The Royal Toxophilite Society
part 2 of 5
It appears that Mr. Waring in 1816 had an archery ground at Bayswater on the east of where Westbourne Street now is and reaching from the Oxford Road to Sussex Gardens for which he paid 7l. an acre. This ground he had offered to the society, but it was declined by them. The inconvenience caused by the loss of their ground in 1820 was so great, however, that a committee was appointed to confer with Mr. Waring, with a few of obtaining a lease of his ground. The negotiations lasted some time, but finally the ground and pavilion were taken for the remainder of Mr. Waring's lease by the society who subsequently got a renewal of the lease at an increased rent, and they remained there till they obtained the present ground in the Regent's Park. Unfortunately, no official records exist of the society's doings during this time (1822 -2836), but mention is found in the 'Sporting Magazine,' and other publications, of grand fêtes being given, at which large numbers of fashionable people were present to see the royal and other prizes shot for, King William IV. having been graciously pleased to become their patron, and annually giving a prize.
Endeavours had been made as early as 1828 to secure a ground in the Regent's Park, but it was not till 1833 that the society succeeded in obtaining a lease from the Crown of their present ground. It is situated in the Regent's Park, in the Inner Circle, between the Botanical Gardens and the end of the ornamental water, and is about six acres in extent. A large sum was spent in getting the ground in order, planting it, making butts, and building the hall. A good idea of the general appearance of the ground soon after it was finished can be formed from the view given below.
The hall is a handsome structure about 40 feet by 24, and 16 feet high ; the walls are lined with oak aschams, on each of which is painted the arms and colours of the owners, the upper portion above the aschams being decorated with pictures, trophies of bows, &c., and the heads of various kinds of deer which have been presented at different times. The windows are filled with painted glass bearing the arms of the patrons, founder, presidents, and other members; the ceiling having on it in relief the arms of the society. Besides the hall, there are dressing and committee rooms, accommodation for servants, &c., and there is a spacious verandah both at the front and back. The grounds and garden are tastefully laid out and planted, and the shooting ground leaves little to be desired; the whole cost about 4,500l.
The opening ceremony, from the following account which appeared in the 'Sporting Magazine' for July 1834, must have been a grand function:--
The first meeting of the Toxophilite Club patronised by his Majesty (who gave a silver cup for the occasion) was held on June 2 in the new target ground, Regent's Park. The members assembled in their dining-room at three o' clock, and after discussing the good things provided, proceeded to the shooting ground, and the sports began at five o' clock. The successful competitor was Captain Norton to whom the Royal Cup was presented. The band of the Royal Horse Guards Blue played the National Anthem, and the company, at the conclusion of the ceremony, giving four cheers in honour of their royal patron, who was present on the occasion. Among the guests and visitors were John Crunden, Esq. father of the Club; the Earl of Aylesford, President; Sir F. Shuckburgh and W. Bagot, Esq., Vice-Presidents; Mr. Finch, Treasurer; Sir Henry Martin, Lord Foley, Lord Garvagh, &c.
It appears to have been the custom for several years to give these fêtes annually on the day on which the King's prizes were shot for. The last King's prize was shot for in 1838; subsequently the fêtes took place on the President's prize day, and they continued to be given, but on a less extensive scale, till about 1846, when they were superseded by the balls. The first ball took place in 1839, and they remained both popular and fashionable till 1854, when they were discontinued.
In 1838 the society endeavoured to obtain the Queen's name as patroness, but without success. In 1840, however, H.R.H. the Prince Consort consented to accept the office of patron; but no royal prizes have been presented since William IV.'s death. For several years the society, which took the prefix 'Royal ' in 1847, went on in the usual way, dining together and shooting matches on the target and other days, and giving annual fêtes and balls till, in 1856, the finances which, owing to the heavy expenses of building and getting settled in the new ground, had never been very flourishing sank to a very low point. Various expedients were tried to improve them, and it was even debated whether the lease should not be given when Lord (afterwards Earl of Dudley), who had succeeded Lord Aylesford as President in 1850, generously offered to pay the whole of the rent till the end of the existing lease, on condition that the members kept up the grounds. This offer Noms thankfully accepted, and he accordingly did pay the rent till 1862, when the lease came to an end.
A new lease was not immediately obtained, but finally one was granted to Mr. James Spedding, who, with several other gentlemen, agreed to take the responsibility, and joined together in a sufficient guarantee to pay the rent and to make up any deficiency in the income to meet the expenses.
In 1869 an arrangement was entered into with the Skating Club, by which they were allowed to make the present rink, so that it could be flooded in winter, and the ground was levelled, the banks made and the rink completed by the end of the year. In 1870 H.R.H. the Prince of Wales was pleased to become patron of the society, the office having remained vacant since the death of the Prince Consort ; and from then to the present time there is little to record except the progress of the shooting, which is dealt with in another part of this volume, and the centenary meeting which took place in 1881. On this occasion a two days' meeting was held, at which about seventy-five of the members and their friends were present, numerous prizes being shot for. In 1887 the Duke of Portland was appointed President in the place of the late Earl of Dudley.
