Miss May Whitley, Self-Defense Expert of 1930s London


As evidenced by the video above, one should never presume that a poised, well-dressed young woman from 1930s London is incapable of breaking a neck.

The lady cheerfully threatening to dislocate the elbow of her assailant is Miss May Whitley, and for a period of time in the 1930s, she entertained Londoners with a stage performance demonstrating the intricacies of self-defense. Whitley’s sparring partner—whose dialogue consists primarily of moaning in agony—is Charles Cawkell, a member of Britain’s first international Judo team.

By 1934, however, Whitley and Cawkell's sparring was taking place in a courtroom. For reasons lost to time, Whitley had divested herself of Cawkell and was now performing with another Judoka, James Harrison; an indignant Cawkell sought an injunction against their show. He didn’t succeed, as newspaper accounts of the era feature Whitley promoting her performance along with several other acts, including trapeze artist Blondie Hartley and magician Amac Terin.

The show, ads promised, would display “how easy it is to handle bag snatchers and refractory husbands.”

According to a March 17, 1935 piece in The Straits Times, Whitley’s act caught the attention of Ahmed Abdullah, a millionaire from Turkey. “Ju-Jitsu Girl to Wed Rich Turk,” the headline blared. The article explained that Abdullah’s father was a wealthy tobacco merchant, making Whitley the eventual heiress to a fortune. Though Abdullah’s family was initially against the union, Whitley was quoted as saying she was ready to convert to Islam: “I am to be accepted into Muhammedanism.”

After that pronouncement, media coverage of Whitley appears to have ceased. According to martial arts historian Joe Svinth, “May Whitley” was possibly an abandoned stage name, and any further newspaper mentions of her adventures likely died along with it. Then again, so did notions about the so-called weaker sex.   

Looking to Downsize? You Can Buy a 5-Room DIY Cabin on Amazon for Less Than $33,000

Five rooms of one's own.
Five rooms of one's own.

If you’ve already mastered DIY houses for birds and dogs, maybe it’s time you built one for yourself.

As Simplemost reports, there are a number of house kits that you can order on Amazon, and the Allwood Avalon Cabin Kit is one of the quaintest—and, at $32,990, most affordable—options. The 540-square-foot structure has enough space for a kitchen, a bathroom, a bedroom, and a sitting room—and there’s an additional 218-square-foot loft with the potential to be the coziest reading nook of all time.

You can opt for three larger rooms if you're willing to skip the kitchen and bathroom.Allwood/Amazon

The construction process might not be a great idea for someone who’s never picked up a hammer, but you don’t need an architectural degree to tackle it. Step-by-step instructions and all materials are included, so it’s a little like a high-level IKEA project. According to the Amazon listing, it takes two adults about a week to complete. Since the Nordic wood walls are reinforced with steel rods, the house can withstand winds up to 120 mph, and you can pay an extra $1000 to upgrade from double-glass windows and doors to triple-glass for added fortification.

Sadly, the cool ceiling lamp is not included.Allwood/Amazon

Though everything you need for the shell of the house comes in the kit, you will need to purchase whatever goes inside it: toilet, shower, sink, stove, insulation, and all other furnishings. You can also customize the blueprint to fit your own plans for the space; maybe, for example, you’re going to use the house as a small event venue, and you’d rather have two or three large, airy rooms and no kitchen or bedroom.

Intrigued? Find out more here.

[h/t Simplemost]

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Florence’s Plague-Era Wine Windows Are Back in Business

A wine window in Florence's Via Santo Spirito.
A wine window in Florence's Via Santo Spirito.

Many bars and restaurants have started selling takeout cocktails and other alcoholic beverages to stay in business—and keep customers safe—during the coronavirus pandemic. Meanwhile, 17th-century Florentines are surely applauding from their front-row seats in the afterlife.

As Insider reports, a number of buildings in Florence had been constructed with small “wine windows,” or buchette del vino, through which vendors sold wine directly to less affluent customers. When the city suffered an outbreak of plague in the 1630s, business owners recognized the value of these windows as a way to serve people without spreading germs. They even exchanged money on a metal tray that was sanitized with vinegar.

Wine not?sailko, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 3.0

Things eventually went back to normal, and the windows slowly fell out of fashion altogether as commerce laws evolved. This year, however, they’ve made a comeback. According to Food & Wine, there are currently at least four in operation around Florence. Osteria delle Brache in Piazza Peruzzi is using its window to deliver wine and cocktails, for example, and the Vivoli ice cream shop, a go-to dessert spot since 1929, is handing out sweet scoops and coffee through its formerly dormant aperture.

Apart from the recent resurgence of interest, the wine windows often go unnoticed by tourists drawn to the grandeur of attractions like the Uffizi Gallery and the Florence Cathedral. So in 2015, locals Matteo Faglia, Diletta Corsini, and Mary Christine Forrest established the Wine Window Association to generate some buzz. In addition to researching the history of the windows, they also keep a running list of all the ones they know of. Florence has roughly 150, and there are another 100 or so in other parts of Tuscany.

They’re hoping to affix a plaque near each window to promote their stories and discourage people from defacing them. And if you want to support their work, you can even become a member of the organization for €25 (about $29).

[h/t Insider]