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Home > Books > Badminton > Chapter XII: Some Old Archery Societies
Chapter XII
Some Old Archery Societies
By Colonel Walrond

THE Royal British Bowmen[1] was one of the first societies formed after the revival of archery by Sir Ashton Lever at the end of the last century. The society met at Acton Park, Hawarden, Wynnstay, Eaton Hall, Gwyrsylt, &c., the best county families of Denbigh and Flint being members; and it was one of the first, if not the first, which admitted ladies on its roll. Several prints of the meetings are in existence; the frontispiece to this volume is taken from an engraving by Eames and Smirke of a meeting at Gwyrsylt, and is one of the most pleasing archery prints in existence. From a note in Sir F. Cunliffe's 'Records,' it appears that the sketch for it was taken on June 12, 1789, and though the figures are especially said not to be portraits, the lady patroness is shown leaning against the target, and can be recognised by her hat being adorned with white feathers. Like all societies of the time, conviviality was well to the fore; they shot in the morning, lunched, shot again, and then dined and wound up with a dance and supper, at which original songs (the words of which are recorded) were sung.

122. Ivory Bracer.
122. Ivory Bracer.
(From the Collection of C. J. Longman, Esq.)

The society was started in 1787, and flourished till 1794, when on January 4 the following resolution was passed:-- 'That on account of the several military employments which many of the members of this society have entered into, and which will probably take them out of the neighbourhood, there shall be held only three bow meetings this year, and the meetings afterwards cease till peace be restored, and our bowmen more at liberty to attend to the noble science of archery.' A sum of money is also voted for the purchase of 'flannel waistcoats and woolen stockings for the benefit of the soldiers now serving in Flanders.' In 1802 a few meetings were held, but on war again breaking out they were discontinued till 1819 when the Society was revived and lasted till 1880, in which year it ceased to exist.

Unusually full particulars of the early proceedings of the society are available for reference, Sir Foster Cunliffe, the first President and one of the chief promoters of it having compiled MS. 'Records' of the R.B.B. from 1787 till 1794, the later information being supplied by the minute books. Sir F. Cunliffe was evidently a most enthusiastic archer, alla his 'Records' are full of allusions to the pleasures of shooting. In one place he says: 'Many have taken up the bow with reluctance, hut that reluctance soon vanishes, and is succeeded by a sort of fascination that not unfrequently people will practise from morning till night, without knowing how to quit the butts --a fact which will be confirmed by the personal experience of many a real lover of the how. He built a covered range, thirty yards long, at Acton Park for winter practice, and his scores in cases where sufficient particulars are given for comparison show that he shot as well as most of the best archers of his time. There is at Acton Park a fine full-length portrait of him by J. Hoppner, R.A., in the uniform of the Royal British Bowmen, and in 1820 a gold case was presented to him by the Lady Patroness, on behalf of seventy ladies of the society, in recognition of his 'great attention and kindness in attending their target proceedings.'

Some of the Rules of the society are quaint; great care is taken to secure that the uniform shall be worn on all occasions, a fine of one guinea being imposed for a breach of this regulation, the only exception being 'ladies of 70 and gentlemen of 65 years of age,' and 'members in black glove mourning,' who might appear without it. The lady who won the Captain's Medal at the first meeting of the year (which was obtained by the first hit in the gold) became lady patroness, and was presented by the society with a hat and white feathers value 10l. and this custom lasted till 1857, no other lady shooters being allowed to wear anything hut black feathers in their hats.

The dining regulations provide that ' the dinner consist of cold meats (game, bacon and beans, and vegetables excepted), and in order to reduce the expense of the table as much as possible, that there be allowed only one row of dishes placed lengthtways along the table.' Hothouse fruits are tabooed. 'Port and common white wine' only are to be on the table. A penalty of five pounds was decreed for breaking this rule, and it is only fair to say that it appears to have been incurred on many occasions.

