The Grand National and other Public Meetings
Part 2 of 3
Three meetings had now been held at York, and it was determined to try fresh ground; but Messrs. Peckitt and Higginson, who had hitherto acted as honorary secretaries, not being inclined to undertake the management of a meeting elsewhere, resigned. The Revs. J. C. Pigott and O. I.uard were appointed to take their places, and remained in office till 1860, when the former resigned, the latter continuing as honorary secretary till 1880. It was proposed to hold the fourth meeting at Nottingham, but this fell through, and eventually the meeting took place at Derby. Prizes were again offered to ladies, and six summoned up sufficient courage to appear at the targets and shoot 144 arrows at 60 yards. Next year (1848, again at Derby), the Ladies' Round was altered to six dozen arrows at 60 yards and the same number at 50, and the champion's medal was first shot for by gentlemen, being awarded on score. It was here that Mr. H. A. Ford made his début as an archer, and, as he tells us himself, he shot so badly that he never cared to see how far from the bottom of the list his score (341) was. A third meeting was held at Derby, at which the ladies shot for the first time what is now called the 'National Round ' of forty-eight arrows at 60 yards, and twenty-four at 50, which, with the exception of the next year, they have shot ever since. The Championship was on this occasion awarded on points, instead of, as in the previous year, on score alone. An instance of the value of nerve is mentioned by Mr. Ford as having occurred at this meeting. A certain archer--apparently himself--had backed himself to make a specified score; three arrows remained to be shot, and he was 18 points short of the required number, but with those three arrows he made three reds, and so won his bet. As he truly remarks, 'Not a bad quality is nerve.' The next meeting was held at Edinburgh, and, in addition to the ordinary prizes, special ones were offered for shooting at loo feet, and 180 and 200 yards, these distances being practised by the Scottish Archers, who, however, were beaten at the two latter. The ladies on this occasion shot seventy-two arrows at 60 and thirty-six at 50 yards.
The meetings in 1851-3 were held at Leamington, and at the first of these the ladies mustered in greater force than they had ever done before, thirty-three being present; Miss Villiers's score, also, of 504 was a great advance on any previously made In 1853 the medals for score and the 'spiders' or brooches were first given, the custom hitherto having been only to give a gold medal to the best shot. Two meetings took place at Shrewsbury, Mr. H. A. Ford in 1854 for the first time in public reaching 1,000 on the Double Round, and also putting all three arrows, into the gold at one end at 100 yards, the latter feat having been repeated at a Grand National Meeting only once since, by the late Colonel Burton, at Worcester, in 1891. In 1856-7 the meeting was held in the College grounds, Cheltenham, and the two next years Exeter was visited. A proposal was made here in 1859 that the champion's gold medal should be given absolutely to Mr. H. A. Ford, who had won it eleven times in succession; but this was strenuously opposed by Messrs. Peckitt, Higginson, and others, and defeated At Bath in 1860 there appeared at the targets the greatest number of competitors that have ever assembled together, no less than 99 ladies and 109 gentlemen being present.
Liverpool was chosen for 186I, the meeting being held at Aintree in very windy weather, so that no large scores were made. This meeting deserves special notice in the history of the Grand National, as it was here that the Grand National Archery Society was founded. Up to this time the meetings had been held, as we have seen, annually, but there was, so to say, no solidarity about them; the committee were self-elected; if they had chosen so to decide, they need not have held a meeting at all, and there was no one who could call them to account. The good done to archery by the Grand National Archery Meetings can be seen by a reference to the table of winning scores which is given in Chapter XXIII., and the formation of the Society was doubtless another step in advance. It strengthened the meetings by placing them on a firmer basis, bringing them more directly under the control of the great body of archers themselves, who therefore naturally took more interest in them. The step taken at Liverpool was, therefore, an important one, and has resulted in permanent good.
