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INCH 101: BAWLA, Lifting Competition, Edward Aston & The Challenge Bell, Part 5-7.

Inch 101 - A series of articles that will relay to you about the life of Thomas Inch. Parts 5-7 will talk about the BAWLA, lifting competition, Edward Aston & The challenge Bell.

INCH 101: Part 5

The BAWLA (British Amateur Weight-Lifters' Association) honored Inch on this date. The story is told in Health & Strength magazine Mar 9, 1912:

    "We, the members of the British Amateur Weight-Lifters' Association, desire to place on record our sincere appreciation to the great services you have rendered to the cause of Physical Culture in general, and especially to Weight-lifting.

    "Unflagging in your energy, enterprising in making use of every opportunity, resourceful in emergency, and undisturbed amid the vicissitudes which are a part of the work you have undertaken and carry through with such remarkable success, you have never spared yourself in promoting Physical Culture by such means as have, from time to time, presented themselves.

    "In the early days, when Weight-lifting was looked upon with suspicion, if not with actual disapproval, you clearly saw its possibilities an effective means to a worthy end, and took a foremost part in pioneering and popularizing it.

    "From its inception you have taken a deep and generous interest in the progress of our Association, its rapid growth and increasing influence being largely due to the public- spirited manner in which you have supported it.

Click To Enlarge.
Thomas Inch.

    "If our Association achieves its objects- that of raising Weight-lifting from a state of chaos into a place well-regulated and honourable conducted sports, its success will be due, in no small measure, to your continual help, your many acts of generosity, and the kindly and sportsmanlike spirit which has conceived them.

    "We feel quite unable adequately to express our gratitude, and must content ourselves by saying that there is no Physical Culturist, and especially none who enters into its most strenuous form- that of Weight-lifting- but is under a heavy debt to you for your conspicuous services, which have been, at once, signal, sustained, and effective."

It was signed by E. Stewart Smith, Harold B. Nunn, Charles Coster, W.D. Ford, Ben Gray, Frederick G. Horton, Walter House, Frederick Mogford. Thomas Edward Pevier, Charles F. Savory, E.J. Wollaston, A.B. Gunnel.

Roark References #1:

    Here is a list of the Kings of Strength series that David P. Willoughby ran in Ironman magazine from May 1957 thru June 1963. The # indicates the description that DPW gave to the chapter. You will notice that these numbers are not in chronological order.

    • May 1956 p 25 #1 From earliest times to present day
    • Jul 1956 p 24 #2 Middle ages to early modern
    • Sep 1956 p 36 #3 Thomas Topham
    • Nov 1956 p 34 #4 Early American strongmen
    • Jan 1957 p 28 #5 Early American strongmen 1873-1891
    • Mar 1957 p 30 #6 Donald Dinnie and other British strongmen
    • May 1957 p 28 #7 Early German & Austrian strongmen
    • Jul 1957 p 34 #7 Early Viennese strongmen
    • Nov 1957 p 32 #8 Early European strongmen, Italians 1840-1896
    • Jan 1958 p 28 #8 Italian & French strongmen
    • Mar 1958 p 28 #9 Apollon, emperor of athletes
    • May 1958 p 22 #9 When Apollon became angry
    • Jul 1958 p 32 #10 Continental strongmen of the 1890s
    • Sep 1958 p 28 #11 Sampson & Cyclops: coin breakers
    • Nov 1958 p 34 #11 The Rasso Trio
    • Jan 1959 p 26 #12 The coming of Eugene Sandow
    • Mar 1959 p 22 #12 How good was Sandow?
    • May 1959 p 30 #13 When WL was first organized in Germany & Austria 1891-1906
    • Jul 1959 p 23 #13 Early German & Austrian strongmen
    • Oct 1959 p 26 #14 Strongmen who tried to dethrone Sandow
    • Jan 1960 p 26 #14 Some early American strongmen
    • Feb 1960 p 24 #11 Famous American strongmen of the 1880s
    • Apr 1960 p 28 #11 Famous American strongmen of the 1880s
    • Dec 1960 p 24 #16 Louis Cyr, daddy of 'em all
    • Jan 1961 p 30 #16 Louis Cyr, daddy of 'em all
    • Mar 1961 p 26 #17 Some mighty French-Canadians
    • May 1961 p 30 #17 Famous old time French-Canadians
    • Jul 1961 p 28 #18 First weightlifting championships of 1898
    • Jan 1962 p 22 #18 George Hackenschmidt, the strong man
    • Mar 1962 p 30 #19 George Lurich, Russian world champion 1900
    • Jun 1962 p 26 #19 Famous early Russian strongmen
    • Oct 1962 p 26 #20 Famous old time French strongmen
    • Dec 1962 p 28 #20 Famous old time French strongmen
    • Feb 1963 p 26 #21 Champion Continental athletes of the early 1900s
    • Apr 1963 p 24 #21 Strongmen of the early 1900s
    • Jun 1963 p 32 #22 Early European professional strongmen

[chapter 15 was never published. DPW referred to the series as 'incomplete'. But the above list reflects every installment that Ironman presented]

INCH 101: Part 6

The March 15, 1941 issue of Health & Strength magazine mentions that Thomas Inch had taken his lifting demonstration/competition to a factory in Guildford on March 6th. Though more details are covered in the next week's issue of H&S we will treat the matter this week.

    "... and after his usual lecture and demonstration arranged a weight-lifting competition. Although one or two workers were exceptionally able performers, Inch, after 45 years active participation in the Iron Game showed them- in defeating them- that 'Strong men don't die young'. The consolation prize was won by Lgr. T. Wright."

Though no more details are given this was probably a version of his dumbbell competition with the 140 lb bell, because another reference H&S Aug 2, 1941 relates how he "... attends large factories... " and "... after 40 years weight lifting, still issues his challenge with valuable prizes to anyone who can lift his challenge dumb-bell."

