For hundreds of years the English bow changed little – after all, there are very few significant modifications you can make to a stick and a string. True, the mighty war bow differed from the rather less powerful bow used for hunting, as did the lighter and more attractively created bow used for recreation. However, in the 1930s modern materials were investigated for making recreational bows, and the steel bow emerged. Scores definitely improved; but some archers were less than happy with this innovation and sought to retain the simple wooden bow they knew and loved. Thus the British Long-Bow Society was formed in 1950 to preserve not only the bow but the manner of competitive shooting.
When a new secretary, in the person of Mr Hugh Soar, took over in 1986 he quickly realised that there was a dearth of suitable bows available for the members. Antique bows were being pressed into service and were at risk of breaking, due to the dry state of the old wood. He established that a small number of enthusiasts were still making bows in the old style and suggested to them that a fraternal group might be formed to develop the craft skills and provide a source of suitable bows for BLBS members. The idea was met with interest and the Craft Guild of Traditional Bowyers and Fetchers was established, based very much on the old Livery Companies.
From that simple beginning the Guild has blossomed. The positions of Warden and under Warden were established, supported by a Court of Assistants and a Clerk. Soon others were requesting membership and arrangements were made to assess their level of skill against agreed criteria of a very high standard, before inviting them to join – much as craftsmen of old presented a Masterpiece.
Before long it was found necessary to establish a system for apprentices, as applications came from some who were not already familiar with the skills required. Of necessity, apprentices work at home and are not full time and paid, as modern apprentices are.
From the early days, Guild members have to a certain extent had to re-learn old skills, and much has been accomplished in improving knowledge and practical expertise. It can confidently be said that anyone purchasing equipment made by a Guild member will receive a quality product which will perform well.
Currently there are 35 Masters in the Guild with seven apprentices. The skill of smithing was added quite early on and there are now members making arrowheads in the old style; while there are also three members who are expert in the making of top quality bow strings.
Although the original Guild was set up to provide recreational equipment for target and clout shooting, it was found necessary to expand its remit to deal with an increase in the number of archers keen to shoot reproductions of the old War bow and the heavy “standard” arrow; so some members specialise in making equipment for them.
Quite early on the Guild became recognised by the Worshipful Companies of both Bowyers and Fletchers who now present Certificates for excellence to suitable applicants from the Guild.
Since members are widely scattered, only one general meting is possible per year, and 2015 sees the 25th such get together – called a Guildmote. There is however a regular news booklet keeping them in touch; and for members and enquirers alike there is a website outlining the Guild’s activities.