By Frank Parker
I will go back to the original club that was founded circa 1846. Archery was a much different beast in those days. It was very much an upper-crust sport with a membership including the Countess of Lichfield, bankers, judges, Knights of the realm, and no less than 19 Church Ministers. They would have been shooting English target rounds with Longbows. Their first shooting venue was in the grounds of St John’s Hospital in Lichfield. In 1849 they were presented with what we now call the Old Trophies by a Lichfield banker Mr Richard Greene, and these were competed for annually.
These trophies are kept in the Lichfield Treasury in St Mary’s church in the centre of Lichfield. They are very valuable being solid silver. They consist of a silver hunting horn with very fine engraving underslung with a silver chain holding medallions bearing the names of its winners. Another is an ornate silver quiver, plus a very fine belt made up of linked silver medallions, again bearing the winners names. This is believed to be one of the ladies trophies, but the winner would have needed a very small waist to make it fit. The final one is a large silver brooch with a huge golden/amber gem in the centre.
These were put into storage whilst the treasury was being re-modelled, but they are now back on show. Well worth a look. To view them you go into St Mary’s in Lichfield, up the stairs inside to the Treasury. Approach the Treasury cage from the right hand side, and our trophies are right there to the left hand side. You may well have seen photographs of modern archers holding these, as for many years they were competed for at the Club using the accumulated scores from the Parker Cup, (presented by Eric Parker who emigrated to South Africa), the Club Championships, and the Christopher Trophy.
The winners in the different categories were invited along to the treasury, the trophies were taken out of the display and the winners were photographed with them. This system broke down with a change of management at the treasury. It would be nice to see this resurrected. These Trophies were put into a bank vault when this original club disbanded in 1939 at the outbreak of World War 2. It came as a surprise when the modern club opened an account at the same bank and were presented with them back!
THE MODERN LICHFIELD ARCHERS CLUB
This was begun in 1965 by among others a Mr John Bradley, (he was guest of honour at our 40th anniversary do in 2005). The club first met at Lichfield Rugby Club that was then in Boley lane and used to shoot outside a few times a week. The bows they would have shot in those days would have been predominantly one piece wooden bows with limbs laminated from timber and new fangled glass fibre. Lichfield was predominantly a “Marksman” club Shooting Marksman bows made in the heart of Sherwood forest. The very best of the bunch was called the “Olympic TS4” one of which you will still find me shooting from time to time. The birth of the take down bow would be circa 1970, with Marksman making some very fine take down bows such as the Portland range and the KG1 which came to be known as the finest ladies bow. Then along came the American and Japanese manufacturers mainly from Hoyt America and Yamaha from Japan at the forefront.
Lichfield Archers moved grounds circa 1968 to a shooting ground alongside Stowe Pool in the Cathedral Grounds. This was Lichfield’s home ground until about 1975. Legend has it that our removal was caused by a member trying to find out how far his bow would actually shoot. His estimation turned out to be incorrect, the arrow passed out of the grounds into a garden a long way away, finally coming to rest between the spokes of a child’s bicycle. Exit Lichfield Archers! I include this as a warning of the possible consequences should anyone else be inclined to shoot for distance. Be aware that any bow over 25lb will clear the bank easily, we could then lose the ground if it was reported. I of course am not going to confirm that this has ever happened.
During 1975 we moved to Christian Fields, the location of a reclaimed landfill site. Under that topsoil which you are standing on is a hundred thousand tons of decomposing waste. It was originally meant to be a football field but so much debris came to the surface that it was abandoned. For many years we were surrounded by very large vent pipes to let the methane out. One or two are still in evidence further down on the nature reserve.
