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Club History

Salle Joseph’s first, and so far only, President recalls:

Salle Joseph was founded by me on 6th September 1985. Established in the first-floor Gymnasium at St Joseph’s College, Beulah Hill, it set out to be a traditional salle d’armes organised so as to enable anyone seeking to acquire the skills of modern 'sword-fencing' to be taught by coaches qualified to teach and well-versed in those skills.

Our inaugural gathering on that Friday evening proved somewhat inauspicious when I presented myself in the “en guarde” position along with a mere two other individuals (my sons, Edmund and Richard, both students at the College) before a very youthful Anthony Coton, who had only just embarked upon his professional career as a fencing coach. We were watched with no little bemusement from the doorway by the then Headmaster, Br. Anthony Porter, on whom I had worked my powers of persuasion to start up fencing on his patch and when it dawned upon him that no one else would be turning up he made a strategic swift exit.

But we got through that night and by the Christmas of that year, our little “gang of four, were to see our numbers swelled significantly by the successful recruitment a dozen or so experienced fencers from within the local fencing community and by a goodly intake of youngsters drawn mainly, but not exclusively, from the College. Within a space of two years the membership was to attract beginners of all ages, and pupils from many other schools.

The Salle is now part of the fabric of the College and we have always enjoyed the unstinting support of all its head teachers and the backing of the site manager but we are independent of the College authority and we operate as a self-financing organisation under the rules of British fencing, the sport’s governing body.

The fact that we are now in our thirty-fourth year of fencing is strong testament to all the coaches and officers who have assisted me over the years in the development and running of the Salle, through both good times and bad.

Throughout the Salle’s existence we have been privileged to benefit from the skills and commitment of an unbroken line of exceptional coaches: from Anthony Coton, to our late beloved Brian Ergis, to David Holland, to John “JES” Smith, all the way through to our present Coach, Alan Grafton. [see Coaches page]. And for good measure these individuals have been ably supported over the years by other valued contributors like Mark Harvey (now coaching in France), Richard Gibbons, Trevor Dudley; and, of course, Bill Wilson, Jack Fitzgerald and Peter Baldock, (all now sadly deceased).

As well as our unbroken chain of coaching excellence provided by those mentioned, the Salle has always been fortunate to attract members from many walks of life and all ages and all sporting abilities and because of this it has enabled us to demonstrate a rounded mixture of talent and sporting friendliness. We have an established reputation for the warmth which we extend to new members and visitors. This combination of coaching and membership – though not unique to us – has enabled us to develop individuals who have gone on to represent the national team and to achieve creditable rankings. Until recent times, we have also produced significant numbers of fencers who have competed at local, regional and national levels.

The loyal backing shown by the College since that first night in September 1985 found real expression when a few years ago we were allowed to re-locate the “salle d’armes” from the Gymnasium to the Sports Hall. This has re-invigorated our endeavours as we seek to reposition ourselves in the changing environment of sport generally, and of fencing in particular. The current venue has happy memories for us since it is the location where all the Salle’s famous "24-Hour Fencing Marathons” have been held, which between 1988 and 2007 raised in excess of 37,000 for various worthy causes such as:-

1988 Sports Aid 1988 – £7,000

1990 British Paraplegic Fencers – £1,925

1992 Muscular Dystrophy – £1,336

1992 Action for Research into Multiple Sclerosis - £1,336

The Salle has also achieved a certain note for the awarding of its prestigious Hebden Cup for services to Fencing. This Cup was kindly donated by Denis Hebden, one of the Salle stalwarts from the early days, to enable the membership to recognise the significant and usually unheralded contributions made to the sport by individuals drawn from the ranks of coaches, fencers and organisers in the wider fencing community.

The intentions behind the founding of the Salle were to make it a continually-developing organisation always seeking to meet the needs of the current and the future membership. In the pursuance of our endeavours to fulfil these intentions we have not been afraid to take a different line when necessary: We were the first club in the international fencing world to stage the 24-Hour continuous Fencing Marathon, (continuous being non-stop); we are still the only club whose officers are described as Seconds (not to be confused with second-rate); and we are one of a relatively few clubs who actively seek to recognise and honour the individuals who silent and unheralded efforts maintain our sport.

This is a personal and potted history of the Salle’s history, and it is merely a work-in-progress, to be extended and improved upon by the contributions of those who will follow afterwards.

Joe Gibbons President