The earlier records are naturally the most interesting. The first meeting took place on April 25, 1787, and at the second the title of the society was altered to 'Royal,' H.R.H. the Prince of Wales having accepted the office of Patron. Various societies send their Freedom' but the Royal British Bowmen explain that they cannot reciprocate by sending theirs to the Royal Kentish Bowmen and Toxophilite Society, as these two societies consist of gentlemen only, who meet at inns, while the R.B.B. have members and meet under quite different circumstances. On July 17, however, the freedom of the society is sent to 'Sir Ashton Lever as the reviver of archery' with an appropriate letter and the badge and ribbon of the society. On the same day we find that 'After dinner the Rev. Mr. Walters[2] was attended by nine ladies representing the nine Muses, one of whom placed a laurel wreath upon his head crowning him Bard to the society,' verses being recited on the occasion. In 1788 there is an entry of 'Miss Byng proposed as a member in case she marries Mr. Bridgeman,' which seems to have decided the lady (if she ever had any doubt on the point), as later in the same year congratulations are sent to Mrs. Bridgeman on her marriage, and she is requested to consider herself a member.

At a meeting at Wynnstay on October 17, 1788, it is recorded that:

The morning being perfectly fine, the Society met at 11 o'clock in the great room and marched two and two to the shooting ground, the music playing a new march composed for the occasion, and colours flying. On their arrival at the ground, a royal salute of 21 guns was fired from a battery erected for the purpose. The contest then began. The lady's prize was first determined in favour of Miss Harriet Boycott, who was invested with the badge by the President, as was, soon after, Sir F. Cunliffe by the lady patroness. A general discharge of cannon after each ceremony. The Society marched back to the house in the same order as before, except that the fortunate conquerors marched first crowned with laurel.

After dinner the Society went into the great room, which was decorated with transparent paintings for the occasion.

At the upper end of the room was the figure of a Druid carving the words upon an oak, 'Royal British Bowmen, 1787.' Underneath ' His Royal Highness George Prince of Wales, Patron. On the left a figure representing Pan playing on his pipe underneath 'Sir Foster Cunliffe, Bt., President.' On the right a beautiful female figure holding a wreath of laurel; underneath, 'Lady Cunliffe, Lady Patroness.'

These pictures occupied the windows, and between the pillars at the lower end of the room were the badge of the Society, and crests and cyphers of the Patron, President and Patroness. The organ represented a butt, on which was placed a target; the room was likewise ornamented with coloured lamps distributed with festoons of flowers and oak-leaves.

Full scores are given of each meeting, but, unluckily, the distances and numbers of arrows shot are seldom named, the size of the targets is uncertain, and a perplexing rule was in force, at some of the meetings, by which blank ends were shot over again (how nice this would be now !) The distances also varied. Ladies were to shoot targets at 60 and gentlemen at go yards; but minutes are made of silver arrows being bought to be shot for at 30 yards, so that no comparison is possible except in cases where full particulars are given, and a few of these are selected, the scoring being altered to what it would he now--i.e. 9 for gold, 7 for red, &c.

September 16, 1791. Prince's Prizes. Ladies: 50 arrows at 70 yards; Gentlemen; 40 at 120 yards.
Best scores:-- Miss Newcome, 16 hits, 54 score; Miss Bower, 13 hits, 45 score. Sir F. Cunliffe, Bart., 8 hits, 40 score.
August 13, 1792. Prince's Prizes. Ladies: 68 arrows at 70 Gentlemen: 52 at 100.
Best scores:-- Miss A. Warrington, 20 hits, 84 score; Lady Cunliffe 16 hits 60 score. Sir F. Cunliffe, Bart., 23 hits, 83 score; Mr. Kynaston, 17 hits, 77 score.
August 13 , 1793. Princes Prizes. Ladies: 82 arrows at 70; Gentlemen: 84 at 100.
Best scores:-- Miss Newcome, 22 hits, 86 score; Miss E. Newcome, 19 nits, 65 score. Sir F. Cunliffe, Bart., 21 hits, 63 score.

Not large scoring, but it must be remembered that archery was then in what may not inaptly be called its second childhood.

Sir F. Cunliffe, referring to a meeting at Hardwick in 1792, says: 'After supper, when it was quite dark, Mr. Kynaston fixed up bosses near the house, on were placed paper lanthornes, with small wax candles in them for marks to shoot at. At first it was difficult to hit the boss. Sir F. C. observed that all his arrows went to the left, but in a short time, by paying attention to that circumstance, the difficulty was overcome.' An interesting entry, as it is perhaps the only contemporary record of this class of shooting, though we know it was as practised. He closes his 'Records' with the following words:--'Most of the gentlemen of the society having entered into some military employment for the defence of the country, our bows and arrows are hung up and have given way to the broad sword and musket.' And he gives a list, from which it appears that, of the sixty six gentlemen members, all except fifteen (exclusive of eight clergymen) served in some way for the defence of the country.

