Archery of the Past
Some of its Archers and some of Their Scores
Part 2 of 3
In short, one could not help seeing in Ford's 'style' an impression of difficulties laboriously struggled with, and successfully overcome. He very properly bestowed the greatest care and attention on the so-called ' shooting glove ' (Ford's 'Archery,' Butt, p. 57, et seq.) and the hold of the ends of the first three fingers of the drawing hand on the bowstring. 1 have always thought that his ' loose ' (again I refer my readers to the above capital work, chap. x.) was Ford's weakest place; for it was, I think, undeniably not of the very best. He persistently advocated the use of stop-guards or catches, made of leather, on the inside of the shooting glove or ' tip,' desiring, as he did, to compel the last joints of each of the three fingers to take a parallel grasp of the string--a method I have never myself approved of or adopted, nor do I think it wise to take, as he did, too small or short a hold of the string with the fingers, unless the bow be weak and the practice with it neither long nor persistent. I can well recollect in connexion with this that I constantly observed Ford's drawing hand to tremble very visibly before loosing, and that he, comparatively early in his archery career, damaged and finally wholly ruined his archery by (as I have ever deemed) thus causing a permanent weakness of the third finger of his ' drawing ' hand; he never tried ' left-handed ' shooting, I think. In this connexion, I may further add that it know that Mr. Maitland (his early archery friend), and others as well as I, always used to attribute the injury to the muscles of Ford's 'drawing hand,' but more especially the pronounced weakness in the third finger thereof, to his peculiar method of drawing the bowstring with the very extremities of his fingers, and not to excessive practising (for in this, according to my knowledge and belief, he did not greatly exceed), nor to the use of too strong bows, for his bows never exceeded a nominal 54 lbs. at first (such ever being Buchanan's method and practice), and there can be no reasonable doubt entertained that Mr. Ford's bows, after his considerable practice with each, seldom or never really much exceeded 50 or 51 lbs. in weight.
I should here like to remark again, as befits me well, that during all the time I knew Ford he invariably used but one bow throughout the whole York Round. He much reprobated and disapproved of changing bows for the three different distances, and never even contemplated the fatal error of changing bows during the shooting of any distance ( verb. sap.)
I shall venture again to quote my own words concerning Ford's style of shooting, from the ' Archer's Register ' for 1888, p. 46 :--
His peculiar style (of drawing) is indelibly impressed upon my memory-the gradual rise of bow and shaft from below, the gaze fixed on the target, the long, continuous draw till four inches alone remained undrawn of the arrow, the pause then for the aim--which he ever conceived, declared and illustrated by splendid results to be the correct method of aiming then the completion of the draw fully to the bottom of the pile or steel, the left arm rigid as steel but most singularly, the right hand and fingers trembled many times to and fro under the strain, neither smart, nor quick, nor smooth, his loose at last came off, distinctly hindered by the tremor of the strain--but it was finally done, and done to such a nicety and with such monotony as to be to me most irritating to watch.
After all said and done, I have myself not the shadow of a doubt that Ford's intense interest, carefulness and determination were the secret (which, after all, is no secret) of his extraordinary success with the bow. From the first to the last of the 144 arrows in the longest archery match in which he was ever engaged, he took the utmost conscientious pains with every individual arrow, which in all my experience I have never yet known to be done (and not only talked of) by any other archer whosoever. I used constantly to reproach him for it, and say that he shot as if his life depended on every arrow, and so he really did; and ' the fixed glare of his eye ' whilst aiming thus was quite remarkable. An anecdote of Mr. Maitland's is quoted in the 'Archer's Register' for 1888, as follows:--
When Mr. Ford was shooting at one of the National Meetings, and just as he was in the act of aiming, a lady standing by exclaimed, in a tone of admiration, Look at his eye ! ' With the majority of men such a remark, at such a moment, would be fatal to accuracy of aim; but upon Mr. Ford it had no such effect, although the expression of his face betrayed the fact that he had heard it. He discharged his shaft, making an admirable round, and only then indulged in the laughter due.
Quoting myself in the same work, 'Shots at a Venture,' 1888, I find myself saying:--
Notwithstanding this command over his nerves, which Mr. Ford possessed in such a remarkable degree owing to his iron will, he was by no means free from the well-known feeling of nervousness itself, and so little could he bear the company of others at the target during a match, that after shooting he was in the habit (being generally also placed on purpose at an outside pair of targets) of at once walking off by himself and only coming back again to his companions when his turn arrived to shoot at the other target.
The attention he received was often enough to excuse his so doing; but I also well remember that his wife was strictly forbidden to come over to the archery ground until the shooting was over, and for the same reason.
I think, with the author of ' A Day with Horace Ford,' ' Archer's Register,' 1883, p. 56, that Ford did very slightly bend his head over his shaft, unconsciously of course, for he notices this fault in his own book, wherein he also, at chap. x. p. 69, fully explains his own ideas of how the bow should be drawn; in pp. 73-4 he notices the very common, but by them unseen, fault in archers of dropping the right hand, or letting it incline to the right or left on the completion of the draw. He omits, however, to notice the even worse and more common mistake of dropping the left hand and bow on the loose, and before the shaft has quite left the bow.