The first meeting held by the Society was at Worcester in 1862, the weather being so unfavourable that the second day's round had to be finished on the Friday, the handicap being shot after luncheon. In 1863 Oxford was visited, and in the following year the meeting took place at the Alexandra Park. Here Mr. H. A. Ford had to retire after scoring 182 at 100 yards on the first day, his fingers being injured. A purse of 80l. was presented to Mr. O. Luard at this meeting in recognition of his services as honorary secretary. Clifton (1865) and Norwich (1866) did not produce any remarkable scores, the wind being somewhat difficult. Brighton (1867) was a good meeting as far as shooting was concerned--four ladies making over 600, and the first ten gentlemen being over 700. Financially, however, this meeting was disastrous; what reserve fund existed was swallowed up, and a heavy whip had to be made at the next meeting at Hereford to make up the deficiency. In 1868 a change took place with respect to the score prizes; up to this date there had been six score prizes for ladies (occasionally increased to nine), and ten for gentlemen, whatever the number of competitors; but at this meeting a sliding scale was introduced, regulating the number of score prizes according to the number of entries. The rule was also altered as to the medals, bars only being given to winners of score prizes who had previously won a medal. In 1869 the meeting was held at Aston Park, Birmingham, and was not a success. The weather was not good, the ground was badly kept, and the spectators, who by no means belonged to the 'upper ten,' could not be controlled. The rule as to the championships was altered, and it was decided that in future they should be awarded to the highest score, instead of on points; but this was again altered in 1872, and points re-established. On the second day of this meeting a silver wine-cooler was presented to Mr. C. M. Caldecott, who had for many years officiated as judge.
At Bath in 1870 the weather was fearfully hot, and more than one competitor suffered from its effects for several days afterwards; but the shooting was good, four ladies making over 600, and ten gentlemen over 700. Two meetings were held at Cheltenham; Leamington, Winchester, and Richmond (Surrey) being next visited. In 1876 at Sandown Park there was a close and exciting finish between Mr. H. H. Palairet and Major C. H. Fisher, as both gentlemen were 180 hits 770 score when the first-named, who had one arrow to shoot, was told by a friend that he must hit to win. His feelings may be imagined. However, he had to shoot; and the arrow struggled into a black, which won him the championship. Doncaster in 1877 was not well attended; the shooting was on the racecourse, which is very much exposed and open. Consequently, canvas has to be put up to keep out the public. It blew a gale; and what with the effect of the wind on the arrows, and the flapping about and continual blowing down of the screens, which distracted the aim, the ' 'shooters' lot was not a happy one.' Next year at Tunbridge Wells the ground was small, and the targets at the entrance end suffered severely from carriages and people coming into the ground. the tents also were rather too close, and one archer, who was afflicted with a 'bolter,' shot clean through both sides of one of the refreshment tents. The speed with which that tent was cleared was worth seeing!
A large meeting was held at Cheltenham in 1879. At Shrewsbury the next year the rain came down in torrents, and the ground soon became flooded; so much so that when the rain stopped, holes had to be dug in the ground close to the targets in. order to drain off the water There was one advantage, however, in this, for when an arrow missed the target, it was easy to see where it went. This was the last meeting at which Mr. O. Luard acted as honorary secretary; he had held the position for thirty-four years, and never missed a meeting. On his retirement he was presented with a cheque for 200l., subscribed by archers from all parts of the kingdom, as a mark of their friendship. During the time he filled the difficult and somewhat thankless office of secretary, he did much to foster archery, and his pleasant and kindly face and genial manner were well known and appreciated by attendants at the meetings. Mr. Luard did not again attend a grand National Meeting, and died early in 1883 at the age of seventy-eight.
Mr. H. H. Palairet succeeded Mr. O. Luard as honorary secretary, and his first endeavours were directed towards doing away with the necessity of the local guarantee, which was required from- the towns visited by the Society in order to meet the expenses of the meeting. His idea was to raise among archers and their friends a sum, the interest on which would suffice to make up the yearly deficit. Something of the kind had been attempted before in 1868-69, and about 200l.!. was subscribed; but the whole of this was swallowed up at Birmingham in the latter year, and when the new honorary secretary came into office there was absolutely no reserve. To a certain extent Mr. Palairet has succeeded, and he has placed the Society in a far more satisfactory position than it was when he came into office, though it is greatly to be regretted that the ' Capital Fund ' (the interest on which only can be used annually) is not larger than it is.
