How did it all begin? One of our founder members Owen Hull, who became President, tells the tale is his usually inimitable style. Taken from the booklet "FORTY YEARS ON - A History of Braintree Bowmen".
Reminiscences of an Old Hand
Curious as this may sound, the Archery Club started at the tail end of 1952 when Jack Hodgson and George Overall belonged to the small-bore rifle league at Crittalls, which later moved to Seabrooks at Little Leighs. They wanted an outdoor sport so they decided to start an Archery Club. They contacted Bryn and Joan Baker who had a small dairy farm [Hill Farm] in London Road, opposite the King William pub. Bryn and Joan both joined the Club and let us shoot on their meadows. Emily and Dorothy Whiffen both joined in those early days. Dorothy is Dave Martin's mother in law. Joan Bakers father, Mr Nicholls was made President of the Club. He kept a hardware shop in Rayne Road where Dan Lecs is now.
In those days there was no winter shooting, only one evening and Sundays in the summer. Visiting teams loved our Sunday shoots. They were not worried about winning at Archery. They came for the tea which was laid out under the big chestnut tree in front of the Farm cottage. Trays of sarnies, home made cakes, bread pud and tea in enamel pots. If it was wet or cold we moved into the 'Hospital' which was where the cows went for calving. Alf White, Frank Hutton, Brian and Enid Hull 'Maid Marian' all joined at about that time as did Harold Ketley, Leo Bowles, both from Halstead, and Frank Eggesdorf and his wife who were Americans from Wethersfield air base.
At the farm, sandals were taboo because of the cow pats. If you lost an arrow you might find it in a pat which was why we all carried a piece of rag to wipe them with. Our wives objected to us using our handkerchiefs! Our best [and cheapest] arrow finder was a pitchfork rescued from the farm dump. It lasted us for years and found hundreds of arrows.
In the days of wooden bows, which were about 4 feet long, one of our members decided he would make himself a tackle box. There wasn't a car in the club that had a boot big enough to take this box, it stuck out of the back of George's sidecar. Then Accles and Pollock the tubular steel firm started making steel bows. They were take apart bows and in the winter when we had finished shooting for the year we would fill the limbs with oil and stand them on end in a dry place [mine was in the bedroom] to stop them rusting. After a few rusty bows broke they stopped making them. What were they like to shoot? Very hard. How do I know? I've got three of them, an Apollo Martin, Kestrel and a Seefab. Then came the laminated bows, wood and glass fibre or plastic. Through Harold Ketley, a member of the club who worked at Wethersfield Air Base, I bought two laminated bows, a 44lb Bear Polar and a 36lb Bear Tigercat. These were made by Bear Archery Company of Grayling, Michigan. I also have a Marksman Stag and a take down Concorde made by Border Bows of Kelso, Scotland. These are some of the bows that I have used over the years and still have in my collection. They hang on my stairs [I call them my dust collectors row] with lots of arrows, still feather fletched. I have one native made arrow from the jungles of Borneo, brought home by an American missionary whose son was at Wethersfield. This was given to Harold Ketley who passed it on to me. As I'm a Magpie I still have it.
While we were at Hill Farm we used to go to Takely and shoot at Count Steyner's. He was a genuine Count and a member of our Club. He invented the 'Bumblebee', an arrow with eight fletchings about an inch long, feathers of course, which was not successful. We also shot in Miss Elliot's [of Lake and Elliot] barn in Church Lane but there was not enough room.
One of our Christmas Dinners was held at the Barn in Rayne Road [Bob Patience] and another at the Windmill in Marks Tey. The best ones were held at the Community Centre in Sandpit Lane. They were very enjoyable, sausages and mash. The girls used to get in the kitchen and cook it all, pinafores over their party dresses, coming out sweating and smiling. Then Bryn sold his dairy herd and started breeding pigs. After a couple of months it was like shooting on a ploughed field. It was time to look for a new site.
