The bank had foreclosed a mortgage effected on the property thus pleasantly situated by one of the Coketown magnates, who, in his determination to make a shorter cut than usual to an enormous fortune, overspeculated himself by about two hundred thousand pounds. These accidents did sometimes happen in the best regulated families of Coketown, but the bankrupts had no connection whatever with the improvident classes.

In the nineteenth century, bankruptcy protection was afforded only to tradesmen. Others who failed financially were called “insolvent debtors” and could be imprisoned for their debts.

“the engravings of a man shaving himself in a boot, on the blacking bottles that I was overjoyed to use in cleaning boots with”

Pictures of a man shaving on bottles of boot-blacking were meant to indicate that the polish yielded a mirrorlike finish. The reference to these pictures from bottles of blacking alludes to Dickens's history of working as a child in pasting printed labels on bottles in Warren's blacking factory.

“Went to Westminster School as a King's Scholar”

The Westminster School, established by Henry VIII in the sixteenth century, offered King's Scholars free tuition and board. The scholarships were awarded based on oral examinations. A few places were reserved for Westminster boys at Oxford and Cambridge, and boys from this prestigious school generally went on to success.

sleeping in market-baskets

Homeless children in Covent Garden market in London were seen to sleep in the market baskets; the scene is described by Dickens in The Uncommercial Traveler as well as in an earlier article in Household Words.

used to act in Latin, in the Westminster School plays

Royalty and other dignitaries attended the Westminster School plays, performed in Latin. The plays were a centuries-old tradition that lasted into the twentieth century. The Illustrated London News often included coverage of the yearly play; this illustration is taken from the issue of January 1, 1848:

up a narrow dark back street in Antwerp

Bankrupts and debtors from England often moved to the Continent, where they could find cheap lodgings and freedom from social censure.

red tape

Government papers and legal documents were once bound with a reddish tape. Thomas Carlyle—to whom Dickens dedicated Hard Times when it appeared in its first volume edition—popularized the term to denote excessive bureaucratic regulations.

"In the little safe in young Tom's closet, the safe used for petty purposes, there was a hundred and fifty odd pound." "A hundred and fifty-four, seven, one," said Bitzer.

Bitzer's clarification reveals that the safe contained exactly 154 pounds, seven shillings, and a penny before the robbery. Before the British monetary system was decimalized in 1971, there were 20 shillings to the pound and twelve pence to the shilling. It is difficult to make exact comparisons of value between past and present currencies, as the factors that affected cost of living were so different, but recall that Mrs. Sparsit's annual salary was £100. Many male workers, with families, made about £1 per week. Thus, £154, 7s., 1d. is a relatively substantial sum.

The money would have been kept in a safe that might have looked similar to this depiction of a patent fireproof safe made by Chubb, a new design that was shown at the Great Exhibition of 1851. This illustration appeared in the Illustrated London News on July 26, 1851; note the legend "Bankers Safe" on the door.

Dutch clocks

Inexpensive German clocks, made in the Black Forest region, were popular in middle- and lower-class British homes. ("Dutch" was a corruption of "Deutsch.") They made a loud sound before they struck the hour, which Mrs. Sparsit refers to here. This picture of such a clock is taken from The Dictionary of Daily Wants:

floor the Established Church

The Church of England was the state church and was therefore referred to as the Established Church; Mr. Bounderby implies that Stephen Blackpool, in seeking a divorce, sought also to divorce church and state. As the nineteenth century went on, the establishment of the Church became controversial.

Mr. Bounderby, like an Oriental dancer, put his tambourine on his head.

Dancers in the Oriental style raised up their tambourines to signify the end of a performance.

on the mangle in the laundry

A mangle was a hand-operated machine used to dry and press items after washing. Mrs. Beeton's Book of Household Management includes this illustration of a mangle:

"not your sherry warm, with lemon-peel and nutmeg"

This combination was a popular Victorian drink, known as negus.

she arose, put on a loose robe, and went out of her room in the dark and up the staircase to her brother's room

Louisa and Bounderby apparently have separate rooms. This was not uncommon for well-to-do Victorian couples.