The history of Severn Valley Yeoman Foresters by John Whitmore.
In the beginning, during the 1950s Target Archery prevailed; field archery was a mysterious something that the Americans did and my brother Roger and I were members of the “Piers Plowman Archers”; a Malvern target club. We resented the artificial style of archery that took place on the target field, calling it “vicarage lawn archery”, and we rebelled as we decided to learn to shoot instinctively through spending much of out leisure time roving local woods and fields shooting at stumps.
In 1952, whilst walking by the river Severn at Worcester, a quiver of arrows hanging from the door of a pontoon boathouse caught my eye. It was with a great deal of anticipation that I watched the boat put into a berth and soon the owner – Norman Bennett – and I were talking field archery. We were soul mates and we have been ever since with Norman still shooting at the age of 73. It was not long before the three more field archers joined us – Terry Johnson, Graham Goodyear and John Stock – and as people are prone to do when there are more than two people gathered together, we formed a club. We called ourselves “Ye Green Company” after Ben Hurds’s club of the 1890s which was the first working class archery club in Great Britain.
In 1953 we travelled to Forest Row in Sussex to take part in a shoot organised by Nick Cranfield, who for me is the father of British field archery. Following this shoot we joined Nick’s club, the celebrated Broadstone Bowhunters, and spent out annual holidays camping and shooting there. I was 17yrs old at the time and made many friends with some of them still shooting today. It was during this period that Don Stamp of Reading organised a field shoot in the Milestone Woods Caversham which we also attended.
Occasionally, in those far odd days target archery clubs would organise a fun day and put on a field shoot. These shoots were usually held on flat playing fields and although the targets were extreme in their “novelty” they did at least provide us with a chance to shoot instinctively. I well remember writing to one organiser at the Accles and Pollock sports club and asking if we could shoot and was firmly informed that we could provided that we did not get in the way of the other archers! We were the only instinctive archers on the field and as I remember we took some prizes. In order to take park in this shoot we had to travel by train and had a long walk to and from the station. During those days we were young and single-minded and although field archers were not well received we were determined that field archery was here to stay.
In 1954/55, with just seven members present, we changed our name to Severn Valley Field Archers at a meeting held at the Northwick Arms public house in Worcester. At that time we did not have a shooting ground of our own but roved the Severn’s river meadows or practised in the “Old Dell” at Northwick – now sadly built over. Our first secretary was Norman Bennett; Roger Whitmore became our first treasurer and we tried to run the club on a proper basis including keeping a club log book – sadly missing now. The club prospered and we had our own “gonfalon” and a club badge consisting of a broadhead arrowhead on a shield which later became a leaping deer on a shield.
The present S.V.Y.F. Club badge, which was settled upon in 1965, is an amalgam of the two earlier badges.
In 1958 I was called up for National Service where I had the greatest of luck when I found that my sergeant major, Charles Shrimpton, was also an archer. After a short period in Jamaica I was posted to the British Guyana with Charles following me a few months later. We often spent time living and hunting with the native Amerindian for which I give no apology – things were different then.
In 1960 we organised a shot in the second two day BFAA championships held at Pedmore Hall near Stourbridge and took eight of the eleven awards. We were riding high and more clubs were being formed – field archery was here to stay. Ted Smith our outstanding secretary was a great asset to the club ans was later to become Chairman of the B.F.A.A. it was during the early 1960s that S.Y.F.A. also hosted the B.F.A.A.s national championships at Newlands near Malvern.
1962 saw a rift in the club. The breakaway group that came into being called itself the Society of Yeoman Foresters and were successful in their negotiations with Lord Sandys for a plot of woodland near Ombersley. Fortunately the rift was very quickly healed and once again we became one club again and were known as The Severn Valley Yeoman Foresters.
The B.F.A.A. continued as the governing body for field archery and eleven national championships were held with club members taking many premier awards over the years. In return the club worked hard for field archery as we were not only got involved with Nationals but also with regional and spring shoots.
In 1965 Victoria Carpets of Kidderminster offered the club a large cricket pavilion on condition that we would dismantle it and take it away in one weekend. Gerry Bullock, a club member kindly supplied the transport and some forty members provided the muscle. Before the weekend was over the pavilion was sectioned and transferred to our car park. In that it was not possible to get a truck to the woods at that time it was necessary for willing members to manhandle everything piece of this building across the field and through the woods to its present position. If you have shot at SVYF ground then you can appreciate the magnitude of this task. When the pavilion was finally re-assembled Lord and Lady Sandys officiated at the opening with Major Ansty, representing the donor, also joining us for this “grand” occasion.
With a healthy membership of adults, a strong junior section, a pavilion and a field course we were well set for good times ahead. We held joint shoots wit local target clubs and “feasts” and suppers were also organised, often in fancy dress. But, times and equipment were changing and a new type of “beast” roamed the planet – the parked distance archer. Also, at this time, the GNAS, who had never shown the slightest interest in field archery, hence the reason for the creation of out organisation, now claimed the ownership of field archery. The GNAS no doubt had seen how successful field archery had become and wanted “a piece of the action”. Additionally, and in the name of progress an unhappy merger with the English Field Archery Association took place and we, the traditionalists, were pushed aside to make way for marked distances, strait paths to the targets, and no obstacles – a target shoot in the woods! We felt cheated, and the loss of what we felt was our sport to new people was very difficult to accept. Then, as in all good stories, in 1972 knights in shinning armour can to the rescue in the guise of Roy Bickerstaff and Harold Cox and as a consequence of their hard work and initiative the
National Field Archery Society, was formed. They and this society gave us back the type of archery that we enjoyed with the NFAS become the biggest field archery organisation in Europe.
The SVYF club is almost certainly the oldest field archery club in Great Britain. We have been in existence continuously since our formation in 1954/55, and have been at our ground for 38 years (when the article was written) thanks to the generosity and continuing interest of Lord Sandys, our landlord. We have organised and held national championships at in 1969, the Wyre forest in 1973 and back again in 1989. No less than five national championships have been organised by the club and over the years, including twice over the last 4 years, we have assisted with other championships at national and regional level. The club is always willing to support worthwhile causes – such as hosting an archery day for the child victims of Chenobyl disater – and has recently agreed that the annual wooden arrow shoot will be dedicated to supporting a local good cause. The first shoot of this type generated £600 for out local children’s hospice and as such out sincerest thanks to all who supported us.
SVYF club is alive and well; the clubhouse area has been significantly refurbished; new bridges ensure that our swamps can be negotiated with safety and finally and more importantly our wood still retains the charm that attracted us to it so many years ago.
Through my archery interests I have met and made many friends over the years. Some sadly are gone, some are getting on a bit, as I am, but all of us who continue to shoot are still young at heart.
As I put pen to paper I hear the clarion called from the past; I see the happy faces of the people that are dear to my memory and in recalling them I can only hope that their efforts for the sport that we all love will not be forgotten and indeed will be surpassed by the new breed of “yeoman archers” that is developing.
My thanks must go to my fellow club members and particularly to my brother Roger, Norman Bennett and Roger Trow for their invaluable help in jogging my memory and helping me with dates.