The shooting season is divided into two parts: one begins on the first Thursday in April, and lasts till the last Thursday in July, and the other commences on the last Thursday in September, and ends on the first Thursday in November. All Thursdays between those dates are either target or extra target days on which the York Round is shot (with the exception of the Norton, Crunden, 80 and 60 yard days, when 144 arrows are shot at 120, 100, 80 and 60 yards respectively). In October the Autumn Handicap, which lasts two days, takes place, the annual dinner being held on the evening of the first day. The grounds, however, are open for practice all the year round, and can also be retained by members for private parties on giving due notice. In the last few years, several days have annually been devoted to matches with various clubs and counties (in which ladies take part), and also to a match between ladies and gentlemen, these forming a pleasant addition to the season's programme.
The society possesses many valuable and interesting cups, &c., which have been presented to it at various times, and one or more of these are allotted to each target and to some of the extra target days; there are also medals belonging to the various honours, most of which were presented by Mr. T. Dawson. It also has the Catherine of Braganza Shield, of which an account has already been given, and several silver arrows some having formerly belonged to the Finsbury Archers. The shield and these arrows were brought into the society by Mr. P. Constable, and the other members of the Finsbury Archers who joined the Toxophilite Society in 1781.
The 'Ladies' Days' are well known, and justly so, as being the most popular ladles' archery meeting of the year. The first was held in 1859, and they have taken place annually ever since each year adding, if possible, to their popularity. They are somewhat in the nature of a handicap, as heavy percentages are deducted from winners of score prizes at the Grand National and other public meetings, as well as from previous prizewinners. At the beginning the attendance Noms not very large, only twenty-eight shooters having put in an appearance at the first one; but now there are seldom less than three times that number, and as all the best shots are usually present, some fine scores are recorded as having been made on different occasions. Many handsome prizes are always given, and from a spectator's point of view a 'ladies' day' is well worth seeing, not only for the goodness f the shooting, but also for the gay and pretty scene presented by the shooters and spectators, though for the former the day is a trying one, as there necessarily are so many at a target that the time occupied in shooting the National Round is rather long. There is, unfortunately, no record of the originator of the ladies' days, but whoever hit on the idea, it was a happy thought on his part, and one for which he deserves to be remembered.
The position occupied by the Royal Toxophilite Society the archery world is an important one; it certainly is the leading body of archery, and though the existence of the Grand National Archery Society prevents its wielding the authority over the sport that is exercised by the M.C.C. over cricket, its influence over archery is great and far reaching. Its members are scattered all over England, and it is the only society which can really claim to be the nursery of shooting among men, as no society which does not practice the York Round can be looked upon, from an archery point of view, as than a social gathering. Shooting at 80 and 60 yards is all very well, but the 100 yards is the real test, and the members of societies that habitually only shoot the short distances cannot ( mess they practice the 100 by themselves) ever take a high place at a public meeting, or be said to go in for a scientific amusement.
The; importance of the Royal Toxophilite Society can be judged by the fact that, since the institution of the Grand National Championship, it has only been held by three gentlemen who either had not belonged or did not belong to the society, and for the last dozen years at least quite a third of the men shooting at the Grand National, nearly all those at the Crystal Palace, and a great proportion of those attending the other public meetings, have been members of the society
Pleasant as the ordinary target days and occasions on which ladles' matches take place are, it is perhaps during the rest of the week that the most enjoyable days are to be found. On target and match days there is a certain business appearance in the proceedings, and an anxiety to do one's best which slightly reduces the enjoyment of the day; but during the rest of the week friendly rivalry and good-humoured chaff prevail. Many of the town members are engaged during the early part of the day, but between four and seven on every summer after noon one can depend on finding several of them at the targets shooting some portion of the York Round.
What greater boon can be offered to a man weary with work on a hot London day than the opportunity of getting healthy exercise in shooting a York Round, combined with all the advantages of a club? lo be in the grounds even without shooting on a summer day is a pleasure that needs only to be known to be appreciated. Situated as the grounds arc, it is difficult to realise, when once inside them, that one is not in the country, instead of being in the middle of London. It is this that gives the 'Tox' a charm peculiar to itself, and it is not surprising that the members drop in to shoot a round and have a chat much in the same way that they would go to their club in the afternoon to play a rubber. Probably many a busy brain has received renewed vigour, and many an illness has been avoided, by the hours spent in the open air while pursuing this healthy and pleasant pastime, which hours, had it not been for the 'Tox,' would have been passed indoors.
There can be no question of the great advantage conferred on archery and archers individually by these daily meetings. The practicing together causes friendly rivalry and mutual improvement, and cements the good-fellowship which exists among the members. The intermittent advent of country members gives the necessary change of faces and ideas archery matters and the prospects of the championship are discussed (for occasional 'shop' is unavoidable), while the afternoon teas in the grounds after the hundred yards still retain the pleasant social character which they possessed according to Sir W. F. Pollock, some thirty-five years ago.