The last of the Parasol Duelling Schools

Friday, April 4, 2014 0 comments

Amazing find from the archives!

It appears from this clip that at least one Parasol Duelling School lasted into the 1930s, in far off Japan of all places.

Perhaps this is not surprising as Japan has a long history of honouring martial arts. It is likely that Parasol Duelling was introduced soon after Japan was opened up to Western ideas during the mid 19th c.

Odd to think that when the Mikado was first being performed in London, and anything Japanese was considered exotic and wonderful, that Japanese ladies were having Parasol Duels.

The video clip shows the parade of the last school members through the streets of Ginza sometime in the 1930s. Most likely on their way to a formal competition.

More research into this last known remnant of Parasol Duelling is warranted!

Keep your sightglass full, your firebox trimmed and your water iced!


Saturday, March 8, 2014 0 comments

The age of the airship was short lived.

It lasted scarcely more than a a quarter of a century and during that time very few of these elegant and enormous machines survived very long. There are only a handful that survived the rigors of  flight to be broken up. Most were destroyed by fire, accident, storm or carelessness and yet as the author of this marvelous book, Len Deighton, says:

 For me the airship has a magic that the aeroplane cannot replace. The size is awesome, the shape Gothic; a pointed arch twirled into a tracery of Aluminum... the airship remains one of the greatest triumphs of structural engineering the world has ever seen.
This slim volume, written and compiled by Len Deighton and Arnold Schwartzman, is a chronicle of every airship disaster, accident, crash, and explosion. Although a chronicle of dismay it is in a sense also the chronicle of an experiment in engineering magnificence. Even in the grainy black and white images of the twisted and broken girders, torn envelopes, and flaming wreckage there is elegance. The immense labour of the design, the intricacy of the parts, and the bravery of those who would dare to take such vehicles into the skies, are apparent.
In this book, with the help of experts, I have told the story of the airship's failure. It shows the daunting task that the airship designer faced. Perhaps all simple acts of faith bear an imprint of absurdity, and you will find it here. But the book is intended as a tribute to the master builders and their aluminum marvels. This generation of engineers dared to build their cathedrals in the sky; no wonder then that so few of them stayed there.
--Len Deighton
Keep your sightglass full, your firebox trimmed and your water iced.


Len Deighton
Arnold Schwartzman

Jonathan Cape Ltd



Evidence of Parasol Duelling in Historical Artworks

Saturday, March 1, 2014 0 comments

Parasol Duelling in art!

Originally posted in Madame Saffron Hemlock's Parasol Duelling League for Steampunk Ladies

Some strong evidence for Parasol Duelling can be found in these paintings by John Fredric Lloyd Strevens (1902-1990). While these pictures were painted in the first half of the Twentieth Century however they incorporate very interesting details when looked at from a Parasol Duelist's perspective. 

Key points to notice with reference to the Rules for Parsol Duelling I posted previously here:

1) No "hooks" on the handle to prevent catching during the "twirl"
2) There is no catch to keep the parasol closed so it is tied with the same ribbon used to mark the complete rotation during a twirl
3) When closed the parasol is hung from the arm by a loop, thus keeping it handy even when both hands were needed.
4) The cuffs are not plain, but where lots of lace is present they are mid forearm length thus preventing any interference with the parasol.

Key elements here are the lack of hook on the handle and the ribbons keeping the duelling parasol closed. Note how this duelist keeps her parasol handy in case of need by the removable ribbon that hangs the parasol from her arm.

While an otherwise unremarkable domestic scene, I would not be surprised if this lady did not figure very well in the competitions!

An elegant twirl!

Worthy of a Flirtation Trial finalist!

 A fine "snub" form.

Note the steely gaze of a hardened competitor!

The mid sleeve lace is common during the time when lace cuffs were fashionable amongst the non-duelling public.

Going for the "plant"!

Note how the ribbon that holds the parasol shut has been slipped back out of the way. This painting shows the confident stance and easy motion of an accomplished Parasol Duelist.

She could easily go to a "snub" or a "twirl" next.

This lady knows her business!

Things to note in this image, the relatively plain cuffs, the ribbon holding the parasol to her arm in readiness, the tipped forward hat. This latter is important because it allows a lady's hat to be elaborate but also prevents interference with the Parasol during a "twirl".

I particularly like the intense look of this serious competitor!

Paintings taken from this fantastic website Tutt's Art@

Keep your sightglass full, your firebox trimmed and your water iced.

