Meeting the bowmen and bow women of Essex

Into the woods at Bures. Archers Kim Senior, Sam Dordoy and Mark Bloom show off their archery skills

Into the woods at Bures. Archers Kim Senior, Sam Dordoy and Mark Bloom show off their archery skills - Credit: Archant

For past 20 years Mark Bloom has had a passion for archery and the English longbow.

This latter-day Robin Hood is encouraging the men and women of Essex and beyond to take up arms and try the sport.

Director Mark, who has been a bowman and fletcher for 20 years (those family names come from archery), has launched a new business, White Dragon Archery, from Bures in the Essex/Suffolk borders.

I made sure I wore something green when he went along to try it out - only to be told the `colours’ of Essex archers were red and white.

That would make them good targets on the battle field.

Kim Senior, Sam Dordoy and Mark Bloom

Kim Senior, Sam Dordoy and Mark Bloom - Credit: Archant

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The Bures area has its own claim to fame, the legend of the dragon at nearby Wormingford, fought off by the men of Suffolk who fired arrows at its scaly skin.

The modern take is that it was probably a crocodile escaped from the King’s zoological collection at the Tower of London.

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In earlier times, explained Mark, the power of the longbow and the English archer were vital for the King’s army and all able-bodied men were required to practice “on Sundays and saints days,” to be ready for the call to arms.

“They would have been very competitive, and a few wagers made,” he said.

“The strength of the English bowman was their accuracy, not speed. They were a feared fighting force.

“They could hit a target at a furlong (220 yards). We only have one in our club who can do that.

“An archer then couldn’t have measured a minute, but a furlong was the length of a furrow, and they all came from a rural background.”

Maybe darts is the equivalent today?

Mark added: “Hunting with a bow is illegal now, But bows have been used for hunting, and later warfare, for 3,000 years in the UK, and 10,000 years worldwide. There is lots of evidence for it.

“The longbow was a powerful weapon; though the archers would not only have been English, some would have been Welsh and some from France, or from what is France today.”

White Dragon Archery has an indoor range, in a barn, and an outside area with woodland and where various targets can be set up between the trees.

“It is very good for corporate events; we can add survival training, how to light a fire and that sort of thing.”

He teaches archery, and `fletching’ - arrow-making, over a ten week course.

Arrows are mainly made in pine now. Back in the day it was poplar. “Henry V banned the use of poplar for anything else.”

And he uses his historical expertise to teach about archery across the country, at historic venues including the Mary Rose Museum and Cressing Temple Barns. He even appeared as a convincing Henry VIII at a recreation event at Layer Marney Tower.

White Dragon Archery also provides archery-themed activities for weddings and birthday parties, and for children as young as six years old.

Mark said: “With the youngsters the flaming arrows are always very popular.

“It is a great sport because the family can take to it and do it together.

“We have a mother and daughter on one of our courses, there is no age limit.”

“We have people from all sorts of backgrounds in our club too.”

Of course, with a little instruction, I had to have a go.

And I managed to hit the target several times, but it was only about 25 metres away.

Mark said, “Archery is seen as a bit of a niche sport nowadays, but it was absolutely fundamental to our military history. Without it, Essex and England would be very different - not only would there apparently be a lot more dragons around Bures, but we might well have lost several wars to the French!

“I’ve been shooting and coaching for over 20 years and there is nothing like the delight on people’s faces when they hit the target for the first time.

“White Dragon Archery is all about keeping the skills of archery alive - and having a wonderful time learning them!”

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