We also went to the Chelmsford shoots quite a lot. They used to have a Boxing Day morning shoot and once we had rain, sleet, snow and fog all in one morning. At one time we could not see the target at forty yards. Rod Mcrea, a retired veterinary surgeon, and his wife fed us hot sausage rolls and coffee. We were frozen but we enjoyed it. Hip flasks were also in attendance. Southend was also a very popular shoot for us. In the early days we used to travel down together in Emily's old Austin, Georges motor bike and sidecar, an old builders Ford van that I borrowed when I was in the trade and Brian's scooter. One year we were flooded out and were turned back from Southend. That day we all finished the afternoon at my place eating our packed lunches at 84, in the comfort of our living room.
On another occasion at Southend George Overall was walking across the cricket pitch when his leg broke [it was wooden!]. He sat in the middle of the pitch waving his leg until we saw him. The groundsman was going spare! Then to cap it all Jack Southend after that. We picked up a lot of medals down there. The scoring was very slow [not up to Graham's standard]. It was dark by the time we left and as we used to call at the White Hart on the old Southend Road on the way back it was very dark by the time we arrived home.
We decided in the early days to design a new Club badge so Club members were asked to put their ideas on paper. Taking pieces from different drawings we came up with the badge we have today. It incorporated the town coat of arms so, cap in hand, we took it to the Town Hall and presented it to the Committee. After a very pleasant meeting during which we were served sherry and shown all the badges of office [and during which we did a bit of 'creeping'] we were allowed to keep the badge as it is today. We were not allowed to keep the motto 'Hold to the Truth' but we wanted the Club's name in its place anyway. To the best of my knowledge we are the only sports club in Braintree to have the Town's coat of arms in its badge.
All this went on while we were shooting at Hill Farm. Things were getting serious now as we had to find a new field. Back we went to the Council, the caps in our hands getting worn out now. They wanted to put us in a disused gravel pit as they were convinced the sport was dangerous. If they had seen my shooting they would have been right! After several meetings with the Principal of the college they allowed us to shoot on their sports field in Church Lane, Bocking, as a temporary measure. This was next to the Cemetery and due to the close proximity of both we had a few witty remarks. It was not a very safe place for our gear. We had wheels stolen from our target trolley, a box broken into and arrows shot to the four winds. We were finding them weeks later. Then they started playing football on Sunday mornings and the goal backed onto our range. Every time a goal was missed the goalkeeper walked across our range to get the ball. He must have had a death wish. This started a search for another field so I contacted Owen Harrington, an old friend of mine from Stisted, who was in charge of the youth club at Alec Hunter school in Stubbs Lane. We had to join the Youth Club so that we could use sports hall and field [joining a youth club at my age!]. They were very good to us, providing us with back netting, targets wooden arrows and bows. This was when we were a little short of money. The condition was that we had to let the youth club shoot if they wanted to.
A change of headmaster and another change of field. We contacted Notley High and started shooting there. At 100 yards the arrows were ending up in the wheat field. Then came the saga of buying a storage shed. A chicken house was purchased from Haverhill. I hired a lorry from Crittalls and the shed was transported to Alan Dann's farm, 'Trumpingtons' at Great Tey. The lorry got stuck and had to be left there. I will not go into the details but the lads involved will know what a fiasco it was with the dismantling, loading, offloading, loading up to Notley High and erecting it and it being vandalised. Up to the time it was sold a lot of blood and sweat [we were too old to cry] went into the story of the shed.
But thanks to a lot of dedicated and efficient officers who put in a lot of work we are now permanently based at Cressing Temple Barns for summer shooting and Halstead Leisure Centre for winter shooting. It is lovely to see thirty plus on the shooting line, a very long haul from the days when we were struggling to keep five members together to start the summer season [there was no winter shooting] with £2.10s in the kitty.
The Situation Today
Since the club was founded in 1953 there has been many changes in archery and the equipment used. The materials used for bows have changed considerably over the years, from one-piece wooden bows through to the alloys and carbon fibre of today.
There was a period when tubular steel bows enjoyed a few years of popularity. The main change in bow technology has been the compound bow, which the founders of the club could only have dreamed about.
Arrows have also progressed beyond the imagination of the 1950's archer. The carbon arrows of today have gone a long way to giving us the high scores that some of us enjoy now. Even the cheaper aluminium arrows that we shoot are of a higher standard than the best available then.
The club has produced some fine archers who have represented us well in local competitions. It has also produced a number of archers who have shot at County level. Braintree Bowmen has lasted over 50 years on the strength of its members and its Committee.