A detailed report on Dr. Emelyne Godfrey’s lecture for the Bagri Foundation

Following yesterday’s quick report on Dr. Emelyne Godfrey’s recent lecture on self-defence in England during the “long 19th century”, here is a much more detailed guest post by Bartitsu Forum member Paul Wake.

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Dr Godfrey’s lecture ‘The Rise of the Jujitsu Suffragettes’  was an illuminating and entertaining account that took a packed audience on a fascinating journey from India in the early 1800s to the violent struggles of the Suffragettes in the early 1900s.

The talk began with an account of the origin of the Garotters of London which in turn gave rise to the self defence culture into which Barton-Wright launched Bartitsu.

Dr Godfrey opened with a fascinating piece of etymological study explaining how lurid accounts of the Spanish execution device called the garrotta – which consisted of a throttling mechanism attached to a heavy chair that was used to slowly strangle victims – led to criminal gangs in London being called Garotters.

Their name might have come from this infamous machine but their techniques, however, seemed inspired by India’s Thuggee cult. Dr Godfrey provided some extremely vivid and graphic explanations of their methods and one of the many highlights of the lecture was her photographs of a collection of miniature Thuggee figures from the early 1800s that had at one time been on display in the British Library public space but which were removed for fear that they might inspire copycat criminal behaviour and stoke up the garrotting panics that were sweeping through London.

The figures (about 6 inches high) effectively make a series of diorama scenes showing a band of Thuggees stalking their victims and then attacking them before burying and disposing of the bodies while sharing out the loot. They are incredible in their detail and graphically show the whole method of operation of the Thugees including a three man attack involving two ‘assistants’ holding the victim while a third strangled him from behind with his rumal (garroting scarf). Apparently these are in store somewhere, which is a huge pity because they would make a fascinating exhibit and definitely deserve to be seen.

Dr Godfrey pointed out a number of very interesting literary mentions of both the Thuggees themselves and their copycats, the London Garotters. In particular, Confessions of a Thug by Philip Meadows Taylor which was made into a film called The Deceivers starring Pierce Brosnan; Wanderings in India by John Lang as re-published by Charles DIckens in his Household Words magazine circa 1859 and the mugging of Mr Kennedy in Anthony Trollope’s Phineas Finn.

The panics about street attacks in London, Paris and elsewhere led directly to a culture of self-defence and the publication of illustrated books such as Émile André’s 100 Façons de se Defendre dans la Rue. All of which paved the way for Barton-Wright to step in with Bartitsu.

In addition to books, specialist weapons were developed and Dr Godfrey showed pictures of the Belt Buckle Pistol which allowed you to shoot someone grabbing you from behind. Basically the gun was a short barrel and firing mechanism mounted on a brass plate looped through a belt so that it sat in the small of your back. If someone grabbed you from behind there was a cord looped around to the front that you could pull to discharge the weapon and shoot the attacker in the stomach. Obviously if you were on a night out you’d want to make sure it didn’t go off accidentally while you were sitting in the theatre and kill the person sitting behind you. Unless, of course, they were fiddling with their iPhone …

Dr Godfrey paid excellent tribute to the contribution of Barton-Wright before moving on to talk about Edith Garrud and the general environment of intimidation by men in general and the police in particular towards women in the late 19th century and early 20th century.

Especially interesting was the account of the arrest and trial of Elizabeth Cass in 1887 who went out one evening to window shop for gloves on Regent Street and ended up being arrested, roughed up and hauled in front of a magistrate for soliciting and prostitution.

It was eye-opening to find out about the astonishing level of harassment that women were subjected to on the street in Victorian London. It certainly reinforces how far we have come since then and how precious the freedoms are that we have today. Interestingly though, in the Q&A after the talk, it was pointed out that even today the right of women to walk about freely on the street is threatened by people who’s behaviour is remarkably similar to that on show in the 19th century. The men harassing women in the Walking in New York video and the sleazy street pick up artists promoting the Game could easily have been time travellers from 1899.

In response to this harassment 19th century women equipped themselves with various weapons including life preservers and perhaps most deadly of all – the long hat pin. An authentic example was passed around and I’m pretty sure that any would-be sleazeball would get a hell of a shock to have one of those stuck in them where the sun don’t shine.

