Archery is among the most ancient and venerable of all Britain's sporting pursuits, dating back competitively to the middle ages with the first Grand National Archery meeting held at York in 1844. Many of the clubs of today had their beginnings on the country lawns of Victorian England.
By 1840 Archery was very popular and was considered a graceful exercise which taught dexterity. Many British monarchs, including Queen Victoria , practiced archery. Princess Victoria was patron of The Society of St Leonards Archers, which they had co-founded in 1833. They planned, ornamented, improved and maintained the archery grounds. In 1837, Queen Victoria, who had just ascended the throne, renamed the society 'The Queens St Leonards Archers.' The Royal Company of Archers, the Queens body-guard of Scotland ", whose captain-general, the Duke of Buccleuch, rode in the coronation procession of Queen Victoria.
Women were allowed to participate in alongside of men. Archery "was one of the first organized competitive sports for women, who were included as members of many archery clubs and were allowed to participate regularly in tournaments".
The Victorian (well to do English) revived the Longbow as a sport and pastime in the many parks, country houses and clubs that existed in the mid-1800’s.
Victorians used 26-30"arrows and bows that weighed about 40-60 pounds at full draw, while the old War Bows often were 110-160 pounds pull and could shoot a ‘heavy’ arrow 360 yards or more.
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 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.
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 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 became included within it. This led to the establishment of other great meetings, till, at the time the present article was written, besides numberless meetings of private clubs, there were 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 an annually shot for, being awarded to the successful bowman, according to the rules for the champion medal of Great Britain.
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