The Woodmen of Arden
Part 2 of 2
Mr. Ford's appearance as a competitor at the clouts in 1851 excited great interest.
He shot (Mr. Beck, a few weeks before his death, wrote) with us on the Wednesday, as I thought, in very fine form, but was wanting in accuracy as to the distance. After his day's practice with you on Thursday he shot ten and a half score yards on Friday with such improvement in accuracy of distance that, though I was shooting well and won, he kept so close to me that I am not sure he did not shoot quite as weld and I have no doubt of his better form.
It is an error to suppose that very strong bows are necessary for distances up to 200 yards, although after that there is no doubt that, especially in windy weather, power is essential. The sharp clean loose is the great factor in distance, and, in the words of an old archer and present prize-holder at the clouts, it is worth ' a score or more yards.' Nothing is more common than to see a tiro, palpably overbowed, struggling with his string, the result being a weak and abortive effort; while a man of inferior physique, shooting with a good casting bow within his powers, easily overshoots him. If you can command a bow of 54 or 56 lbs. Weight you are no doubt more independent of weather, but men have done well at nine and ten score with bows of 45 lbs. pull. When you arrive, however, at distances above 200 yards, the truth of the saying, non cuivis contingit comes very powerfully home. A pretty shot, even up to ten score, is palpably in the background, when but ten yards more are added, and it is here that the value comes in of some of those fine old bows still preserved in the Forest, such as Sir Eardley Wilmot's 80 lb. bow by Anderson, which the fifth Lord Aylesford bought for twenty guineas, or the bow Poictiers, presented by Mr. Roberts (the 'English Bowman') in 1818 to be shot for at twelve score, which was won by the Hon. Edward Finch, after a tie with his brother Daniel. 'The winner afterwards shot over the twelve score at the first shot with the prize bow,' according to the conditions. The annals of the society show that that command of the bow which seems to be hereditary in the Aylesford family has told conspicuously at the longer distances. The competition for the 'bugle' at twelve score has taken place only twelve times since the foundation of the society, and the only Woodmen who have won it twice at that distance have been the founder, the fourth Earl of Aylesford, and his son, Mr. Daniel Finch; the other winners have been Messrs. G. Beresford and T. Fetherston, Sir Francis Shuck-burgh, Messrs. C. Coker Beck, F. Townsend, H. Palmer, H. Howman, and W. C. R. Bedford.
Many men who shoot with some success at the nine and ten score yards are in the habit of using the ordinary target arrows; but there is no doubt that to shoot any longer distance an arrow of lighter make, and offering less resistance to the wind, is required; it should be made of a stiff yet elastic, well-seasoned deal, such as Thompson of Meriden (the worthy representative of four generations of careful and capable fletchers) can produce out of old target arrows. The dark heavy-wood arrows used some years ago by Scottish Archers and their friends are disposed to gad, and always require lifting. Some archers have tried arrows of twenty-nine inches, but the result, involving drawing out of line and beyond true aim, is not satisfactory; at least, I believe this is the opinion of the best shots. There is a general consensus also as to the impossibility of producing an arrow of any stability lighter than 3s. 3d. The lower the feather is cut the better.
For the aim (to quote the words of a good scientific archer) glue a strip of white paper, 3/16 of an inch wide and an inch in length, horizontally across the lower limb of the bow, and extending from the centre of the belly to the left-hand edge of the back of the bow; place the strip at first about two inches from the handle of the bow. On a still day shoot a few arrows at nine score yards, covering the clout with the strip as seen by the right else. If your arrows fall short, place the slip lower, i.e. further away from the handle; if they fall beyond the clout, place the slip a little higher, and then by experiment ascertain the exact spot where the strip should be placed as your aim on a still day for nine score. In future shooting raise the bow, so that the strip should be above the clout if the wind is against you: lower the bow so that the strip should be below the clout if the wind is with you; and by practice you will soon learn how much or how little you should raise or depress your bow to make due allowance for up and down wind.
This is a particular analysis of the mode of aiming which, with some modification, is adopted by every archer desirous of competing with success at the long ranges. One will tell you that he sees the clout under the arm when aiming; another that he fixes on some object in the distance as his point of aim; but it all resolves itself into a question of parabola, the aim being taken relatively to the distance to be achieved. The weaker the shot the higher the flight of the arrow; the greater, therefore, the influence of the wind. Those who insist upon the excessive disturbance of the arrow by the elements as an objection to long-distance shooting may be reminded that one of the finest struggles ever witnessed took place on the occasion of the centenary meeting of the Woodmcn of Arden, between the Royal Scottish Archers and the home representatives, under the most unfavourable conditions of weather. At the last end, with bad light in addition to rain and wind--six arrows out of the forty-eight shot were within half-bow distance.