Dr Godfrey eloquently explained how this societal treatment of women formed a backdrop to the struggle of the Suffragettes for the right to vote and helps to explain the startling levels of violence that were used to suppress them. Anyone not already familiar with the history of the Suffragettes would have been shocked by Dr Godfrey’s description of Black Friday on 18th November 1910, when hardened police officers from the East End were drafted in to deal with the 300 Suffragettes led by Mrs Pankhurst to Parliament Square to protest about the suppression of the Conciliation Bill which would have extended the right to vote to property-owning women. Anyone interested might pick up on the point made that Winston Churchill was Home Secretary at the time and responsible for the handling of the riot. It didn’t turn out to be his finest hour.

Against all this going on in the background Edith Garrud had appeared on the scene and learned her jujitsu from Sadakazu Uyenishi at his Golden Square school which was later taken over by her husband William Garrud. Dr Godfrey gave vivid accounts of Garrud’s involvement in teaching jujitsu to suffragettes as well as the part the Golden Square dojo and her own gymnasium in Argyll Place played as safe havens for Suffragettes during the window smashing campaign on Oxford Street. Apparently women would return to the gym from a session of smashing windows and if the police followed them and tried to gain entry to arrest them Edith Garrud would confront them and demand that they leave because “ladies were exercising and gentlemen shouldn’t be present”. A clever use of the rules of the time to protect those campaigning to change them!

Dr Godfrey left the audience in no doubt that even at 4’11” Edith Garrud was a formidable woman and deserves her reputation as a redoubtable figure in the Suffragette movement and a pioneer of jujitsu and women’s self defence in the UK.

The following Q&A was lively and included some agreeable speculation on the mystery identity of Vigny’s ‘wife’ and assistant Miss Sanderson and whether she might have been involved in teaching la canne to the Suffragettes. No conclusions reached for lack of sources. Also noted was the rise of the Hugger Muggers of modern London whose choreographed techniques are reminiscent of the Hooligans and Apaches, although less violent.

All in all a very enjoyable and enlightening talk. Dr Godfrey is a superb speaker and has a wealth of deeply researched anecdotes and information about the Bartitsu era and I recommend looking out for future public lectures. A definite must-see for any Bartitsu enthusiast.

Dr. Emelyne Godfrey lectures on the early history of jujitsu in England and the Jujitsuffragettes

The Bagri Foundation in London hosted this recent lecture by Dr. Emelyne Godfrey, author of Masculinity, Crime and Self Defence in Victorian Literature and its companion volume Femininity, Crime and Self Defence in Victorian Literature and Society.

The capacity audience enjoyed Dr. Godfrey’s presentation, which discussed English approaches to self defence during the “long 19th century”.

The lecture began with the mid-Victorian “garroting panics”, which appeared to portend the rise of Thugee-style street gangs in England and engendered the invention of new self-defence weapons such as the “belt buckle pistol”.

Belt buckle pistol

The later Victorian era saw the rise of organised gangs such as the Peaky Blinders of Birmingham and Manchester’s Scuttlers, who mostly fought among themselves but whose “outrages” sometimes impacted the concerned citizens of several major cities.

Stabbing by Scuttlers

The topic then moved to E.W. Barton-Wright’s introduction of Japanese martial arts to England in 1898, and the subsequent rise and fall of his own eclectic art of Bartitsu, including its famous association with Sherlock Holmes.


The brief but significant Bartitsu craze paved the way for jiujitsu instructors such as Yukio Tani and Sadakazu Uyenishi and then, during the Edwardian period, the foundation of the Suffrajitsu bodyguard team.

Godfrey lecture

Attendees included Mike Callan from the International Association of Judo Researchers and Amanda Thyme, who is researching the life of pioneering English judo practitioner Sarah Mayer.

Mike - Emelyne - Amanda crop

“The Rise of the Jujitsu-Suffragettes: Martial Arts in fin-de-siècle Great Britain”

Click here to contact the organisers and/or to book your place for this fascinating lecture on the real secret society of suffragette bodyguards who inspired the Suffrajitsu trilogy!