Let the Games Begin Part 3

Thursday, February 6, 2014 3 comments

Duella in umbra,

I have been getting a lot of interest in the Parasol Duelling rules I posted recently.
In fact we will be holding our first public demo this weekend at an event in Calgary called:
Well, Basil My Rathbone - Classic Movie and Performance Series
This week's movie is The Time Machine and we will be putting on several  Steampunk displays which will include a demo of Parasol Duelling. I'm hoping to get  more feedback to enable some fine tuning so that we can actually have competitions later in the year.

So since this seems to have struck a cord in the Steampunk community I thought I would have a bit of fun with some alternate history.  What would it be like if Parasol Duelling had actually been a real thing in Victorian England?  What follows is some faux academic analysis of the mysterious Victorian Parasol Duelling.

I hope you enjoy it.
Keep your sightglass full, your firebox trimmed and your water iced.

The Rules for Parasol Duelling are here.

Duella in umbra
(Dueling in the shade)

Ed: After the publication of the Victorian era Parasol Duelling rules in our most recent edition of the Neo-Victorian Chronicle there has been much discussion amongst scholars and historians about the historical provenance of the rules. Many notable historians of the period have stated outright that the rules are likely a hoax, that no such formalized rules existed,and that the storied exploits of famous Parasol Duelists were simply children's stories and nothing more. Others have taken a calmer "wait and see" approach suggesting that if the rules are legitimate and can be further documented then they would indeed explain several odd features of the late Victorian era. 

Even though I am quite sure the rules themselves are authentic, in that they were written in Victorian times, I have not myself been convinced that they represent a real competition style. That is, I was not convinced until I received the following long and detailed letter from Professor Lackstone Merrywilson of the Neo-Victorian studies department at Mintercommon College outside Oxford. Professor Merrywilson's letter was stunning in its implications for the historical context of the Rules themselves and does shed some significant light on the practice of Parasol Dueling during the reign of Queen Victoria.

 I will let the good professor's letter speak for itself.

Dear Mr Jepson
I was most interested to read your article concerning the Parasol Duelling Rules of Queen Victoria. This is an area of particular interest to me and one on which I have spent much of my time in recent years. I also followed with some interest the debates amongst our academic fellows in which the Rules seem to have taken on the form of a phantom, a historical Loch Ness monster as it were.

Parasol Duelling, far from being a phantom, was a major form of Ladies entertainment. Much prestige attended on the duels and many famous duellists, whose names live on today in the children's stories, were feted, and attained significant social standing on their own from their exertions on the field of honour. Of all this I am certain, though as you are no doubt aware, this is not the orthodox opinion amongst our fellow historians. The reason that is so has to do with one of the great erasures of history.

Parasol Duelling as a sport and specifically a Ladies Sport has been erased from the public memory, erased as surely as Pompeii was erased by Vesuvius in 79 AD. But even the most perfect erasure leaves a mark, a sign that something was there before. Hints, little pieces of out of place information, even the children's stories themselves, all serve to point to that which has been lost.

If you recall the paper my colleagues and I presented, at the Victorian Historical Pastimes Conference three years ago, you will remember that we postulated that the main reason for the paucity of information on Parasol Duelling was that after the death of Queen Victoria there was a social backlash against it simply because it was a strictly Female Sport and at that time the social mores were swinging towards a more Male oriented culture with respect to public competitions. The tragedy of the First World War also helped to finally obliterate any remaining vestiges of the sport because of its association with the hated Hun and the resulting post war anti-continental feelings.

We based these conclusions on a compilation of news paper articles, court documents and the deeds and leases of the Duelling Schools themselves. By the end of the period many of these once famous schools had been converted to taverns, and in some cases bawdy houses, in order to pay the bills. As such they often ran afoul of the increasingly stringent social and legal framework that was coming into force after the old Queen's death. As we showed in our paper the common elements of all these documents do indeed show the shadow of Parasol Duelling from earlier in Victoria's reign.

Since the presentation of our paper I have come across a document that finally lays to rest any concerns regarding the historical provenance of the rules and of Parasol Duelling itself!  I am in the process of preparing a paper with other members of our faculty, for peer review and presentation at next years conference. But I have my fellow author's permission, in light of the controversy your article has aroused, to release some of the information from our paper in hopes that more eyes will be able to see the truth and historical veracity of Parasol Duelling. 

The document is entitled simply "Duella in umbra" which translates from the latin as "Duelling in the Shade".
Those who study children's literature will immediately recognize the title as being one of the lines of the rhyming song included in the "Adventures of Two Parasol Mary", by Algernon Oakham. This book is often pointed to by scholars as being the origin of the legends of the Parasol Duel.

