Fun and games at the London Bath Club

The famous Bath Club features significantly in the history of Bartitsu.  Founded at #34 Dover Street in 1894, the Club was named for its large indoor swimming pool – a great novelty at the time.  The pool featured several diving boards and a “Newman’s water-chute” for sliding, as well as a flying trapeze and a set of “travelling rings” suspended from the ceiling, challenging the most athletic Club members to traverse the length of the pool without getting wet.

The Club building was also equipped with a fencing salon and a gymnasium as well as steam-rooms, showers, an opulent dining room and “overnight rooms”.  A comparatively progressive institution, membership was available to both men and women; the latter had their own dedicated entrance, a gesture which might be read either as condescension or as extravagant courtesy, or possibly both at once.

In March of 1899 the Bath Club was the venue for one of E.W. Barton-Wright’s jiujitsu demonstrations.  He later noted that he had been awarded a membership in the Club due to his feat of defeating seven larger men within three minutes at a previous display.  The Bath Club demonstration was, notably, the first time Barton-Wright had collaborated with the famed historical fencing revivalist, Captain Alfred Hutton, who later joined the teaching staff at Barton-Wright’s own Bartitsu Club.

This event may well also have been Barton-Wright’s introduction to Hutton’s rapier-and-dagger fencing partner, William Grenfell, the 1st Baron Desborough.  A notable athlete and a prolific public servant, Grenfell was the president of the Bath Club and he was to go on to become the president of the Bartitsu Club. Sir Cosmo Duff Gordon was another famous Bath Club member who subsequently also joined the Bartitsu Club.

The Bath Club was the venue for several other unusual sporting displays, including a peculiar spectacle organised by Alfred Hutton two months after the Bartitsu display. “Water tilting” was a one-off revival of a type of aquatic jousting, which had apparently been amongst Henry VIII’s favourite sports.  According to a newspaper report:

A large and gaily dressed assemblage watched the pair of old-fashioned-looking warriors tilt at one another in the waters of the bath, one of them holding a long spear (with padded point) and a stout leather buckler, the other paddling behind him in the cranky craft, which only just held both when both were evenly balanced. The two shallow boats put out from their respective ends at the word ‘Go,’ and one pair were soon struggling in the water, amidst the merriment of the audience.

The new sport of water polo was also a great attraction:

In 1910, the Club hosted an exhibition of a “novel and exciting aero-swimming game” in which competitors equipped with elaborate kite-like gliders leaped off one of the diving platforms, endeavouring to soar a short distance before their flight came to an inevitably wet end:

The grave of Captain Alfred Hutton

Thanks to some excellent detective work by members of the Schola Forum, the grave and memorial tablet of former Bartitsu Club instructor Captain Alfred Hutton has been located in Astbury Churchyard, Cheshire, UK.

Hutton was amongst the foremost authorities on swordsmanship in late-Victorian England, writing many books on the subject and serving as a founder and President of the Amateur Fencing Association from 1895 onwards. He was also one of the original revivalists of historical (Elizabethan-era) martial arts such as the use of the two-handed sword, rapier and dagger and sword and handbuckler.

He collaborated with Bartitsu founder E.W. Barton-Wright during several exhibitions and then joined the Bartitsu Club as both a fencing instructor and board member, later describing the Club as “the headquarters of ancient swordplay in England”. Hutton also learned basic jiujitsu and the Vigny method of self defence with a walking stick from his fellow instructors.

Captain Hutton died on December 18th of the year 1910.

Those wishing to pay their respects can view his memorial tablet in the chancel of St. Mary’s Church:

Across the road you will see a stepped entrance to the graveyard. Go up these steps and follow the path (you will pass an ancient tree); you will have the Church on your right. Hutton’s grave is about ten metres along the church wall, and 5 metres into the graveyard. Use the pictures below for reference.

Although it appears that the stone cross has toppled onto the boulder, it is in fact designed that way; the cross fits snugly into a carved notch in the boulder. The inscription, which is covered by turf to protect it from the elements, reads:

“OA 392 – In Affectionate Memory of / ALFRED HUTTON late King’s Dragoon Guards & Last Surviving Son of HENRY WILLIAM HUTTON of Beverley / Hold thou Thy Cross Before My Closing Eyes / Born March 10th 1839. Died December 18th 1910, Aged 71 Years.”

The graves of Captain Hutton’s sister, Harriott (died 18th January 1906), another sister, Marianne Eleanor (died 31st January 1908 aged 95), his mother, Marianne (died 19th January 1879, aged 87) are close to his grave.