The text then reveals that as of that time no one had yet succeeded. Though this is called the challenge bell (172) it no doubt was the competition bell (140) or even the 130 as Inch was age 59 at this time, and had been unable to lift the 172 for quite a while.

Perhaps Inch could have used a dose of the humility that Edward Aston exhibited when he toured a factory and watched the workmen. Muscle Power Sep 1947 recounts the incident which has to do with what we now call 'specificity' of training (page 40), where Wilfred Diamond remembers:

    "Aston himself, after I had taken him through the Barrow Hematite Steel Works, and he had seen men pushing wheelbarrows full of iron ore up a steep incline to be dumped into the furnaces, decided that he had no right to the title - [World's Strongest Man] he could not do what he saw these laborers do."

Certainly the laborers could not have matched Aston's lifts in the bent press or other specialized movements, but Aston had the humility to know that not everyone can be best at everything. So who wins depends on which movements are included in the contest.

Mar 17, 1934. On this date another of Inch's challenge competitions with the 140 lb bell was staged, though it had originally been scheduled for Mar 17th. Coming into this competition: "So far, three men have lifted the competition bell off the ground, and their names are Mssrs: Fairbrother, Spacey, and Chowles."

Apparently getting the 140 to the knee with one hand was still a starwalt accomplishment because Inch was promising "A really splendid trophy for merely raising the dumbbell to the knees single handed".

Iron History
May 4, 1898 On this Wednesday Tom Pevier set a world amateur record in the two hands to shoulder and then bent press with a lift of 233 pounds.

Last Date | Next Date

So after the regionals had been staged, the finals of the competition were held on March 17 and the competitors were the above named men plus W. Newman. The Chowles was a C. Chowles, which I suspect was a typo for G. Chowles.

Newman had managed to single hand jerk the bell seven reps from the shoulder coming into this competition, but on this night, apparently, Fairbrother won with six reps.

I lack some of the magazines which covered this event so cannot offer more information. Inch was stellar in his announcement that the bell was the 140, not his challenge bell.

And, of course, two hands were allowed to bring the bell to the shoulder, before the single handed jerk attempt.

George Chowles was Ron Walker's up and coming competition as outlined in The Superman magazine June 1933. Chowles I think was born in 1912, and at the time of the competition weighed 210 lbs or so, "... and his frame is modeled on such massive lines (he has an eight inch wrist) that it will probably take another stone [14 pounds] without overloading." Perhaps there was a C. Chowles, though, about whom I am ignorant.

INCH 101: Part 7

Thanks to the kindness of David Gentle I have more information about Aston/Inch/ and the challenge bell as offered in the British Amateur Weightlifter and Bodybuilder, the combined Sep/Oct 1950 issue:

On Feb 28, 1913 at the London Weightlifting Club Edward Aston was present, abounding with confidence that he would be able to lift the Inch bell. The way the text reads is that Aston was familiar with what he thought was the challenge bell and was certain he could and would lift it:

    "Aston made his effort amidst a silence which could be felt. His supporters expected him to lift it easily and were stupefied when it defied his mightiest efforts.

    "Aston was distinctly and obviously annoyed, and made no secret of the fact. So much so that he declared THAT IT WAS NOT THE ORIGINAL CHALLENGE DUMB-BELL BUT ONE SPECIALLY PREPARED BY INCH [emphasis mine] for the particular occasion."

Does Aston mean that this was a bell he had never seen during his employment with Inch?

The following puzzles me- which lift is meant? Deadlift? "It refused to leave the floor although, as soon as Inch made his onslaught, it seemed to obey his slightest behest."

Then, exactly one month later to the day:

On Friday March 28, 1913, "Mr. Thomas Inch will attempt to break the two hands and one hand anyhow heavyweight weightlifting records at the London Weightlifting Club, North St., just inside Kennington Rd. S.E. Only a few reserved seats are left unbooked."

And it was at this event that Aston had offered to bring his own plate loaded dumbbell for Inch to attempt, and when he adds the determining element perhaps in reference to what had happened on Feb 28, "I will lift my dumb-bell with one hand and lower it with one, and leave it lying there for Inch to follow suit, and shall be glad if he will leave his in a like manner for me to lift." Was this a reference to Feb 28 when Inch switched bells?

Mar 25, 1933 at the Holborn Empire in London for the annual H&S Display Day: Inch was the M.C. "Here comes Thomas Inch before the curtain. What a roar of applause greets him- Inch, holder of three world records and one British record; Inch, whose famous challenge dumb-bell has never been lifted- though thousands of strong men have tried!"

Surely this does not refer to professional strongmen, but to men who have done some weight training, because there were not in fact thousands of men who were in the business of making an income by strength. It is similar to saying that thousands of men have tried to dunk a basketball with two hands but only a few have done it. Flawed sample.

The text continues on page 387 of the Apr 8, 1933 issue of H&S where Inch is listing 40 best tips to increasing strength. In #37: "By studying psychology you will learn to get the last ounce out of yourself when in a tight corner or when records are on the tapes. This was the secret of my famous challenge dumb-bell- no one was ever able to concentrate sufficiently upon a certain set of muscles."

Inch Dumbbell
Click Image To Enlarge.
The Original Thomas Inch Dumbbell.

If this logic is applied to the professional strongmen whom Inch claims to have failed to lift his 172 lb bell, then Arthur Saxon (according to Inch) must be included, which is a pitiful attempt to disparage one of the greatest mental and physical lifters the world has known.

In addition it was but a year or two before this that Inch had experienced hours of delay trying to lift the bell for a second rep when that Pathe Frere film was being shot. Where was the concentrative power then?