Many more extracts might he given, but space will not allow this to be done, and those chosen are sufficient to give an idea of the curious things (as we should now deem them) which our ancestors did a hundred years ago.

In July 1802, after the Peace of Amiens, a meeting was called, and resolutions were passed, the first of which is, 'That peace being happily restored, the society do resume the bow,' and a few meetings were held; but, war being again declared in May 1803, they seem to have been once more discontinued. In the autumn of 1818, steps were taken to re-establish the society, and the first meeting was held at Acton Park, Sir Foster and Lady Cunliffe being once more ardent promoters of the gatherings H.R.H. the Prince Regent was asked again to become Patron, to which he consented, and expressed his intention of giving prizes as before; and the society continued to receive royal prizes till 1847, when they were discontinued. In 1821, a new form of target was adopted, having two vertical parallel lines, the width of the gold drawn down it, and hits within the two lines scored one point additional, which makes any comparison of scores hopeless. Some ladies, contrary to what is popularly supposed usually to he the case, seem to have claimed to he older than they really were in order to be allowed to appear out of uniform, as in 1822 or 1823 a resolution was passed that 'positive proof' of age should he required. There are few entries of general interest in the later minutes, and the scores are of the ordinary character.

The Royal Kentish Bowmen were founded in 1785 by Mr. J. E. Madocks, who appears to have been a well-known man in his day. The first year the number of members was limited to twelve, and the society met at Mount Mascal, but the next year it was enlarged and the meetings took place on Dartford Heath. H.R.H. the Prince of Wales accepted the office of patron in 1789, and the society soon became both numerous and fashionable. A piece of ground was selected on Dartford Heath, which was levelled and planted, butts were put up, and a lodge or hall and other buildings erected. For a time the meetings were very popular, conviviality being paramount, and frequent mention of them can be found in the memoirs, &c. Of the time. After the shooting, dramatic entertainments, balls, and other amusements took place, to which a large number of guests were invited. The war, however, seems to have put an end to the society, which was never revived, as Mr. Dodd[3] (who seems to have been their poet laureate), on visiting the spot fifteen years after, found the buildings abandoned, and the place, which had once been a fashionable and well laid-out shooting ground and garden. fast becoming a wilderness. Of the archery doings of the society little is known beyond what appears in the newspapers of the time, and from this it does not seem that they shot any better than their neighbours. The cut of H.R.H. the Prince of Wales in the uniform of the R.K.B. is copied from a fine print by Bartolozzi of the original picture by J. Russell, R.A., which was probably painted for the society, and is now in the possession of H. Madocks, Esq., who also possesses some interesting relics of the Kentish Bowmen in one of the Prince's bugles, which was won by Mr. G. E. Madocks in 1789, and a fine 'Toby' ware punch bowl with two silver rims, the upper engraved with the crests and monogram of the society and inscribed 'G. Casvall dedit April 12, 1789,' the maker's name, 'Brasbridge fecit,' being on the lower. The society offered gold medals for the best glees, &c., to he sung at their meetings, a hook having been printed of those sent in for competition, and from their 'Harmony Fund Accounts' it appears that they engaged the best available musical talent of the day.

123. H.R.H. George, Prince of Wales in the uniform of the Royal Kentish Bowmen
123. H.R.H. George, Prince of Wales in the uniform of the Royal Kentish Bowmen
From a print by Bartolozzi

The society of John o' Gaunt's Bowmen, meeting at Lancaster, was one of the societies started soon after the revival of archery, though it must be mentioned that it claims to have existed before, and only to have been revived in 1788, the date at which we first hear of it in the last century. Like many of the other societies of that day, no records of its doings are obtainable, nor is it certain for how many years it lasted; but in 1820 the society was again revived, and since then it has been one of the leading ones in the North, and has taken a prominent part in supporting the public meetings, especially, as might be expected, the Grand Northern. In 1888 the society celebrated its centenary by holding a two days' meeting followed by a fancy dress ball, at which many of the members wore the uniform in vogue in 1788. The society has never been numerous, the number of members having been limited in 1788 to twenty-one, subsequently increased to thirty, which remained the limit till 1888, when it was again increased to forty-two. In spite of this, however, many of the members have taken high places at the Grand National and other public meetings, two of them having won the championship.

