Extinct Entertainments No. 7

By TimB Last edited 118 months ago
Extinct Entertainments No. 7

We are proud to bring you a constant stream of the best and brightest entertainment news each day... but we are also proud of our reports on London past. In this series, we join up our talents and take a look at London entertainments that no longer exist, and the closest equivalent available today.

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7. Quarterstaff fencing

Once upon a time in London a quarterstaffer wasn’t another name for the HR manager at a bank (boom boom), but someone who walked quietly and carried a big stick. Quarterstaff fencing, as captured best in film in 1938's The Adventures of Robin Hood, was a popular London past-time – and not just in medieval times when it began. The London Masters of Defence (aka The Corporation of Masters of the Noble Science of Defence) taught sixteenth century locals how to wave their big wands in style, with additional lessons in pugilism and (delightfully) "disarming techniques". By 1870 there was yet another revival in the sport, thanks to the resurging popularity of Robin Hood in popular fiction, offering a fight club for the Little John in everyone. And perhaps as a result of Errol Flynn’s magnificent filmic prancing in the 1930s, British boy scouts found themselves having to be prepared to parry, dodge, thrust and spin.

Where are they now?

You won’t catch gangs breaking out in duels atop logs over streams today, but you can get taught how to use the things at the British Quarterstaff Association. The group holds classes in London and Manchester, teaching: "sequences of blows for attack and defence, and their application, working creatively with the six animals of the quarterstaff, and the cultural roots of the quarterstaff". The form isn't quite as extinct in popular culture as you would think, with the double-handed lightsabers of the Star Wars prequels looking awfully similar to the old bamboo. Please note: the fellows pictured here participated in this year’s Lord Mayor's parade and look like excellent quarterstaffers, but we don’t really know who they are. Leave a comment and identify yourselves, you scoundrels!

Words and picture by Tim Benzie.

Last Updated 16 December 2008