Regency Bicentennial:   Henry Angelo Senior Forced to Retire

Though the exact date is not certain, it is known that at some time near the end of September of 1817, Henry Angelo, Senior, the son of the founder of the famous fencing academy on Old Bond Street, was forced to retire. This was not by his choice and, in fact, was the result of an encounter with a fellow fencer who was even more famous than the elder Mr. Angelo. Fortunately for all the young men who enjoyed honing their skills at Angelo’s famous fencing academy, Henry Angelo, Junior, had long worked with his father and was well able to take over the management of the Bond Street establishment.

The retirement of Henry Angelo, Senior . . .

The men of the Angelo family had taught fencing in London since the 1760s. Domenico Angelo, the patriarch, had come to England from Italy in the mid-eighteenth century. It was not long before Domenico was appointed fencing master to the young Prince of Wales and the Duke of York. Later, he also taught the Royal Dukes of Gloucester and Cumberland. Domenico Angelo thought fencing should not simply be considered a military skill. He believed it was also a healthful exercise which would benefit any man who was willing to learn and regularly practice the art. He also believed that fencing would enable a man to develop poise and physical grace through regular practice. Around 1765, Domenico established a fencing academy, which, by 1770, was located in Carlisle House, on Soho Square. When his academy first opened, he also taught horsemanship, a skill in which he was also an expert. Within a few years, however, Domenico decided to focus solely on fencing, coming to consider his academy as much a school for gentlemanly deportment as it was an exercise studio. Domenico Angelo was known to salute most new pupils with his foil, bow, then inform them in magisterial tones, "This, sir, is an academy of politeness as well as of arms!" Most of the wealthy and aristocratic young men of England became Angelo’s students. It soon became a fashionable gathering place for the young bucks of London and the academy flourished.

In addition to his paying pupils, Domenico Angelo also taught his son, Henry, to fence. Domenico wanted a good start for his son, so young Henry was educated at Eton. When Henry left Eton, his father sent the young man to Paris to put a final polish on his education. In 1785, Henry I took over the management of the Soho fencing academy upon his father’s retirement. Soon thereafter, the academy was moved to space in the Royal Opera House buildings in Haymarket. After a fire destroyed those buildings, in 1789, Henry I moved his fencing academy to larger premises in Albany, an exclusive gentlemen’s apartment building, located in Piccadilly. While there, Henry I made the acquaintance of "Gentleman" John Jackson, a retired pugilist. Henry I considered boxing, like fencing, to be a healthful and manly exercise, and encouraged Jackson to open a boxing studio. When Jackson agreed, Henry even made space in his premises in Albany for Jackson’s boxing studio. They took turns using it on alternate days of the week, with Jackson directing many of his students to study with Henry Angelo, since fencing not only taught them to focus on a target, but also helped them develop the quick, light footwork which gave a successful boxer his edge. Sometime after the turn of the nineteenth century, Henry Angelo I and Gentleman John Jackson moved to larger premises at 13, Old Bond Street. Here, in what they called "The Bond Street School of Arms," they had studios side by side, thus enabling their students to train in whichever sport they preferred, on any day of the week.

When the Regency began, Henry Angelo I had just turned fifty-five years of age. Even so, he was an active and athletic man and he kept in shape by regularly teaching fencing to a select group of students at his Bond Street academy, as well as managing the business. However, by then, he was not bearing the full burden of running the academy, since his own son, also named Henry, was active in the business and was one of the most popular teachers at the academy. Right through the Regency, most upper-class young gentlemen took fencing lessons at Angelo’s academy, since such lessons were still considered de rigueur for fashionable young men. Both Henry I and Henry II held to the philosophy of the family patriarch, Domenico Angelo, that fencing was not just a military skill, but a sport which helped young men to develop physical grace, poise and fine manners. As it had been almost since the fencing academy was founded by Domenico Angelo in the eighteenth century, "The Bond Street School of Arms" remained a popular gathering place for the young bucks of London, perhaps even more so in its new location on fashionable Bond Street.

In addition to teaching at his Bond Street studio, Henry Angelo I also offered private fencing lessons to those who were willing to pay for more intensive individual instruction. While working with his father at the family fencing academy in Soho Square, Henry I became acquainted with several prominent actors. Once he took over management of the academy, many of them engaged him to teach them to fence, and/or to improve their on-stage fencing style. That may be one of the reasons he moved the academy to the Opera House buildings in the Haymarket, once he took over management after his father retired. As the years progressed, Henry I continued to offer private lessons to quite a few of England’s best-known actors, many of them referred to him by their colleagues in the theatre. Over time, Henry Angelo I grew to be a personal friend to many of the actors who became his private pupils. Henry I could count among his friends in the London theatre David Garrick, the Sheridans, the Kembles and Edmund Kean. He routinely dined out with his theatrical friends, and in a few instances, they persuaded him to take to the stage for small parts in various plays.

Henry Angelo I turned sixty years old in 1816. Though he was still a healthy and active man, he wanted to enjoy more leisure time away from the daily grind of his business and the heat and smog of the city in the summer. Since most of the fashionable set left London during the summer months, Henry I and his wife began to spend those months outside of the city as well. His son, Henry Angelo II, remained in the metropolis to manage the academy and instruct those students who wished to take lessons during the summertime. Henry I enjoyed his summer holidays, engaging in a number of relaxing country pursuits, which did not include any fencing practice. In September of 1817, when he returned to London after his holiday that year, as usual, Henry I took up his regular work. Late in that same month, he called at the home of the famous actor, Edmund Kean, to whom he was scheduled to give a private fencing lesson. According to his Reminiscences, memoirs which he published beginning in 1820, while preparing to begin their fencing lesson, both Henry Angelo and Edmund Kean joked with each other that morning about how out of shape both of them were. They agreed that they should have a fencing lesson together every morning before breakfast for the next few weeks.