Captain Alfred Hutton writes about his friends at the London Bartitsu Club

Captain Alfred Hutton was among the instructors who taught various branches of “antagonistics” at E.W. Barton-Wright’s School of Arms in London circa 1900.  One of England’s most prominent and respected swordsmen, Hutton was also the president of the Amateur Fencing Association and a pioneering practitioner of revived Elizabethan era fencing with weapons such as the rapier and dagger.

Although Hutton’s specialties do not appear to have been formally included as aspects of Bartitsu, it’s evident that there a good deal of cross-training took place at the Bartitsu Club; for a complete account, see Ancient Swordplay: the Revival of Elizabethan Fencing in Victorian London.

In an article for The Press newspaper (8 February 1904, Page 10), Captain Hutton reminisced about some colourful characters and incidents from his long experience of fencing.  He also offered the following remarks upon his Bartitsu Club colleagues and their methods of antagonistics:

Before bringing my passing recollections to a close as regards people I have met, and as having been more especially connected with the use of defensive and offensive weapons, I should like to refer to my friend Monsieur Pierre Vigny, a Swiss gentleman, devoted to all athletic exercises, and certainly master of the art of self defence by means of an ordinary walking-stick, a Malacca cane being preferred.  The exercise is most useful in case of attack by footpads, most interesting as a sport, and most exhilarating in a game. It beats single-stick.  However, it would take far too long for me to give further explanations.

There is another new development of athleticism which I strongly advocate, viz., Ju-jitsu, or Japanese wrestling.  I am too old to go in for regular wrestling as it obtains in Japan, easy as it may look, but my good friends Uyenishi and Tani put me up to about eighty kata, or tricks, which even at my age may one day or another come in useful. In modified form the art might be advantageously practised by a small boy when meeting a great hulking bully; indeed, the successful way in which a twelve-year-old friend of mine who knew some tricks of Japanese wrestling floored his parent in my presence was most instructive in spite of its apparent disrespect.

My Japanese friends tell me it is one of the most amusing sights to watch the little native policemen in Japan throwing and capturing huge, stalwart, European sailors who have supped not wisely but too well.

These anecdotes clearly demonstrate that Hutton took a keen practical interest in the classes offered by his fellow Bartitsu Club “professors”. He occasionally demonstrated the Vigny method of self defence with a walking stick during interviews, and he offered a somewhat more detailed account of the Vigny system in his book The Sword and the Centuries.  It was also in that book that he described the Bartitsu Club as being “the headquarters of ancient swordplay in England”.

As it turned out, Hutton did find use for some of the 80 “kata” he learned from Tani and Uyenishi, beginning when he penned a short monograph on Ju Jitsu, or Japanese Wrestling, for Schoolboys. A few years later, Hutton demonstrated a number of jujitsu “tricks” for a panel of doctors working in one of London’s psychiatric hospitals.  This was almost certainly the first time Asian martial arts had been applied towards the problem of humane self defence and restraint in a therapeutic environment.

“Ancient Swordplay: the Revival of Elizabethan Fencing in Victorian London”

During the final decades of the 19th century, a cabal of fencers and historians led by Captain Alfred Hutton and his colleague, the writer Egerton Castle, undertook a systematic study and practical revival of combat with long-outmoded weapons such as the rapier and dagger, sword and buckler and two-handed sword. Their efforts presaged the current revival of historical fencing, a rapidly growing movement that directly parallels the modern renaissance of E.W. Barton-Wright’s Bartitsu.

The book Ancient Swordplay details the origins, colourful heyday and ultimate decline of this unusual late-Victorian revival movement. Highlights include reports on many historical fencing exhibitions throughout the 1880s and ’90s, Hutton’s and Castle’s work as theatrical fight choreographers (who paid strict attention to historical accuracy) and Hutton’s determined efforts to revolutionise military sabre fencing with an infusion of “ancient swordplay”, especially that of the Elizabethan English master, George Silver.

Of particular interest to Bartitsu enthusiasts, Ancient Swordplay includes a chapter on Captain Hutton’s collaborations with E.W. Barton-Wright. In his book The Sword and the Centuries (1902), Hutton was moved to note that “the fence of the case of rapiers, as of all the other Elizabethan weapons, is much in vogue at the present time at the Bartitsu Club, now the headquarters of ancient swordplay in this country.”

For all their efforts, though, the Hutton/Castle revival did not directly survive their own generation. The final chapters examine the reasons why, coming to a conclusion that may surprise modern readers, and attempt to trace their legacy into the following decades of the 20th century.

Including numerous rare illustrations and a foreword by author Neal Stephenson, Ancient Swordplay is available now from the Freelance Academy Press website or . For a thorough historical context and commentary, please also see the new article Renaissance Swordplay, Victorian-style on the Freelancer blog.

