Archery as a Pastime
Part 2 of 3
The Finsbury Archers seem to have flourished about the time that the bow ceased to be used in war; and from their general connection with the Honourable Artillery Company they probably consisted originally of the members of that company who, being fond of the bow, practiced with it as a pastime after they had discarded it as a martial weapon. The first mention of them is in 1590; they do not appear to have been a regularly constituted society, but to have answered more to what the Scorton Arrow Meeting is now, though they called themselves the Society or Regiment of Archers and practised together. To them belongs the honour of startimg competitions which may very well be called the forerunners of the Grand National Meetings, as they held three several competitions, called the Easter Target, the Whitsun Target, and the Eleven Score Target. Records exist with lists of the captains and lieu tenants of the Easter from 1654 to 1757, and of the Whitsun targets from 1692 to 1761 (with a few exceptions). The rules of the Eleven-Score Target are dated 1761 but the winners' names are not given. The rules for all three of these meetings are somewhat similar: the manner of calling the Archers together was by a proclamation signed by the stewards, who had been appointed the year before; substituting circulars for the proclamation, it is the same course as was adopted for holding the Grand National Archery Meetings before the society was formed, and circulars would, with the postal arrangements in force in 1650, have been impossible. The proclamation for the Eleven-Score Target in 1676 is as follows:--
All Gentlemen Lovers of the noble Society of Archery are desired to meet at Drapers Hall in Throgmorton St. on Monday, the 24th day of July, 1676, by Twelve of the clock precisely; and according to ancient custom of Finsbury Archers to deliver to the bearer hereof, Mr. William Wood, upon receipt of this ticket, Two shillings and sixpence, that provision may be made accordingly This serves also to give notice, That the Eleven Score Target shall be set up by us in the new Artillery-ground upon Wednesday the 26th day of July following; and that day to begin to shoot at the same by nine of the Clock (as it was begun and shot at the last year). All Archers intending to shoot at the same are to pay down their Twenty shillings upon the 24th day of July unto us, or either of us, or to Mr. William Wood, that Plate may be provided and further trouble prevented of sending to Archers for the same : the place and time of meeting them being uncertain. Given under our hands July 13, 1676.
The Archers having assembled, all except the captain and lieutenant (who shot first and second), proceeded to draw lots for the order of shooting--which in those days was of consequence, as the prizes were given for the first hit in the various colours. The manner of shooting also was different from that now practiced: the captain took his stand, shot his first arrow, and went round the target by the left; the lieutenant then shot his first arrow and went round in a similar way the captain then shooting his second arrow, and going off to the left the lieutenant shot his second arrow. The archers who had drawn Nos. 1 and 3 followed, and so on till all had shot. It will he noticed that, allowing for the difference in the value of money, the sum (1l.) charged for entrance was a large one, and it was expended in the purchase of plate. The archer who first hit the centre of the target (which was to be 'read or gilded') won the captain's prize, which was to be of the most value. The next highest prize was won by whoever first hit the next circle, the winner being called the lieutenant The third circle or inner white had 'eight, ten, or twelve spoones of equall vallue' apportioned to it, worth about eleven or ten shillings each. 'The fourth circle, or black, and fifth circle, or outer white, had the same number of spoons as the inner white allotted to them, but of a decreasing value for each circle. Everyone hitting either circle received one of the spoons belonging to that circle as long as there were any left, and if there were none, but some of a lower value still remained, then he got one of those. When all the prizes were won, the 'game' was said 'to be shotten down,' end the shooting was over. Though the shooting commenced at eleven-score yards, it must not be understood that the 'game' was necessarily all shot at that distance, as after every few rounds the captain could direct an advance of ten yards nearer the target.
