A brief history of WOAC
by Pat Comber M.B.E.
The exact date that Wellingborough Open Archery Club was formed is not known because the minutes from the inaugural meeting were not dated. As a letter was sent on 1st September 1955, it was probably held on 31st August 1955. However, the story of archery in Wellingborough starts before then, in 1951.
Keith and Margaret Watts, two of the founder members of the Wellingborough Open Archery Club, were not always destined to be archers. Margaret was a County netball player, and Keith was a champion snooker player. When cupid’s arrow hit it’s target, back in 1951, the couple looked for an interesting and challenging sport which they could play together. They settled on archery, but there were no local clubs at that time. They bought a bow each and shot on a field near their homes, on a plywood target made by Keith. This field is now under the tarmac and bricks of Valley Road. Keith recalls that although Margaret managed to shoot well without injury, he always made a lovely bruise on his bow arm. He was told later that the bow he was using was too short.
After they married in 1952, they moved to Harrowden Road, where they shot in an orchard belonging to a neighbour across the road. He later asked if they wanted to buy the orchard for £300, but this was a small fortune then, and they could not afford it. This land later sold for £27,000 and now has the Pyghtle Estate built on it!
Keith used to walk his dog round by the river, and one day, as he passed Chapmans Box Factory he heard a “thwack” that he recognised. Looking through a gap in the hedge he saw a small group of people shooting at a cardboard target set up on a pole. Every time an arrow hit there was a cheer. One of the archers, Ray Rawlings, came across and asked Keith if he would like to join them. He went home and told Margaret, who went out and bought him a new bow.
They still have this bow which is now a piece of their family history. Their two children Karen and Kevin were measured against the bow handle on their birthdays from their early years and the marks rising up plot their growth from the handle to the top of the top limb.
As Autumn approached, the group dwindled and they were told the Chapmans group was disbanding. If they wanted to continue, they would have to form their own club. After putting an advert in the local paper, the inaugural meeting was held in August 1955, at which the Wellingborough Open Archery Club was formed.
With no fixed shooting venue, the club shot at St Mary’s Paddock on Saturdays, at Victoria School on Mondays, and at the Dog & Duck ground on Wednesdays , if there was no football or cricket. The club had one target, a rather soft Slazenger target, which was moved from place to place by Keith. He used to rest the boss on the foot pedal of his bike, the stand across the saddle and handlebars, his archery kit slung over his shoulder and trundle to each of the venues. This was fine going out as it was all downhill, but coming from the bottom of the hill near the river, to his home in Harrowden Road was one big push!
The next year, the club settled at the Dog & Duck and stayed there for nearly 10 years. In these early days the club was helped by coaching from Ian Knight and Paddy Flynn from Northampton. Keith remembers being very impressed by the skill and accuracy shown by these archers.
This coaching clearly paid off , as Keith`s scrap book from the early years shows success for club archers, as early as May 1956 when three archers won medals at the Allen Archers Shoot. Keith and Margaret both won medals at shoots as far afield as Coventry and Leamington Spa.
Starting in 1956, the club held an Annual Open Tournament which was held in September each year. The first shoot was held at the Dog & Duck ground, but subsequent shoots were held in Eastfield Park. The shoots attracted some of the country`s best archers and in 1961 there were over 100 entries. One of the trophies, a silver cap badge, donated to the club by Mr Dykes, caused something of a furore when the junior member who had won it wore it on his hat at a shoot. The badge was a Royal Toxopholite Society badge and should only be worn by members of that society. After some negotiations the club was allowed to keep it provided it was mounted on a plaque.
A particular memory for Margaret was the Thorsby Trophy Match in 1959, when the Northamptonshire County Team won the Trophy for the first time in it’s history, a win not repeated for many years. At presentation time she was taking her mother-in-law to the toilet and missed her moment of glory, instead of receiving her medal from the Lady Paramount she was given it by fellow team member Mrs Knight.
Shooting at the Dog & Duck continued until the football Club started to impose impossible conditions. This included a requirement that the Archery Club should sell a quota of Football Tote tickets each week. As a result the club moved to The Technical School in Weavers Road, which was home to the club through most of the 1960’s. The club declined somewhat and the Open Shoot fell by the wayside in 1964. However, by providing evening classes at the Technical College, where he was caretaker, club chairman Alf Holman started a revival which brought in new members, including Pat Comber and Gloria Borley. Another person who joined the classes was Rene Weed, who did not join at that time but took up archery some years later when the Club provided archery for the Disabled Sports Club. The influx of members in 1967/8 enabled the club to revive the Open Tournament. This was held at Eastfield Park up to 1969. Looking at the Park now it is difficult to see how it was possible, there certainly isn’t the overshoot needed for archers shooting with the powerful bows around today.
