May 07, 2020

Archery clubs with ancient traditions

We love delving into the archery history books from time to time. Here's a look at some of our sport's oldest events, societies and clubs around Britain.

The Ancient Society of Kilwinning Archers' Papingo Shoot

Founded in 1483, the Ancient Society of Kilwinning Archers in North Ayrshire is one of Britain's oldest clubs, and certainly one with an unusual history. The club first took shape when young men from the parish were called upon by king and country to train for combat by shooting ‘every Sunday after divine service', which may seem an unlikely time for a spot of archery. However, records show that it became traditional for novice archers to practise shooting at a papingo (or popinjay -  an artificial bird) which, so they say, was fixed to the steeple of the town's 12th-century abbey. There are records dating to the 15th century at the National Archives of Scotland that describe Kilwinning's grand annual festival which saw gentlemen, working men and boys take aim in separate groups at their papingos. You can see an interesting slideshow about Kilwinning's archery history on the club's website.

The custom is upheld to this day, with an annual shoot at Kilwinning Abbey in June - you can see footage of a previous Papingo shoot here. Archers are required to shoot vertically, from the base of the abbey tower to dislodge a wooden pigeon approximately 112 feet (30m) above. Shooting is restricted to longbows, with specially blunted arrows (to prevent injury) - health and safety was not an issue in the early days, as the many pockmarks on the tombstones in the churchyard testify. The first person to "ding doun the doo” wins the competition and is declared ‘Captain of the Papingo', and is now awarded the Walker Trophy, a magnificent scale model of the abbey tower. There is also a junior competition on the same day and at the same targets with the winner becoming the Junior Captain of the club.
Owing to the coronavirus outbreak, we'll have to wait and see when the rescheduled Papingo Shoot will take place.

All pictures of Kilwinning Abbey's Papingo Shoot by: Dave Souza/CC BY-SA -

[caption id="attachment_22104" align="alignnone" width="300"] Watch the birdie! Do you reckon you could you hit Kilwinning Abbey's papingo?[/caption]

The Worshipful Company of Fletchers 

Founded in London by arrow-making artisans, the Fletchers' membership is drawn from many walks of life. Records mention the Company as far back as 1371 when the Fletchers presented a petition to the Lord Mayor, where they agreed that, for the common good, the two trades of fletcher (the maker of arrows) and bowyer (the maker of longbows) should be kept entirely separate and no man of one trade should do the other, under a penalty of £4. Today the Company is a very active fundraiser - you can read about The Fletchers' Trust and its work.

An exciting annual event for members is the opportunity to shoot against the rival Bowyers Company at the Tower of London's moat - something to look forward to next year, we hope.


The Society of Archers and The Antient Silver Arrow

Apparently, the ‘Antient Silver Arrow' - no, not a misspelling - is the world's oldest recorded sporting event. It took place in 1673 in the village of Scorton in North Yorkshire. The Society of Archers was formed that same year at the competition for the purpose of maintaining target archery, the skill of which was largely in decline following the English Civil War.

The competition is open to any ‘gentleman archer' aged over 21 shooting in the longbow or any other barebow and, since 1947, the recurve bow, which was allowed to enter due to timber shortage and rationing in the UK following the war. The winner is the first gentleman to hit the three-inch centre black spot (introduced in 1951 and first hit by Frank Newbould, Captain 1951  - previously it was just the gold) at 100 yards and becomes 'Captain of the Arrow' and takes on the responsibility to arrange the next year's meeting.
Sadly, this year's event has had to be cancelled owing to the coronavirus outbreak.


The Society of Archer-Antiquaries

If the lockdown lifestyle allows you more time to research your favourite hobby, you might like to consider joining The Society of Archer-Antiquaries as a starting point. The society exists to ‘further the study of the development of the bow and arrow across the world' and is a great place to share your ideas and learn from others who are interested in the history of archery, whether academic or personal interest. Membership details can be found on the website.


The Royal Toxophilite Society

The Royal Toxophilite Society is one of the nation's oldest archery societies. Membership is through invitation only and is generally awarded to those who have demonstrated deep and/or longstanding commitment to archery. The Society dates to 1781, and was established out of health reasons: Thomas Waring had taken up archery in an attempt to "alleviate oppressions upon his chest caused by sitting too long and too close at his desk and pressing his breast too much against it”.  Having derived ‘great benefit' from the exercise, his business partner Sir Ashton decided to follow suit. Women were admitted as Associate Members in 1919 but had to wait until 1939 before they were recognised as full members even though they had held shoots in their own rights on numerous occasions before this. Today the ‘Tox' continues its position as an independent, closed society but individual members are to be found at every level of organisation in major tournaments as judges, organisers and administrators of both national and international events.

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