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Early History of Salle Paul. 1931 – 1969

The club was founded in 1931 at 8 Monmouth Street in the heart of Covent Garden by Professor Leon Paul. He had been born in the Perpignan area of France in 1881 and had come to London to teach fencing in 1905. In 1908 he and 20 other Professors founded The London Academy of Arms. During the First World War he served in the French army and then returned to London in 1919. He married Anna (later known as “Nana”) in 1920 and in 1929 acquired premises in Monmouth Street as a salle, showroom and workshop.

Most of the leading British fencers of the time had lessons from “Papa” Paul as he affectionately became known. He was a brilliant teacher, particularly at foil, with infinite patience and the ability to develop the mental and physical attributes of pupils while instilling the techniques and art of fencing.

The fencers of Salle Paul gradually became more successful and in 1934 -35 the club won 19 out of 21 inter-club matches. In those days fencing had very good press coverage and even inter-club matches would often get 4 column inches in the Times and/or the Telegraph. In 1938 electric recording apparatus was used for the first time in a competition (the Miller-Hallett) and Leon Paul’s son Rene came second with other Salle Paul fencers Harry Cooke and Dr. R. Parfitt in 3rd and 6th places respectively.

Leon + Girl
Fencing
After the outbreak of the Second World War, fencing continued on a reduced scale at Monmouth Street until in 1941 a bomb made the premises uninhabitable. Salle Paul moved to Imperial College and the BBC at Portland Square. In 1946 Salle Paul moved to an evening class format at the Victoria Institute at Westminster and the club went from strength to strength. Between 1948 and 1969 Salle Paul won the British Men’s Foil Team Championships 17 times, the Men’s Epee Team Championships 3 times and the Men’s Sabre Team Championships 4 times. The Ladies Foil Team were runners-up 4 times. These team results show the depth of fencing excellence in the club. Fencing masters who assisted during this period included George Zabielsky, Akos Moldovanyi, J. Erdelyi, Lilley, Bela Imregi and Victor Lagnardo.

At the World Championships in Rome in 1955 the impossible was achieved. The British Men’s Foil Team beat France to reach the final for the first time and finished third. Salle Paul was represented in the British team by Allan Jay, Rene Paul and Harry Cooke (captain).

It was Papa Paul’s lifelong ambition to produce a World Champion fencer and in 1959 that ambition was fulfilled when the brilliant Allan Jay won the World Championships at foil.

Papa Paul died after a short illness in 1963. Akos Moldovanyi and Victor Lagnardo worked together to maintain the high standards and traditions he had set at Salle Paul. In the New Year’s Honours List 1970 Allan Jay was awarded the M.B.E. in recognition of his services to fencing.