Unfortunately for Henry Angelo I, his fencing lesson with Edmund Kean that September morning was to be his last. In his memoirs, he wrote, "In the very first lounge I made, I so strained the tendons of the back part of my left thigh, as to cause a sudden check and pain, so that it was with difficulty I could remain on my legs." The injury was so serious that Henry Angelo I realized he would have to give up not only teaching fencing, but also the management of his fencing academy on Bond Street. This turn of events was such a severe disappointment to Henry that he wrote, "From that time (after above forty years’ labour, the greater part sans chemise), I have bade adieu to the practical exertions of the science, depriving myself of that health and flow of spirits I had before been accustomed to. This disaster, for such I consider it, I attributed entirely to that lack of bodily exercise which kept the limbs in continual action."

Fortunately for Henry Angelo I, his son, Henry Angelo II, was quite capable of taking over for his father. Henry II was an efficient business manager and a talented fencing master. Many of the young gentlemen who took lessons at the Bond Street fencing academy had trained with Henry II, so his transition to manager of the academy went very smoothly. There was no noticeable loss of business due to the retirement of Henry, Senior. Though Henry, Junior did not have as close a relationship with Gentleman Jackson as his father did, Jackson knew the younger man well enough to continue to share premises with him. Despite the fact that Henry, Junior did not have as many long-standing friendships among the theatrical set in London as did Henry, Senior, he was well-respected by his father’s friends and acquaintances. Those who were able were happy to take lessons from their friend’s son.

The Angelo family fencing academy flourished under Henry II for the remainder of the Regency and it remained at 13, Old Bond Street until 1830, right through the reign of George IV. That same year, Henry Angelo II moved his fencing academy to St. James’s Street, where, a few years later, his son, Henry Angelo III, took over management of the academy and continued to run it until 1866. It was only upon the retirement of Henry Angelo III, in 1866, that the Angelo family’s connection with their famous fencing academy finally came to an end. However, Henry III did not close it, but sold the academy to his partner, William McTurk, who continued to run the fencing academy for another thirty years.

The injury which Henry Angelo I sustained that morning in late September of 1817 did eventually heal. Therefore, though he could no longer fence, he was not permanently disabled. He and his wife retired to a house near the village of Twickenham, situated near the River Thames, about ten miles southwest of London. This area was to become very popular with many wealthy and fashionable people who wished to escape the smog and congestion of London. But it was still within easy reach of the metropolis. Once he had settled into his new home, Henry I wrote his memoirs, when he was not enjoying the company of his large family and his many friends. Henry Angelo I was to enjoy his retirement for many years, passing away at the age of eighty-three, in 1839.

Dear Regency Authors, might the retirement of Henry Angelo I provide an interesting plot point for an upcoming story? Perhaps some older character will comment on the changing of the guard at the fencing academy, wondering if the new generation will hold to the philosophies of the founder and continue to turn out physically fit, poised and well-mannered gentlemen. Mayhap the hero, a friend of Henry II, will stand up for his friend and the fencing academy he has taken over. The heroine might muse, jokingly, on whether or not the change will open the door for young ladies to study there, only to be soundly rebuked by an older character who knows that most of the teachers and students there conduct their fencing practice sans chemise, that is, without their shirts, as Henry I noted in his memoirs. Or, might one or the other of the Henry Angelos figure in a story as historical figures? Henry Angelo I, known as "Harry" by most of his friends, had many friends among the London theatrical set. Might he make an appearance in a Regency romance set in the theatrical world of Regency London? Or, in a story set after September of 1817, might Henry II, like his father had often done, provide private fencing instruction to one of the characters in a Regency romance. Mayhap the heroine has disguised herself as a man in order to take private lessons from the best teacher in London. What might be her reason for doing so? Are there other ways in which the Angelo family and/or their famous fencing academy have a place in a novel set during the Regency?

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About Kathryn Kane

Historian with a particular interest the English Regency era.   An avid reader of novels set in that time, holding strong opinions on the historical accuracy to be found in said novels.
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3 Responses to Regency Bicentennial:   Henry Angelo Senior Forced to Retire

  1. I’ve mentioned Angelo’s a few times, most notably in the second Georgian Gambles book for which I’m still dithering over a title. A girl in disguise is going to get a shock if told to strip down.

    • Kathryn Kane says:

      I had thoughts similar to yours about the clothing removal aspects, but I think it could add some spicy tension to such a scene. Of course, the girl could not be too well-endowed in the first place. But with some binding, and appropriate stuffing elsewhere, she could probably pass as a boy. When it is suggested that she remove her shirt, she could plead the cold, if the room was chilly. Other options might be shyness, or some strong moral sense of modesty or maybe even some kind of promise to a beloved parent or mentor. The real trick would be not to blush if her instructor shucked his shirt.

      That is also why I did not suggest that Henry, Senior be the fencing teacher in such a scene. Not only was he an older, more experienced man, but considering his many years of association with theatrical folk, not to mention having played on the stage himself, he is much more likely to be able to see through such a disguise.

      When your second Georgian Gambles book is published, please do post a link in a comment here. Good luck with your title quest!

      Regards,

      Kat

  2. Kalinya Parker-Pryce says:

    Thank you, Kathryn for this remarkably timely post! It has clarified something that had become a bit of a sticking point for me in my WIP! Best, as always – Kalinya

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