The making of arrows, including shaping the wooden shafts and attaching the feathers.
This craft uses products derived from animals – please read our ethical sourcing statement.
|Craft category||Wood, Metal|
|Historic area of significance||UK|
|Area currently practised||UK|
|Origin in the UK||Neolithic|
|Current no. of professionals (main income)||45 members of the Guild of Bowyers & Fletchers; others unknown|
|Current no. of professionals (sideline to main income)
|Current no. of trainees||7|
|Current total no. serious amateur makers
|Current total no. of leisure makers
|Minimum no. of craftspeople required|
Amongst the earliest – and certainly the most complete – examples available to us are those recovered with the ‘Iceman’ in the Alps in 1991 along with his complete archery equipment. Moving forwards 3,000 years, over one hundred arrows and forty bows, dated to approximately 300 – 400AD were found in 1863 within a sunken longship, buried in the silt of a long gone sea inlet at Nydam, Schleswig, Germany. Apart from such exciting finds, there are few early archery artefacts available to us, other than arrow heads, and sometime tools for arrow making; there is little else to tell us of the arrows themselves. Some indications of arrow types may be gleaned from medieval illustrations, particularly of hunting scenes.
It is when investigation reaches the 16th century that there is much more by way of useful artefacts to engage us. When the sunken Tudor warship Mary Rose was discovered she contained several thousand arrows, which have been extensively examined. This was the period when the great English warbow – although approaching the end of its regular use – still formed an important part of the country’s armoury. The arrows can therefore be said to be indicative of what would have been used in battle for some 300 years.
It has been imagined that the rise of recreational archery did not commence until the war bow had had its day; but apart from the required Sunday practice there were always those whose pleasure it was to shoot. Roger Ascham in his book Toxophilus or the Schole of Shooting 1545, has given us a detailed account of archery as a healthy activity, taking the scholar from his books so that he might return refreshed. As well as some excellent coaching advice, he also described the equipment and has much to tell us about the arrow.
Arrow profiles and styles changed little from Ascham’s time right into the 19th century, although complete horn nocks were introduced – probably in the 18th century – to replace the nock piece. However, with changes in archery practice from the long distance Roving and Clout to shorter butt and target shooting arrows did became lighter, to match the less powerful bows, and with smaller fletchings. Archers would have their personal colours marked upon them, called cresting, and manufacturers kept books recording each customers’ cresting colours.
Today, mainstream archery has gone its own technical way. But there are still numbers of archers whose delight it is to retain and use the old style equipment. The British Long-Bow Society perpetuates the use of the recreational longbow and its feathered wooden arrows, which would otherwise have disappeared.
There are variations depending on what wood is available and what the customer requires (e.g. for target, for field shooting for re-enactment or warbows for distance shooting, etc.)
Issues affecting the viability of the craft
Demand for the service
Too few young people to follow older ones as they retire
Not being able to accept apprentices in the usual commercial manner
Shortage and increased prices of quality timber
Market prices cannot be charged which provide a living
Most craftsmen only working part time on the craft and have other jobs
Craftspeople currently known
A list of fletchers can be found on the website of the Craft Guild of Traditional Bowyers & Fletchers.