The records of the Finsbury Archers contain some interesting information with respect to the Catherine of Braganza Shield now in the possession of the Royal Toxophilite Society. In July 1676 William Wood appears to have been sent round to the Archers with a paper, signed by Sir E. Hungerford and others, stating that the 'Officers and others of the Society of Archers within the cities of London and Westminster' had determined that the 'bearer, William Wood, shall have a Silver Badge and wear the same as Marshall to the Queens Majestys Regiment of Archers,' the names of the various subscribers being appended, with the amount (1l. 1s.) subscribed by each individual. The badge was duly bought arid delivered to William Wood, but no acknowledgment seems to have been made by him that it belonged to the Archers, and, Wood being ill, this appears to have given rise to some anxiety By a deed dated July 6, 1691, however, he acknowledges that the 'Silver badge, with en Archer drawing the long bow thereon embossed, having this motto or inscription--"Reginae Catharinae Sagittarii "--supported by two bowmen with the arms of England and Portugal on the top,' had been delivered to him by Sir E. Hungerford and others, and he covenants that the said badge shall on his death be delivered to the stewards for the time being. Wood died in September 1691, and great care is afterwards taken that the succeeding marshals should give propel security for the return of the badge till 1736, when apparently the office of marshal was abolished, as the badge is lodged with Mr. James Drury, who gives a receipt for it, and after his death Mr. Snelling has charge of it.
The last captain of the Easter Target was Mr. P. Constable who became so in 1757. He subsequently shot with Mr. Waring and on the formation of the Toxophilite Society joined it, bringing with him the Catherine of Braganza Shield and other articles belonging to the Finsbury Archers, which ale now in the possession of that society. The number of competitors at these targets varied considerably; forty five is the highest recorded number, but they were people of considerable importance, as Mr. Latham says General Oglethorpe, afterwards a member of the Toxophilite Society, told him that he had himself shot in the Finsbury Fields in company with the Duke of Rutland and other persons of rank.
In 1693-4 Elizabeth Shaler, widow, bequeathed the sum of 30l. by her will to the Finsbury Archers, to be expended in plate to be shot for in six consecutive years, 5l.. being given each year; but, owing to her having altered her will and made several codicils as to the bequest, doubts arose as to the disposition of the money. A memorandum, however, exists by which it appears that the executor paid 5l. a year for seven years, 'it being better for Archery,' and accordingly that amount was shot for annually in the years 1696-1702. Will someone kindly follow suit, and leave a substantial legacy to the Grand National Archery Society?
The frontispiece to Gervase Markham's 'Art of Archerie' represents Charles I. as an archer; but there does not seem to be any evidence of his having been one, although in 1637 payment is ordered to Martin Pattison of 12d. per day as yeoman supernumerary of the King's Bows, in addition to 76s. per annum as huntsman of his Majesty's ''shott' hounds. Twenty pounds a year is also paid to Samuel Morris, Yeoman of the Bows in ordinary; but, of course, it does not necessarily follow that he used a bow, as these offices may have been continued and become sinecures, or the holders of them may have performed other duties.
In 1635 a grant was made to Ben Austen of a privilege for practicing an invention for shooting with bows and muskets at butts and marks, and he was allowed to charge a penny for eight shots with a long bow, and twopence for six shots with a musket, but there is no record as to what this invention was. There is in the Library of Dulwich College an advertisement which may refer to it of 'A General Prize for all those that desire to approve their skill either with Musket or Long bow,' the marks to be set up as well for 'Muskets with cock matches as for Long Bow and Arrows,' in St. George's Fields, on August 21; but no year is named, and though bound up with papers of Charles I's time, it may refer to one of the contests and processions which took place in the reign of Charles II. It is interesting, however, in either case, as apparently the prizes were to be shot for indiscriminately either with bow or musket, at the will of the competitor, for nothing is said as to there being separate prizes for each The prizes consisted of 'a faire peece of Plate valuable xx Crowns,' 'A Standing Bowle valuable xv Crowns,' 'A bell Salt valuable x Crowns,' and Seale Ring valuable v Crowns,' the charge or venture 'for teach being respectively 2s. 6d, 2s., 1s. 6d., and 1s. Due provision is made that the winners should have cash instead of the articles if they preferred it, and also that they should assemble and 'march in order with their colours to the said Fieldes.' The distance was to be 'fourscore'.