THE HISTORY OF LOCAL ARCHERY

Arrows in a target
Arrows in a target
Image courtesy of Surrey Bowmen ©2015.
Note: In the bottom half of the photo above you will notice that one arrow has split another
that was already in the target: this is known as 'shooting a Robin Hood' and probably happens
several times a year at the Surrey Bowmen club - an expensive occurrence, as some top quality
arrows cost as much as £30 each.

Introduction

Use of the bow and arrow for hunting has been with us since the Stone Age and, of course, it became a crucial military weapon. The longbow was the key to England's victories in the Hundred Years' War with France (1337-1453), featuring notably in the English and Welsh victories at Crécy (1346) and Agincourt (1415). Cannon had already come into use by this time, but many thousands of archers, both on foot and mounted, were vital to the conflict.

Battle of Agincourt (1415).
Battle of Agincourt (1415).
Image source: Wikimedia Commons.

Even at this period archery competitions were held, the idea being that a large pool of highly skilled bowmen would always be available for battle. However, the development of firearms saw the decline of archery in warfare and it is thought that bowmen were last used in significant numbers during the English Civil War (1642-51).

The English (or Welsh) longbow was roughly 6 feet long, with the stave (the curved wooden part) commonly made of dried yew, although other woods were also used; the string comprised hemp, flax or silk. There were many types of arrow and, although the materials used to make them have changed over the centuries, they still consist of a shaft, a pointed head, fletchings (what we might think of as the 'feathers' which stabilise the flight of the arrow) and a nock (the notch into which you slot the bowstring).

The first English archery society was possibly The Guild of St George, which was founded in 1537 by King Henry V111.

Before we leave the introduction, there is of course one more vital component of archery as a sport, which is the target. Today this is round with a series of coloured circles on its face, the lowest score being available on the white outer ring and the highest on the inner gold ring (the 'bullseye' in layman's parlance).

The rules and technicalities of competitive archery are complicated and have no place in this piece, since our purpose is to track the history of the sport in the Epsom and Ewell area. However, if you are interested in taking it up seriously, then you could contact one of the local clubs for more information. Their website details are shown at the end of this article.

The Royal Surrey Bowmen

Meeting of the Royal Surrey Bowmen on Epsom Downs.
'Meeting of the Royal Surrey Bowmen on Epsom Downs' engraving.
Image source: Epsom & Ewell Local & Family History Centre

I am indebted to Lewis Wood of Surrey Bowmen for the information below. All images in this section are courtesy and copyright 2015 of Surrey Bowmen unless otherwise stated.

The engraving shown above first appeared in September 1794 as the cover page for 'The Sporting Magazine'. The archery society known as the Royal Surrey Bowmen was established on 23 April 1790 (St George's Day), with the Duke of Clarence, later King William IV, as Patron. The annual subscription was two guineas (£2.10) and meetings were held monthly at the Rubbing House on Epsom Downs.

Archive material tells us that the venue for the shooting was the Everglades on Epsom Downs, but the current club has been unable to identify the precise spot. The venue was thought to be inhabited by adders, which accounts for the snake on the club logo. The club motto was and is 'Labor Ipse Voluptas' (Labour Itself is Pleasure).

Surrey Bowmen logo showing the year of foundation and the snake.
Surrey Bowmen logo showing the year of foundation and the snake.
Image courtesy of Surrey Bowmen ©2015.

Each year there were three 'target days' when members were required to wear full uniform, comprising a dark-green coat with three small buttons on the sleeve, buff waistcoat and breeches, hat with gold button, loop and sprig of box, plus white stockings and half-boots - as seen in the engraving above and similar to most of the illustrations in this next image.

'The graces of archery or elegant airs, attitudes and lady traps', a satirical print from 1794.
'The graces of archery or elegant airs, attitudes and lady traps', a satirical print from 1794.
Image ©Trustees of the British Museum.

The Napoleonic Wars (1803-15) saw the Bowmen being disbanded and the club did not re-form until 1877, when it became known as the Society of Surrey Bowmen. There were thirty members and they shot something known as the York round, which is still in existence today: this involves shooting 72 arrows at a distance of 100 yards, 48 at 80 yards and 24 at 60 yards. The club also offered prizes for ladies' competitions and shot at various locations in Surrey, including Ewell.

Surrey Bowmen - Ladies' Day 1902.
Surrey Bowmen - Ladies' Day 1902.
Image courtesy of Surrey Bowmen ©2015.

It had been perfectly acceptable for ladies to participate in archery for many years - even Queen Victoria had tried it - and the print below shows a mixed gathering in 1822.

1823 print of the 1822 meeting of the Royal British Bowmen, engraved after J Townshend.
1823 print of the 1822 meeting of the Royal British Bowmen, engraved after J Townshend.
Image source: Wikimedia Commons.

The Reigate and Redhill Archers, for example, had a majority of lady participants, although this is thought to have been because most meetings were on weekdays when men were at work. You can read Frances Mountford's entertaining account of that club, now known as Reigate Priory Bowman and based at Brockham, at http://reigatepriorybowmen.org.uk. I particularly like Ms Mountford's statement about the early years of the Reigate club (it was founded in 1905) - she says 'The Reigate and Redhill Archers had no exceptionally able shots amongst them; in fact they were all downright bad'.

