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How to Fight Like a Victorian Gentleman Bartitsu, the Sherlock Holmes art of self-defense, is coming back.



Pierre Vigny and Edward Barton-Wright demonstrate walking stick combat. (The Bartitsu Society)
It’s sundown at a small park in Burbank and I’m dressed in head-to-toe black, carrying a big stick and ready to street fight, Sherlock Holmes style.

I’m not exactly a ninja—the closest I’ve been to hand-to-hand combat was fighting over the last cupcake at Thanksgiving. But even so, I have signed up to learn bartitsu, the esoteric and gentlemanly Victorian art of self defense.

Before I chicken out I spot my instructor, Matt Franta, a dapper gentleman in a three-piece suit. Franta’s bio describes him as an actor, fight choreographer, and stunt performer with black belts in tae kwon do and hapkido as well as experience in karate, judo, fencing, and kickboxing. He’s also a member of the International Knife Throwers Association.

Bartitsu was developed by Edward Barton-Wright, a British engineer who moved to Japan in 1895. After returning to London, just before the turn of the century, he created a mixed martial art hybrid, combining elements of judo, jujitsu, British boxing, and fighting with a walking stick.
The style was promoted to the middle and upper classes during a time when they were becoming increasingly worried about the street gangs and crime publicized by the tabloid newspapers.

“In this country we are brought up with the idea that there is no more honourable way of settling a dispute than resorting to Nature’s weapons, the fists, and to scorn taking advantage of another man when he is down,” Barton-Wright wrote in an 1899 edition of Pearson’s magazine.

It’s half historical recreation; half beating the crap out of someone with a cane.
“A foreigner, however, will not hesitate to use a chair, or a beer bottle, or a knife, or anything that comes handy, and if no weapon is available the chances are he would employ what we should consider are underhanded means.”

Over the next two hours, Franta talks about the history of bartitsu while patiently teaching me the basics of how to throw an opponent off balance with a series of punches, grabs and evasive moves.

“It was the first fight style that combined Eastern and Western techniques, and at the time anything from the East was considered very exotic,” he explains.

Basically, it’s half historical recreation; half beating the crap out of someone with a cane.

I’m beginning to see how this style of fighting would appeal to the fictional detective. After all, observing and adapting the best techniques to his advantage was one of Holmes’s signature traits.
Barton-Wright’s Bartitsu Academy of Arms and Physical Culture was all the rage for fashionable ladies and gentlemen of the era. Franta explains how, behind club walls, they learned to battle “hooligans” from instructors like Professor Pierre Vigny, who honed his technique fighting thugs in shadowy corners.

Then, in 1902, the school closed its doors forever under mysterious circumstances. Several theories exist as to what happened: Some blamed Barton-Wright’s high fees; others believe that a badly-managed 1901 exhibition helped seal the club’s fate. The instructors moved on, and so did the general public—and bartitsu was in danger of disappearing forever.

Sherlock Holmes and Professor Moriarty struggling at the Reichenbach Waterfall. (Wikimedia Commons)

It survived through a single passage in Arthur Conan Doyle’s 1903 Sherlock Holmes mystery, The Adventure of the Empty House. Holmes claimed that he defeated his archnemesis Professor Moriarty at Reichenbach Waterfall using “baritsu, or the Japanese system of wrestling, which has more than once been very useful to me.”

“No one knows whether he misspelled it on purpose for copyright reasons, or because a 1900 London Times he may have used for reference has the same typo,” Franta said.

Tony Wolf, a fight choreographer, martial arts instructor, and self-described ‘walking bartitsu encyclopedia’, serves as editor of EJMAS: Journal of Manly Arts, a scholarly online journal focusing on the martial arts and combat sports of the Victorian and Edwardian eras.
As a founding member of The Bartitsu Society, Wolf explains how he and other members spent years researching and compiling archival material of the era in order to “bring bartitsu back to life” and move it online.

“Then we created neo-bartitsu, which is really bartitsu as it might have been,” Wolf says.

There is no such thing as an accredited bartitsu instructor, and Wolf says that the group has worked hard to keep the art open-source and apolitical. Each instructor has his own blend of practical self-defense and historical recreation.

But they all feature the principles that Barton-Wright explained in 1899:

To disturb the equilibrium of your assailant.
To surprise him before he has time to regain his balance and use his strength.
If necessary, to subject the joints of any parts of his body, whether neck, shoulder, elbow, wrist, back, knee, ankle, etc. to strains that they are anatomically and mechanically unable to resist.
Some of the unarmed combat moves are definitely old school. While modern boxing is known for close body contact, bartitsu boxing is a throwback to the mid-19th century punching style in which men circled each other in the ring.

