Horace Ford and the birth of Cheltenham Archers

The Cheltenham Archers club was founded in 1857 by the greatest target archer of all time – Horace Alfred Ford.

Ford first tried his hand at archery in 1845 and within only four years he had won the title of National Champion – a title which he was to win twelve times (eleven of those in successive years!).
Ford owed his meteoric rise to the top, and his prolonged stay there, to the fact that he was the first person to realise that scientific principles could be applied to archery and so reduce the variables which involved in the loosing of an arrow. In applying these principles he laid the foundations of what was then simply a fashionable amusement of Victorian society into the Olympic sport we know today.

It is often suggested that Ford’s biggest single contribution to the development of archery was his insistence that the anchor point be under the centre of the chin, rather than at the side of the face, as had been the custom until then. Ford’s new anchor point meant that exactly the same length of arrow was drawn each time. This was undoubtedly a vitally important break with tradition, which immediately showed itself in much higher scores. However, probably an even more important factor was his mental approach to the sport. He was the first to observe that the ‘will to win’ is just as important in competitive archery as in any other sport: In his famous book, “Archery, its Theory and Practice” he wrote:

“First of all make up your mind to succeed, for that is one of the best elements of success in everything ; and, secondly, expect plenty of difficulties and discouragements, for you will certainly meet them. It is not easy to become great in anything, and archery forms no exception to the rule. Do not go hunting around for a royal road to the bulls eye – none such exists – you must work hard and practice regularly, before even moderate success will reward your efforts. Use your brains as well as your muscles – study as well as practice. Brute force alone will never make an archer. . . I would now additionally impress on upon him the absolute necessity of perseverance and a command of temper. Without these essentials he will never become eminent as an archer – neither the idle nor the irritable need hope for success here.”

Ford certainly ‘practiced what he preached’ and the scores he attained reflected all the effort, both mental and physical, which he exerted: His best score for a York round in private was a fantastic 809 (137 hits) with a straight forward long bow and wooden arrows. Little wonder, then, that he is now considered the greatest target archer the world has ever known.

Ford was obviously an astute business man as well as a good shot, because the publication of his book was timed to coincide with the Grand National Archery Meeting, which in 1856 was to be held for the first time in Cheltenham. The twenty six Cheltonians who shot in the 1856 tournament became the nucleus of what was to become the new club, The Cheltenham Archers.

The Montpellier Years

The first club shoot took place just a week before the 1857 Grand National Archery Meeting, which was to be held that year again in Cheltenham. As soon as the excitement of the 1856 and 1857 Grand National Meetings subsided, the Cheltenham Archers were able to settle down to a more ‘normal’ existence in the less rarefied atmosphere of fortnightly meetings in Montpellier Gardens.

At the club shooting continued on a fortnightly basis for a year or two and then in 1862 the Montpellier Gardens Company was formed to run the gardens and the club arrange to have a a proper Archery Lawn laid for their exclusive use. That was in May 1862 but by October of that year interest had waned, perhaps we can find a clue to the decline in popularity of archery in the following report of an 1863 club meeting:

” Very few gentlemen we regret to say put in an appearance; but, though thus unencouraged by the presence the lords of the creation, the fair Archers applied them-selves in earnest to their practice. . . While Archery was thus successfully cultivated in one part of the gardens, three or four parties were amusing themselves in another part of the gardens with the fashionable game of Croquet.”

While to us it may seem unthinkable that anyone could give up archery in favour of Croquet, this is apparently just what did happen. Shooting continued in a desultory fashion until 1865 when Croquet won the day and shooting stopped until 1871when the Grand National Archery Meeting was once again held in Cheltenham and so Cheltenham Archers club was reborn in the wake of the meeting. The champions that year being Captain C.H. Fisher and Mrs Horniblow, both of whom subsequently shot as members of Cheltenham Archers.
Captain Fisher, famous as the inventor of the ‘Fisher loose’ went on to win the Champions Medal a total of five times while Mrs Horniblow equalled Ford’s record and won the Medal eleven times.

