bar but never "watering place". To me a "watering place" would be somewhere where lodgings were to be had, although in the 19th century many of these would have been pubs or inns. I feel that "watering place" was probably derived from spas originally and slipped down the social scale.
    – BoldBen
    Jul 2, 2019 at 9:31
  • @BoldBen Definition number 3 on Merriam-Webster: merriam-webster.com/dictionary/watering%20place Jul 2, 2019 at 15:30

1 Answer 1


In this context, watering place almost certainly means a drinking establishment, such as a public house or hotel bar.

The Adventure of the Dancing Men is set in Norfolk, where the coastline is low and marshy, very unlike the southern and western coasts where seaside resorts are more commonly located. It’s not that they don’t exist, but the link below shows the Top 10 in contemporary Norfolk, and most of these are not greatly developed.


However, the real clue lies in Hilton Cubitt being married to Elsie Patrick, an American woman whose past included membership in a criminal gang, from which the “dancing men cypher” originally came. The use of “watering place” as a euphemism for a bar is common in the American writing of that time. The most likely explanation is that Conan Doyle was intentionally writing in an American idiom, even though the specific words in the story were spoken by an Englishman.

Edited to add:

In the story, which is available on Project Gutenberg, Hilton Cubitt is described as the heir to Riding Thorpe Manor. In order to get there, Holmes and Watson take the train to North Walsham, and then travel by horse and carriage to a point from which the German Ocean (now better known in English as the North Sea) can be just seen. There is a town in that general area called Edingthorpe. Thorpe is a variant of the Middle English word thorp, meaning hamlet or small village.

The nearby town of Mundesley-on-Sea was a popular seaside resort in Victorian days. However, it also had three notable drinking establishments, the Ship Inn, the Manor Hotel, and the Royal Hotel. Sir Arthur might have had both these meanings in mind, and used “watering places” as a sly euphemism for his readers to enjoy.

  • And exactly how long have you been working for the North Norfolk Tourist Board, my dear fellow? Jul 2, 2019 at 15:42
  • This question opened up a whole learning experience for me. I have read other stories (or parts of stories) set on the Norfolk coast, but they all seem to involve marshes and water drainage of some kind. Train service to Mundesley-on-Sea was cut in 1964, so apparently it wasn’t as big a draw in modern times.
    – user205876
    Jul 2, 2019 at 15:57

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