Archery in West Norfolk
A Short History
The current club, the King’s Lynn Bowmen, has a history that goes back some 50 years. It began as a group in 1961 within the Armed Services YMCA which was in King Street, King’s Lynn, beside the Guildhall of Saint George.
The YMCA offices, which included quiet rooms, and coffee bar were situated at ground floor level and were accessed from the street. At the rear of this building was a medieval barn in which young servicemen from the various R.A.F and U.S.A.F camps in the area could access games of table tennis and snooker. There was also an ‘archery range’, separated from the other facilities by only a flimsy curtain made from a pair of parachute shrouds. This range allowed a maximum distance of 20 yards to be shot, the arrows embedding themselves into a series of crumbling straw bales.
The initial membership of the archery group (it was not a club at this time) were young Americans and the odd British serviceman who regularly visited the premises. There was little in the way of bows and arrows to use but the Americans were very generous with their personal equipment and were prepared to purchase items from the rod and gun clubs on the various bases on behalf of their new-found friends.
From this group the club was formed. Other interested individuals, civilians living in the Lynn area, were introduced into the emerging club and a name was chosen “The King’s Lynn Crusaders Archery Club” which was believed to refer to the fact that we were - however tenuously - part of a Christian organisation, although later it was widely held that it derived from a much more prosaic source; the fact that eventually most members bought and shot ‘Marksman Crusader’ bows, one of the first (and finest) British weapons available at that time.
Because of the initial link with the American armed services, field rather than target archery became the main practice of the club, the Americans wishing to hone their hunting skills before returning to the ‘States. Members from the ‘Crusaders’ Were regularly to be seen shooting at ranges set up at a variety of air force bases in the region, and a close bond was formed with our American cousins
Field archery was very new and was widely frowned upon by other clubs in west Norfolk and the GNAS would have nothing to do with the emerging sport. However, other clubs were formed, notably Coltishall and Hingham in central Norfolk, and Boston in Lincolnshire. Soon a host of others came into being and a national association for field archery was founded. By 1963 the Americans at Lakenheath were considered to be the progenitors and the centre of field archery in the united kingdom and the ’Crusaders’ were proud to have been an early part of what is now a recognised and popular form of archery.
Our association with the YMCA came to an end in 1968 when, shortly after moving to new premises in Columbia Way, North Lynn, the doors were flung wide open for very young people to access the various activities. The archery club lost its previous status as a favoured club. At the same time the Americans visited less often and we tended to shoot more and more on other club grounds. Eventually the members found it impossible to accept the change in regime and sought another venue.
Nomads would describe the club’s next ten years, as we wandered from shooting ground to shooting ground. The membership level also began to fluctuate, despite the valiant efforts of a handful of very keen archers. They did however continue to hold regular open field shoots on Roydon Common for several years, although it became more difficult to transport the field targets out to the ground, erect them, set out the pegs and generally prepare for the day’s tournament. Then, at the end of the day all had to be cleared and stowed away in individuals’ homes. Fortunately the targets were paper, mounted on cardboard and merely placed up against sandy mounds across the common ground.
Because of the decline in membership numbers throughout the 1970s and the fact that the club was regularly ‘moved on’ from sports field to practically any open ground they could find, archery almost disappeared from west Norfolk, until a multi National company, with whom several of our remaining members were employed, opened a sports and social club in Clenchwarton. Foster Dow’s became a boon and a saviour in the history of local archery.
In the early 1980s, as members now shot more and more target archery, it became obvious that the Foster Dow complex with its broad expanse of carefully mown grass, its pavilion, bar, and social facilities, and its ready acceptance of the archery club as an adjunct to their programme, had all the advantages and none of the pit-falls of the past, or so it seemed. The club’s name was changed to that of the company which now became the benefactor and supporter of the sport of archery in west Norfolk: it became F.D.A.C. The Crusaders were no more!
For a time all went well for the club. The members erected a store room directly on the edge of the sports field. They even managed to hold the Norfolk Championships there in the mid 1980s. At last success seemed to smile on the members. But not for long.
The decline began with an increase in other users of the sporting facilities. As the social club became increasingly popular, football and cricket teams were formed and archery again found itself a ’movable feast’, constantly in conflict with other users, never sure that there would be an area of the sports field over which to shoot, regularly confronted by some other activity determined to dominate the field.
At this time two of the club’s most prominent members were posted abroad, leaving too few survivors to continue as a club. Some of them took their archery to other far-flung clubs and regularly shot at tournaments away from their home base, while others gave up altogether. Yet a revival of sorts at Clenchwarton was attempted by newcomers to archery who sought to reform west Norfolk’s loss but this was not to be with the social club at Foster Dow’s.
Instead, the sport of archery raised its banner once more in the heart of King’s Lynn; at the King Edward VII School, no less. This was in 1989, and marks an era of stability for the club which lasted for almost ten years. Unfortunately, once again fate conspired against the practice of archery, in the form of a new pavilion and extension of existing tennis courts, resulting in the club losing its store room. Once more the search began for a new home for archery in west Norfolk.
It has been said that as one door closes, so another opens. That was definitely so in the continuing story of the King’s Lynn Bowmen. For some time the Wisbech Archery Club had been shooting at Knighton Lodge. They, like others before them, fell into decline, despite having raised at least one Olympic bowman. Their loss was to be our gain, just as our tenure at King Edward VII school came to an end.
The King’s Lynn Bowmen moved to Knighton Lodge in the 1999/2000, taking over the field, stores and other facilities from the previous proud tenants. Our benefactor at that time was one Derek Bottom, now sadly deceased. His widow continues to allow the club virtually free range over her property in order to pursue their sport. We are most grateful for this lasting opportunity.
The tale is almost told; brief though it has been in recollection. The reader must realise that for more than fifty years archery, in one form or another, has been alive in west Norfolk. The flame of enthusiasm has burned, brightly sometimes, a mere flicker at others. Literally hundreds of folk have been inspired by the sport. Some have persevered throughout the time briefly related here, while others - far too many to recall - have stayed for only a while; yet so long as people still turn out to shoot in the bow, so the history of archery in this corner of England will continue.
Barry W. Shears, 10.7.12