(5) THE ROYAL TOXOPHILITE SOCIETY
The ROYAL TOXOPHILITE SOCIETY is now established at the Archers' Hall, Inner Circle, Regent's Park, London, where it has a handsome building for the use of its members, and ample shooting ground. It was founded in 1781 by Sir Ashton Lever, and represents the two ancient bodies, "The Finsbury Archers" and "The Archers' Company of the honourable Artillery Company," and possesses, among other plate, the large silver shield given to the Archers' Company by Queen Catherine of Braganza (consort of Charles II.), and also silver arrows of the same and of earlier periods. The Royal Toxophilite Society have occupied their present ground (about six acres in extent) since 1832, when they obtained possession of it from the Woods and Forests, and erected on it their "Archers' Hall." The entire cost of the building, laying out the grounds, furnishing, and finishing, amounted to 4548 pounds, 9s 6d. The society has for many tears enjoyed special royal patronage. King George IV., who was fond of archery, shot, when Prince of Wales, with the members in their gardens at Leicester, House, and on his becoming patron of the society in 1787, it assumed the title of "Royal," by which it has ever since been distinguished. King William IV. was also its patron, as was the late Prince Consort. The Prince of Wales is at the present time the patron of the society, of which the earl of Dudley is the president.
Sir Ashton Lever, founder of the Royal Toxophilite Society
"Sir Ashton Lever, the founder of the R.T.S., was in many ways a remarkable man. His father, Sir Darcy Lever, knight, of Alkrington, near Manchester, the representative of an old Lancashire family, died when he was twelve years old; Sir Ashton Lever was educated at a private school, and duly went to Oxford, being entered as a gentleman commoner at Corpus, where he soon became famous for his hard riding, as well as for the skill with which he trained his horses.
After he left college he devoted himself to forming a collection of live birds, and accumulated an aviary of about four thousand, sparing no trouble in procuring them. He is said to have frequently ridden from London to Alkrington with cages full of birds which he held at arm's length while he rode at full gallop, stopping to change hands when he got tired. The zeal with which he collected birds did not, however, prevent him from keeping and hunting a pack of beagles, and being generally a thorough all-round sportsman. He appears to have kind a wonderful gift of training animals, and is said to have had five or six hunters so well under command that they would fetch and carry, open and shut doors, and also do other tricks at his orders, carrying him however so well to hounds that he was generally in the first flight. His pointers were likewise so well trained that he frequently had fifteen in one field all pointing or backing at the same time.
About 1760, being at Margate, he heard of a large collection of shells which had arrived at Dunkirk; he at once hired a boat, sailed over to France, and bought the whole cargo, consisting of many hogsheads, which he brought home and proceeded to arrange, giving away and dispersing his aviary. Fossils and stuffed animals next took his fancy, till eventually he formed a large museum, which became so famous that people crowded to Alkrington to see it, and as he entertained all those who did so, he had to make a rule excluding all people who came on foot. It is stated that on one occasion a gentleman who on this account was refused admission, determined not to be done, procured a cow, rode back or, it, and was admitted in triumph!
Finally, he was persuaded to bring his collection to London and exhibited it at Leicester House. The speculation, however, did not pay, and he obtained leave to dispose of it in 1785 by means of a lottery consisting of 36,000 tickets at a guinea each, the collection being eventually dispersed. Sir Ashton Lever was taken ill while sitting as a magistrate at Manchester on January 23, 1788, and died a few hours afterwards.
Attached to the museum in some capacity was a Mr. Waring, who from too close an application to business and constant writing contracted some sort of disorder in his chest which the doctors could not cure. Probably all he required was healthy exercise; at some former period of his life he had studied the art of bow-making under the elder Kelsal, of Manchester, whose family had been bowyers for several centuries, and he resolved to try archery, which had at that period almost entirely died out. In a short time he found shooting did him so much good that he persevered, and with such good results that he was completely cured. Sir Ashton Lever, who in all probability was himself feeling the want of the outdoor exercise to which he had formerly been accustomed, seeing the good effect archery had had on Mr. Waring, also took it up, and together with his friends and the few remaining Finsbury Archers formed in 1781 the Toxophilite Society, who met and shot in the grounds of Leicester House, which stood in Leicester Square, close to where the Empire Theatre now is.
This was the origin of the revival of archery at the end of the last century, and as from the first the Toxophilite Society took the lead, and was practically the parent of all the archery societies subsequently started, so down to the present day it has continued to be the leading society and main supporter of the York Round, the real backbone of the sport. "
Archery, by C. J. Longman and Col. H. Walrond.
(The Badminton Library) London, Longman, Green, & Co., 1894