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It was in 1946 that a group of young people who had experienced the pleasures of the fencing, either at school or in the Services, decided to stage an exhibition at the historic Guildhall, Northampton.
This proved to be a surprisingly popular event, which was very well attended, and on such a basis the Club was formed with Miss Gillian Cave as Secretary/Treasurer.
Early members were Michael Amberg, who had just been ‘demobbed’ from the Royal Navy, and his brother, Philip, back from the Army in India. Later came Max Engel, an ex Flight Lieutenant from the Royal Air Force, Peter Johnson, an actor, and others. This nucleus, coached by Professor Leon Paul coming every week from London, turned itself into a formidable fencing team.
Later joined by Frank Bond (ex RAF), Grace Elliott and Tim Garratt (who went on to coach young members for the next twenty years before retiring from fencing) some fairly outstanding results were achieved.
By the mid 1950’s, some of the club members were making themselves known in the fencing world. In 1953 Miss Gillian Cave became East Midlands Foil Champion and in 1954 Mr Michael Amberg won a gold medal at the Commonwealth Games. A success he repeated in 1958 and 1962. Meantime other names that became fairly well known had been added to the list of members. C.T. Courtney-Lewis won the East Midlands Sabre event and his wife, Pauline, became the first ever lady fencer from the provinces to reach the final of the British International Foil Championships and in 1960 won the Leamington Spa Ladies Individual Championship.
The 1960’s was a decade remembered with pride by the Club. Three club members were short listed for the British Team in the Olympic Games and three members selected for the rest of Britain Team.
Behind all good fencers are the often unsung heroes – the coaches! The British Olympic Sabre Coach of those early years, Maitre Jone Erdelyi and Professor Bob Anderson came to Northampton fairly often. Later Professor Bela Imregi was often seen at the club, but all the time there was the wisdom of ‘Papa’ Paul to give inspiration. When, with advancing years, the journey from London each week became a little too much for him, Professor Sabielski took his place.
Now we know that all clubs have their ups and downs – many of the downs linked to financial problems and the loss of leading figures of the organisation.
Costs were up, money was in short supply – and for some time the club had to rely on the coaching of local stalwarts – dear old Tim Garratt, as always, was there, and Bob Kelly who amazingly, in five years, came from a mature beginner to what is now Regional Coach level, and had unbounded enthusiasm for the sport. Sid Scrivener also did Stirling work at this time. Sadly, when these people left for various reasons, the membership was low and it was left to the then Club President Gilbert Gordon, and later Doug Facer to continue the good work.
Then came one of the ‘ups’ – in the mid-1980’s John Hall took up a post as Deputy Head in a local Upper School and became Senior Coach and a very active member. In a very short time the membership rose dramatically, particularly the juniors, many being pupils of the school who received lessons from John during and after school hours. Some of these boys went on to do well in the East Midlands and National Competitions. Unfortunately for Northampton Fencing Club John’s next career move took him off to Staffordshire but he had left the club in a very healthy state.
Northampton is twinned with Poitiers, in mid-west France – and the club’s first visit to that lovely town coincided with the Charles Martell International Epee Competition. Several members competed – all but one were eliminated in the first round – but what an experience!! Since then members of the Poitiers Club, Salle Gaston Robert, have visited Northampton on three occasions, and Northampton fencers have three times been hosted by Poitiers. Some firm friendships have been established, and letters and Christmas cards regularly pass between members of the two clubs.
The new Millennium saw a rise in club membership, a new venue at Moulton College and the return of competition successes by junior and senior members. With a number of these successes at National and International levels.
In more recent times the club has enjoyed making international friendships by regularly sending teams to compete at Dublin’s Trinity College, ‘Professor Duffy team epee’ held annually in January. With some success against strong opposition, including teams from France, USA, and Germany. The women’s team taking medals regularly and 2023 Northampton men came 2nd.
By chance, a meeting in Dublin in 2010 saw us meet a team from Northampton’s twin town Marburg (in Germany) and friendships were made.
A few years later NFC were invited to their state championship further cementing the relationship – culminating in their return visit for the then president Nicholas Partridge’s impending marriage, with a tournament held in celebration. A mixed-up up German, Siberian, Northamptonian team ended victorious by 3 hits.
We continue to explore fencing opportunities at home and abroad and making a mark on the map.
The arrival of Covid-19 and the subsequent lockdown dealt a major blow to the club and its finances. The club was forced to close its doors in March 2020. Unlike many other clubs, we reopened as soon as we were allowed (in August 2020) with heavy restrictions and procedures in place. Paul Willmott volunteered to be our Covid-19 officer and orchestrated the successful early return to the club. Numbers were obviously down but the few who braved it enjoyed their ability to take up weapons again.
On 20th May 2021 the restrictions had been lifted and ‘normal’ fencing activities returned. The Committee took the decision to break into Club reserves and carry the 2020 memberships over to 2021, allowing people who had paid for 2020 to fence in 2021 at no cost. The return was slow but steady. We lost a large number of of recreational fencers and a few who had been competing too. Memberships in 2022 were vastly down and the club took another financial hit.
But the Committee and club members rallied round. 2022 & 2023 saw the Club run all of our usual competitions. With much promotion at other events, we had record entries and built a great reputation for running fun, well organised events. Changes to the way we sold beginners courses resulted in fewer but much more committed attendees which in turn led to higher retention. And slowly our membership grew.
2023 was especially notable for the number of novices (especially juniors) competing outside of the club, with some success. And our established competitors continued to excel at national and international levels.
As for the future, whilst we hope for continuing success on the competition front, more important is that the club continues to thrive and grow, offering the population of Northamptonshire the opportunity to participate in an exciting and challenging sport, whilst retaining its friendly and laid back atmosphere which has attracted so many members in the past.