The first meeting under Mr. Palairet's management took place at Four Oaks Park, Sutton Coalfield, a gentleman's house which had been bought by a company, and converted into a sort of Birmingham Sandown. Extensive preparations had been made to refresh the crowds of spectators expected from Birmingham, who never turned up. As an archery meeting, however, it was a success. At Leamington in 1882 two new vents were added to the prize list. The 'local prizes' were lone away with, and ' associated club prizes ' were substituted, these prizes being open only to members of societies which subscribe annually to the G.N.A.S. The 'County Competition' as also started, a challenge cup having been presented to be shot for by teams of six gentlemen from each county. An archer got rid of a spectator who was in his way in rather a neat manner at this meeting. He had shot rather a good dozen at 60 yards, and meant business, when to his disgust, on going forward to shoot (it was an end target), he found a dame of rotund proportions standing close to him. He requested her to stand further back, but instead of doing so she said, 'I have paid to see the shooting, and shall stand here.' With great presence of mind, he replied, 'oh, very well; I was only afraid of my bow breaking, and if it should do so, the pieces will fly just where you are standing.' Profuse thanks and a rapid retreat followed. The meeting for 1883 was held at Cheltenham, and for the next year the Rev. S. Hawtrey lent the cricket-ground of St. Mark's School at Windsor. In order to avoid having buildings as a background, the targets were put rather too close together; but the ground was good and the weather fine, though rather too hot. Three gentlemen scored over 500 on the third day, which is not a common occurrence. The Ladies' County Challenge prize was instituted at this meeting, six transferable gold brooches of neat design having been bought by subscription. In 1885 the meeting was held on the College cricket-ground at Great Malvern.
It being thought advisable to hold a Grand National in one of the five Western counties, a joint meeting was arranged with the Grand Western Archery Society to be held at Bath in 1886, and the largest gathering of archers that had taken place for sixteen years was the result. There was a shifting and different wind on both days, but there was some good shooting, as seven ladies made over 600, and Mr. C. E. Nesham scored over a thousand, which had previously never been done at a Grand National Meeting except by Mr. H. A. Ford, nor has it yet been repeated. It may be useful to note that on the second day Mr. Nesham's first two dozens were 11 and 4 respectively, which shows that one ought never to despair.
Meetings followed in 1887-88 at Cheltenham and York, and in 1889 Oxford was visited. Wet and high winds were the principal characteristics of this meeting, and, considering the weather, the scores were not bad. The position among the gentlemen at the beginning of the 60 yards on the second day was curious, as, whatever he scored, Mr. Gregson was safe to win the Championship, provided he did not drop nineteen arrows. Fine weather prevailed at Southampton in 1890, the reverse being experienced at Worcester in 1891, as it blew hard on the first day and rained on the second; but in spite of it, as has been before mentioned, the late Colonel Burton succeeded in getting 3 golds at one end at 100 yards. Eastbourne was an exceptionally pleasant meeting, though the smallest which has been held since the very early days of Grand Nationals, as the ground was good, the targets very well pitched, and the weather fine, notwithstanding a nasty wind at the 100 yards on the first day. The fiftieth or Jubilee meeting took place at York in 1893, the weather being most unfavourable, a strong and gusty wind blowing on both days. Scores were naturally not high, and among the gentlemen the Championship went to Mr. Gregson, who was tenth in score, as the points were very much split up, a result which was rather hard on Mr. Perry Keene, who has thus been twice highest in score, yet failed to secure the Championship. Mr. Higginson, who had won the first prize at the first Grand National, presented the prizes to the winners.
THE LEAMINGTON AND MIDLAND COUNTIES MEETING
This was the first public meeting started after the Grand National. Three consecutive Grand Nationals were held at Leamington in 1851-53, and Mr. N. Merridew, who had acted , local hon. secretary to these meetings, determined to hold an archery meeting at Leamington in 1854, and endeavoured to obtain local support. In this he seems to have ailed, and he started the meetings as more or less a speculation which succeeded, as they have gone on ever since. Mr. Merridew continued as secretary till 1870, when he was succeeded by Mr. Bown, the bowmaker in Leamington, who carried them on till 1884 (the amount of the prizes depending on the number of entries) when he resigned the secretaryship and the meeting lost its proprietary character, having been since managed more in harmony with the other meetings. From 1885 to 1887 the Rev. H. Skipwith and Mr. T. Galton Moilliet acted as hon. secretaries; they were succeeded by Mr. T. T. S. metcalfe who held office in 1888-89, and on his resignation the Rev. Eyre W. Hussey consented to act, and has done so ever since.