The author of "Duella in umbra" however is none other than Maxwell MacDonald-Smythe himself!  
The manuscript was found amongst some stored boxes of documents rescued from the archives of an old airship hanger in Portsmouth that had been badly damaged during World War Two.  The document looks to be the final draft that had been sent to a publishing house to be produced as a book.

There are no extant copies of the book that we are aware of, so whether or not it was actually published is unclear. The copy of the rules that you published in the Chronicle is word for word the rules included in the manuscript!  This implies that at least one other copy of the manuscript exists and perhaps the book itself may survive somewhere. 

The manuscript is a history of Parsol Duelling, it documents the arrival of Parasol Duelling in England with a lady in the household of Prince Albert in 1840. How as it gained popularity the young Queen was apalled at the loss of parasols and the injuries sustained by Ladies of all classes in duels that were little more than brawls with parasols used as fragile clubs. MacDonald-Smythe also documents in meticulous detail the various schools that had sprung up in England and, as she became an accomplished Duelist in her own right, the desire of the Queen to organize and formalize the competitions between them.

It is in this manuscript that we see for the first time the formalizing of the Rules with the Brandenburg Variations, and the subsequent massive increase in popularity of Parasol Duelling at all levels of society.

MacDonald-Smythe also documents the rise of the Street Duel and how this form of informal duel eventually made its way into the organized competitions held every year at Wembley.

Now it must be said that MacDonald-Smythe is writing near the end of Victoria's Reign at a time when more conservative elements in English society were beginning to put constraints on the freedom of Ladies to partake in such open female only competitions.

In one revealing passage he laments the passing of the "Flirtation" trials that had been such a popular feature of Parasol Duelling competitions in previous years.

Rest assured that with the "Duella in umbra" we have an eye witness guide to the world of Parasol Dueling.
It is not a hoax or a bunch of children's stories, but rather a social phenomenon that had major effects on the role of women in Victorian society.  That it could be so thoroughly erased from the memory and social records of England is a subject worthy of further study and we intend to touch upon that in our paper.

I hope that this note has given you courage to continue your work and we would be happy to assist and collaborate with you in studying this fascinating period of English history.

Yours Sincerely

Lackstone Merrywilson
Professor Neo-Victorian Studies
Mintercommon College

Ironclads in Action

Monday, January 20, 2014 0 comments

Iron monsters!

An interesting read covers every engagement involving ironclads from Hampton Roads to the Bombardment of Alexandria.

Filled with maps, reports, and detailed summaries of the actions and vessels involved. 
I found lots of information here that I have not found anywhere else, and at 920 pages in two volumes it would be a weighty tome in paper.

Highly recommended for any fans of this fascinating period of Naval history.

Available in PDF and ebook formats from the Internet archive here:
Volume 1

Volume 2

Ironclads in Action
A Sketch of Naval Warfare

Wilson, Herbert Wrigley, 1866-1940

London, S. Low, Marston and company


Let the Games Begin Part 2

Sunday, January 19, 2014 4 comments

The Parasol Duel!

Last time I wrote about coming up with some Steampunk Sports.
I have completed a first draft of my Parasol Duelling Rules and have posted them below.
Take a look and let me know what you think.
We have experimented a bit with the "figures" used and they do seem to be workable, the timing is tight enough to make it a challenge. At least it is a challenge for me, all you Ladies out there who are experts at handling a parasol probably won't have too much trouble.
I have worded it in the semi archaic style of the Tea Duelling rules.
If you try them out please let me know how it goes.
Comments, suggestions and critiques are welcome!

Keep your sightglass full, your firebox trimmed and your water iced.

The label Parasol Duelling will get you all my posts on this new and exciting sport!
For a Faux Academic piece on Parasol Duelling check out this recent post.

Update Feb 13 2014
Slight adjustment to make the Street Duelling procedure a bit clearer.
Thanks everybody for your feedback!

Update Feb 12 2014
After a very successful public demo at an event in Calgary last weekend there is now a Facebook Group for Parasol Duelling: Madame Saffron Hemlock's Parasol Duelling League for Steampunk Ladies
You can see some fantastic photos from the event including some of the duelling demonstration here:

Updated Jan 21 2014
Slight change to the Street Duel. Thanks Sarah!

