An updated history of weaponised umbrellas

The release of Kingsman: the Secret Service promises to introduce a new generation of film-goers to the weaponised umbrella, a time-tested motif in anime, comic books, film, literature and television.  The bulletproof Kingsman umbrella comes equipped with all manner of gadgets, from a stunning projectile launcher to a TASER bola, as seen in this video:

However, while this fictional high-tech development in defensive bumbershootery is undoubtedly impressive, it is well worth noting that there has been a hundred-plus year history of attempts to weaponise the humble brolly in real life. These have included the development of martial arts techniques as well as the invention of actual, combat-augmented umbrellas.

As early as 1838, the Baron Charles de Berenger suggested several ingenious methods for using an umbrella in defence against highwaymen and ruffians, including simply shooting straight through it with a flintlock pistol:

In 1897, J.F. Sullivan proposed the umbrella as a misunderstood weapon in his tongue-in-cheek article for the Ludgate Monthy.

Only a few years later, Bartitsu founder E.W. Barton-Wright took the subject seriously in his two-part article series for Pearson’s Magazine, explaining the use of the umbrella and walking stick in self defence. The cane/umbrella were considered the first line of defence in the Bartitsu arsenal, which also included boxing, wrestling and jujitsu.

After the London Bartitsu Club closed under mysterious circumstances in 1902, instructors Pierre Vigny and his wife, who is known to us only as “Miss Sanderson”, continued to teach the use of umbrellas and parasols as defensive weapons. By 1908 the concept had made its way to the United States, being taught at the Philadelphia Institute of Physical Culture and featured in Popular Mechanics Magazine.

The remainder of the 20th century has seen the use of umbrellas as weapons of assassination:

… as well as numerous developments of the “umbrella sword” motif:

… and, of course, the Unbreakable Umbrella:

French news reports during mid-2011 suggested that the bodyguards of then-president Nicolas Sarkozy would soon be carrying a new defensive weapon – the Para Pactum umbrella. Reinforced with kevlar, the Para Pactum has apparently been tested against attack dogs and is also proof against knives, acid and thrown projectiles:

An interview with Emelyne Godfrey

Emelyne Godfrey is the author of the books Masculinity, Crime and Self-Defence in Victorian Literature and its newly published sister volume, Femininity, Crime and Self-Defence in Victorian Literature and Society.

Q – Emy, can you describe how the new book fits in to your ongoing research on the topic of self defence during the “long Victorian era”?

A – It was effectively the third chapter of my PhD on Victorians and self-defence (which focused on H. G. Wells’ Ann Veronica and women’s self-defence and martial arts in Edwardian literature) but as I started researching for this book, I found so much new material so it felt as if I was starting the research from scratch. Writing it took somewhat longer than expected!

Q – What were your motivations for writing on this topic?  In particular, how did the new book come about?

A – The books were ultimately the result of my mother’s suggestion a number of years ago that I go on a self-defence course which she had seen advertised on TV. At the time, I was a student at Birkbeck College, London, doing the MA in Victorian Studies and was casting about in my mind for a topic for a PhD and was reading about the Ripper murders when it occurred to me to ask how men and women defended themselves during this time. Alongside that, I learned from speaking to women after the self-defence course was that concepts of safety as they relate to feminism were so subjective.

Q – In what way?

A – Our self-defence instructor told us she refused to go out on her own after 8pm, which some women said didn’t sound very empowering, or feasible, especially if you were a student at Birkbeck, when some classes ended at 9pm. What was empowering? Avoiding danger or staying out a bit later and taking the last bus home? Other questions also popped up: how did one respond to being accosted or threatened, where were the sources of danger, and did men and women assess threat in different ways. I started interviewing anybody I saw about the subject of safety and I was passionate about seeking the answers. Intriguingly, men and women were debating these questions in the Victorian era, a time which saw a massive growth in London’s population and also witnessed the growing numbers of independent women of all backgrounds engaged in all kinds of work, and also philanthropy, travel and political campaigning.

Q – The subtitle refers to “Dagger-Fans and Suffragettes” – can you tell us what a “Dagger-Fan” is?

A – The dagger-fan was a novelty hand fan, designed in the shape of a dagger in its sheath. It’s kept at The Fan Museum in Greenwich, which displays some gorgeous fans from throughout the ages. At least one contemporary commentator observed with humour that such a dangerously shaped accessory might subtly discourage unwanted admirers who might lurk on trains or at street corner.

The dagger-fan is symbolic of all the many kinds of subtle means, discussed in this book,  that a woman could employ to deflect threat while out and about – gesturing with her fan, a humorous retort, disguise, a clever use of eye contact. As Anne Brontë’s The Tenant of Wildfell Hall and Mona Caird’s The Wing of Azrael, remind us, the ‘marriage market’ and the Victorian home could be a place of danger where all kinds of self-defence skills were needed. What I think all the writers examined in this book show is that there were some areas of life where the law couldn’t reach, and women had to be able to learn to protect themselves.

