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Bowyery

Currently viable crafts

 

Bowyery

 

The making of bows for shooting arrows.

 

Status Currently viable (data under review)*
Historic area of significance UK
Area currently practised UK
Origin in the UK

* Heritage Crafts are planning to review this data in consultation with the sector in 2023-2024

History

Two historical and traditional longbow types are still being used today and are being made by members of the Craft Guild. One is the iconic English warbow, a powerful weapon made from a single length of timber. Members have learnt much from studying those from the Mary Rose.  The other is the bow use for target and clout shooting, a smaller, less powerful bow, usually made from two billets fishtailed together under the handle binding.  The best wood for both of these is, and has always been, yew; although other woods such as Laburnum, Ash, Elm or Hazel are used for the warbow; and target bows are often made of two or three laminations of different timbers.

Cross sections vary from the almost round warbow to the D shaped target bow. After initial shaping, with drawknife and rasp, carefully following the wood, the crucial skill is tillering.  The bow is firmly held on the tiller so that the bowyer can draw back the string and see where slight adjustments are required to produce a perfect curve. This also ‘teaches’ the bow to bend.

Smooth horn pieces (nocks) with grooves for the string, are shaped to cover the tips of the limbs to ensure the string loop is not damaged. Grooves for target bows go around the tip, but are set at one side of the warbow tips – known as side nocking.

The skill of making these deceptively simple bows, and ensuring they perform effectively, was almost lost, until the Guild was formed in 1986.  Today, those who can present a masterpiece which passes rigorous assessment may call themselves Masters and accept apprentices who will continue the old traditions for a modern world.

 

Techniques

 

 

Local forms

 

 

Sub-crafts

Allied crafts:

 

Issues affecting the viability of the craft

  • There are too few young people to follow older ones as they retire.
  • Bowyers are unable to accept apprentices in the usual commercial manner due to the costs involved.
  • There are shortages and increased prices of quality timber.
  • The market won’t support prices sufficient to provide a living.
  • Most craftspeople are only working part time on the craft and have other jobs.

 

Support organisations

 

Craftspeople currently known

A list of bowyers can be found on the website of the Craft Guild of Traditional Bowyers & Fletchers.

 

Other information

 

 

References

  • The Worshipful Company of Bowyers
  • The Worshipful Company of Fletchers
  • Craft Guild of Traditional Bowyers & Fletchers
  • Stamp, D, (1971) Challenge of Archery (A & C Black)
  • Heath, E G, (1966) Archery, the Modern Approach (Faber)
  • Clover. P, (1950) Bowman’s Handbook
  • Heath, E G, (1973) History of Target Archery (David & Charles)
  • Featherstone, D, (1967) The Bowmen of England (Jarrolds)
  • Moseley, W M, (1974) An Essay on Archery [1792]
  • Roberts, T, (1973) The English Bowman [1801]
  • Longman and Walrond, (1894) Archery (Longmans)
  • Ford, H A, Archery, its Theory & Practice (Llanerch Press) [1856]
  • Anon (1973) The Archer’s Guide (Tabard Press) [1833]
  • Hargrove, E, (1970) Anecdotes of Archery (Tabard Press) [1792]
  • Thompson, M W H, How to Train in Archery (Llanerch Press) [1879]
  • Mason, R O, (1970) Pro Aris et Focis (Tabard Press) [1798]
  • Ascham, Roger, Toxophilus (Simon Archery) [1545]
  • Koch, H W, (1978) Medieval Warfare (Bison Books)
  • Hay, Ian, (1951) The Royal Company of Archers (Blackwood)
  • Milliken (1967) Archery in the Middle Ages (MacMillan)
  • Rausing, Gad, (1967) ‘The Bow, Notes on its Origin and Development’, Acta Archaelogica Lundensia, 6 (Bonn: Rudolf Habelt)
  • Wood, The Bowman’s Glory (S R Publications) [1969]
  • Bartlett (1996) English Longbowman (Osprey)
  • Heath, E G, (1978) The Art of Archery (Kaye & Ward)
  • Heath, E G, (1980) Archery – a Military History (Osprey)
  • Burke, Edmund, (1958) The History of Archery (Heinemann)
  • Paterson (1984) Encyclopedia of Archery (Robert Hale)
  • Grimley (1958) The Book of the Bow (Trinity Press)
  • Edwards and Heath (1962) In Pursuit of Archery (Nicholas Kay)
  • Bradbury, The Medieval Archer (Boydell & Brewer)
  • Soar, H D, Of Bowmen & Battles (Bradford)
  • Soar, H D, The Crooked Stick (Westholme)
  • Soar, H D, Secrets of the English Warbow (Westholme)
  • Soar, H D, The Romance of Archery (Westholme)
  • Soar, H D, Straight and True, a select history of the Arrow (Westholme)
  • Hardy and Strickland, The Great Warbow (Sutton)

Bow making (musical)

The HCA Red List of Endangered Crafts

 

Bow making (musical)

 

The making, repair and restoration of bows for violins, violas and other stringed instruments.

This craft uses products derived from animals – please read our ethical sourcing statement.

 

Status Critically endangered
Craft category Instruments
Historic area of significance London
Area currently practised UK
Origin in the UK 17th century
Current no. of professionals (main craft) 6-10
Current no. of professionals (sideline to main craft)
6-10
Current no. of trainees Unknown – there will be students at colleges such as West Dean and Newark College
Current total no. serious amateur makers
Current total no. of leisure makers

 

History

The craft of bow making probably developed in England in the 17th century, and during the 17th and 18th centuries, bows appear to have been made by craftsmen of low status.

The design of the bow changed significantly between 1750 and 1800. A wide range of woods were tried, and pernambuco was widely adopted by 1800. Until 1800 English bows of great quality were made, but the continued popularity of the ‘cramer’ style of violin bow for some twenty years after it was superseded in France delayed the evolution of the English bow. It wasn’t until the 1820s that English bow making came back into the mainstream of excellence. Further details can be found in the article ‘The Development of the Bow in Britain’ by Tim Baker and Derek Wilson.

Several families and workshops dominated English bow making – around 1800 it was the Dodd family, by 1830 the Tubbs family had become the predominant force, and the from the 1880s Hills dominated the market.

 

Techniques

  • Carving and planing wood
  • Silversmithing/goldsmithing

 

Local forms

n/a

Sub-crafts

n/a

Issues affecting the viability of the craft

  • Training issues: Lack of structured training/apprenticeships.
  • Training issues: Shortage of opportunities to learn the skills for bow restoration, which is very much needed
  • Supply of raw materials: Since 2007 Paubrasilia echinata (pernambuco) has been registered in Appendix II of CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora), which has led to strict regulatory measures. A certificate is required from exporters and importers to guarantee that the wood comes from a plantation that respects the principles of sustainable harvesting. In 2022, there was a proposal to change the protected status of pernambuco, to CITES Appendix I. This would have banned trade in pernambuco wood unless it could be proven to have been sourced before 2007, or to have come from ‘artificial propagation’, ie grown in a nursery. This proposal was narrowly defeated, but only by conceding that a system of marking all bows (old and new) could be put in place to prove the legal provenance of the raw materials. This remains under review and it is still possible that pernambuco could be listed under Appendix 1.

 

Support organisations

 

Craftspeople currently known

The British Violin Makers Association maintains a list of bow makers.

 

Other information

 

References

Craft Guild of Traditional Bowyers and Fletchers Celebrate Birthday

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.

www.bowyersandfletchersguild.org