The Union Society was established at Harlow in 1790, removed to Harlow Bush Common in 1792, and was composed of ladies as well as gentlemen. The rules are much the same as those of the other societies: they shot, had suppers and dances, and enjoyed life generally. Like many of the old societies, they scored differently from the manner now usual, as the gold counted 5 instead of 9, the red 4, inner white 3, black 2, and white 1. What is curious about them is that the colours of each lady and gentleman are given hi the list of names at the end of the book of rules, two French mottos having been also adopted by each, the use of which it is hard to understand. One lady with orange as her colour calls herself 'La Novice, La Parfaite'; another takes green, purple, and pink, and has as her mottos 'L'Infidelle (sic), La Jalouse.' One gentleman has chosen 'La (sic) Jolie, La (sic) Lourde,' and as all the gentlemen's mottos begin with ' La,' it is to be hoped that they knew more about shooting than they seem to have known of French. Their shooting regulations provide that they shall shoot at fifty and seventy yards, and that whoever hits a target at a shorter distance shall buy a new one.

The Royal Foresters claim to have been instituted in 1674 and revived in 1812. Their rules are printed in a small hook which is adorned with five illustrations of their regalia. It starts with a preamble as to the decay of archery, and states that the society is established for its encouragement. They appear to have aimed at being very select, and were to be ruled by a 'caput,' who was to he a peer of the realm. The rule as to the election of a candidate runs: 'A candidate for admission shall prove the gentility of his descent on his father's side at least for three generations' (A note is inserted here, perhaps sarcastically, hut certainly with truth: 'This was the qualification established by James I. for the order of baronets, but it has not been observed since that time'), for which purpose he shall transmit his pedigree of three descents to the registrar (prior to the ballot), which must be verified on oath, together with the following certificate of the respectability of his character . . . signed by a beneficed clergyman, a barrister-at law, and a field or flag officer, who must name the benefice, inn of court, and regiment or ship to which they respectively belong'--which seems to be rather a tall order. The subscription was twelve guineas 'and more if required,' and the entrance fee five guineas. They met at the Thatched House in St. James's Street, but probably did not do much besides printing their rules and dining together, as a note dated 1817 in Miss Bankes's handwriting says, 'They have not yet shot or had bows and arrows.'

The Hertfordshire and Hatfield Archery Societies were established mainly through the exertions of Lady Salisbury, who was herself skilled with the bow. The cut here given, which is taken from the 'Ladies' Pocket-Book' of 1791, is interesting, as it includes portraits of the Duchess of Leeds Lady Salisbury, the Hon. Miss Grimstone (to whom the bracer referred to on page 191 formerly belonged), and Miss Seabright; and, from the fact of the execution being better than is usually the ease in contemporary works of the kind, they are probably fairly accurate.

124. The Hertfordshire Archery Society
124. The Hertfordshire Archery Society
Duchess of Leeds, Marchioness of Salisbury, Hon. Miss Grimstone, Miss Seabright

Many other old societies could be named, but sufficient examples have been given to enable the reader to form an opinion of what they were like, and to judge of their peculiarities.

Of modern societies it is impossible to give details in the space available The Herefordshire Bowmen are one of the oldest of the societies founded at the beginning of this century, and still retain many of the customs in vogue at that period They do not shoot a stated round, but vary it according to circumstances, all their shooting, however, being at sixty yards The West Berks Society (founded in 1831) enjoys a constitution peculiar to itself, as it is limited to twelve members who meet at each other's houses in various parts of England to shoot the York Round Their Autumn Handicap however, 216 arrows at too yards, is shot on the ground of the Royal Toxophilite Society. The Devon and Cornwall, also an old society, are perhaps unique in one way, as they are the happy possessors of a spacious pavilion round which are hung the coats of arms of all the ladies who have filled the office of lady paramount from the institution of the society, at d their ground is in every way admirable, being situated at Manadon, seat of the Rev J. Hall Parlby, pear Plymouth. In common with many other societies, the gentlemen shoot the York and ladies the National Round In a majority of the societies of the present day the ladies shoot the National Round and gentle men four dozen at eighty, and two dozen at sixty, the latter being too much addicted to shirk the hundred yards, not knowing the enjoyment that can he got out of shooting that distance In some clubs even eighty yards is an unknown distance, and the men are contented to shoot innumerable arrows at sixty yards, thinking they have done wonders when they succeed in getting two-thirds of their arrows in the target at that distance. Why do they not follow the example of the Somerset Society, who, on finding in 1822 that they did not hit much at eighty and sixty, 'put the targets at twenty yards apart, when the result was much more satisfactory'? They might just as well do so.

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