Archery as a Pastime
Part 3 of 3
Charles II. was an archer, and, before the Restoration, shot with the Guild of St. Sebastian at Bruges, and he presented to them a mace which is still in their possession. It is evident that he continued to take a great interest in archery from the numerous processions of archers and shooting matches which took place before him during his reign. In all the accounts of these matches and processions, fine cresses, drums, trumpets, flags, &c., are carefully mentioned, and no doubt the archers were vastly pleased with themselves and their appearance, but there is no possibility of even guessing how they shot. In 1661 there was a grand display in Hyde Park by four hundred archers who were commanded by Sir E. Hungerford, Knight of the Bath, and it is stated that they shot 'near twenty-score yards within the compass of a hat with their crossbows'; so that it is apparently doubtful if they had long-bows as well, though probably they had, as they fired volleys of 'whistling arrows'' which do not appear to have been used for the former weapon. Wood, who describes this event, says: 'So great was the delight, and so pleasing the excrcise, that three regiments of foot laid down their arms to come and see it'!
In 1675 there were two similar displays, at which bows are especially mentioned, as they also are in the following year. In 1681 the Archers marched in the usual way to Hampton Court, and shot before the King--at 160 yards, for prizes worth 30l. who was so pleased with the performance that the marshal had the honour of being presented to him, and of kissing his hand. Other similar displays took place, in one of which it is mentioned that, in addition to the prizes for archery, there was carried in the procession 'a Gilded Gun, as a reward unto the best that could handle his peece,'so that these displays were not confined to archery. The reader will find full particulars of these pageants in Wood's 'Bowman's Glory,' but they are hardly of sufficient interest to quote at greater length.
Competitions were held at the same time on much the same lines as those of the Finsbury Archers in other parts of the country. Among others, that for the ancient Scorton Arrow, which with a few exceptions has been shot for annually, from 1673 to the present time, and in which the archer who first hits the gold still becomes captain, and arranges for the next year's meeting, as was done by the stewards of the Finsbury Archers two hundred years ago.
There does not appear to he any mention of archery in the neighbourhood of London after the last recorded meeting of the Finsbury Archers in 1761, though we hear of it in the North of England, till we come to 1776. No doubt some of the Finsbury Archers, more enthusiastic than the others, kept up their shooting in the Finsbury Fields (we know that Mr. P. Constable did so, for one), but they must have been few in number, as nothing is heard of them. In 1776 Mr. T. Waring began shooting, and this was the first step towards the reveal of archery, which took place Sir Ashton Lever had founded the Toxophilite Society in 1781. A full account of how this revival was brought about will be found in ChapterXIV., and it is therefore unnecessary to repeat it here. Archery rose rapidly in public estimation, and soon became one of the most fashionable forms of amusement; and Mr. Waring, seeing his opportunity, became a bowmaker. In a few years a great number of societies were established in all parts of England. The Prince of Wales took it up warmly, and did much to encourage its practice, as he was not only himself a constant attendant and shooter at various meetings, but he also became patron of several societies, and gave liberal prizes for competition, an example which was followed by the other Royal Dukes. As at this period conviviality took a prominent place in every social function, it is not to be wondered at that the opportunities afforded by a bow meeting for dinners, suppers, &c., were very soon appreciated, and many of the early societies seem to have taken more pains in framing their dining than their shooting regulations. The societies were also very particular as to their dress regulations, and the smart uniforms adopted probably had an alluring effect in obtaining members. Minute directions are found in all their rules, as to the cut and colour of the small clothes and green coats, of when boots and when shoes should be worn, and of the colour of the belt (which was considered indispensable) and bracer. In the British Museum may be seen a book containing patterns of parti-coloured archery ribbons, which were used by the smart archers of the day to fasten their bracers, and to tie on the top of their bows, the arrows being painted to match.
Many archers, no doubt, were fonder of the bow than they were of the* dinner, but the scientific part of archery was. little understood. As far as can be ascertained by their scores, accurate shooting was not attained, and it is more than probable that, in these days, the best 100-yard shot of a hundred years ago would find it difficult to secure anything beyond a best gold 'spider' at the G. N. A. M.
As the number of archery societies increased, their bowmen became desirous of testing each other's prowess, and the want of a general meeting, at which they might try their skill against each other, made itself felt. Accordingly, a meeting was held early in 1789, and representatives of the various societies were appointed to make the necessary arrangements for holding the 'Annual General Meeting of the Archers of Great Britain' at Blackheath. This meeting came off on May 17, 1789. The usual regulations as to dinner, order of marching on the ground, bands of music, gun-firing, Sec. &c., occur, but are of little interest now, and what really would be interesting information as to how they shot is wanting. Subsequent meetings were held at Blackheath in
1790-1-2-3, and at Dulwich in 1794-5, but to all these meetings the same remarks apply -- namely that there is not sufficient information to institute a comparison of any value with the shooting of the present day, more care being taken to chronicle the goodness of the luncheon than the number of arrows shot. The principal prize-winners at these meetings were as follows:--