“They didn’t have gloves or face protection,” Franta says. “In bartitsu, it’s about keeping your opponent at a distance.”

“The point of bartitsu was to avoid the fight if possible, and get your opponent to walk away rather than do damage,” he adds.
However, bartitsu students are taught to close and finish the fight with jujitsu techniques if necessary.

“The idea was that you use your opponent’s strengths against them. With the use of surprise,” director Guy Ritchie told Vanity Fair in 2009, explaining how bartitsu was incorporated into the fight choreography of the Sherlock Holmes movies starring Robert Downey, Jr.

“There’s all sorts of locks and chokes and various other techniques used to incapacitate someone. There’s lots of throwing hats at someone’s eyes, and then striking at them, if you can, with a walking stick.”

The movies helped propel what Wolf calls the “fringe of the fringe” movement into the spotlight, and attract a growing number of women.

The author learning bartitsu (Catherine Townsend)

Bartitsu aficionados come from all walks of life. Some study because they are fascinated with the daring tales of the Jujitsuffragettes, a hard-core group of women who trained in secret and helped protect leaders of the UK women’s right movement prior to World War I.

Others are followers of the steampunk movement. Victorian sci-fi influence has shown up everywhere from the Steampunk World’s Fair to the Alexander McQueen runway.
The author learning bartitsu (Catherine Townsend)
A Google search brings up dozens of clubs and meetup groups around the country with class titles including “Sparring with Sherlock” and “Kicking Ass in a Corset: Bartitsu for Ladies.”

But could an anachronistic art really protect me against a modern-day bad guy?
“A lot of the techniques are aimed at fighting hooligans,” Franta says. “But they weren’t always necessarily anticipating the challenges of modern hooligans.”

Wolf points out that students who hope to use bartitsu for present-day combat should keep in mind that it was originally meant for long-term study.

“It’s not something that you can pick up in a few classes, particularly if you’re more interested in real-world self defense than in historical recreation,” he says.

“Chances are your opponent isn’t going to be walking through the streets of a major world city twirling a parasol.”

But the classes do teach practical information about body awareness, how to target an opponent’s weak points and escape tactics that could come in handy in any situation.

Some instructors, like Professor Mark Donnelly have also posted YouTube videos that show how they have adapted parts of their training by incorporating umbrellas and baseball bats as an alternative to canes.

After several days of practicing my moves with the kitchen mop, I sign up for the four-week intro course. One day the skills taught to ladies and gentlemen of an earlier era could help me in a modern day battle for honor and glory.

At the very least, the elbow lock move called “A Good Way of Conducting a Person out of a Room” should come in handy with annoying party guests.


CATHERINE TOWNSEND is a journalist and private investigator based in Los Angeles. She is the author of Sleeping Around and writes regularly at The Love Detective.

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How Tea Parties Got Their Start—and How to Hold One Like a Victorian

This summer marks 150 years since Alice in Wonderland was first published. As most English speakers over the age of 10 are aware, the book contains the most beloved tea party scene in literary history—so why not use its anniversary as an excuse to hold a Victorian-style tea party of your own?

First, impress your guests with some history. The modern European tea party began about 20 years before the publication of Alice in Wonderland, at which point it was still extremely fashionable. Although there are scattered references to fashionable ladies drinking a cup of tea mid-afternoon in the 17th century, most sources trace the tradition back to the 1840s and Anna Maria Russell, the Duchess of Bedford, a lifelong friend of Queen Victoria’s. In the Duchess’s day, most British people ate two main meals: a huge breakfast served early, and an 8 p.m. dinner (there was a light, informal luncheon in between). The Duchess complained of getting a “sinkful feeling” during the long, snackless gap in between, and started taking a pot of tea and some light treats in her boudoir around 4 p.m.

Tea consumption in Europe had increased dramatically in the early 19th century, especially after Europeans learned the secrets of tea cultivation and began establishing their own plantations, instead of relying on China. The idea of an afternoon tea-based snackfest caught on after Anna began inviting friends to meet her for a cuppa (as Brits now call it) and “a walk in the fields.” Other high society hostesses imitated her party idea, creating intimate afternoon events that usually involved elegant rooms, fine china, hot tea, small sandwiches, and plenty of gossip. The custom really caught on when Queen Victoria attended some of these gatherings, adding her royal imprimatur.