The club continued to thrive here, until sadly a rift in the membership saw the main part of the club move on leaving a splinter group at Weavers School, who formed the Technical Archers. Keith Watts, who clearly had lots of ideas on moving targets, remembers moving the bosses, hut and all, resting on an old bed quilt on the top of his little car.
After a nomadic year the club was given a temporary home on the Finedon Road Industrial Estate. The field was very rough with a hedge through the middle. The ground rose quite steeply behind the hedge and was covered in long grass. The ground was rented from the Borough Council for £5.00 a year, with the club shooting outdoors through the winter.
One memory from the first visit was a photographer from the local paper, stepping back to get us all in the picture, falling into one of the holes. Before shooting could start we had to level the field, and we hired a bulldozer to do this for the princely sum of £26 for the day, operator included. Another memory was the arrival of the Fire Brigade after we had tried (with the help of a fireman from Thrapston) to burn off the long grass. The smoke had got into the air conditioning at the factory next door and set off the fire alarms.
The club settled here for several years and held a 24 hour shoot to raise funds, with a raffle to guess the total score for the 24 hour period. This was based on two archers shooting at a time at 30 metres, and I recall the final score was around 17000. There was also a crossbow section for a while, which helped to bring new members into the club, one of them a Mr Jolley.
The crossbow enthusiasts eventually all converted to real archery, although this may have been due to the frequent loss of crossbow bolts(they went right through the “butte”).
The late John Sheppard found out that a drawn crossbow is not as wide as one which has been shot, after he shot it in a narrow passage at home and managed to wedge it between the two walls!. Even more disastrous, the bolt missed the target, went through his bedroom door, his wardrobe door, and pinned his best suit to the back of the wardrobe. Keith and Margaret also tried crossbow, with Margaret ending up with very sore toes on one occasion after her string failed to lock when drawn back.
During those years the club entered the British Archer Frostbite League, and on one occasion organised a York/Hereford on New Years day. A blizzard blew on the day and only two archers turned up to shoot. Being the hardy types they shot all morning, went home for lunch, and came back for more in the afternoon. The scores were clearly nothing to write home about as they do not appear in the records.
In 1975 the club had to cope with an unusual problem. Gypsies moved onto the estate, and to stop them camping on spare plots, the Council ploughed up all the vacant spots with the deepest furrows they could manage. Our pride and joy, while not resembling a bowling green, became a mud bath. the Council did apologise for the ploughman’s enthusiasm but reminded the club it was on a short term lease.
During this time the Club held it’s Annual Open Tournament at Breezehill School. The club knew the Finedon Road site was only a temporary home as it was earmarked for factory development, and with the help of member Gloria Borley, finally obtained a permanent home at Breezehill School. With real grass to shoot on at last, the club again began to expand and take part in hosting County events. The interest and support of the Headmistress, Betty Trew, made this a successful period for the club.
In 1982 the club became involved with the Wellingborough Sports and Social Club for the Disabled, by providing archery at their Tuesday night sessions. This was a popular activity and the partnership continued up to the late 1990s. The Disabled Club was affiliated to the G.N.A.S. under it’s competitive name, Waendel Warriors. Over the years members of the Disabled Club have joined the Wellingborough Open Archery Club and taken part in Club and County events. One of the notable archers was Karen Watts, who was introduced to archery at Stoke Mandefield hospital after becoming disabled due to a car accident. She had been an active sportswoman and took up archery as a sport in which she could compete on equal terms with able bodied archers.
Karen joined the club in 1983 and was a member for some years before joining the Newport Pagnell Club, which was more convenient for her while training at Stoke Mandeville with John Miller. Under his expert coaching she soon became an international archer, representing Britain in many overseas competitions between 1984 and 1993. After winning Gold in the European Games in Belgium, she went on to win individual Silver and team Gold medals in Austria, the USA, and Finland. The high point of her shooting career came when she was selected to shoot in the 1988 Paralympics in Seoul, winning individual and team Gold medals with a personal best score of 1233. In Holland in 1990 she won an individual bronze medal, shooting the “new” Olympic Round.