1789. Messrs. R. Fielding and Waring (Toxophilite Society).
1790. Messrs. W. and T. Palmer (Woodmen of Arden) and Mr. Brady and the Hon. E. Finch (Toxophilite Society).
1791. The Earl of Aylesford and Mr. W. Palmer (Woodmen of Arden).
1792. Mr. Anderson (Robin Hood Bowmen) and Mr. Glenn ~Toxophilite Society)
1793. Dr. Leith (Royal Kentish Bowmen) and Mr. Jarvis.
1794 Mr. Cazalet (Toxophilite Society) and Messrs. Grew Wynne and Potter.
1795. Mr. Anderson (Robin Hood) and Messrs. Brady and Cazalet (Toxophilite Society).
Figs. 117, 118, are copied from a scarce print called the 'Graces of Archery,' by Ansel, published in 1794. It consists of ten separate caricatures (with verses underneath) of the Toxophilites at one of the Blackheath meetings, two of which are given as examples.
The Woodmen of Arden, Broughton Archers, and Lancashire Bowmen united in holding a meeting at Cannock Chase in 1791, and apparently a second meeting took place in 1792. The Toxophilites, Robin Hood Archers, and Woodmen of Arden also shot together in 1792 at Mr. Anderson's grounds near Highgate, but these can hardly be classed as 'public meetings', though they arc interesting, inasmuch as they form a link in the chain of meetings held before the Grand National Archery Meetings proper were started in 1844.
Archery was taken up very strongly in the closing years of the last century, and some amusing matches are on record. A match was shot at loo yards between Mr. Gilpin, Mr. Wyburgh, and Miss Littledale, in which the latter was victorious: during the shooting, which lasted three hours, Miss Littledale hit the gold four times, and, v-hat evinces superior skill the three last hits made by Miss Littledale were in the gold. Good shooting indeed, if authentic.
Another match took place in 1792 at Chalk Farm, between Dr. Higgins of Greek Street, Soho, with gun and ball, against Mr. Glenn of the Toxophilite Society, with bow and arrow, at 100 yards distance, the best of twenty-one shots at a target four feet in diameter. Mr. Glenn put in fifteen arrows, and won the match, Dr. Higgins only hitting the target twelve times. From this it seems as if Mr. Glenn must have been a very fair archer, and Dr. Higgins a bad gunner.
For some reason archery, though so warmly taken up, seems to have soon gone down in popularity, as many of the societies started between 1780 and 1795 had but a very short existence. Probably the same reason that caused the Royal British Bowmen to cease holding their meetings (p. 203) operated in the case of other societies, and in the troubled times of the latter part of the last century more serious matters than archery had to be attended to. As times became more settled, and peace assured, the influence of the few societies that remained at the beginning of this century began to make itself felt more and more accounts of archery meetings appear in the papers and magazines; notices of old societies being revived and new ones formed become more frequent, till about 1830, when archery is again found to be a popular and fashionable amusement.
Archery meetings are reported as taking place at all the principal houses in the different counties, and the curious customs in vogue thirty years before crop up again thus, in an account of a meeting held at Stowe in August 1829, we read that, after walking two and two to the shooting ground with arrows in their hands and bows slung at their backs, 'The prizes were distributed by the Duchess of Buckingham, and the victors both ladies and gentlemen, were then placed on the targets and borne in triumph to the mansion of his Grace, preceded by a band of music playing "See the Conquering Hero comes."' Some of the societies started in the period between 1820 and 1840 still survive, but most of the existing societies owe their origin, directly or indirectly, to the starting of the first Grand National, and were instituted subsequently to it.
The Queen, before her accession, was present at meetings of the Royal British Bowmen, and shot with the St Leonard's Archers, who afterwards received the prefix 'Queen's Royal,' Her Majesty for some time annually presenting a prize to them. In 1844 the Queen also became a member of the Guild of St Sebastian at Bruges, and in 1893 presented a prize to them on completing her fiftieth year of membership.
As the societies became more numerous the necessity of opportunities for larger gatherings than it was possible for one society by itself to hold again became apparent, and two or more of them combined to hold meetings together As early as 1820 an attempt was made to hold a general meeting of archers in 1821, and a circular was printed and sent round suggesting that subscriptions should he obtained for procuring a piece of plate worth a hundred guineas, to be shot for at Catterick Bridge, in Yorkshire on the lines of the Scorton Arrow competition. In 1834 also, Mr. George Milner of Hull wrote letters to various societies, proposing to hold a national meeting of archers at some central town in 1835, but nothing came of either proposal. Archery meetings seem to have been held in the Manor Grounds, Chelsea, by A. P. Harrison (who in his book styles himself 'teacher of Archery'), in 1833 or 1834; at Cremorne House in 1838 on the occasion of the spring exhibition of the Royal Society of Horticulture ; and others on a small scale took place at Hull and other places, but no really large public meeting was held till the first Grand National at York in 1844.