The first Championships were held in March 1890 when Fencing was added to the Public Schools Gymnastic Championships (gymnastics and boxing) organised annually by the Army and often referred to simply as ‘Aldershot’.
At the outset, a single representative from each school competed for the Boys’ Foil title. The event was run by direct elimination, with the ability to challenge the winner operating as a primitive form of repechage (though no winner was ever unseated in this manner). A sabre competition was added in 1897 and run in the same way.
In 1914, and to great acclaim by the participants, the foil competition was organised on a ‘pool’ basis for the first time, though the entry of eighteen fencers was about the same as it had been for several years. This was also the last Championships organised by the Army and the event went into abeyance.
It restarted in 1924, at the London Fencing Club in St. James’s, where it was organised by a joint Committee of fencing blues from Oxford and Cambridge Universities. 1933 saw the addition of an epée competition.
The Championships were recognised by the Amateur Fencing Association as the "Amateur Public Schools Championships" in 1938, and were unique in continuing uninterrupted throughout the 1939-1945 war.
The Graham-Bartlett Cup was first presented in 1939, formalizing many years of reference in the press and school magazines to an unofficial team championship. The presentation of the Junior Foil Cup in 1939 confirmed the age at which the foil competition was to be split into Senior and Junior events. There had already been a split for a couple of years, but that division at age 17 (rather than at 16 or 16½ as was usual at the time) seems to have depended on the number of entries received. In 1976, following the recommendation of Eric Mount-Haes, the chairman who retired that year, the committee introduced a separate event for boy foilists aged 12-14.
The London Fencing Club continued to host the Championships up to 1947
(sometimes in partnership with Salle Bertrand, which was in the same building).
In the years from 1948 to 1967 the Championships moved around London and
often changed venue annually, though the London Institute of Education
and two ILEA schools each accommodated them for a period of three to four
years. From 1967 to 1978 they found another quasi-permanent home at Dulwich
College (with only a single year’s move in that period to another
The first Schoolgirls’ Championship took place in October 1937, as a completely separate event from the PSFC. Although there was only one weapon, foil, there were two trophies: one for the foil fencing itself and one for style! The event was held again in 1938 and then disappeared until October 1945 when the press reported "the full programme of English Fencing Championships [was] to be resumed next year". In fact, the Schoolgirls’ Championship did not take place in 1946, but it did resume in 1947, and by 1950 it had moved to the spring. In 1952, for the first time, the winner of the fencing competition also received the style trophy. That year also saw the first reference to a "Senior Foil", though we have not yet found any results for Junior Girls before 1955. From 1956 the two events continued annually, but only the results for that year and those for 1959, 1966 and 1973 have so far come to light. The trophies from this time presumably remained in the hands of the last winner.
In 1985 the Girls’ Public Schools’ Championships started
afresh at Senior, Intermediate and Junior Foil, and with a team trophy.
They had their own organization, but were held at the same time as and
on the same premises as the Boys’ Championships. In April 1987 the
committee for the Girls’ Championships decided to amalgamate their
event completely with the Boys’ Championships.
With the sudden increase in weapon entries each year, from 830 fencers in 2000 to 1320 fencers in 2004, the Public Schools' Fencing Championships is by far the largest fencing competition in the country, and is probably the largest youth fencing event in the whole of Europe. The volunteer committee of roughly equal numbers of teachers-in-charge-of-fencing and other interested enthusiasts meets three times a year to review the past year’s activities and plan those for the next. Thanks to the hard work and commitment of these individuals and many others, the competition keeps well to its tight timetable over the three days of the event.
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Updated: Wednesday 25th November 2020 at 10.42am