The middle classes followed suit, discovering that tea parties were a relatively economical way to host a gathering. There were garden teas, tennis teas, croquet teas, and more. Eventually, the custom of taking a mid-afternoon tea break became standard across British society, although it diverged into two traditions: “afternoon tea,” for the leisured classes (tea and light snacks) and “high tea” or “meat tea,” a heartier workingman’s dinner that would be served when laborers arrived home after work.

If you’d like to hold a Victorian-style tea party, consider following some of the guidelines for various kinds of teas dispensed in 1893’s Etiquette of Good Society by Lady Gertrude Elizabeth Campbell or Etiquette: What to Do, and How to Do It, written by Lady Constance Eleanora C. Howard in 1885. Both are freely available on Google Books in case you need more information about which spoon to use with your clotted cream.


Campbell says: “a tea, of whatever kind, may be made one of the most agreeable of meals; for tea always seems to produce sociability, cheerfulness, and vivacity.”

She offers the following guidelines for a country-based high tea, perhaps after some archery or lawn tennis in summer, or music, card games, or charades in winter: 

  • Cover the table with a white tablecloth and line the center with flowers or, if it’s summer, with fruit. “Nothing looks more tempting than bowls of old china filled with ripe red strawberries, and jugs of rich cream by their side,” Campbell notes.
  • Adorn the table with glass dishes of preserved fruit and jams, and cakes of various kinds (Campbell suggests plum, rice and sponge cakes), as well as hot muffins, crumpets, toast, and little tea cakes. More substantial fare, such as cold salmon, pigeon, veal and ham pie, should go on the sideboards. If it’s a “hungry tea,” Campbell says, you may add roast beef and lamb “for the gentlemen.”
  • Place the tea tray at one end of the table, and a tray with coffee at the other.
  • Servants should be experienced, since they’ll have plenty of work to do passing around cups of tea, cream, and sugar, and keeping an eye out for empties. There should be one servant for carving up the meats, one to change the plates, another to hand out the bread and butter, plus several more to spare just in case.
  • However, after the fruit has been passed out, the servants should leave the room so that the guests can enjoy themselves without fear of being overheard. (Again, gossip is pretty much the point of a tea party.)
  • The meal may be followed by dancing on the lawn or in the drawing room, with music, charades, or some other kind of parlor entertainment. If there’s no entertainment, guests repair to reception rooms to chat.
  • Furniture arrangement in the reception rooms is key: groups of tables and chairs should be placed so that the guests can form little groups that make the room look full, but not too crowded. “A room stiffly arranged will destroy all the wish for conversation and mirth, and also the power of producing it as well,” Lady Campbell notes.
  • The absolute worst idea, she says, is to let the guests form themselves into one big circle. This leads to an “immediate depression,” since “few people have the sang froid to talk, much less freely and well, when everyone can hear their remarks.” The hostess must keep an eye out to prevent this catastrophe. If she does not, “a gloom pervades, hilarity ceases, only an occasional remark is ventured upon, and the party is converted into a Quaker’s meeting.”

Campbell shares these tips for a light afternoon tea, also known as a “small tea,” usually served around 5 p.m., where things are less formal:

  • Invitations are sent out indicating that the lady of the house will be “at home” on such and such an afternoon (no reply from the guest is needed).
  • Guests are ushered into the hostess’s drawing room. Tea equipment—usually a specially designed set—should be placed near the lady of the house, who pours the tea herself.
  • Cups and saucers should be small and dainty, as should spoons, sugar basin, tongs and cream jug. Plates of cakes and bread and butter should be brought into the room.
  • Gentlemen should offer their services handling the cake and pouring the tea, but should not be too anxious to do so, since “people do not assemble at these 5 o’clock teas to eat and drink.”
  • Larger afternoon teas, however, will require servants to pour and pass out the tea, but at “little teas,” servants should be excluded if possible.
  • Tea may be followed by whist, music, or a dance on the carpet, which “finds favor with young people.”
  • You should “on no account stay later than seven o’clock.”