When?  6.30 – 8.00 p.m., May 19th, 2016

Where? Asia House, Library, 63 New Cavendish Street, London, W1G 7LP

How much? Admission: £8

What’s it about? The lecture will explore the blossoming of martial arts in Great Britain at the turn of the 20th century, investigating the Victorian obsession for self-defence, the appeal of the ‘exotic East’, and gender as a social and cultural construct.

Starting with the mid-Victorian garotting panics, Dr Godfrey will show how a fear of violent street crime was entangled with a fascination with Indian thuggee and how in response, civilians manufactured gruesome weapons.

By the end of the 19th century, the use of violent forms of self-defence had become unfashionable and Japanese martial arts were considered to be the ideal, minimally aggressive way to fend off attackers. Experts from Japan taught politicians, the public and police alike the art of jujitsu and women sensationally took up jujitsu in the campaign for women’s suffrage.

A century later, martial arts with an Edwardian twist are again in vogue.

 Lecturer: Emelyne GodfreyEmy Godfrey

Dr Godfrey is a writer and researcher specialising in the Victorian and Edwardian eras. She is a regular contributor to the Times Literary Supplement and has been interviewed by the BBC on numerous occasions. Author of Masculinity, Crime and Self-Defence in Victorian Literature (2010), and Femininity, Crime and Self-Defence in Victorian Literature and Society (2012), her latest work Utopias and Dystopias in the Fiction of H.G. Wells and William Morris will be available in September 2016. Dr Godfrey is currently working on a book on the suffragettes.

“Fencing and Bartitsu at the Bath Club” (Illustrated Sporting and Dramatic News, March 18, 1899)

Bath Club demonstration

On Thursday, the 9th inst., “ladies’ night”, an amusing and instructive evening was spent by the members and their friends, gathered in considerable numbers. The first part of the entertainment consisted of an exhibition, under the management of Captain A. Hutton, of Elizabethan methods of sword–play and fencing. It is unnecessary to state that this was admirable in every way, the most taking items being the Two-Handed Sword contest between Messrs. E. Stenson Cook, L.R.B., and W.P. Gate, L.R.B.; Rapier and Dagger, between Captain A. Hutton and Mr. W. H. Grenfell; and Rapier and Cloak. Mr. E. Campbell–Muir was indisposed, and unable to give his exhibition of trick–riding; and in order that the audience might not lack amusement, Mr. W. Henry, of the Life Saving Society, probably our best exponent of ornamental swimming, gave a very fine exhibition of the art. Miss Lewin afterwards also gave a good display of swimming and diving.

The last and most novel feature of the program was Mr. E. W. Barton–Wright’s exhibition of the new mode of self–defence, which he has named “Bartitsu.” It was therefore a considerable disappointment to all present when they learned that Mr. Barton–Wright, and his friend who was to assist him in his exposition, were both suffering from damages of a more or lasts serious character, sustained in a cab accident that they had been in the night before. However, Mr. Barton–Wright, though damaged, came forward, and showed some of his “chips,” as wrestlers style them.

Although unable to speak from experience, we must confess to being a good deal impressed by some of his methods. The manner in which he showed how to receive the attack of a heavier and more powerful man, grappling him by the throat or shoulders, was very striking. He gave way, and dropped on his back, drawing his opponent with him, and while holding to his adversary he applied leverage by means of his foot placed on the body of his assailant, causing him to turn a complete somersault, so that he fell at full-length upon his back. The illustration number three shows this.

Another method for holding an opponent on the ground so that he shall be unable to rise, is shown in number four, and a means of leading a refractory and unwilling person from a room is number five. This last is somewhat of an old friend we remember having practiced on ourselves at school, although the hold was not quite taken in the same way. On the whole, it seems as though there were a good deal in Mr. Barton–Wright’s methods, and, unquestionably, as applied by him, they are most formidable. It would be interesting to see him opposed to a really high–class, catch–as–catch–can wrestler, as giving a distinct line for arriving at a judgment as to the value of Bartitsu.

