Once a Week (magazine)/Series 1/Volume 11/The silver arrow



In our last number we treated at some length of archery as practised in England in the merry olden time, and in our own more practical, if less picturesque, days. But we desire to supply a missing chapter, which will supplement what we then said with some interesting matter of an antiquarian character, connected with one of our great public schools.

The “muscular Christian,” it would seem, is an animal which, as it has its peculiar habitat in our public schools, so also dates from an era long prior to Messrs. Kingsley and Maurice and Tom Hughes. Such at least would appear to be the case from reading the life of one John Lyon, an honest yeoman, who lived at Harrow-on-the-Hill, in the days of “Good Queen Bess.” This worthy person founded Harrow School: after settling in his “Orders and Statutes for the Government of the School,” what books are to be used, what hours devoted to work and what to play, and what holidays allowed, he expressly declares his wish that the boys’ amusements shall be, “driving a top, tossing a handball, and running and shooting.” The latter accomplishment seems to have held in good Master Lyon’s estimate the same place which, if we believe Herodotus, it held among the Persians of old, who taught their children three things and three only, viz.—“to ride on horseback, to speak the truth, and to shoot with the bow.” (Clio., ch. 136.) It is certain that he considered archery a most necessary part of what the old Greek philosophers styled the ‘gymnastic’ part of education; for he required all parents who sent their sons to his school to supply them, not only with books, with pens and paper, but also with "bow-strings, shafts, and braces, to exercise shooting."[1]

At Harrow then, at all events, the practice of Archery was coëval with the school; and here the gentle art would seem to have been kept alive down to a recent date, by the observance of an annual custom, which the parents of some living Harrovians would almost he able to remember. At Eton it is probable that the same muscular accomplishment was once in vogue, if we may judge from the fact that, besides the "Playing Fields" there are also, near the school, what still bear the old name of the "Shooting Fields." Shooters' Hill was probably the place where the youth of Greenwich went to practise the long-bow; and "The Butts" will be found to be a term applied to spots of land in the neighbourhood of other schools[2] whose history goes as far back as that of Harrow.

"The Butts" at Harrow was a very beautiful spot, immediately on the left of the London road: it was backed by a lofty and insulated knoll, which was crowned with majestic trees: upon the slope of the eminence were cut rows of grassy seats, gradually descending,—"worthy of a Roman theatre," as the great scholar Dr. Parr (warmly attached to this spot by his early associations of birth and education) has observed. This charming spot was, about the year 1810, denuded of its wood, and the knoll itself has at length disappeared, its site being now entirely occupied by private dwelling-houses. We learn from the Harrow "School Lists" that

The public exhibitions of archery were annual, and can be traced back for more than a century. The 4th of August (for which was afterwards substituted the first Thursday in July) was the anniversary; on which day originally six, and in later times twelve boys contended for a silver arrow. The competitors were attired in fancy dresses of spangled satin—the usual colours being white and green, sometimes (but rarely) red; green silk sashes and silk caps completed their whimsical costume. Whoever shot within the three circles which surrounded the bull's-eye was saluted with a concert of French horns; and he who first shot twelve times nearest to the mark was proclaimed victor, and, as such, marched back in triumph from "The Butts" to the town, at the head of a procession of boys, carrying in his hand and waving the silver arrow. The entertainments of the day were concluded with a ball, given by the winner, in the school-room, to which all the neighbouring families were invited.

One of the archery dresses alluded to above is still preserved in the school library. It was worn on the day of shooting, about the year 1768, by one of the competitors, Henry Reed, from whom it descended to the Rev. J. Reed Mann, rector of a parish in Surrey or Kent, by whom it was presented to the school in 1847.

The last contest was in the month of July, 1771; but by whom the arrow was then gained is at present unknown. In that year, Dr. Sumner, the head-master, died, and was succeeded by Dr. Heath, who entered upon his duties in the following October. The arrow prepared for the next year's contest (being the last ever made for this purpose, and, as the arrow-shooting was abolished in 1772, never shot for) became the property of the Rev. B. H. Drury, one of the assistant-masters at Harrow, son of the late Rev. Henry Drury (himself for many years an assistant, and for some time before his death under-master), to whom it had descended from his uncle, Dr. Heath. Mr. Drury presented it, a few years since, to the school library, where the treasure is religiously kept, together with the above-mentioned shooting-dress, under a glass case.

The abolition of the practice of arrow-shooting (says the prefatory introduction to the School Lists) will ever be a source of deep regret to all Harrovians. Nevertheless, Dr. Heath, the head-master, who suppressed it, must not, on this account, be too severely blamed. The reasons which induced him to abandon this ancient custom are stated to have been the frequent exemptions from the regular business of the school, which those who practised as competitors for the prize claimed as a privilege not to be infringed upon! as well as the band of profligate and disorderly persons which this exhibition brought down to the village, in consequence of its vicinity to the metropolis. These encroachments and annoyances had at length become so injurious to discipline and morals, as, after some vain attempts at the correction of the evil, to call for the total abolition of the usage.

Public speeches were adopted in the place of the archery meetings, as the best means of keeping up an annual celebration of the foundation of the school, and the presence of the Prince and Princess of Wales this year, added to the speech-day a more than usual amount of festivity.

Having thus commemorated John Lyon, it may not be amine to subjoin a few remarks on the old custom of shooting for the silver arrow. In the school there may be now seen a humble representation of "The Butte," on the day of the annual contest. "In that frontispiece" (according to the testimony of the late Rev. H. Drury, in a letter of the 20th July, 1838), "the village barber is seen walking off like one of Homer's heroes, with an arrow in his eye, stooping forward, and evidently in great pain, with his hand applied to the wound. It is perfectly true that this Tom of Coventry was so punished; and I have somewhere a ludicrous account of it in Dr. Parr's all but illegible autograph." This testimony is confirmed by that of the late Lord Arden, an old Harrovian, in a letter of the 17th July, 1838:—"I remember a print representing the circumstance of one of the boys having shot so wide of the mark, that hie arrow struck a man or boy in the eye; which, I believe, was the occasion of Page:Once a Week Jun to Dec 1864.pdf/124 Page:Once a Week Jun to Dec 1864.pdf/125

  1. You shall find your child sufficient paper, ink, pens, books, candles for winter, and all other things at any time necessary for the maintenance of his study. You shall allow your child at all times (of the year) bow-shafts, bow-strings, and a bracer. —“Orders and Statutes of John Lyon.”
  2. There is an instance in point near the ancient "College School," at Warwick.