  • At a country tea, you might add a patterned tablecloth, perhaps one covered in poppies or cornflowers. Adding meat is a welcome touch for those who have come from far away, as is adding a tray with sherry, brandy, or seltzer for those who prefer it to tea. Always include salt, since some people sprinkle it on their bread and butter.
  • Knives should only be used for cutting the cake, and not by each person, unless toast, butter, jam, etc. is being served. Hot water can be sent up in an urn, kettle, or jug, but using a silver jug isn’t a good plan, since the water gets cold quickly. Teaspoons, however, should be silver, while china or colored Venetian glass dishes are best for butter and jam.
  • Hostesses pour the tea themselves, asking each guest if they take sugar, cream, or milk, and then handing the cups to the gentlemen, who in turn hand them to the ladies, who are clustered around the room in little groups. Gentlemen also pass out the cakes, muffins, etc.
  • Howard notes that plates must always be used at a 5 o’clock tea, and that to place cake or scone in a saucer or on the table would be “very vulgar.”
  • Serviettes (also known as napkins) should never be used.
  • The butler and footman can arrange the room and set the table, but then should leave the room, since servants don’t usually wait on guests at teas. Instead “they wait upon each other, who is far less formal and much more agreeable.”

Howard offers the following advice for a formal 5 o’clock tea in London, noting “ladies like it extremely; gentlemen, as a rule, detest it most cordially.”

  • Invitations are given verbally, or on an ordinary visiting card. A request for RSVPs may be added on the right corner, although they aren’t usually (if they are present, an immediate reply is required). If there will be entertainment, that should be noted. Note that “5 o’clock tea” is not the right term for an invitation—the hostess merely says she is “at home.” The host’s name is never added to the invitation, only the hostess’s.
  • Two weeks’ notice is usual for more formal teas, although invitations can be sent out only a week in advance for smaller ones.
  • Formal teas—or “ceremonious teas”—can include from 50 to 200 guests, at which point it’s customary to produce some light entertainment alongside the tea-sipping. “The music should be as good as possible,” notes Howard, “though not important enough to actually be a concert.”
  • The “semi-ceremonious tea” numbers 40 to 100 people, and requires less formal entertainment, perhaps recitations or “good amateur talent, vocal or instrumental.”
  • At even less formal teas, of 10 to 25 people, general chatting or tête-à-têtes can take the place of entertainment or instruction.
  • Never station a servant at the door to announce guests; they should walk right in, since they know the hostess is at home.
  • Never use red cloth at any party unless royalty is present.
  • Tea and coffee should be in silver urns, and the buffet prettily decorated with flowers that are in season, as well as fancy biscuits, brown and white bread and butter cut very thin, and cakes (plum, seed, pound, and sponge). Sherry, champagne, claret, lemonade, ices, fruit, potted game, sandwiches, and (in the summer) bowls heaped with strawberries and whipped cream should be placed on the center table.
  • More formal teas should be served in the dining room, smaller teas in a boudoir or anteroom.
  • It is polite to greet your hostess before taking any tea, coffee, or sweets. The hostess should stand just inside the doorway of the room at a more formal tea, and at a small tea, she receives guests inside the room, advancing a few steps to greet each arrival.
  • Unless a hostess is lame or very old, etiquette requires that she should move about the room among her guests to make sure they have someone to talk to and have enough tea at all times. Her daughter or daughters should help her. Guests, too, can move around the room—there is no need to stay in one spot unless the conversation is “very absorbing.”
  • Formal, general introductions are not needed, although the hostess may introduce two people if she thinks that one, or both, would value her doing so.
  • Punctuality is not necessary at 5 o’clock tea, and guests should feel free to come when they like and leave when it pleases them.
  • Ladies may ask for a second cup of tea if they are thirsty, but it would “look peculiar” if they ask for chocolate, milk, soda, cider, or some other beverage not usually served at a tea.
  • Ladies intending to eat ices, cake, bread, etc. should take off their gloves, but gloves can stay on if one is only drinking tea or coffee without eating.
  • Conversation should be in a low tone so as not to disturb those who are doing their best to amuse the guests, and guests should at least try to look as if they are listening to the performances.
  • Never tip the servants.

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1890: Smokiana

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Amphibious ships, cycling on water and cities with ceilings: Vintage postcards reveal how Victorians predicted future of travel

  • Predictions of trips to the North Pole and ‘moving walkways’ fit with the modern day
  • However moveable brick houses and roofed cities are not what we have today
  • The postcards were the idea of Theodore Hildebrand and Son – a German chocolate company 

While most of the ideas remain totally unachievable in the modern world, some of the concepts are not dissimilar to the lives we lead today.

The moving pavement is one that we can credit the Victorians for – just about every airport now has travelators, and even a break to the North Pole isn’t too far from reality, as more and more people begin to venture further afield for a more adventurous holiday.