Other disabled archers who joined were Rene Weed, Jo and Ian Roberts, Len Betts and Terry Barringer. Rene, Jo and Ian were seen regularly at county events, and all won national honours at the National Archery Championships held by the British Sports Association for the Disabled. Working with Waendel warriors was interesting and rewarding for the club coaches and other archers. Marksman Bows also helped by making a bow to order for youngster Kerry Noble, who did not have the strength to hold a bow, and needed a right handed grip with a left handed bow window to strap into her hand on her arm rest. Eric Jackson’s engineering skills come in very handy when trying new ideas to enable people with different physical problems to enjoy the sport of archery.
All good things come to an end, and heavy housing development around the school brought lots of unauthorised groups onto the field- children playing tennis, football cricket, even someone practising golf swings. Club member Ivy (Mum) Keating was so exasperated one Sunday morning as we stopped for the third time while he wandered across for his balls that she said “I’ll get the b***** next time”. She nocked her arrow, accidentally let it slip onto the top of her pressure button and shot it way up the field, where it landed about 2 yards from the golfer. He disappeared rapidly and never did come back for his balls.
With G.N.A.S. getting more concerned with safety, the club realised that shooting there was not as safe as it should be. By this time Rene Weed was a member, and used her influence as Personnel Officer at Scott Bader to obtain use of the firm’s sports field for archery. The Club enjoyed some happy years there, holding the club’s Annual Open Shoot and many County events in a very rural setting. Overshoot at 100 yards was into another field through a wire fence. Sheep were kept there and when a tournament was in progress someone had to sit at the top corner and frighten them away if they tried to stray behind the York targets.
Most club members best remember this era for the mammoth grass cutting sessions to keep the grass on the football pitch sized field short enough to find arrows which missed the target.
All the members helped, the Gents taking turns pushing the mower, and the Ladies and Juniors raking up the cuttings. The Club also made use of an old barn at the back of the Social Club as a very small indoor range, two targets at 10 yards, freezing cold and very poor light. The advantage was a bar next door where we could warm up after shooting. This field was used for practice and competitions until 1991 when rumours of a new warehouse development became fact and half of the field disappeared under concrete for the access road. It was still possible to practice, as it was cut in half lengthways, so there was still 100 yards and room for 6 targets. In September 1991 the Annual Open Tournament moved once again –just across the road to Wollaston School.
A tightening up of security at the Scott Bader factory made it more difficult to continue to use the field. A requirement that two employees be present at all times was hard to fulfill, as Rene had retired and Philip Aries, the only other employee, could not always be there because of shift work. It was with much regret that the Club decided to leave this shooting venue, which had been free of charge, and negotiated for use of the field at Wollaston School for the new outdoor season of 1994. This gave the club an excellent shooting ground with plenty of space to host Tournaments large and small, with no sheep to worry about.
During this time the club had found a permanent winter home at the Irchester Youth Centre. Although having room for only a 15 yard range, the cost was reasonable and the club sessions were well attended. This hall was also used for County Coaching sessions until we had to change to Saturdays for our club practice day. The club’s annual “Fun Shoot” was revived as a run up to Christmas, with devious plots and even more twisted scoring systems and lots of goodies to eat, to get everyone into the Christmas spirit.
As we approached the Millenium the Wellingborough Open Archery Club was well established at Wollaston School, and Irchester Youth Centre, with a strong membership of
archers of all ages and abilities, who enjoy shooting together. Dave’s Place ( the home of member David Walker) became “The Clubhouse” where we have regular meetings and social evenings.
The club celebrated the Millenium by holding a twenty four hour shoot on Midsummer weekend, including St George, Albion and Windsor rounds on Saturday afternoon, and an overnight “Moonlight” shoot with a head to head final at dawn, very closely contested by Senior and Junior archers. On the Sunday, after breakfast brought by meals on wheels (otherwise known as members wives) a Clout Shoot and a Flight Shoot were held. The flight shoot was won by John Bosworth, a one time World Record holder for Flight Archery. Because of safety rules, only light weight beginners bows were allowed, but John still managed 288 yards.
In September 2002 the club hosted the largest shoot put on in Northamptonshire for many years, the Thorsby Trophy Match which is an inter county competition held between the East Midlands county teams of Northamptonshire, Nottinghamshire, Lincolnshire, Derbyshire and Leicestershire. There were a total of 33 targets, and they looked a beautiful sight on the eve of the shoot as the setting sun lit them up against a dark green background, the “Gold” centres shining out as if in anticipation of the next days shooting.