The First World War saw the Society of Surrey Bowmen disbanded once more and it was not until 1937 that it re-formed as Surrey Bowmen.

The 1937 Surrey Bowmen badge.
The 1937 Surrey Bowmen badge.
Image courtesy of Surrey Bowmen ©2015.

At this point Lord Rosebery had been dead for some years and the Durdans estate was owned by his daughter, Lady Sybil Grant; she granted the club a perpetual right to shoot on an area of her land, which was subsequently acquired by Epsom Racecourse. However, the club retains its rights and is still based at The Old Paddock, off Chalk Lane.

Surrey Bowmen shooting at the Old Paddock, adjacent to the Derby course.
Surrey Bowmen shooting at the Old Paddock, adjacent to the Derby course.
Image courtesy of Surrey Bowmen ©2015.

No account of the history of the Surrey Bowmen would be complete without mention of 'Uncle Hat', whose real name was Harold Abbot Titcomb. He was an American, born in 1874 in Brooklyn, and worked as a mining consultant. For much of his life he lived at Greenacre, Farmington, Maine, but he used London as a base when working and before the Second World War had a property called Hillside at Abinger Common.

Greenacre, Farmington, Maine.
Greenacre, Farmington, Maine.
Photo by magicpiano via Wikimedia Commons.

Mr Titcomb's wife, whom he married in 1908 at Beddington, was formerly Ethel Brignall and there is a wonderful story behind their marriage. One day he was browsing the Tate Gallery and stopped at an exhibit called 'The Two Sisters' by Ralph Peacock: this painting depicted Mrs Peacock (nee Brignall) and her sister Ethel. He was so entranced that a meeting was arranged and the rest is history, as they say.

Mr Titcomb was closely involved with the re-formation of the club in 1937 and in 1943 was elected President of the Royal Toxophilite Society in London. His son, Captain John Abbot Titcomb of the US Marines, was killed in the Second World War and he donated a trophy to the Surrey club, in memory of him and others who died during the war period and had connections with the club. This trophy is still competed for today. Mr Titcomb died in 1953 and his standing in Farmington was such that The Sun Journal of Lewiston, Maine ran a commemorative piece on the 50th anniversary of his death.

The Uncle Hat Trophy.
The Uncle Hat Trophy.
Image courtesy of Lewis Wood ©2015.

The inscription on the trophy, which is made of copper and about 14 inches tall, reads:

SURREY BOWMEN
A WELCOME
(DALECARLIAN "VALKOMMA")*
TO THE SURREY BOWMEN
ON RESUMPTION OF ARCHERY AFTER THE WAR 1939-45 ON THEIR OLD RANGE IN THE PADDOCK ON EPSOM DOWNS

AND IN MEMORY OF -
E E DORLING MA, FSA. EPSOM. DIED 6/8/43
WALTER J CURTIS. EPSOM. DIED 29/10/43.
NEVILLE ROBERT PENROSE INGHAM, QUEENS ROYAL REGIMENT. KILLED IN ACTION BEGINNING OF BURMA CAMPAIGN 11/5/44
F/O COLIN GRIFFITH, RAF, KILLED IN ACTION BAY OF BISCAY 1944
CAPTAIN JOHN ABBOT TITCOMB, US MARINE CORPS RESERVE, KILLED IN ACTION LUZON PHILLIPINES 1/3/45

*Dalecarlian is a Swedish dialect.


There are three errors in the inscription. The dates of death for Mr Dorling and Mr Curtis have been transposed (they are both slightly incorrect anyway) and Lieutenant Ingham's first name was spelt Nevill. Here is a little more information about the first four individuals.

Reverend Edward Earle Dorling Son of Edward Jonathan and grandson of Henry Dorling. Clergyman, heraldic artist and archaeologist, Chairman of the Epsom Grandstand Association, supporter of the Lest We Forget Association with Lady Sybil Grant. Died 26/10/1943, aged 79. Lived at 72 Alexandra Road, Epsom.
Walter John Curtis Lived at South Lodge, Woodcote Road, Epsom. Died 6/8/1942, aged 69.
Lt. Nevill Robert Penrose Ingham 1st Btn, Queen's Royal Regiment (West Surrey). Killed in action 11/5/1944, aged 25. Son of Capt. James Geoffrey Penrose Ingham RN and Zelda Raney Ingham of Finchley. Buried at Kohima War Cemetery, India.
Flying Officer Colin John Griffith 201 squadron, RAFVR. Co-pilot of a Sunderland flying anti-submarine patrols out of Pembroke Dock; thought to have been shot down by U-boat U-333 in the Bay of Biscay on 12/6/1944 - all aircrew were lost. Colin was 22 and the son of Maurice John and Ruth Marion Griffith of Harlech; he is commemorated on the Runnymede Memorial. There is an interesting article concerning a Sunderland in the Daily Mail of 13 December 2013.

Linda Jackson ©2015
With grateful thanks to Lewis Wood

Weblinks
Surrey Bowmen http://www.surreybowmen.co.uk/
Atkins Archers http://www.atkinsarchers.co.uk/
Nonsuch Bowmen http://nonsuchbowmen.org.uk/


 Art
 Family History
 Health
 Map
 Nature
 People
 Places
 Society
 Sources
 Technology
 Trade
 Transport
 War Memorials

 Contact
 Sitemap
 What's New
 Home

Email:


Donate to The History Centre