A Parasol Duel
Both opponents are using the "Snub"
Photo by Grant Zelych

Parasol Duelling
Draft Jan 18’ 14
By Maxwell MacDonald-Smythe
aka Kevin Jepson
The ancient and honourable art of Parasol Duelling has gained a bad reputation in recent years. This is mostly due to the importation of the more violent and aggressive forms of the Hungarian Imperial Rules, much favoured by Ladies of the Lower Classes. There have been many cases of contusions, broken bones, many lost fingernails, and an unconscionable loss of fine parasols. In one celebrated case, this violent form of duel has resulted in the death of one of the participants by concussion.
Her Majesty recognizes the long and honourable history of Ladies participating in this noble trial of arms and desires that her subjects continue to participate, but in a safe and honourable manner.
Her Majesty has therefore decreed that within the Empire, Parasol Duelling will be conducted using the following rules which do not permit physical damage to the participants. These rules are known as the Brandenburg Variations on the Hanoverian Parasol Duelling Rules.
The Hanoverian Parasol duelling rules permit:
Plain cuffs and Lace parasols
Minimal Ankling, which is
showing ones ankles as a distraction technique (see illustration in my previous post)
Minimal contact!
Note that generally no Doctor, also known as an umpire, is present.

The Brandenburg Variation on these rules
(The only style permitted by Queens Regulations in Her Majesty's Dominions)
Similar to the above except that:
. No ankling is permitted (except as noted during competition).
These are enforced through the use of the initial two paces.
The three Parasol Duel "Figures" are:
      1) The Plant- Parasol is held point down to the ground at the side of the player
2) The Twirl- Parasol is opened and placed on the shoulder and twirled.
3) The Snub- Parasol is held pointing towards the opponent and opened. The parasol must be closed before being opened again or the result is a "hanging snub" and cannot be counted as a completed figure.

The Figure Rules
These are used to determine the outcome of a round and are similar to the street urchins game of Rock, Paper, Scissors.
Plant = Rock
Twirl = Paper
Snub = Scissors
Plant > Snub
Twirl > Plant
Snub > Twirl
All Duels consist of the following proceedings:
1) Opponents stand back to back, parasols held with one hand on the handle and the other 1/3 of the way from the top around the closed parasol.
2) The parasol is held across the body at a comfortable angle that must not exceed 60 degrees from the horizontal.
3) The Doctor will ascertain if the opponents are ready.
4) On receiving an affirmative reply from both opponents, the Doctor counts One! Two!.
5) Each opponent takes one step forward for each count.
6) After the second pace the opponents turn to face each other.
7) The Doctor begins to count out loud to five and then calls out loudly "Hold!"
8) During the counting the opponents try out various figures in an attempt to beat the other person at the point the hold is called.
9) After the completed count and the hold being called, the opponents must stand perfectly still and not move from their positions on pain of forfeiture.
10) If both opponents have a completed figure the round is concluded and the winner is declared by the figure rules.
11) Should one of the opponents not have a complete figure at the hold, the combat is decided in favour of the completed figure regardless of which figure it is.
12) Should neither opponent have a completed figure, or the figures are the same, the round is considered a draw and will be re-done.
The Types of Parasol Duel under the Brandenburg Variation of the Hanoverian Rules

Let the Games Begin Part 1

Thursday, January 16, 2014 2 comments


Everybody likes games and competitions, after all sports drive much of today's mainstream entertainment.
Next month in fact, we will again be witness to a massive smorgasbord of winter sports during the Winter Olympics in  Sochi Russia.

So that got me thinking about Steampunk games and sports. There are not a lot of them out there frankly. Recently there has been interest in Tea Duelling in our area which is fun. The Honourable Association of Tea Duellists publish a lovely set of rules available at their website here. And while this is certainly a fine way to pass an evening or afternoon, I was thinking that we need something grander to sink our teeth into, so to speak.

Then I remembered an incident at the Beakerhead festival in Calgary this last September. There was a good representation of Calgary Steampunks involved in adding some classy colour to the event and during one afternoon along the major downtown mall two lovely Ladies got into a duel!

What rules and etiquette applies to this I wondered?
Perhaps this is something that could become a "sport" with competitions and skills and stories to go along with it.

A Steampunk Sport and a fine Lady like one at that!

I have been working on a draft set of rules for Parasol Duelling.  I still need to do some actual experiments to make sure it is workable, fun, and safe for Ladies and Parasols both of course.  But once I have a workable scheme I will publish the rules here so others can try them out too.

Who knows, maybe sometime in the future there could be a World Championship Parasol Duelling competition at a major Steampunk event!

Stay tuned for more developments as they occur.

Keep your sightglass full, your firebox trimmed and your water iced.

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