Ford treats in his eleventh chapter of ' aiming,' and says most truly that the ' aim ' is undoubtedly the most abstruse and scientific 'point connected with the practice of archery.' He treats of it in extenso, I shall, therefore, myself only add that I am convinced he is perfectly right in strongly recommending that in all cases the direct vision of the archer should be upon the point of aim, and not upon the target or mark to be hit, though he confines the remark to ordinary target distances or any lengths within them. I would willingly enlarge upon this specially difficult subject of such great interest to all archers, who alas ! to this day ' aim ' in so many and so widely differing ways, were not Ford here my text, and not the many difficulties of our craft, which his book has certainly done much to lighten. ' Suum cuique '; but alas ! there are many ways of ' aiming,' and they cannot all be right; no two men or women dance exactly alike, nor do they shoot exactly alike. I may mention as an instance twins of my acquaintance, alike in form and feature, and thereby the despair of their friends and acquaintances, alike in all but in their ' style ' with the bow- for herein were they as dissimilar as any other pair of archeresses on the ground. All I can say is that Ford's advice on this, as on nearly all archery subjects (except, I think, his advice respecting the hold on the string by the tips of the three drawing fingers) is the best ever yet laid before the public.
Ford's arrows, when I knew him, were 29 inches in length --and, I believe, very early of the cylindrical or parallel pile shape, so much preferred to the present day by most archers-- and they were feathered with the very long wings turkey feather then in vogue. I am unable to date the introduction of the present vastly reduced size and length of these wings, as well as of their entirely altered shape. I think that Mr. Henry Elliot and the late Rev. William Rimington (champion in 1868-69, 1877-79) have much to answer for as to the reduced size, and I myself for the ' balloons '; I am not aware that any shafts thus feathered were ever used by our great modern archer. For all who desire a low flight of arrow and greater speed, the change is acceptable, but, devoted slave as I have ever been to this style of flight, I am not prepared to say that arrows so fletched possess any advantage in the way of hits in the target at York Round ranges over their predecessors of the far longer wing. These latter shafts certainly do arch high, and doubtless travel slowly, but they appear to me to be much less deflected by our enemy, the wind, and, on the whole, to hold a truer course. (Perhaps it will be said that they also require another Ford to guide them as constantly to victory.)
It is true that Ford's arrows were propelled by bows of nominally 54 lbs.; nevertheless I have often thought that the present very much lowered trajectory of the arrow may be too dearly bought. The question of the shape of arrow alone remains. I believe that Ford advocated and introduced the cylindrical form of shaft, also somewhat clumsily called ' parallel pile,' and as his arrows weighed 5s., they looked massive enough with their lengthened wings of 5 inches each--I may add my own conviction, that cylindrical arrows are not the best for archers who for any reason desire to use 4s. 6d. arrows, or less (arrows, according to old custom, are weighed against new silver coin), as in these there is not sufficient wood to stand the strain of any but a very weak bow; arrows of 4s. 6d. and less should be of the barrelled shape, and in this guise do they fly straight, and stand any strength of bow usually adopted well enough. Their piles, of course, are much smaller than those of their 5s. brethren--and wings of peacock wing feathers are deemed the best.
Ford was a good musician, and loved his violoncello only second to his ' trusty yew.' He excelled at billiards, and especially at pool, though his concentrated attention to his stroke and the time and pains he took about it were somewhat tiresome to witness. I shall vary these dry details with a story told of him in the 'Archer's Register, 1881, p. 59 :--
Ford once thought he had met with his match, or rather more than his match, at archery. It was at a meeting on the Royal Ground. He had just shot his end--the distance being 100 yards --and made a central gold. 'I'll nock that arrow of yours,' remarked a stranger airily, stepping forward to shoot in his turn. He shot and kept his promise, his very first arrow splitting Mr. Ford's last from nock to pile. 'Do you often do that sort of thing?' asked Mr. Ford, as soon as he had recovered from his astonishment. ' oh, yes, frequently,' was the reply given in the tone of jaunty self-satisfaction indicative of the consciousness of power. However, said Mr. Ford, in telling the story, 'as he never hit the target again all day, I concluded it was an accident, and was relieved accordingly.'
This approaches to the dimensions of a 'tiger story,' but I would premise that Mr. Sharpe, who then edited the ' Archer's Register,' was most laborious and particular about his facts and statements, and it reads as though told to him by Ford himself. Be this as it may, it can safely be said that the splendid and visible results of Ford's archery practice (for I don't remember his bestowal of much in the way of precept), his well-considered and plain directions for the accomplishment of a very difficult task, in his writings, and his long and great success, undoubtedly laid the foundation for the improvement that took place in his time, and which has, I think, if somewhat slowly, continued in the archery of the present day. Honour therefore where honour is due. As long as archery in anything like its modern guise continues to exist, so long will it be indissolubly connected with the name of ' Horace F Ford.' It may be deemed perhaps a fitting termination to any account of this great archer's career, and an instance of his indomitable will, to mention that after his physical breakdown and defeat by George Edwards in 1860, Ford set himself the task of once more regaining the championship. His only hope of doing so was to find the contest conducted in two successive, perfectly calm days. The G.N.A Meeting of 1867, that year held at Brighton, July 24-25, brought him these exact conditions, and, though using very weak bows (not much over 40 lbs. in weight) and light arrows, he carried off the championship for the twelfth time, with no less a score than 215, 1,037. Edwards was only third, and never shot in public again.
