R. G. Allanson-Winn on “The Umbrella as a Weapon of Self-Defence” (1890)

Rowland George Allanson-Winn, the 5th Baron Headley, was a man of diverse interests and an interesting man. Born in London in 1855, he went on to study mathematics at Cambridge University and law at the Middle Temple before settling on a career in civil engineering, supervising numerous roadwork and land reclamation projects in Ireland and then in India.

While at Cambridge, Allanson-Winn took up the sport of boxing, which he pursued with great enthusiasm and significant skill, winning both the school’s heavyweight and middleweight championships. His voluminous 1899 treatise on the history and technique of pugilism, simply titled Boxing, is today regarded as a classic work. Indeed, Allanson-Winn was devoted to almost all the “antagonistic arts” available to a young man in late-Victorian England, as is evidenced by his co-authorship, with C. Phillipps-Wolley, of the also-classic Broadsword and Singlestick: with Chapters on Quarter-Staff, Bayonet, Cudgel, Shillalah, Walking-Stick, Umbrella, and Other Weapons of Self-Defense (1890).

The following excerpt from that book – which offers some notably sound advice on self defence in general – deals with the use of the umbrella as a defensive implement.

In 1913, Rowland Allanson-Winn converted from Catholicism to the religion of Islam, adopting the spiritual name of Shaikh Saifurrahman Rehmatullah El-Farooq. Upon his death in 1935, he was eulogised by his friends at the Woking Muslim Mission:

To say that he was popular would be belittling his character. He was charming, gentle, kind, lovable — a loving son, a loving father, a loving husband and a loving but, above all, a sincere friend. His was an extremely charitable nature, and God had gifted him with virtues of the highest order.

The Umbrella.

As a weapon of modern warfare this implement has not been given a fair place. It has, indeed, too often been spoken of with contempt and disdain, but there is no doubt that, even in the hands of a strong and angry old woman, a gamp of solid proportions may be the cause of much damage to an adversary. Has not an umbrella, opened suddenly and with a good flourish, stopped the deadly onslaught of the infuriated bull, and caused the monarch of the fields to turn tail? Has it not, when similarly brought into action, been the means of stopping a runaway horse, whose mad career might otherwise have caused many broken legs and arms?

If, then, there are these uses beyond those which the dampness of our insular climate forces upon us, it may be well to inquire how they can be brought to bear when a man, who is an expert swordsman, or one who has given attention to his fencing lessons, is attacked without anything in his hands save the homely umbrella.

It is, of course, an extremely risky operation prodding a fellow-creature in the eye with the point of an umbrella; and I once knew a man who, being attacked by many roughs, and in danger of losing his life through their brutality, in a despairing effort made a desperate thrust at the face of one of his assailants. The point entered the eye and the brain, and the man fell stone dead at his feet. I would therefore only advocate the thrusting when extreme danger threatens—as a dernier resort, in fact, and when it is a case of who shall be killed, you or your assailant.

There are two methods of using the umbrella, viz. holding it like a fencing foil— and for this reason umbrellas should always be chosen with strong straight handles—for long thrusts when at a distance, or grasping it firmly with both hands, as one grasps the military rifle when at bayonet exercise.

In the latter case one has a splendid weapon for use against several assailants at close quarters. Both the arms should be bent and held close to the body, which should be made to work freely from the hips, so as to put plenty of weight into the short sharp prods with which you can alternately visit your opponents’ faces and ribs.

If you have the handle in your right hand, and the left hand grasps the silk (or alpaca), not more than a foot from the point, it will be found most effective to use the forward and upward strokes with the point for the faces, and the backthrusts with the handle for the bodies. Whatever you do, let your strokes be made very quickly and forcibly, for when it comes to such close work as this, your danger lies in being altogether overpowered, thrown down, and possibly kicked to death; and, as I have before hinted, when there is a choice of evils, choose the lesser, and don’t be the least squeamish about hurting those who will not hesitate to make a football of your devoted head should it unfortunately be laid low.

Then, again, there is no better weapon for guarding a heavy blow aimed at you with a thick bludgeon than an umbrella, which, with its wire ribs and soft covering, is almost unbreakable, when all its ribs are held tightly with both hands; it is also, for the same reason, when thus grasped with both hands, an excellent defence against the attack of a large powerful dog, which may spring at your throat; but, in this case, remember to get one of your legs well behind the other so as to bring most of the weight of your body on the foremost leg, and, if you are lucky, you may have the satisfaction of throwing the animal on his back.

Thrusting, prodding, and guarding, then, may be called the strong points of the gamp; it is no use for hitting purposes, and invariably tumbles to pieces, comes undone, and gets into a demoralized condition when one tries to make it fulfil all the conditions of the unclothed walking-stick.  Besides which, the handles are never made strong enough for hitting, and the hittee is protected by the folds of silk.

Hitting, then, is the weak point of the gamp. Try to remember this when you feel inclined to administer a castigation to man or beast, and bear in mind that a comic scene may ensue, when, hot and angry, you stand with your best umbrella broken and half open, with the silk torn and the ribs sticking out in all directions.

Sometimes umbrellas have been made even more effective weapons by what is called a spring dagger, which consists of a short, strong knife or dirk let into the handle, and is readily brought into play by a sudden jerk, or by touching a spring. This may be all very well for travellers in the out-of-the-way regions of Spain, Sicily, or Italy, but I don’t like these dangerous accessories for English use, as they may be unfortunately liable to abuse by excitable persons.

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