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Knottingley and Ferrybridge Memories

OF BOWMEN


ANDREW BELL

Though it is feared that this article with never win the Booker Prize, I hope it does more than fill some otherwise blank space in the publication, and that you enjoy the ramblings. Please forgive my self-indulgence, having had some notoriety from my previous article, I have transcribed a further ‘trip down memory lane’. The memory this time centres on myself and my new found passion that of Archery. The ‘Digest’ certainly stimulates memory. In a more reflective mood I ask you the reader, were people in our youth more colourful or has time just faded the colours to the harshness of black and white, sharpening the focus thus making them and their deeds more polarized?

My Father and others of his generation related many a tale to me. These tales become an oral history, a transference of consciousness from one generation to another, though no doubt the representation will become tarnished or garnished by time, creating a saga, tragedy, or myth. The trick is to get them down on paper before they are lost for many a myth becomes history and via versa.

Where to start this saga? well from the ‘very beginning, a very good place to start’, as Julie Andrews would sing in the ‘Sound of Music’. So I will attempt in a roundabout way to tell you why I lug (and that is a very good word which we will come back to) around a Longbow and have found a passion in Archery.

Though now living in Auckland, New Zealand, I was brought up in, Ferrybridge, Yorkshire, and in the days of Robin Hood, that famous stretch of woodland, Sherwood Forest, extended across most of that belt of England. Not far from my home on Doncaster Road heading south along the A1 was Robin Hood’s Well, where legend has it; the famous man dressed in his best Lincoln Green met his true love.

Just to the north and a steady bike ride away (to a young lad) was Towton Moor, where Yorkshire Bowmen, released an arrow-storm on the Lancastrian forces during the ‘War of the Roses’. But perhaps more poignantly, during the excavation for Ferrybridge ‘C’ Power Station, a Neolithic grave was uncovered (some 12,000 to 14,000 years old) containing flint arrowheads and knife.

So with this background, and watching Lorne Green in the ‘Tales of Robin Hood’ on TV, it was perhaps inevitable that I would pick up a longbow and start archery. Indeed to an Anglo-Saxon, the longbow has as much reverence as the Samurai sword to the Japanese. The bow had been in use for thousands of years, to provide food for the table, and had been used in various forms as an instrument of battle, but nothing until the introduction of the ‘Multi-Barrelled Rocket Launcher’ compared to or surpasses the English War bow. With a pull of and often exceeding 150lbs, which cast an arrow at 180 feet per second (for the youngsters that’s about 190 Km/hr) this truly was the tank, artillery and aircraft of its day. This weapon when employed en mass was the great leveller; Warrior Kings, knight, solider and peasants alike were swept from the battlefield. English Kings actively encouraged the lower classes to use the bow, ordering that every man "should practice the bow". Whereas, other European nations, and in particular the French, did not like to see the hoi poli getting ideas above their station in life, but after Crecy, Poitiers and Agincourt the faith in the English Longbow was rewarded.

As suggested earlier, the bow was not an English prerogative - all nations, civilisations and regions have used the bow at some time, including as part of their military armoury. However, the bow was an auxiliary weapon, to be used only when great phalanx of men were not locked in combat or when cavalry were not employed, there may have been archers engaging targets of opportunity, but here sword and spear held supreme. However, English Kings employed vast companies of archers as part of the body of their armies, with the war bow they could effectively, deter, diminish, and or defeat opposing forces before the mêlée had commenced. In fact if the longbow had been employed during the Napoleonic Wars, the raw mathematics of killing power would have made Wellington’s victories faster and sweeter, since the longbow’s firing rate and accuracy were much greater than that of the smoothbore musket.

So as a small boy (yes I was small once), I took to arms with a bow that my Dad made out of a Willow (of all things) foraged from the trees in the old graveyard of St. Andrew’s Church, alongside of the marsh and railway. My Mum stitched a leather handgrip and quiver. Arrows were from a variety of sources, elderberry from the embankment on the Vale Terrace, Bamboo from my Dads garden and hazel from Ken Bagley’s orchard, the house we were eventually to move in to.

For two or three years along with my mates, Paul Smith, the Parkin’s, the Palmer’s, our own Maid Marion, Bev Johnson, and the rest of the Elizabeth Drive Gang, we fought enemies on foreign fields, stalked wild game on the ‘Dark Continent’ and took the ‘Golden Arrow’ at Nottingham, along with my fellow ‘Merry Men’ in the depths of our imagination and the fields and woods surrounding the village, (Carr’s Field, Cathi Lane, Brotherton Marsh and the Canal Path).

As most people do, I grew-up (well mostly according to my wife) and moved on, but the bow always held that allure and I would regress to childhood with toy versions bought for my two young sons. I remember daydreaming after Costner’s Robin Hood and I would find any excuse to look at bows in sport shops. Finally, 38 years later and after reading a book called ‘Harlequin’ by Bernard Cornwell I stopped fantasizing and purchased my ‘hearts desire’ an English Longbow, the full 72 inches, along with cloth-yard length wooden arrows, and got them shipped out to New Zealand. And the rest they say is history! Though I must say reality is much harder than fantasy, having taken part in the Trans-Tasmin Master Games between Australia and New Zealand, which my club hosted in March 2004.

Well back to that word lug’: well in the old native Yorkshire dialect, that is what a bow was called. The word refers to a bell-rope, but in the vernacular the meaning relates to the drawing or ‘lugging’ a bow-string, thus it became known locally as a lug. As most reader will also know ‘lug’ in Yorkshire can also mean to carry something awkward.

Andrew G. Bell

[Memories Index]


Also by Andrew Bell:

Echoes of the Past - Myth or History
Reach Your Potential
Letter From the Front



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