Stourbridge Company of Archers was formed in 1956, by four people who got together in a pub cellar. Gary Sykes and Brian Eveson made up half of the quartet, but the names of the other two are lost in the mists of time. Early history is hazy, but they settled at Bigmoor Playing Fields, Love Lane, Stourbridge, which were owned by the local Bluecoat School.
By the mid 1970s, SCoA had built itself quite a reputation, hosting FITA Star International qualifying shoots. At that time only four FITA star status shoots were held a year, one of them being SCoA's. These shoots fielded approximately fifty targets and were overseen by a Technical Commission of several judges and officials. Preparations were started in January, ready for the big day in April. The field was laid out on the Saturday and members held their breath overnight, hoping that everything would remain undisturbed until the next morning. On one occasion the local beat policeman wandered along and wanted to know what was going on. It was explained that it was a big international qualifying shoot and he was rather concerned about "crowd control"! A "traffic light" system of timing was rigged up, backed up by a brave volunteer who held a board up with stripes one side, and plain the other, who was seated (safely) to the side, but in front of the shooting line!
The disadvantage of being at Bigmoor was that although there was a small corrugated hut to keep the equipment in, and a clubhouse built of wooden panels, there were no facilities (ie running water, gas, electric, toilets, etc). One of our number had to be volunteered to "latrine duties" – not a pleasant job. We did once have a final demand for non-payment of water rates – it took all the skills of our Hon. President to persuade the powers that be that we had no means of obtaining running water. The Hon. President was a well-known local auctioneer, and member of the Aston Villa Football Club Board – Trevor Gill. Trevor provided us with numerous very elaborate trophies, and was part of the local Sheriff's office – hence Stourbridge's "Sheriff's Western" which is shot in September.
In 1980 we had a big upheaval. The ground at Bigmoor was reached by crossing a field, and this field was sold for building land. We had to find a new venue, and by kind permission of the owner of Hagley Hall, we shot there for a few months. However, it proved impractical – we were unable to put on our big shoot, (or any other shoots for that matter), and we took up residence at the Dixonians Rugby Football Club in Wassall Grove, near Hagley. The club moved there in 1981, and had the use of a clubhouse, toilets, running water, gas, and electricity – Heaven! The ground was shared happily with the rugby people, but unhappily with the cricket team which was also based there. We prepared for our big FITA Star – club membership was down, only about half a dozen of us were there to put a big field out (in excess of 50 targets with distances measured to fairly tight tolerances), a lot of work for a few people. The weather was appalling – a blizzard blew up and on the morning of the shoot we awoke to find everything literally knee deep in snow. Some people actually turned up, but the shoot was never started and we had loads of food in the clubhouse to be disposed of somehow. The next day, most of the snow had gone and a couple of members had booked the day off to clear things up. A large 'bump' in the grass at the bottom of the field had appeared out of nowhere. Someone poked it with a stick and it burst – all the water from the snow had gathered under the soil and it gushed forth from this lump.
After that, we decided that it was too much work for too few people, and as FITA stars were becoming more widespread anyway, our efforts were put in to building up the membership. The club shot at the Dixonians until December 1984, when matters came to a head with the cricketers and we moved to our present location at Somers Sports and Social Club, Halesowen on 31 December. The first arrows were shot at the new ground on 1 January 1985.
One of our former members, Carol Sykes (now Carol Crich) attended the Munich Olympics. Carol is quite a character. We used to hold Archery Darts matches with local darts teams, and one of the first we did was at a local working men's club. Things were running fairly smoothly, and then Carol took to the oche. The Darts team were heard to mutter something along the lines "Only a slip of a girl, Bill, you'll soon beat 'er." Carol got her 501 in about nine arrows. It went very quiet after that.
It was whilst at Bigmoor that the Rat's Ashes Shoot was born. A rat got into the storehut and ate right through the centre of most of our bosses. We did manage to find the offending rodent. It was beaten about the head with a shovel and ceremoniously chucked onto the fire we had burning. Some bright spark suggested holding a shoot to try and raise some money to buy new bosses, and so the Rat's Ashes shoot was inaugurated. In later years, it was suggested by a local Judge (Ian Capewell) that for the Club's 40th birthday in 1996, we could adapt the Rat's Ashes (an American Round) and hold a 'Ruby Shoot', asking participants to wear red clothing, instead of the usual Green and/or White. The shoot was a huge success, we put a lot of work in and it was extremely worthwhile. We had spot prizes and a lot of fun, and we have since had different themes for this particular shoot every since, with the Ruby idea being followed by "Red, White and Blue", "Scottish", "Hawaiian", "Pirates" "Wild West" and "Merrie England" themes.
We have had some characters in the club over the years, one of whom was Carol (mentioned above). Another was Ken Arrowsmith (what a good name for an archer!). Ken joined some time in the mid to late seventies, and became very interested in Coaching, becoming a National Junior Coach. He more or less wrote our constitution and was one of the leading lights of the club, holding over the years several committee positions. We were all extremely saddened when he died just before Christmas 1997, and our "All Comers" Warwick Shoot, which had been thought up as an introduction to competition for beginners, is now a Memorial shoot in Ken's name. This shoot is laid out a little differently from the conventional, with targets being put out at different distances according to people's abilities. Thus the first class and bowman archers shoot 100/80 yards, the second class archers shoot 80/60 yards, etc. and the targets are put out so that the beginners can shoot next to the more experienced archers. It is a very popular club shoot, previously organised by Roger Seabury, one of the Country's best longbow archers.
Another popular event is our Breakfast Shoot. Some wag suggested (when we were at Bigmoor) that we should celebrate the Summer Solstice by having sighters at sunrise and incorporate a breakfast into proceedings. So, we get to the field soon after 4.30am and start shooting a Western Round at 5.00am (or as near as we can manage). After the first distance, we break and have (al fresco if possible) a full cooked English Breakfast – bacon, sausage, egg, tomato, beans, black pudding, fried bread, tea/coffee, then complete the round – generally feeling very pleased with ourselves. This is one of the best attended club shoots we put on!
The information for this potted history was supplied by Bob & Margaret Hanson. If anyone can supply additional information and/or anecdotes relating to the early (or not so early) history of SCoA, we would love to hear from you.