Q – Of all the heroines described in your book, who is your favorite, and why?

A – I admire the character of Judith Lee as she’s an independent spirit, and she can defend herself using jujitsu against a variety of criminals. I also think that the way an author writes about danger is as important as characterisation. While Judith Lee gets very angry, she has an understated, almost stiff-upper-lip way of talking about peril, which is quite amusing, a credit to the skills of her creator, Richard Marsh, was actually an intriguing figure himself.

Q – In what way?

A – He was involved in amateur dramatics before his writing career began, he also had a gift for portraying the mindsets and distinctive voices of his characters. He was author of the horror-thriller, The Beetle: A Mystery, which was published in 1897, the year in which Dracula appeared, and, according to a number of scholars, was more popular than Bram Stoker’s novel for some decades.  Marsh also spent some time in jail, changed his name and became a prolific writer. What interests me about Marsh was that he combined horror and violence with humour in his stories. His work daringly referenced contemporary crimes such as the Whitechapel Murders – you can see shades of that in his Judith Lee story, Conscience. He really struck a chord with the public with his depiction of Judith Lee, who was in many ways Sherlock Holmes’s equivalent.

Q – You’re also the publicity officer for the H.G. Wells Society.  How does Wells’ character Ann Veronica fit in with your theme?

A – I must say that don’t agree with all of Wells’s views on, for example, women, and some of his views are quite controversial today (he was in many ways a man of his time as well as being a forward thinker) but I think he’s a wonderful novelist and wordsmith whose work is both stirring, lightly humorous and cheekily iconoclastic. I do love his depiction of Ann Veronica, his Edwardian heroine, who wants to see life. A keen hockey player, she also learns jujitsu at high school and uses her knowledge of martial arts to defeat the rather sleazy Mr Ramage, who tries to take advantage of her in a locked hotel room. I think Wells sensitively portrays her feelings of guilt at having tackled him quite so effectively, but at least she does defend herself and doesn’t rely on a hero to come along and save her.

I see Judith Lee and Ann Veronica as early equivalents of feisty women in today’s literature and culture, particularly Buffy Summers from the Buffy the Vampire Slayer television series, Katniss Everdeen from The Hunger Games and even Anastasia Steele from Fifty Shades of Grey – they aren’t invulnerable, they suffer setbacks, deal with the ups and downs of love but they each have their own particular powers and channel their anger into the hand-to-hand defence of good causes.

Q – Finally, Emy, your book includes a chapter on Edith Garrud and the martial arts training of the Suffragettes.  The image of the jujitsuffragettes is easily romanticised by modern readers.  What would you say was the actual, and/or symbolic, social significance of Suffragettes training in the martial arts circa 1913?

A – I’m still making up my mind on that subject. On the one hand, I do agree that there is a tendency to romanticise jujitsuffragettes today, probably because the idea of a woman wearing a corset, big hair and an even bigger hat fighting a man and felling him to the floor cuts a bit of an incongruous yet charming and quaint image in the modern mind.  I think some campaigners enjoyed the limelight too and, as H.G. Wells, suggests in Ann Veronica, some may have joined the movement to do something exciting. Some of them also espoused some more violent means which were controversial.

On the other hand, when you read what some militants went through in jail – sleep, hunger and thirst striking – and how they fought against the ignominy of force feeding (and the Bodyguard bravely protected their leaders from re-arrest and torture under the Cat and Mouse Act) you really get a sense of how brave these women were. I think that whether or not the vote was won by women’s war effort, the suffragettes, and indeed suffragists, raised the public consciousness with regard to female suffrage; it’s something I always think about when I put my cross on the ballot paper.

 

Postscript

Masculinity, Crime and Self-Defence in Victorian Literature: Duelling with Danger, is out in paperback in March 2013. Both books are discounted 50% until 31 December 2012. Emelyne will be speaking about garotting (Victorian-era mugging) and Bartitsu at the Victorian Macabre Evening at Blackwell’s bookshop on Charing Cross Road, London, between 6.30-9pm on 14 December 2012, with Jonathan Sale, who will be discussing his book, Premature Burial: How It May Be Prevented.  The event is free (please register with Blackwell’s beforehand so that they know the number of seats needed) and Emelyne’s books will be sold for £20.99 on the night.