Worthy of a mention is one of the great characters of Lichfield, an old Lady named Bertha, who used to live in an old caravan in the trees to the right hand side of the entrance drive about halfway up after the green barrier. She had about 8 or 10 dogs that lived with her. She would often take them around the shops in Lichfield some walking and some in a pram. She would dawdle outside the butchers until they sent out some meat scraps to hurry her along. Apparently her surname was Francombe, part of the horse racing family. If we were all out shooting on the field she would often appear with lots of dogs, from the corner where the red container now stands. They would then walk all the way up the right hand side, across the top, down the left hand side and back behind us. We had no option, we just had to stop shooting until they went home.
She used to call everyone “Master” I suppose she was there before us – so fair do’s. She actually died on a Christmas day with something like 12 plated Christmas dinners left over from Lichfield residents. I could tell you the story of Carol Shirley’s falling out with her the one time, but Carol would kill me! For many years Lichfield shot out of a garden shed where the top container now stands. The toilet was a porta pottie behind in the bushes.
How did we get from that to the facility we have now? The answer to that comes mainly down to what I would call the two giants of Lichfield Archers. Mr Tony Neville and Mr David Antrobus. Tony was the Chairman for a long time interspersed with bouts as Club Captain, although the two posts were almost indistinguishable. In effect Tony reigned whatever the job title. Tony was the practical one and David was the brains. Tony’s dream was to make Lichfield the most successful club in the country, and with the best facilities. The results stand before you. They negotiated the first 25 year lease with Lichfield District Council, and then set about creating the funds to make this happen.
The idea was to put on major tournaments the like of which was unknown in this country. The big one was the Lichfield double Fita Star. Lichfield were the first club in the country to take on this challenge. It grew to be the premier tournament in the country each year. The workload associated with this would be totally beyond belief nowadays. They were not molycoddled as I was when I ran the British Championships for 10 years with Lilleshall marking out the field and erecting the targets. That took 2 months out of my life every year, so the respect for what Tony and David did was well earned. The Fita Star was held in June each year in Beacon Park. This grew to 72 targets plus a practice range of 8 targets. We first of all spent the majority of the previous week marking out the shooting range from scratch. It all had to be set out with all the distances for ladies and gents Fitas. As well as the distance lines we had to put down white tramlines between every second target. We then had to transport 80 targets from Christian Fields to Beacon Park and set them up. We had the assistance of Army wagons and lots of cadets, but it was still a very major undertaking. You are now used to wheeling out a target with one hand, (these were designed and built by David Antrobus).
In those days it was vastly different. The targets that Lichfield invested in for this tournament were mighty beasts. If you think of two Egerton targets together wrapped around with steel bands then you have the targets we were dealing with. They were incredibly heavy and many of the work party were refusing to work with them because of the weight. Not very PC but Tony and I then picked up one each and staged a race from one end of the field to the other. Not saying who won just that Tony didn’t! The highpoint of this series of Fita Stars was in 1984 when it was chosen to host The Olympic Selection Shoot for the Los Angeles Olympics. We again filled all 72 targets, plus practice field, which was all that Beacon Park could accommodate with a long waiting list.
This tournament was a sight to behold stretching the full length of the park, everyone in green and white and all Recurve bows. Parts of this were televised and they wanted some close up pictures for the news, so Tony asked for any Lichfield archers who had their equipment with them to fill the practice field. I happened to be on the end, and then the presenter said about the finest archers in the country here to shoot for Olympic selection, the camera then panned onto the line with me at full draw eye patch as well – chuffed! Only archers who had made the qualification scores were eligible for selection but still everyone wanted to be there. We were pleased to have Lady Leonora Lichfield as our lady Paramount.
These were pre-computer years to start with and we ran the scoring system on what was a door panel turned on its edge. David Antrobus then devised a computer program for future years. You have to remember that this was the best part of 40 years ago and computers were virtually unheard of. A major undertaking then that would need to be added to year on year, especially with the introduction of Compound bows which immediately doubled the amount of award winners we had to find. One other non PC event at this shoot was the row of trees 200 yards from the shooting line where someone spotted a young couple rather amorous in the trees. The judges, (not us we were good boys and girls), announced what was happening behind target 45 and 300 spotting scopes zoomed in.
