(6) THE WOODMEN OF ARDEN
The WOODMEN OF ARDEN hold their meetings at Meriden, in Warwickshire. The society was revived, after a long interval, in the year 1785. the number of members is limited to 80; but the standing rules relating to the election of a member were, by general consent, suspended in the case of the late Sir Robert Peel. This occurred at the jubilee festival in 1835. the earl of Aylesford is lord warden of the society, whose shooting grounds, which are in the forest of Arden, consist of about 12 acres of land. A forest hall was erected in 1844. the Woodmen, exercising a nominal, as their predecessors did a real authority, over vert and venison give appropriate designations to their officers. Of these, the lord warden is chief; and they have likewise master foresters and verderers. At the grand target, or annual warmote, whoever hits the gold first is styled (for the year nesuing) Master Forester; and whoever gains gains the second gold becomes the Senior Verderer for the same period. In 1787 the silver bulge horn of Arden was presented to the society by the earl of Aylesford; it is never shot for at a less distance than nine score yards, which may be extended to twelve score. In 1788 the countess of Aylesford presented to the society the "silver arrow," to be annually shot for at nine score yards. Gold and silver medals are also presented to the master forester and senior verderer; and there are the Digbean gold medal, optime merenti, the possessor of which ranks as Captain of Numbers, he having gained the greatest number of prizes at the grand target; and the Digbean silver medal, bene merenti, which confers the Leutenancy of numbers upon the member who gains the next greatest number of prizes. The winners of these medals, which are shot for at 100 yards, take rank, for the year thereafter, next to the senior verdere.
More about the Woodmen of Arden
"The Woodmen of Arden of all societies has adhered most closely to the traditions of the archery of the Restoration. Up to the present moment the regulations of Finsbury Fields are perpetuated on the sward of the Forest of Arden. The Woodmen share with the Royal Scottish archers the exclusive distinction of shooting for their principal prizes at the statutory distances prescribed by the obsolete legislation of a period when the exigencies of warlike archery made it expedient that practice at lengths exceeding nine score yards should be Compulsory; and, with the exception of the John o' Gaunt Society, they are the only county archery club which has celebrated a centenary; never, in fact, during the 109 years of their existence having failed to hold a meeting or compete for the annual prizes. Several of the present members of the society remember shooting at the turf butts erected by the care of Secretary Digby in 1786 upon the Packington Outwoods --the ground leased to the Woodmen by Heneage Finch, fourth Earl of Aylesford, their founder and first warden-- wedge-shaped erections with 'crown-clods,' the semblance of one of which still adorns the card of the society, though the actual structures themselves, having fallen into disrepair, were taken down in 1852, and replaced by the moveable contrivances now in use as supports to the targets.
No doubt a higher antiquity has been claimed for the society, as has been the case with other ancient institutions, than in all probability it can legitimately boast. The Warwick-shire gentlemen who met at the Bull's Head Inn, Meriden, in November 1785, professed to revive certain ancient meetings of Woodmen of the Forest of Arden, but that they could trace any direct descent from the verdurers of the Forest, of whose mythical prowess- 'clapping into the clout at six hundred yards' Dr. Dasent speaks in his 'Annals of an Eventful Life,' or even from the county heroes who figure in the animated description of the shooting match with which Mr. Gresley opens his historical romance of the Forest of Arden, is more than dubious. It appears from Mr. Digby's diary that 'Paradise,' the recreation-ground, as nowadays it would be called, of the village of Meriden, had no butts when the society was formed; and we may with greater probability conjecture that the revival which Sir Ashton Lever and the other founders of the Royal Toxophilite Society had set going had infected the gentle-men of Warwickshire than that any lingering tradition of local archery inspired them with an ambition to continue it. "
Archery, by C. J. Longman and Col. H. Walrond.
(The Badminton Library) London, Longman, Green, & Co., 1894