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.

E.W. Barton-Wright’s “overcoat trick”

In the March edition of Pearson’s Magazine, 1899, Bartitsu founder E.W. Barton-Wright demonstrated a curious self defence technique making use of an overcoat as a defensive weapon. The provenance of this technique is unclear. It could be an aspect of the Shinden Fudo Ryu jiujitsu that he had studied in Kobe, Japan; an adaptation of a French Apache (gangster) street-fighting trick, or perhaps Barton-Wright’s revival/update of the classic “cloak in the face” manoeuvre recorded by historical fencing masters such as Salvator Fabris:

Fabris’ technique had been revived as part of the historical fencing curriculum developed by Captain Alfred Hutton, who taught both Elizabethan and modern forms of fencing, as well as theatrical stage combat, at Barton-Wright’s Bartitsu Club:

According to Barton-Wright:

There is, however, one simple and effective way of meeting an attack with a knife that I will explain. We will suppose that you have to pass through a locality late at night where there is a likelihood of such an attack, and you do not wish to run the risk of bringing yourself within the law by relying upon a revolver.

Carry your overcoat upon your shoulders without passing your arms through the sleeves, in the style of a military cloak, with your right hand ready upon your left shoulder to use your coat in the way explained below, should the necessity arise. Be careful always to walk in the middle of the road. Directly your assailant attacks, face him and wait until he is within a distance of two or three yards. Then envelop his head and arms by throwing your coat at him, with a sweeping, circular motion of the arm. This will obscure his view momentarily, but not your own, and will give you plenty of time to deliver your attack, which should take the form of a right-handed knock-out blow in the pit of the stomach.

Or while he is still enveloped in the folds of your coat, slip round behind him, seize him by the right ankle, and push him under the shoulder blade with your left hand. You will thus throw him very violently upon his face, and in his endeavour to break his fall and protect his face he will put out his hands, and in doing so, involuntarily drop his weapon. He will then be disarmed and in a position where you can break his leg immediately if you so like, or if you do not wish to proceed to such extremes, you can hold him down in the position shown in No. 6 until the police arrive.

This is only one of the many ways I have of meeting such a contingency.

A tongue-in-cheek reference to the overcoat technique then appeared in the April 8th, 1899 issue of Guy’s Hospital Gazette:

Mr. Higgins has been taking lessons in the new art of self-defence. At his first meeting with Mr. Barton-Wright he attempted to floor him with the usual knock-out blow, but soon found himself presenting an inverted image moving against the shadow. This led him to think that there was more in the method than met the eye.

It appears that there is a good deal to learn in this new art. There are several hundreds of different manoeuvres for as many different forms of attack, and the trouble begins, I imagine, when you work off the wrong defence for the particular variety of attack.

There is one trick with an overcoat which strikes us as particularly “fresh.” All you have to do is to walk in the middle of the road with your arms removed from the sleeves of your overcoat. (The only drawback to this is that it rather spoils the set of the overcoat and necessitates wearing one all the summer). Then you meet your assailant—this is the hardest part of the business, but it can generally be managed by a judicious use of opprobrious epithet. Having met him, all you have to do is to seize your coat by the shoulder and plug it round his head.

If you are successful you can jump on his chest while he is getting untangled; if not, he will probably move off with the overcoat down a side-street. You lose the overcoat, but win the game. I must try it on a policeman.

And finally, here is the same trick, executed by Jude Law as Dr. John Watson in Sherlock Holmes (2010) as a prelude to belabouring his antagonist with a frying pan: