Henri Lawton was a remarkbale sportsman. He could turn his hand to most sports and at one time was the world champion Indian club swinger.
Henri’s grandson, Derek Billings of Whitnash, has researched Henri’s remarkable sporting life. The story is told on the Leamington History Group’s website (www.leamingtonhistory.co.uk).
Born in Warwick in 1871, Henri was small (5ft 4in) and weighed only nine stone, but he was a renowned gymnast, boxer and fencing instructor..
He wrote two books on exercise and fitness and in 1895 he became the world champion by swinging his two and a half pound Indian clubs continuously for 25 hours - an almost unimaginable feat of endurance. He was then known as the “King of Clubs”.
Warwickians were so proud of his achievement that they presented him with a blue velvet belt with the Warwickshire crest in silver and enamel as its clasp.
Henri had begun club swinging as a teenager and gave many displays. Sam Lockhart, the circus proprietor, was so impressed that he tried to persuade Henri to join the circus for a continental tour, but Henri was too busy at home.
He ran a gym from his home in Archery Road, taught gymnastics at Warwick School and ran evening classes at Clapham Terrace School. He and his pupils gave regualr displays.
Henri had links with many local sports clubs, including Warwick United FC, where he was secretary for a time.
He ran a sports shop in Regent Grove, Leamington, next to the town hall, with equipment for golf, hockey, football, polo, boxing, fencing, tennis, gymnastics, billiards, fishing, physical culture and, curiously, wood turning.
Even in old age, Henri could still string a gut tennis racquet and taught the skill to his grandson (Derek Billings).
Henri retired to Kenilworth where, according to 1950s press reports, in his 80s he still kept fit by club swinging.
He said: “It helps to keep my muscles loose.”
He died aged 93 and it wasn’t until long afterwards that his book of press cuttings, photographs and testimonials came to light amongst other family papers.
Derek Billings is also the great-great-grandson of the Battle of Waterloo soldier William Lawton (featured on this page last week).
Derek said: “Up to now no one has been interested in my grandparents’ exploits until I joined the Leamington History Group and quite by chance found out about David Eason`s research about Waterloo.”