Select Page

Fletching

Currently viable crafts

 

Fletching

 

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.

 

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

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

History

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.

 

Techniques

 

Local forms

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.)

 

Sub-crafts

 

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

 

Support organisations

Craftspeople currently known

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

 

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