It may not quite be mainstream yet, but trips to the North Pole are taken on my some explorers as we seek to broaden our knowledge

It may not quite be mainstream yet, but trips to the North Pole are taken on my some explorers as we seek to broaden our knowledge

Ships that can go out to sea and then transform into a wheeled vehicle to carry on land are yet to make an appearance 

Ships that can go out to sea and then transform into a wheeled vehicle to carry on land are yet to make an appearance

Travel on boats with glass lookouts that go underwater - the nearest we have is submarines

The 12 drawings are based on predictions made in 1900 as to how the world would look 100 years on, and they leave little to the imagination.

Among the warped ideas are moveable houses, undersea ships and even a roofed city, each illustrated with a suitably unrealistic picture of how the idea would play out.

However, a good weather machine remains as much of a pipe dream as it did a century ago, and people seem happier to travel by commercial aeroplane rather than an individual flying machine.

Moveable brick/stone houses and buildings might not be quite right, but we do have mobile homes 

Hot air balloon rides to travel the world have been somewhat superseded by aeroplanes and trains

Hot air balloon rides to travel the world have been somewhat superseded by aeroplanes and trains

The postcards were the idea of Theodore Hildebrand and Son - a German chocolate company - pictured here is a weather machine 

The postcards were the idea of Theodore Hildebrand and Son – a German chocolate company – pictured here is a weather machine

A walled city, as predicted by the Victorians, might not work in this days and age with pollution from fumes being the biggest worry

A walled city, as predicted by the Victorians, might not work in this days and age with pollution from fumes being the biggest worry

But, in an era that invented the telephone, the light bulb and even the first ceramic toilet, the Victorians appear to have had a fairly good insight into what the future had to offer.

The postcards were the idea of Theodore Hildebrand and Son – a German chocolate company who decided to get in on the future-telling business with a crafty marketing campaign.

For a short time, they slipped the colourful cards depicting theoretical life in the year 2000 into boxes of their sweets, predicting how a range of activities would be upgraded for the 21st Century.

This scene is not too dissimilar to us using paragliders and handgliders to get around and explore the landscape

This scene is not too dissimilar to us using paragliders and handgliders to get around and explore the landscape

Individual water travel was predicted by the Victorians, but this hasn't exactly taken off

Individual water travel was predicted by the Victorians, but this hasn’t exactly taken off

Moving walkways to get around were predicted by the Victorians, and these are seen today in many of our airports

Moving walkways to get around were predicted by the Victorians, and these are seen today in many of our airports

The Victorians looked ahead to how our states would be policed as well as how we would travel the world

The Victorians looked ahead to how our states would be policed as well as how we would travel the world

The postcards predicted what life would be like in the year 2000 

The postcards predicted what life would be like in the year 2000

Read more: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/travel/travel_news/article-2848663/Vintage-postcards-reveal-Victorians-predicted-future-travel.html#ixzz3KuWJ4rTV
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1879 Darby Steam-Digger

c. 1879 The Darby steam-digger


“Image with consent of the descendants of Robert Hasler.

“The Darby Steam-Digger, a light traction engine, was invented circa 1879 by farmer Thomas Darby and built at Lodge Farm Pleshey, near Chelmsford in Essex, England. Robert Hasler, seen driving the Digger, helped to build this first prototype.

“In effect the machine was an early tractor designed mainly for ploughing, and could accomplish 1-acre (4,000 m2) an hour (1 m²/s) to a maximum depth of 14 inches (360 mm). This first digger was constructed on pedestrian principles and had six “feet” and really did walk over the fields. Unfortunately it jumped too much to be really successful. The digger was later modified to have wheels in place of the legs.”

– Wikipedia


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Victorian Spy Camera

1886-1890:Victorian Spy Camera

“The Lancaster Watch Camera was patented in October 1886 and made until 1890. Such tiny cameras were the forerunners for the ‘spy’ camera”

– Lionel Hughes, Bonhams


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The First Gymnacyclidium for Ladies and Gentlemen

April 5th, 1869:
The First Gymnacyclidium for Ladies and Gentlemen
Ruby Jones

 The first Gymnacyclidium for ladies and gentlemen : opening exhibition and hop at the grand velocipede academy, or gymnacyclidium, containing over 8,000 square feet for Riding, with Gallery and Seats for about 1,500 people, by the Pearsall Brothers! Originators of Velocipede Schools in this Country.

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