With the Rio Olympics coming up I thought I’d take a closer look at some of the sports related items in the Scotney Castle Collection. Those of you who are regular readers of this blog may have read about the recent rediscovery of arrows and archery paraphernalia in the cupboard under the stairs. In light of this and other findings I am focusing my attention, and a new display in the Dining Room, on the ancient sport of archery and in particular a group called the Society of Royal Kentish Bowmen.
Used by the Egyptians, Greeks and many other civilisations around the world, a bow and arrow was a powerful tool against your enemies on the battlefield but eventually became powerless against technological advancements and new weapons such as guns. Archery was retained as a sporting and hunting pastime, particularly by royalty and became a fashionable pastime for the wealthier members of society. Many clubs were set up in the late eighteenth century thanks to support from royal patrons.
The Society of Royal Kentish Bowmen was set up in 1785 and from 1786 met regularly at Dartford Heath where they had the use of a house known as Bowman’s Lodge. The longbow was the bow of choice and the Prince of Wales, later George IV, was made patron in 1789. He donated many objects to be prizes for competitions and it is also noted that he laid out the rules on the uniform of the Society members. Edward Hussey (who bought Scotney Castle in 1778) joined the Society on August 8th 1789.
The Society of Royal Kentish Bowmen took their sport very seriously and the society had their own printed rule book; we are fortunate to have a copy in our collection. This small but beautiful book was printed in 1789 and lays out the rules and regulations of the society such as the uniform expected to be purchased and worn by members and the order of shooting at a meet.
This book was owned by Edward Hussey who labelled the book ‘Edw: Hussey 1790’. He made many other annotations in the book so must have taken great interest in the society. At the back of the book there is a handwritten list of members and when they joined the society.
Along with the Society rule book we also have a beautiful silver horn in a red leather case. The engraving on the horn suggests it was given to the society as a prize by ‘His Royal Highness George Prince of Wales’ and was won by Edward Hussey in August 1794. With the horn in the leather case there are two silver and green tassels (the society colours) that could be hung from the horn.
Unfortunately we do not know of any photographs here at Scotney that show the family taking part in archery or of Edward Hussey participating at a Society of Royal Kentish Bowmen meet. There is, however, an image of the Prince of Wales (later George IV) posing in his Royal Kentish Bowmen uniform in the Royal Collection. The portrait clearly shows the green uniform with silver buttons and plumed hat to the side along with a longbow and arrow. In the background you can see a group of figures with bows near a target, probably at Dartford Heath.
Here at Scotney Castle there is a cupboard in the Hall of the house known as the Ascham cupboard which houses a large collection of archery paraphernalia; Ascham cupboards are named after Roger Ascham who was a Tudor Scholar with a particular interest in Archery. The Ascham cupboard here at Scotney is believed to have come from the lodge of the Society of Royal Kentish Bowmen and appears to have been specifically made for the use of storing archery equipment.
Within the Ascham cupboard there is a set of sixty-one arrows set into a specifically designed section. These arrows have green and yellow coloured bands on the shaft and it is possible that this set of arrows was used in the Society of Royal Kentish Bowmen meets and competitions by Edward Hussey (they appear to match the arrow depicted in the portrait of the Prince of Wales).
Along with the longbows and arrows in the cupboard there are two arrow tubes for transporting and storing arrows. There is one larger black tube and one green tube with a red shoulder strap.
There are many other items relating to the hobby of Archery within the Hussey family and regarding the Society of Royal Kentish Bowmen. I hope this has given you a glimpse into the depth of the collection here at Scotney Castle and we will continue to keep you posted on the latest rediscoveries and research.