The Strongman

In February 1949, Alfred Woollaston died in the County Hospital in Ashford. A sixty-nine year old widower, he had lived in North Road in Hythe since just after the war. He was now past his prime and the war years had not been kind to him, but at the turn of the century, launching his career in the music hall, he had been described as ‘a most beautifully proportioned athlete’ .

His stage name was ‘Monte Saldo – The Young Hercules’.

 

Alfred Woollaston aka Monte Saldo

He was born Alfred Montague Woollaston in Holloway, London, on 23 December 1879, the fourth child of George Frederick Woollaston, a boot maker, and his wife Adelaide. He  became interested in body building in his teens, but his first job, which he started in 1895 was more prosaic: he worked as a booking clerk for the London, Brighton and South Coast Railway at their office in Brighton‘s Grand Hotel.

The job only lasted a couple of years before he was taken on by Eugene Sandow, a German strongman who specialised in ‘muscle display performances’ and included both Alfred and his younger brother Frank in his touring show. They were now known as Monte and Frank Saldo.

A fellow performer was Italian bodybuilder Ronco; together he and Alfred devised their own strongman stage act, ‘Ronco & Monte’.  They toured Europe and had a six month contract at the Royal Aquarium in London. Then Alfred got together with Frank and another brother, Edwin, to form a new act, ‘The Montague Brothers’. They appeared at the London Hippodrome and in Europe.

One routine was a great crowd-puller. A Darracq car, complete with passengers, was driven onto the stage, up a ramp and onto a bridge. The ramp and supports were removed leaving Alfred, underneath a section of the bridge, supporting the entire weight of the vehicle and its contents. In 1906 they introduced an ‘artistic’ routine ‘The Sculptor’s Dream’ which involved Frank and Alfred acting as mirror images of a statue and Edwin taking the part of the dozing sculptor.

The brothers’ joint enterprise was short-lived: Frank became a successful lyricist and Edwin ran a café. Alfred opened the Apollo-Saldo Academy in London, together with William Bankier, a wrestling promoter known professionally ‘Apollo the Scottish Hercules’. He next, in 1909, got together with German strongman Max Sick (Maxick) to develop what they called the  Maxaldo system of exercise and muscle control. Maxick was interned at the start of World War One and the business arrangement came to an end. Alfred for a time carried on alone.

Maxick

Then  he joined forces with one Mark Lemon, changed the name of the system to Maxalding and took offices in Golders Green Their method, they claimed ‘makes Men more Virile, Magnetic, Courageous, and Successful. makes Women more Attractive, Beautiful and Magnetic’. The advertising must have worked as in 1923 they took premises in London’s Pall Mall. This was a step too far and was too expensive. In 1926 they were declared bankrupt.  Although undoubtedly a fine athlete, Alfred was perhaps a less than astute businessman. 

Alfred continued to advertise the system until his death and to describe himself as a teacher of physical culture. In 1937 he published a book, How to Excel at Games and Athletics. He left London, moving the family to Shepherdswell, near Dover. His son Frederick (later known as Court Saldo)  visited Folkestone during this time. However, the family was in London in 1941 when Alfred’s wife was killed during a bombing raid and Alfred himself was badly injured. His younger son was killed in action in 1944.

The older son, Frederick, seems to have taken on what was left of his father’s business and continued promoting Maxalding until the 1970s.

 

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