“… an athletic class for people of good standing …”

By mid-1899, E.W. Barton-Wright was busy attracting support for his novel venture; a Club dedicated to the instruction of physical culture and self defence. Late-Victorian London was already home to several athletic clubs, including the Inns of Court School of Arms and the German Gymnasium, in which gymnasts rubbed shoulders with fencers, boxers and wrestlers. Barton-Wright’s plan, however, was to focus the activities of his Club squarely on his “new art of self defence”, Bartitsu.

According to the custom of the day, he set about attracting influential “names”; people whose reputations and social standing would help to guarantee his Club’s propriety in the highly class-conscious London of the late 19th century.

“Fencing and Bartitsu at the Bath Club” in 1899. Captain Alfred Hutton and W.H. Grenfell demonstrate rapier and dagger fencing, while E.W. Barton-Wright displays Japanese unarmed combat.

During a series of popular demonstrations in which Barton-Wright’s “new art” was exhibited alongside Captain Alfred Hutton’s revival of historical fencing, the founder of Bartitsu became acquainted with both Hutton and the latter’s colleague, William Henry Grenfell, the 1st Baron Desborough. Both men were quickly drafted into helping to promote Barton-Wright’s Club. Hutton joined the venture both as a Committeeman, responsible for “vetting” the names of people applying to join the Club, and as an instructor, teaching his rejuvenated methods of antique fencing to members of London’s theatrical elite for use in stage combat.

Grenfell accepted the position of Bartitsu Club President, and enthusiastically described Barton-Wright’s vision for reporters. His comments are revealing, not only with regards the conception of Bartitsu as a martial art, but also of the differences between Victorian and contemporary ideas of what a “martial arts club” actually was:

“The idea,” said Mr. Grenfell, to a “Daily Mail” representative, “is to establish an athletic class for people of good standing, and it seemed to us best to establish it in the form of a club, so as to be able to exclude undesirable persons. So members will be able to come themselves, and to send their children and the ladies of their family for instruction with every assurance that they will be running no risk of objectionable associations.”

“Is Bartitsu, then, a sport for women and children?”

”Oh, we are not going to confine ourselves to Japanese wrestling. Athletic exercises of many kinds and physical culture will be taught, but with this difference, that physical culture will be taught in a new form, which will make it interesting.”

“And this new art of self-defence?”

”Bartitsu; that will be taught as part of the general scheme of physical culture. And you know it is very desirable to teach people how to protect themselves against violence.”

“But does not the noble art of self-defence do that – the art of using the fists?”

”No. In the first place the violent ruffian is likely to be fairly proficient in the use of the fists, and in the second place the stronger and heavier man has an overwhelming advantage in fist fighting. The great thing is to show people every possible form of attack to which they may be subjected, and to teach them how, by the application of scientific principles, every attack may be successfully met. Bartitsu teaches you how to overcome an opponent of superior weight by using his weight against himself, of throwing him by yielding instead of resisting, and of gripping him in various ways so as to put such a strain on his joints that however strong he may be he will be completely at your mercy. Then it teaches you how to fall so that the fact of being thrown will give you an advantage over the man who throws you.”

“It is a sort of physical counterpart, then, of the great financial art of making a fortune out of bankruptcy.”

”Then there are other means of self-defence which are useful. A lady I had the other day was, while riding her bicycle, attacked by a tramp. She was helpless against his superior strength. But there are ways of using a bending cane by which a lady might, if she has been taught the art, keep a molesting tramp at arm’s length. This will be taught as well as several other systems, all of which are not only useful but interesting to learn.”

London Daily Mail, 1899-06-13 (with thanks to Jason Couch of martialhistory.com).

June of 1899 appears to have been a formative period in the development of Bartitsu. Some elements were already in place and some were still fluid. It’s clear from Grenfell’s comments that jiujitsu was intended to play a key role, that novelty and diversity were considered to be “selling points” and that Barton-Wright was already considering the use of the walking stick as a means of self defence, though he may not have settled on Pierre Vigny’s method at that stage.

Ironically, as it was to transpire, the aura of middle-upper class exclusivity the Club’s promoters were aiming for may ultimately have helped to doom the enterprise. Despite “Health and Strength” journalist Mary Nugent’s description of the Bartitsu Club as “a huge subterranean hall, all glittering, white-tiled walls, and electric light” (1901), pictures taken inside the Club suggest a rather utilitarian basement space that might not have appealed to their “desirable” clientele:

It’s also not unlikely that the promoters had simply over-estimated the number of wealthy, respectable Londoners who shared their zeal for exotic self defence systems. Still, for a few years around the turn of the 20th century, Barton-Wright’s Club was the headquarters of a groundbreaking experiment that anticipated many modern trends in the martial arts.