1902 Encyclopedia > Archery > Archery in Georgian and Victorian England

(Part 3)



But from late 1600s until the beginning of the 19th century, the attractions of archery appear to have been overlooked, and its practice neglected. In the English Bowman, a small book published in the year 1801, we find the following reason given as the cause of its revival in London: -

"About the year 1776, Mr. Waring, who then lived with Sir Ashton Lever at Leicester House, and who may justly be styled the father of modern archery, having, by continual business, contracted an oppression upon his chest (arising principally from sitting too closely at his desk and pressing his breast too much against it, and which the most eminent in the faculty had in vain endeavoured to remove), resolved to try the effects of the bow in affording relief. He accordingly made it a regular exercise, and in a short time derived great benefit from the use of it, and ascribed his cure, which was perfect, to the practice of archery. Sir Ashton Lever, perceiving the good effects which so engaging an amusement had upon the constitution, followed Mr Waring's example. And took up the bow; he was soon joined by several of his friends who, in the year 1781, formed themselves into a society, under the title of the Toxophilites, and met regularly at Leicester House, having butts erected in the gardens belonging to it.

That society was the parent of the numerous societies of archers known about that period (i.e. 1790). "The enthusiasm," says Hansard, in his Book of Archery, "can only be compared with that which animated the admirers of Shakespeare and the drama generally during the Garrick era."

There is now no means of ascertaining precisely the period at which the bow was relinquished entirely in these king doms as a weapon of war. Grose informs is that it was commonly used by the English soldiery for more than two centuries after the introduction of fire-arms, and indeed, long subsequently to the adaptation of guns, the bow remained the favourite weapon of the army,- a fact which is not surprising when we learn, on the authority of Neade, a celebrated archer of Charles I., that the ordinary range of the bow was from 16 t0 20 score yards, and that so rapid was the shooting of the archers, or so slow the firing of the musketeers, that an archer could shoot six arrows in the time occupied in charging and discharging one musket.

But although the bow has long been disused as a military weapon, it has ever been cherished in Great Britain, and particularly among the upper classes of society, as an instrument of delightful and healthful recreation; and it would be impossible to overate the physical and moral advantages accruing from the regular practice of archery -one of the few "out-door" amusements that are as suitable for delicate ladies as for strong men. "There is," remarks Mr H.A. Ford, "no exercise more healthy or more rational, or which returns more true and genuine gratification to the man who practices it." As an exercise for ladies it brings all the muscles generally into healthy action, and is, in Mr. Ford's opinion, admirably suited to meet the requirements of the fair sex, - "general and equal, without being violent - calling the faculties, both of mind and body, into gentle and healthy play, yet oppressing none-withal most elegant and graceful."

Another era in the annals of the art may be dated from the year 1844, when a national meeting of the archers of Great Britain and Ireland was held at York, since which time archery has assumed much importance as a national pastime, and year after year the winder competition which such assemblages have secured has brought forward bowmen and bow women, who, by their persistent efforts in carrying of honours, and that by the most remarkable achievements, have carried the art as nearly as possible to perfection. Under the auspices of the "Grand National Society" archery has been conducted through all the stages of actual revival and establishment as a favourite British pastime. Rapid progress has, in every respect, marked its modern career. It was only in the year 1845 that ladies began to compete publicly with me for the prizes offered at "The National," but at some of the matches, which have, without interruption, annually taken place since then, as many as 130 archeresses have participated in match-shooting, whilst at least an equal number of gentlemen have competed with them on some occasions, with a guaranteed prize list of about 400 pounds. these anniversaries have been held four times at Leamington and at Cheltenham; thrice at York and at Derby; twice at Shrewsbury, at Exeter, and at Bath; once at Edinburgh, Liverpool, Worcester, Oxford, the Alexandra Park (London), Clifton, Norwich, Birmingham, Hereford , Brighton, and Winchester. After the establishment of the Grand National meeting it was found necessary to fix an order of shooting; hence the origin of "The York round," on which all public competitions by archers are now conducted, and which, for gentlemen, consists of 6 dozen arrows at 100 yards, 4 dozen at 80 yards, and 2 dozen at 60 yards; and for ladies, 4 dozen arrows at 60 yards, and 2 dozen at 50 yards. By this arrangement archers living in various parts of the three kingdom can ascertain their relative proficiency. It is upon two days' shooting, or the result of a "double round," that the Grand National prizes are awarded on "value" alone, as the best criterion of good and central shooting. The principal of these prizes are the champion's gold medal for gentlemen, and the challenge silver bracer and brooch for ladies. These much coveted honours are awarded by a majority of points only; and the points for the champion's medal are reckoned as follows: - Two for the gross score, two for the gross hits, one for best score at 100 yards, and one for the best hits at ditto, and the same at 80 and 60 yards-making ten points in all. the ladies' challenge bracer (presented by the West Norfolk Bowmen) is awarded on the same principle, namely, for the greatest number of points-eight in all. the highest score ever made by a champion was 1251, with 245 hits, at Cheltenham, in 1857, by Mr Horace A Ford, the author of The Theory and Practice of Archery, who won the medal of Great Britain as many as eleven times, and is, without doubt, the finest shot England has seen since the days to which legends and distance lend a somewhat doubtful glory, his scores being absolutely without parallel. He has now retired from public life as an archer. The nearest approach to any of his victories has been made by Major Hawkins Fisher, who carried off the medal in 1871 with 955, and has been champion in the years 1871-72-73-74. Mr Peter Muir, the greatest archer, probably, that Scotland has produced, at any rate in modern days, was the champion in 1863, scoring 845. Mrs Horniblow became the possessor of the lady champion's bracer no less than ten times, and the highest score she ever made in obtaining it was 764, at Leamington, in the year 1873. to this lady is due the honour of having signally demonstrated that the bow really was a weapon adapted to woman's use, and capable of evidencing, in their hands, not the perfection of grace only, but that of skill and talent also. To the Grand National Society, in the first instance, is this great increase is skill mainly owing, but beyond this, increased skill has led to increased taste and liking for the amusement, till, in an ever widening circle, nearly every county of England has become included within it. This has led to the establishment of other great meetings, till, at the time the present article is written, besides numberless meetings of private clubs, there are several public matches open to all, where formerly there were none. thus we have the Grand National itself, the Leamington and Crystal Palace meetings, the Grand Western (where two handsome challenge prizes reward the shooting both of the champion and championess of the west of England), and Scotch national meeting, where a champion gold medal, presented by Mr T. Macfarlane of New Zealand, and exclusively confined to Scotland, is a annually shot for, being awarded to the successful bowman, according to the rules for the champion medal of Great Britain.

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