These tournaments brought in thousands of pounds and enabled us to build the original clubhouse. One downside of this was the massive workload which left our top archers too exhausted to shoot properly if they were entered. This caused problems with some of our finest archers breaking away and forming a separate club. They did tend to return in later years. At this time Lichfield was an enormously successful shooting club with many very talented archers shooting scores beyond the reach of almost all our archers today. They were shooting these scores with aluminium arrows and wooden limbs. Lichfield used to make up 80% of the county teams. Brian Shirley shot for the county for 30 consecutive years, I was pleased to make about 20 but with inclusions for all 3 bow types. In these years we all shot what was known as the “Circuit” We would enter all the major tournaments, hitching up the caravans each Friday and driving long distances to then shoot all day Saturday and Sunday, and should it be a bank holiday the Monday as well. 36 dozen was not unusual.
Having no indoor facilities of our own we used to shoot once a week in the gym at Whittington Army Barracks. This was a time when the troubles in Northern Ireland were ongoing. We had to report to the guardhouse and be inspected for hidden weapons – Strange.
Although the Double Fita Star was the jewel in the crown we also ran a large tournament and have a go session for the Game Fair at Weston Park. This grew to 45 targets even though it was a short round, presumably because it had cash prizes. The costs were covered by the Game Fair organisers and we also got to keep the have a go proceeds. It seems the Game Fair organisers eventually realised how much we were making and wanted to cut it down drastically. So that was the end of that.
These tournaments gave us the financial stability to build the indoor range. With both the clubhouse and the indoor range Tony did the major part of the build with a couple of his men, with the club covering the costs. The members did parts as they were able, I did the plumbing and the kitchens and some internal doors etc. Then the members descended with paint brushes and rollers. When the original clubhouse was built this was what we now recognise as the lounge and the entrance / equipment store. We originally built this with Perspex windows so that vandals could not smash the glass. Guess what, they smashed the Perspex. We then went back to glass but with steel covered shutters over them. There was no power supply at this time so removing the shutters each time gave us light into the building.
The next step was to wire in some lights and the power came from this absolute beast of a diesel generator. This had to be wheeled outside each time, and hand cranked to start it up, not the easiest thing to do! After a couple of years this was replaced with a Honda petrol version. At this time the members used to shoot on Tuesday and sometimes Thursday evenings, and Sundays. This had both good and bad effects, with the members arriving at set times it did instil a very good club atmosphere with the members all coming together. The down side was that the local vandals knew when there would be nobody there. Once enough of them had broken in and found nothing worth stealing they would then find house bricks and throw them at the roof breaking the tiles. Many times I had to replace 50 tiles at a time. Now that members can turn up at any time this level of vandalism has decreased. It was about this time that we planted all of the conifers around the field, even my mom got involved in planting these. Being on top of a great mound the wind was a very major problem on the field, now it is like shooting indoors.
Our one barrier gate used to be just inside the entrance off Eastern Avenue and was not always locked. We then had a Gypsy invasion onto the field which lasted a few months and shooting was not possible. When they finally moved on our green barrier was moved to its current position. To reinforce the entrance David designed, built and installed the white Gypsy barrier to stop the caravans gaining access. The next major undertaking was the construction of the indoor range which gave us year round archery on the one site. This was Tony Neville’s baby almost start to finish. We also then had to construct the banking at the end of the field. Prior to this time we just had what was basically impenetrable jungle at the end. Lichfield council then decided to flatten it and build football pitches on it.
This meant we lost our safety overshoot area. The only answer was to build a bank to GNAS specification. We started this by the members digging a trench out by hand and using the earth to build the bank. They had a very good try and it worked ok for 18 months. While the bottom of the trench was bare you could just slide down to fetch any arrows that missed at long distance. After these 18 months the weeds grew up in the bottom and every arrow ending up there was gone for good. We then made an agreement with a developer for them to dump their excess soil on the ditch and bank. Hey Presto it then even passed inspection for World Record Status tournaments.