“Femininity, Crime and Self-Defence in Victorian Literature and Society: From Dagger-Fans to Suffragettes”

The topic of women and danger has long fascinated historians. Emelyne Godfrey’s new book, available now from Palgrave Macmillan, innovatively situates both well-known and more obscure themes within the cultural context of the development of self-defence for ladies during the period from circa 1850 to 1914. Elizabeth Robins, Mona Caird and Anne Brontë considered the role of physiognomy in spotting rogue suitors, the nature of feminine anger and the dangers inside and outside the home. H.G. Wells’s controversial novel, Ann Veronica (1909), is refreshingly re-examined as a testament to the growth of women’s sports while the accompanying proliferation of women’s martial arts classes was promoted by Edith Garrud, the trainer for the suffragette Bodyguard. Richard Marsh’s detective, Judith Lee, a lip-reader and jujitsu practitioner, has been likened to Sherlock Holmes; her encounters with the Edwardian criminal underworld are explored here. Emelyne Godfrey introduces major themes in this area, showcasing a wealth of literary sources, artefacts and archival documents.

Contents

List of Figures
Acknowledgments
A Note on the Text
Abbreviations
Introduction
PART I: ‘A DOOR OPEN, A DOOR SHUT’
On the Street
Danger en Route
Behind Closed Doors: Bogey-Husbands in Disguise: Mona Caird’s The Wing of Azrael (1889)
PART II: FIGHTING FOR EMANCIPATION
Elizabeth Robins’ The Convert
The Last Heroine Left?
PART III: THE PRE-WAR FEMALE GAZE
‘Where Are You Going To, My Pretty Maid?’: Elizabeth Robins on White Slavery
Read My Lips
Bibliography
Index

Note that the publishers are offering a 50% discount on both this book and the companion volume Masculinity, Crime and Self-Defence in Victorian Literature until 30 November, valid in the UK and Europe. Simply enter the code WGODFREY2012a at the Palgrave Publishing website checkout.

Unveiling of Edith Garrud’s plaque in London

Edith Garrud’s great-great-great-grandniece and namesake poses with a replica of the plaque commemorating her ancestor, and with her toy octopus friend.

On a sunny Saturday in June 2012, around 70 people congregated around the steps of a house in a smart square in London to celebrate the life of a brave woman who had once lived there; Edith Margaret Garrud, the jujitsu trainer of the Bodyguard corps of the British Suffragette movement circa 1910-1913. Two of the people present had known Edith Garrud; her grand daughters Jenny Cooper and Sybil Evans. To them, she was just Nana.

There was a group of about fifteen members of the Garrud family, many of them from Sheffield in the North of England who had travelled 200 miles to be present at the unveiling of the relative none of them had met. They said they were inspired by her courage and wanted to be part of the ceremony. I met people from one of the London Judo societies and several women proud of their Suffragette predecessors who had helped women to take their place in today’s society. A young boxing enthusiast was clear that Edith and her companions had made it possible for her to be accepted as a boxer today.

As the appointed time for the unveiling approached, the photographer
marshalled groups of family supporters, descendents and others into groups to record the event for the local newspaper and to make pictures for a permanent display of the achievements of Islington people. Although too little to understand much of what was happening today, young Edie will surely grow up to be proud of the ancestor whose name she carries.

At last the photographs were over and the crowd gathered round under the green veil which covered the plaque to listen to a short speech from the Leader of Islington Council. She spoke a little about the Suffragette movement and the equality they sought. She reminded us that the council is trying to promote encourage equality today, between the residents on the west side of Caledonian Road who live on £10,000 a year and those so near on the east side such as the area of Thornhill Square where houses may sell for £2 million. She thanked local Councillors for attending this celebration, and then asked one of the relatives to say a few words. As this was unexpected, I managed only to thank Tony Wolf who started all of this and Islington Council for all of their efforts with the Plaque, and then turned back to the Leader to unveil the Plaque.

There were more photographs, the green baize curtains revealed the Plaque, and after a round of applause most people moved across the road to St Andrews church to enjoy cups of tea and cakes and a good opportunity to find out who else had come to the celebration. Around the walls of the church room there were panels prepared by Islington illustrating the Suffragette movement, there was also a large copy of the Punch cartoon and a family tree showing where Edith fitted into the Williams/Garrud/Jones/Deamer families. After an hour or so of meeting new friends and distant relatives people began to drift away for some long journeys home. I walked with two members of the Jones family whom I had met first 25 years ago and not seen since, and with a few more fond farewells the party was over.

We went home remembering something of Edith’s life and proud of her achievements and our association with her.

Thanks to Martin Williams, a descendent of Edith Garrud’s, for both organising the commemorative plaque project and for writing this guest post.

Bartitsu founder featured in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography

Edward William Barton-Wright, the founder of Bartitsu, has been commemorated with an entry in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, the standard work of reference on notable figures from British history.

Jujitsuffragette Edith Garrud back in the news

Follow this link to read an Islington Tribune article about Edith Garrud (pictured left, above), who was the jujitsu and self defence trainer of the Suffragette Bodyguard society.  We eagerly await the unveiling of her commemorative plaque.