At that meeting in 1871 was a certain Cheltenham Archer Mrs Piers Legh shooting for the first time at a National Meeting, although she did not shoot very well it was to be another eleven years before she won the Championship – and in true Cheltenham Archers tradition she then went on to win four years running. But if Mrs Piers Legh was good, then her daughter Miss Alice B Legh (see inset right) was exceptional. Between the years of 1881 and 1922 this amazing women was Champion Archer of Great Britain twenty three times.
Before we leave the subject of National Championships there are two other facts worth recording. The first is that members of Cheltenham Archers have won the Championship Medal a total of 76 times. the second rather interesting point is that from 1880, when Mrs Horniblow won at Shrewsbury, the Champions Medal was won by a Cheltenham Archer every year until 1919 (with a 3 year break for the war )- an amazing run of 36 years.

The first world war saw the end of the ‘golden age’ of Cheltenham Archers. Though there were tournament successes after that – Miss Legh in 1921 and 1922, Major Williams-Thomas from 1930 to 1933 and Miss E Brownett in 1936.

In a period when so many archery clubs disappeared completely it could be argued that Cheltenham Archers real success was to keep going in what was a very difficult time.

Based on excerpts from the book “The History of Cheltenham Archers 1857 – 1975″ by Peter Cant

The East Gloucestershire Tennis Club and Lt. Gen. Vickers

The club had always shot at Montpellier, but in 1934 these gardens were open to the public and shooting there became impracticable.

For many years the club shot at the East Gloucestershire Tennis club but membership remained low, it was not until 1957 that an appreciable number of new members joined, among whom was Lt Gen. Vickers under whose tutorage the club began to undergo a new renaissance.

The club equipment was repaired and General Vickers took on the responsibility for the instruction of new members and almost all the day to day running of the club and was largely instrumental in saving it from extinction.

In 1975 an attempt was made to re-establish a link with the past; the first Cheltenham Festival Tournament was held on the Cheltenham College ground, in an effort to recapture some, at least of the Victorian atmosphere, while at the same time providing all the facilities the modern archer has come to expect. Roy Mathews – internationally acclaimed archer won the then newly commissioned Horace Ford Memorial Trophy with the Legh Memorial trophy being won by Barbara Williams.
During the lunch and tea breaks the archers were entertained by The Cheltenham Silver Band truly invoking the atmosphere of the early Montpellier days.

Recent history and Cheltenham Archers’ 140th anniversary

Since the days of General Vickers the club has continued to thrive, apart from what was at the time nothing short of a disaster when the East Glos Club wanted the range to enlarge the courts, Cheltenham Archers found themselves homeless. Situated at many temporary sites Cheltenham Archers led a fairly nomadic life sharing grounds with other clubs until thanks to the Herculean efforts of the then committee a home at Cheltenham Racecourse was found where we enjoy excellent facilities to this day.

1997 saw the 140th anniversary of Cheltenham Archers, a handsome commemorative badge was commissioned to mark the event (see inset left).The badge was given to all Cheltenham Archers and awarded to medal winners at all the tournaments during 1997, it has already become a desirable collectors piece.

Cheltenham Archers’ Trophies

Cheltenham Archers are fortunate to have in their possession many fine trophies, surely the most important must be the Horace Ford Medal (see inset right), the pride of our collection. Originally one of a pair cast from Ford’s melted down Grand National medals,

“prepared to be the guerdons of the Lady and Gentleman who shall obtain the highest score at the prize meetings of the club”.

The surviving medal is now awarded at the final bow meeting in September to the highest scoring gentleman.
A beautiful broach styled in the form of a golden bow with an enamelled target face at its centre, pierced by three tiny golden arrows each fletched with semiprecious stones, underneath the target hangs a tiny gold quiver, is a trophy worthy of the Lady Champion.

One of the most unusual shoots is for the best heart hit, where members have one shot at a rather old and dilapidated goose painted on a canvas target with a red heart at its centre. Naturally the trophy for this shoot is known as the Goose Cup.

A similar but more recent trophy is the Gosling Cup presented to the best heart hit by a junior.
Over the years many other trophies have been presented to the club by members and patrons, for example The Junior Challenge Cup, The Houghton Handicap Trophy and the most recent Junior handicap Cup.
In 1996 the club was fortunate to obtain two ‘silver’ quivers, old trophies from the late 1800′s, which are now awarded to the Longbow Lady and Gentlemen club Champions at the final bow meeting. Whilst few of these trophies have any real monetary value they are irreplaceable to the club.