Not content with just running the Double Fita Star we were approached by GNAS to also run the British Championships. They had previously run it themselves and in the year prior to us taking it on it had 8 targets and made a loss to GNAS of over a thousand pounds. This was run for a number of years also at Beacon Park. This was a double York / Hereford round which is somewhat simpler for an organiser, but very much more complicated when it came to results because it had so many historical trophies in so many categories, many of which held the proviso that no one could take more than one trophy.
Once again David Antrobus saved the day with another program that covered all the multiple awards. We were then asked to move it to Lilleshall which was, and still is, the home of GNAS / Archery GB. At this point I then took on the baton with David to back me up. This then got a lot harder when we were asked to incorporate not only the British Compound Championships, but also a Home Nations International. This had the effect of doubling the awards and their complexity. Was I grateful to have David behind me– Bigtime. This would end up at just over 60 targets, the numbers being less than the Fita Star because it had English rounds rather than metric which would not count for any international qualifications. There was always a call from the archers for a change of round, but the number of historical trophies made this almost impossible.
One year we were hit on the Sunday by a horrendous thunder and lightning storm, we first called a halt for an early dinner with just 4 dozen shot. Then we changed the round to a New Western, then the storm got worse with the lightning hitting all around us, we finally called a halt with results declared on 16 dozen. I expected to get lynched, but not one single complaint. I ran this for about another ten years and it used to clear about £1000 profit each year. GNAS then decided to take it on themselves, they had always had a National tournaments team with nothing to do. They ditched many of the trophies and made it a Fita round on the Sunday. The upside was I reclaimed 2 months of my life each year, and we had set the club up financially for years to come.
Circa 1980 – Welcome to the dark side. This period saw the introduction from America of Compound bows. These were originally designed for bowhunting because of their extra speed and efficiency. They were seen as a dark art to begin with, they were actually banned at Lichfield for about 5 years. This was officially on safety grounds, but you did hear “I’m not getting beaten by one of those things”. Once they became more numerous and GNAS had banned the overhead draw and created their own bow category with classifications this all settled down to what I would call the “friendly rivalry” we have now. I do shoot a Compound from time to time, but would never call myself a Compound archer. How on earth do the proper Compound archers do it? At full draw they do not move at all, I don’t think they even breathe!
These bows have transformed from fairly simple things into the advanced works of art they have become. There were some very extreme designs along the way, the one that stands out was called “The Oneida Eagle”, (probably find it on Google). This had both limbs in 2 totally independent sections with a 2 inch gap between the parts. These sections were joined by extra cables and cams. Unsurprisingly they never caught on, I only ever saw one of them.
One of the things that has pleased me in recent years is the rise in the number of longbows. For my first 30 years I never saw a single one, now they are back with a vengeance. The credit for this at Lichfield should go to the “Heritage Bows” boys who were all Lichfield Archers until the business took all their time. Along with the increase in Longbows we have many members shooting Roving Archery. This is an all Longbow / wooden arrows format shot in the grounds of stately homes, shooting over trees and lakes, and up and down hills at marker flags about 150 yards away. Great fun this and await its return post Covid.
With more and more members shooting all three bowstyles we created a Club tournament called the “Triarrowthon”. This is an indoor competition where you shoot a Portsmouth round with all three bow types during the Month of March. This year it was interrupted by the Covid 19 lockdown with a week to run, and only one archer having finished it.
Worthy of a mention are the members of Lichfield Archers and Staffordshire Juniors acting as “Young Games Makers” at the archery event for the 2012 Olympics at Lord’s Cricket ground. From a Lichfield perspective they included Harry Heeley in charge with Fiona’s daughter Channah and Lee Anker’s daughter Lora. Their job was to retrieve the arrows shot and return them to the international archers. They were under the control of the army whilst doing this, and never put a foot wrong with the world watching. Congratulations to them all.