Competitive archery is a sport which owes its origins primarily to the military needs of medieval Britain (although its roots go back thousands of years before that.) In 1252 the 'Assize of Arms' ensured that every man between the age of 15 to 60 in England should equip themselves with a bow and arrow. The English long bow gave the army a distinct advantage at the Battle of Crecy in 1346, allowing long-range attack on the enemy. A royal decree of 1363 required all Englishmen to practise archery with a long bow on Sundays and holidays. Special places were put aside for this practice, called 'butts' usually on the outskirts of villages and towns and many of these are recorded in modern placenames. The word butt is taken from the Anglo-Norman word 'bouter' meaning to expel.
Examples of butts can be found all over Wiltshire but this map shows the Butts at Westbury (see the road just above the town's name)
The targets were originally turf-covered mounds but soon the familiar round targets came to be used. By the end of the 16th century bows and arrows had been superseded by firearms in warfare so archery became purely a competitive sport. The first major English archer tournament was established in 1683 in Yorkshire. Archery became a popular sport in Victorian England for both men and women. Archery was included in the modern Olympic games in 1900 but disappeared between 1920 and 1972. Women were allowed to compete for the first time in 1904. Archery is still popular today and developments in the material of bows and arrows have led to lighter and stronger equipment which is faster and more accurate than ever before.
Wiltshire and Swindon History Centre holds the archives of the Society of Wiltshire Archers, an organisation whose records survive from 1852. Their record book of prize winners 1881-1886 includes a note of prizes including a necklace for Miss Rooke and a gong for Mr E Rooke. (Reference 2459/26)
As with archery, shooting developed from a necessity (hunting and the pursuit of war) into a competitive sport undertaken for its own sake. The National Rifle Shooting Association of the United Kingdom was set up in 1860 to promote rifle shooting and shooting was included in the first modern Olympics in 1896. Various forms of shooting for rifles, pistols and shotguns have been included ever since.
Skilled Shot Certificate awarded to Mr. A Lockhead of Melksham for shooting by the Wiltshire County Miniature Rifle Association in 1910 (Reference 2641/17) [part of a collection of miscellaneous items relating to Melksham gathered by the local historical association.]