What is a toxophilite? Advolly Richmond, a social historian specialising in gardens and landscape came to speak to us quite amusingly about the 18th and 19th century fascination with archery. An archery expert, or lover of archery is a toxophilite, and the aristocracy of those days certainly loved the sport. After Agincourt, the longbow’s greatest victory, archery had almost disappeared until it was revived by Sir Ashton Lever in 1781 with the creation of the Royal Toxophilite Society, its members ‘attired as foresters. ’
Many such fashionable societies were founded by the enthusiasm of various landowners for their own areas (within 80 bowshots/ 10 miles); an enthusiasm at its peak from 1840-1860. Women were included from the beginning and societies had their own tailors who made their uniforms – perhaps an elegant pale green dress and black hat for the ladies, with black feathers, or white feathers for the lady with the highest score. The whole scene accorded with the current idea of the Picturesque, and the resurgence of the chivalric mode.
In our area there was the Herefordshire Bowmen which had three meetings each summer. This involved 150-200 members with a lined dining tent with portable floor, and dinner at 3pm with a ‘cold collation.’ It was a place to meet ‘those worth knowing’ and many a love match was made. People with New Money were excluded (one’s gentility had to be proved) and so the middle classes formed their own.
Such a popular sport is evidenced here by an archery walk at Broadward Hall, and Henry Chesshire brought along his own ancestor’s archery medals for us to see.
Appropriately for us, October’s Picture of the Month at the National Gallery online is Raeburn’s ‘The Archers.’ It’s worthwhile taking a look after reading this.