We had a strong group of coaches, and other experienced archers, who help to keep the membership growing. The club had for some years been providing archery coaching at Wellingborough School.
In addition, Pat, Eric and Philip, have run Leader Courses to train Archery Leaders for the Scouts, Guides, Boys Brigade and County Youth Services. These organisations are where most of our new archers get a taste of the sport, and the courses are well worth the cost in resources to run them. Because of the influx of young members a separate Junior club, WOAC Colts, was formed. With the Wrenn School after school club, and our association with Waendal Warriors, we had a club which prides itself on it’s capacity to cater for people or all abilities and ages.
By the millenium, successful recruiting had swelled the club so we have outgrown Irchester Youth Centre and for the Winter Season of 2001/2002 we moved to Wrenn School Gymnasium. This is a larger hall with a longer shooting range. We developed a good relationship with the school, being instrumental in obtaining a Lottery Grant to set up an after school archery club. For the 2003 Summer Season the club moved the outdoor venue to Wrenn School from Wollaston, thus coming full circle, as it is only a few hundred yards from where Keith and Margaret first shot on a piece of waste ground in 1951.
The club had for some years shot three times a week outdoors, and just Saturday afternoons in the winter as the venue wasn’t available weekday evenings. At Wrenn School the gym was available and we added two more sessions, with Mondays dedicated to coaching all year round.
The club now had around 50 members, but we could not be complacent. Having survived some lean years, we knew we had to keep on recruiting new members, and providing the
right level of competition to retain their interest in the sport of archery. We were continually raising funds with the aim of buying our own field. This was our dream for the 21 st Century – to have a solid membership of all ages and abilities, to cater for any archer whether able bodied or disabled, all shooting together on our own field.
How far have we reached towards our goal?
On membership, we have a very diverse membership of over 100, ranging in age from 7 to 80+. In 2006 Club Colours were introduced by GNAS and members chose our new colours of
black, red and white which look smart and identify the club members at shoots. 2006 was also the year we looked seriously at getting some outside storage near the field. Targets were being dragged from the cupboard in the gym, through the doors and gates and up a flight of steps to the field. After negotiating with the school we provided funds to build a brick garage with water and power, which became into use in 2007. The funds covered our rent for the next 10 years. These 10 years were well used. We used the gym for shooting, coaching, training coaches, and training events for the County Archery Society.
We also started the process to apply for Clubmark accreditation, which was granted and has been renewed every 3 years since then. The next big event was the Olympic Games of 2012 held in London. The hype leading up to the games brought us lots of extra work doing ”Have a Goes” in schools around the County, with Eric our Treasurer, also a National Judge involved in the games, doing a “Have a Go” for the MP’s in Westminster. Altogether a staggering number of children had a chance to try archery in the year. As these were mainly in term time, all of us who didn’t have a day job went out to various venues, but none as many as Dennis, who over the year taught 3375 children and students from 27 different schools and colleges.
I must also mention the Archer sculpture which was put up on the playing field at Wrenn School as a permanent memento of the Olympics. This was unveiled by David Harrison, Chairman of Archery GB, on the day that the Olympic Torch passed through Wellingborough on it’s way to London. It is a striking if unusual statue which can be seen from Doddington Road.
2012 was also an important year in the development of the Club. The Committee went up to Old Grammarians Sports Field to look at an area which could become our 24/7 archery range. It didn’t look very promising on the 7th January 2012, it was raining buckets, the ground was claggy mud, with brambles and other wild growth all over the area, and a bank in the middle. In spite of this some of us saw it through rose coloured specs, and decided to recommend to the members at the AGM that we commit the funds, and join with OG’s in applying for grants to do the work. The Grant Applications made jointly with Old Grammarians, were finally agreed in April 2014. Work was started and was sufficiently advanced by April 2015 for us to move our outdoor shooting to Sywell Road. By the time we celebrated the clubs 60th Anniversary on a lovely sunny day in August 2015 we were well settled on our new range.
The last 3 years we have continued to improve the facilities at the range, there is still work to do. We are still busy raising funds, for upkeep and improving our facilities.
Our indoor shooting venue has also moved again, to Sir Christopher Hatton School (formerly Breezehill School), and our weekday sessions moved to Mondays and Thursdays. These
days suited most members and are now used summer and winter. In addition, as the outdoor range is available 24/7, on any good day someone is usually up at Sywell Road shooting.
But, there is also another big challenge for the club members to take on: Wouldn’t it be nice to have our own indoor range?