Bath Club 1 Bath Club 2 Bath Club 3 Bath Club 4 Bath Club 5

Bartitsu makes its WWE debut with the Vaudevillains

World Wrestling Entertainment tag-team the Vaudevillains (Aiden English and Simon Gotch) appear to have time-travelled from the turn of the 20th century. Here to prove that “old-school is cool”, they are also masters of some exotically archaic British fighting styles; according to ring announcer Mauro Ranallo, English is an expert quarterstaff fighter and Gotch is a practitioner of Bartitsu.

Registration now open for the 2nd International Pugilism Symposium


When? Saturday May 21 and Sunday May 22, 2016
Where? River Valley Complex in Leaf River, IL.

Two days of intensive instruction in historic bare knuckle boxing with some of the top instructors in the world!!

Gallowglass Academy is pleased to announce the following list of fabulous instructors and classes:

Tim Ruzicki: 1) The Single Time Counters of Pugilism 2) Using Your Elbows

Martin Austwick: 1) Sparring Applications in Pugilism  2) The “Dirty Tricks” of Pugilism

Ken Pfrenger: 1) Proper Use and Feeding of Focus Mitts  2) The Pugilism of Ancient Greece and Rome

Kirk Lawson: 1) Grappling in Pugilism  2) Striking the Vital Points

Allen Reed: 1) Pugilism for Self Defense

Go to the Gallowglass Academy site for further information and online registration!

Houdini and Doyle, Episode 1: The Maggie’s Redress (review)

Doyle straight right

The ten-part Edwardian mystery/drama/action series Houdini and Doyle teams friendly rivals Harry Houdini (Michael Weston) and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (Stephen Mangan) as freelance investigators of crimes that appear to have a supernatural slant.

The first episode begins with a murder of a senior nun in one of London’s notorious Magdalene laundries, in which young women – often unmarried mothers – were effectively imprisoned and forced to work. The twist is that the murderer is said to have been the ghost of a former “Maggie”, or young resident, who had been cruelly tormented by some of the nuns and had died some six months previously.

Both arch-skeptic Houdini and true believer Doyle are fascinated by the case because of its apparently otherworldly nature, but there the similarities end. Houdini is convinced that a mortal murderer has exploited the laundry’s resident ghost story to cover their tracks, whereas Doyle is equally convinced that a restless spirit is to blame.

Essentially bullying their way in to the Scotland Yard investigation, they are assigned the help of the progressive and forthright Adelaide Stratton (Rebecca Liddiard), the Yard’s first female police constable, by a condescending Detective Inspector who wishes to be rid of both H&D’s amateur sleuthing and of the female constable . The Inspector, of course, has significantly underestimated Houdini, Doyle and Stratton, who combine their talents to solve the mystery behind the bloody crimes.

The Maggie’s Redress is an effective procedural that strikes all the requisite beats at a rapid clip, including numerous allusions to the lives of the real Houdini and Doyle while also playing very fast and loose indeed with historical accuracy. Although Houdini and Doyle were, in reality, friends and mutual admirers, they did not actually meet until the 1920s.  That friendship only lasted a few years, ending acrimoniously due to their vehement disagreements about the reality of spiritualistic phenomena.  That said, their fictional relationship in the show is layered and the interplay between Doyle’s optimistic embrace of all things numinous and Houdini’s rational humanism is well portrayed.

The character of constable Adelaide Stratton is fictional and, in real history, the first female constables in London were not appointed until the outbreak of the First World War, some fifteen years after the period portrayed in Houdini and Doyle.

Some of the dialogue is painfully anachronistic – no more so than when Houdini actually uses the phrase “garbage in, garbage out” (!) – but the sets, costumes and other production design elements are all effectively evocative of London circa 1900.  Everything is ultimately explained, though the rationales for some of those explanations do strain credibility; if you like the show you may be inclined to forgive those trespasses, and if not, they’ll probably bother you.

The action elements in this episode are fairly minor. Houdini is shown performing his famous inverted escape from the water torture cell, Stratton uses her trusty cosh to fell a fleeing thief, Doyle belays a troublesome chap with a straight right cross and the heroes must escape a watery deathtrap.

All in all, The Maggie’s Redress is an enjoyable if lightweight 45 minutes’ worth of entertainment.