The Garden Guide

Book: London Parks and Gardens, 1907
Chapter: Chapter 4 Regent's Park

Toxophilite Archery Society and Skating Club

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Three Societies occupy pieces of ground within the Park. The most ancient and least well known is the Toxophilite. Archery has for many hundred years been practised by the citizens of London. The ground chosen for shooting was chiefly near Islington, Hoxton, and Shoreditch. To encourage the use of bows and arrows Henry VIII. ordered Sir Christopher Morris, Master of Ordnance, to form the "Fraternitye or Guylde of Saint George" about 1537, and these archers used to shoot in Spital Fields. About the time of the Spanish Armada the Honourable Artillery Company was formed, which possessed a company of archers, and for over two hundred years archery was kept alive by this corps, and, following them, by the Finsbury Archers. Just at the time when the corps was abolished Sir Ashton Lever formed the Toxophilite Society in 1781, and the archers of the Honourable Artillery Company became merged in the new Society, which then shot on Blackheath. George IV. belonged to it, and it henceforth became the Royal Toxophilite Society, and settled on ground given to it in Regent's Park in 1834, where it remains, as the lineal descendant of the old historic Guild of Archers. It possesses several interesting relics; a shield given by Queen Mary, and silver cups of the Georgian period, besides a valuable collection of bows and arrows. The hall where the members meet, built when the Society moved to Regent's Park, and added to since, has beneath it some curious cellars with underground passages branching off from them, which it has been suggested may have been part of the outhouses belonging to the Royal Manor House, which stood not far off, on ground now outside the Park. The large iron hooks that were until recently in the cellar walls, seemed suggestive of venison from the Park for the royal table. The ground of the Society is suitably laid out, with a fine sunk lawn for the archery practice. By an arrangement with the Toxophilite Society, "the Skating Club" have their own pavilion, and the lawn is flooded during the winter for their use. There is so much talk about the change of the climate of England, and of the so-called old-fashioned winters, that the record kept by this Skating Club since its foundation in 1830 of the number of skating days in each winter is instructive. Taking the periods of ten years during the first decade, 1830-40, there was an average of 10.2 skating days per winter. In 1833-34 there were none, in 1837-38 thirty-seven days. Between 1850-60 the average was only 8.5, while the last ten years of the century it was 16.8. It is difficult to see how any argument could be deduced from such figures in favour of the excess of cold in the good old days! When the freezing of the Thames is quoted to prove the case, people forget that the Thames has completely changed. The narrow piers of old London Bridge no longer get stopped with ice-floes, and the current is much more rapid now that the whole length is properly embanked. In the days when coaches plied from Westminster to the Temple Stairs as in 1684, or when people dwelt on the Thames in tents for weeks in 1740, all the low land was flooded and the stream wider and more sluggish. The believers in the hard winters generally maintain the springs were warmer than now, May Day more like what poets pictured, even allowing the eleven days later for our equivalent. But in 1614 there was snow a foot deep in April, and those who went in search of flowers on May Day only got snowflakes. In 1698, on May 8th, there was a deep fall of snow all over England, and many other instances might be quoted. So it seems, though people may grumble now, their ancestors were no better off.