THE REV. JOHN BRAMHALL
In no reference to archers of the past can one afford to omit this gentleman's once well-known name; I knew him very well so along ago as 1851, and often shot with him, with Ford at Cheltenham, as he was that gentleman's chosen companion and nearest equal at the targets. I remember Bramhall's genial, handsome face, tall figure and pleasant manner, still. Ford invariably called him ' Robin,' or ' Robin Hood,' and he well merited this archery name, for I invariably place him in my archery recollections as second only to Ford, and immeasurably his superior in grace of style with the yew. In fact, his style was as graceful and easy and his loose as admirable as (in my opinion) those of his great rival were the reverse. His sole but fatal defect as an archer was the want of nerve, a quality so conspicuously enjoyed by Mr. Ford. Though very desirous of obtaining the Archery Championship, Mr. Bramhall never once succeeded, owing, I believe, to this want of nerve alone; for in private his shooting will bear comparison with, and indeed excels, that of any other archer with whom I have been acquainted, save Ford's alone from about 1853-57 to the present day. His arrows of 5s. weight, and with the long and heavy feathers of the day, travelled at a great pace, and had, for such shafts, a flat trajectory, forming in this respect an almost ludicrous contrast to those just shot by Mr. Ford as he left the target for his friend to step up to it. An excellent notice of all that concerns Mr. Bramhall as an archer will be found, as usual, in the ' In Memoriam ' columns of the ' Archer's Register ' for 1890, from the pen of the editor, Mr. Follett, and with grateful acknowledgment I shall avail myself of what he has there collected in order to finish my 'recollections' of a man for whom I long entertained a warm esteem. Mr. Follett tells us that Mr. Bramhall's best Single York Round (in private practice) was made on November 25, 1851, and thus: h. 61 s. 317, h. 41 s. 223, h. 23 s. 135; total, h. 125 s. 675.
In 1849 the average of the fifty-four York Rounds he shot was 453 score from 103 hits, in 1850 it was 502 from 110 hits in seventy York Rounds, in 1851 it was 561 from 117 hits in sixty-four rounds, in 1852 it was 575 from 117 hits in fifty-two rounds, and in 1853 it was 567 from 114 hits in thirty-eight rounds. In shooting at 100 yards he has made 4 golds in four consecutive hits, and often 3 at one end. At 80 yards his best in forty-eight arrows was 47 hits 273 score; at 60 yards his best record is 24 hits 172 score, and 409 consecutive hits and 5 following golds. His best Double York Round was h. 107 s. 535, h. 91 S. 497, h. 48 s. 290, h. 256 s. 1,322, shot on June 26 and July I, 1852, though, from the interval between the dates, this would hardly now be called a 'Double York Round.' Mr. Follett continues (and I quote this largely, as referring to 'archer's nerve'):--
Probably no archer, except Mr. Ford, could show such a record as may be gathered from the above figures, and if he had enjoyed the nerve which his great antagonist possessed, there is little doubt they would frequently have changed places in the prize list. The effect this physical infirmity, the want of nerve, had upon Bramhall's shooting is seen at once by the contrast between his private and public form in the years 1851, 1852 and 1853. His average scores for those years on the Single York Round were 561, 575 and 567, whereas at the Grand Nationals of those years he could only make 760, 778, and 733 on the Double York Round, and he never reached 800 at any meeting for the Championship.
Bramhall was very fastidious about his tackle, and infinitely preferred a foreign self-yew bow to any other. Buchanan and he were fast friends, and he frequented his workshop and took great interest in his friend's skilful handiwork. Both the archer and the bowmaker were horn in 1809, and both died in 1889, within one month of one another.
I shall conclude my notice of Mr. Bramhall with an extract from ' Ford's Archery,' revised by Mr. Butt, p. 160. He relates the account of the G.N.A. Meeting for 1852, held at Leamington, and adds:--
This match had a most exciting finale. When the last three arrows alone remained to be shot, Mr. Bramhall was 2 points ahead in score. It was then a simple question of nerve, and Mr. Ford's proved the best, as he scored 14 to his opponents 2. The two gentlemen were placed at adjoining targets, and Mr. Bramhall's nerve was further disturbed by his hearing someone noisily offer to bet heavily in favour of Ford. Mr. Ford shot first at his target, and Mr. Bramhall second at his.
I was present myself at this my first G.N.A. Meeting and well recollect the occurrence. I also recollect an even closer affair on a similar occasion--viz. al the G.N.A. Meeting in 1875, held in Sandown Park, Surrey, in which Mr. Palairet and I were exactly equal in score, when all but the very last arrow of the two days' match had to be shot, and I, at least, knew it, so I contrived to miss, and Mr. Palairet made a black.