The he weak point of the competition for Arrow and Bugle at Meriden undoubtedly is this that a steady shot, shooting good arrows at every end, just cut out on each occasion by a fresh competitor, may lose the prize to a rival who has only shot two good arrows during the whole match, both having scored. Mr. Octavius Luard --so well known in Connection with the National Archery Society-- himself a Woodman of Arden, had a strong opinion that this defect should be remedied, and used to keep a private register of the performances of some of his friends, in order to test the general accuracy of their shooting. When it became necessary in 1888 to establish fresh conditions under which to compete for the bowl presented by the Royal Company, a similar idea was put into form by the present secretary of the Woodmen. Circles are drawn round the clout at distances of eighteen inches, three, six, nine, and twelve feet, an arrow within the outmost circle scoring one point, and advancing up to six for a hit in the clout. Half of the match takes place at nine score, the other half at ten, and the tie, should one occur, is shot off at nine and a half. This has produced a very close contest on several occasions, and proved highly popular. In 1888 when thirty-six arrows were shot, Mr. W. K. R. Bedford won with 35 points, Lord Aylesford and Mr. E. J. Howman proxime accesserunt with 33. In 1889 in forty arrows a tie was shot at 36 points between Messrs. A. L. Willett and C. Inge, won by the former. In I 890 Mr. A. E. R. Bedford won by 43 points, the secretary and Mr. Inge each scoring 36. In 1891 Mr. Inge gained 41 points to Mr. Miller's 40; and in 1892 Mr. Inge won again with 50 points, Mr. A. E. R. Bedford coming next with 38. In each of these years forty arrows have been shot. But in 1893, in forty-four arrows, Mr. Inge won with a score of 71. It is, however, complained that an arrow which just skimmed the upper edge of the clout will probably fall into the second circle, and score four, or even into the third, and score only three, while a short arrow will score five, which in ordinary clout-shooting would have been beaten in the measure from the centre of the clout to the nearest portion of the arrow.
It is, however, the fact that the good target-shot is generally successful at the clouts. The late Mr. Coker Beck's average in practice has been but little falsified during his forty years' competition for the Arrow and the Bugle, having won the latter seventeen times, the former seven. Mr. Townsend, between 1857 and 1866, was captain at the 100 yards five times, and lieutenant twice, and during the same period won the long-distance prizes each three times. The same coincidence may be traced in the performances of Messrs. H. Howman, Inge, Skipwith, and Miller.
How close the contest for the long-distance prize generally proves is evidenced by the number of times on which a tie has occurred; but, even without this crowning effect, the closeness of the running is well worth noting. For example, in 1892 Mr. A. E. R. Bedford led off for the Arrow by beating Mr. H. Wise by a bare inch. He won the third end after a measure with the same gentleman, won the fifth end, and at the ninth end Mr. Wise hit the clout. In the same year the Bugle was shot for at eleven score; and at the sixth end, Messrs. J. Adams, R. C. A. Beck, and A. E. R. Bedford had scored two ends each; at the seventh end Mr. Adams marked both his arrows; Mr. Bedford won the eighth, and was second to Mr. Inge in the ninth. Colonel George Newdigate is the only Woodman credited with two consecutive hits. Now and then there is a surprise from an outsider, like the one on August 4, 1886, when Mr. J. F. Alston won the Arrow by gaining three consecutive ends out of six, his points being five. His last arrow hit the clout.
In 1878 began a series of matches, which among other agreeable results have much promoted practice at the long distance. Through the good offices of Sir John Gillespie, secretary to the Royal Company of Scottish Archers, eight of that illustrious body visited Meriden in that year, and defeated an equal number of Woodmen by eighteen points to four. In 1881 seven Woodmen lost a return match in Edinburgh by six ends to seven, and seven arrows to eighteen. In 1885, at the centenary meeting at Meriden, twelve Scotsmen were again successful by nine arrows to six. In 1887 at Dalkeith eleven Woodmen turned the tide, scoring twenty-three to six; and it was then agreed to establish a triennial competition alternately in England and Scotland for a challenge cup. At the first match, at Meriden in 1890, this prize fell to the Royal Company, ten of whom scored fourteen to five. And they renewed their success at Dalkeith in 1893, making 13 points to 8, though the Woodmen won five ends out of nine. In every point of view this renewal of a friendly intercourse, dating from 1787, has been a source of the greatest gratification and advantage to the Warwickshire society
It must not be forgotten that, although the society boasts no lady members, it has been customary since 1829 to invite a number of ladies to shoot on Wednesday and Friday afternoons of the Grand Target week, and to offer prizes for the greatest number of hits and best gold each day. The shooting takes place at 60 yards, under the same conditions as the members', and it has been the desire of the society to encourage local aspirants --'the lasses of the Forest'-- as far as possible, without lowering the standard of the competition. In addition, there-fore, to the ordinary prizes --for which winners of score prizes for three years past, either on the Meriden ground or at the five principal public meetings, are not allowed to compete--a badge, elegantly designed from the society's device of an arrow between the letters ' A R ' and ' D E N.' is awarded to the best score, provided that it exceeds a proportionate minimum, and this trophy is untrammelled by any handicap.
Besides these prizes, miniatures in gold of the Arrow and Bugle are presented to ladies (single or brides) who may have drawn in a lottery the names of the winners of either. The presentation of these is the occasion of great ceremony, and one of the principal attractions to visitors to the Forest Hall. So also is the solemn toast of the health of the winner, drunk by the marker in a glass of wine no longer undiluted, but flavoured with a guinea, which the recipient has to catch in his teeth, and retain between them until he has left the hall. To give a full detail of these antiquated customs and quaint formalities would take up too much space, important as are to the social side of a cherished county institution.
One more entry in the society's annals must not be for-gotten. In 1848 it was resolved that a pair of targets and bosses be presented to the new society established amongst the villagers of Ansty and Shilton, under the title of 'The Woodmen of Ansty and Shilton in the Forest of Arden.' Of this village society for the improvement of archery the Rev. C. C. Adams wrote in 1885:--
It may be regretted that the experiment should be unique, for it has met with much favour in the two villages in which it was first established, and has continued to prosper. Its officers are a warden, secretary, master forester, and senior verdurer (the two latter being the captain and lieutenant of numbers), and each year, as summer returns, its members are to be found shooting at l00 or 60 yards two days in the week.