The Royal Toxophilite Society, the oldest and, for many years the most influential English Archery Club, was founded as the Toxophilite Society on the 3rd April 1781 by Sir Ashton Lever, a Lancashire aristocrat, business man and sportsman, and Thomas Waring, Superintendent of Sir Ashtons “Museum of Collections” in Leicester House, London. Thomas Waring had taken up archery in an attempt to “alleviate oppressions upon his chest caused by sitting too long and too close at his desk and pressing his breast too much against it”. He had derived ‘great benefit’ from the exercise and Sir Ashton decided to follow suit.
They were quickly joined by the remaining members of the Finsbury Archers, who had not shot since 1763, (Mr Philip Constable bought with him certain trophies and regalia of that society), and a eclectic mixture of Military Men, Clerics, Authors and Politicians numbering sixteen in total.
In 1787 HRH the Prince of Wales became the first Royal Patron establishing a tradition which continues to this day. The most recent occasion on which the Society has been graced with the presence of their Royal Patron was at a shoot in Windsor Great Park attended by HM Queen Elizabeth II in July 2013.
The Society thrived, by 1791 it had 170 members but it was not to last, by 1817 due mainly to the effects of the Napoleonic wars membership was down to only 16
However, the Society survived, being one of only five out of more than 30 such organisations to do so.
Up to 1833 the Society led a some what nomadic existence. Having no really suitable grounds of their own they shot wherever they could, or were invited, including Canonbury House, Highbury Barn, The Honourable Artillery Company and, on two occasions, on Mr Lords Cricket Ground. . As a sporting spectacle archery, attracted large numbers of spectators, often three or four hundred came to watch or stroll in the Grounds, these numbers generated a substantial income for the owners and there was no shortage of Grounds on which to shoot.
In 1834 the Society managed to negotiate for some six acres in Regents Park where the members installed three pairs of earthen butts. By 1870 a substantial Club House, in ‘Rustic Gothic’ style, had been built on the site complete with a large dining room, members and committee rooms, kitchen and servants quarters. Galas were held, usually on Target Days, attracting up to 3,000 spectators, banquets and balls were also a regular feature.
From the mid 1840s the use of the prefix ‘Royal’ had become quite common and was unofficially adopted from about 1847. In 1996 the situation was regularised by the Home Office on the grounds of “long and accepted common usage” and a formal Coat of Arms was established
It was at Regents Park in July 1910 that, organised by the society, a competition was held for two medals given by The Worshipful Company of Bowyers, for the ‘further encouragement of archery in the present day’, the first Bowyers Day. Possibly, not by coincidence, Alderman Thomas Questor Finnes, the then Master, had, as a young man, completed a seven year apprenticeship to a Bowyer.
By 1913 moves were being made by local residents to have the Society evicted from Regents Park but the 14/18 war delayed action until 1922 when, after many acrimonious
exchanges, they were evicted without compensation leaving behind many artefacts from what had become an extensive collection gathered together by members, from throughout the world. The Society was fortunate to be offered facilities again by the Honourable Artillery Company until they found a new shooting ground in 1924.
Owned by the Church Commissioners this was a derelict burial ground close to Hyde Park Place and the site of the infamous Tyburn Gallows, many of it’s victims were reputedly interred there. The ‘Tox’ head-quarters moved into the rather cramped adjacent No.9 Albion Mews. The ground was not spacious but even so some quite large meetings were held. In 1941 the head-quarters was hit by incendiary bombs and more of the Society’s archives and some trophies were lost. The Society remained at Albion Mews until the land was earmarked for development in 1965.
After two years of searching the Home Counties new premises were located at Burnham in Bucks and after many exchanges with the Local Authority and various land owners the Society, with it’s funds augmented by a most generous donation by one of it’s members, Erna Simon, moved in and held the first shoot on their own ground on 21st. October 1967, the last shoot of that season.
Ladies were admitted as Associate Members in 1919 but had to wait until 1939 before they were recognised as Full Members even though they had held shoots in their own rights on numerous occasions before this.
To-day the ‘Tox’ continues it’s position as an independent, closed Society but individual members are to be found at every level of organisation in major tournaments as judges, organisers and administrators of both national and international events.
Sadly the last link with the Society’s founders finally came to an end with the death of Mr David Waring in April 2009