Dave Hulme -long-time secretary of the Bowman of Bruntwood tells the story of CHEADLE ARCHERS – a Victorian archery club.
When Cheadle Archers was formed in 1871 they were to include among their ranks one of the most prominent men in the region – someone who forms part of Stockport’s industrial heritage, and whose family played its own part in the industrial revolution.
Another member was one of the most active sporting women of her generation – a crack shot with a rifle as well as a bow.
And a descendant of the family of another Cheadle archer was an organiser of one of the most celebrated escapes of World War II.
There is also a link to Bruntwood, the home of the Bowmen of Bruntwood in Bruntwood Park, Cheadle, through the family of that prominent Stockport industrialist.
But details about Cheadle Archers are tantalising. For example, we have no direct evidence of the club’s formation, registration, or even where they shot. Centralised early records of clubs like Cheadle Archers – and they were numerous in the Victorian period - no longer exist.
When Trevor Francis formed the Bowmen of Bruntwood in 1950, he too was curious about Cheadle Archers. This was possibly because the club had been handed a horned trophy inscribed with the legend Cheadle Archers, 1873.
Trevor had a letter published in the Stockport Advertiser, and among club records and documents passed down the years was an A4 sheet of paper giving details of Cheadle Archers – that it was formed in 1871, the names of those shooting in various years, the rise and decline of the membership, and so on. But one vital detail is missing – apart from the name of the person who provided the information – and this is the location of their shooting ground.
Trevor had heard that the club may have shot on a meadow on the left-hand side of Wilmslow Road between Cheadle village and Parrs Wood. Victorian maps of Cheadle for 1872, 1875, and again for 1881, show an archery ground north of the Cheadle Mill, a corn mill, later a bleachworks, and north of Holcroft House, now demolished, with the archery ground sited exactly halfway between the two railway lines that run east and west through the area. The maps show a tiny building in the north east corner of the archery ground – was this the club hut? – plus a symbol for a flagstaff. Perhaps the flag was flown on shooting days. The Micker Brook runs past the shooting ground.
It was also near to Barnes Hospital, or convalescent hospital as it first was….with the hospital’s foundation stone being laid in 1871 and patients being admitted from 1875. The land for the hospital was bought from the trustees of the landowner, Lloyd Hesketh Bamford-Hesketh, who also owned the land where the archery ground was situated.
So, Cheadle Archers was formed as building work started on Barnes Hospital, which stood in 46 acres of pastures, used by patients and also let for farming. But a map of the hospital dated 1898 shows no archery ground.
Could this have been the home of Cheadle Archers, though? The maps show only one archery ground in Cheadle, co-inciding with the existence of this group of archers, who appear to have disbanded by the late 1890’s, when the archery ground disappears from the maps. All the “home” rounds they shot, and which were publicised in the journals of the time, don’t show a location, unless they were shooting away against another club or at tournaments. They were a well-travelled group, as we shall see.
Maps associated with the Barnes Hospital site redevelopment show that the original site boundary ran through part of the archery ground, as well. The field containing the archery ground is now also marked as part of an area of archaeological potential. It is thought to be on the projected line of a Roman road between Cheadle and Buxton – an off-shoot of the Manchester to Chester Roman road.
It is modern road development that dominates the area now. Modern maps show the slip roads from junction 3 of the M60 to Kingsway combining and appearing to run through the middle of that old Victorian archery ground. The open space is still there, but these days it is wildly overgrown and all but inaccessible, hemmed in by the motorway slip road and the Barnes Hospital site boundary fences.
The piece of A4 sheet of paper we possess about Cheadle Archers is a crucial source of information. It says the club was formed in 1871, a fact confirmed by archery historian, Hugh Soar, of the Society of Archery-Antiquaries. He has found a reference to Cheadle Archers in The Field newspaper of 1872, referring to the club as “new last season.” The first reference to Cheadle Archers, according to our A4 sheet, though, is in the Archers Register of 1877 in a match against Irwell Archers on the Western Ground, near Manchester, which was Irwell Archers’ home ground. That was on 28 July, 1876.
I’ve since seen the same entry in the Archers Register, thanks to the help of Wendy Hodkinson, Honorary Curator of The Archery Collection at Manchester Museum, and Archery Archivist, Andrew Furey. The men shot six dozen arrows at 60 yards, and the women – or ladies as they are always referred to – shot six dozen at 50 yards. These aren’t recognised rounds, but as Wendy points out, clubs probably shot the distances and the number of arrows they chose, until the relatively young Grand National Archery Society began to recognise other rounds apart from the York, Hereford and National.
So who were these Cheadle Archers? Well, they were mainly women, and at meetings they almost always outnumbered the men. In this period, women were expected to take part in passive sports like archery, golf, croquet and tennis.1 Archery is also a sport with a social side, where participants can chat away between ends and while walking to the targets and back. But in those far-off times, it was also a sport for the more well-to-do, unlike its modern incarnation, which is much more broad-based, socially.
The most significant name that appears among Cheadle Archers is Sykes. This was the Sykes family who had made their name through the Edgeley-based cotton-bleaching company, set up by Wakefield-born William Sykes in 1792. By the 1870’s it was run by Thomas Hardcastle Sykes, born in 1833.
The name T.H. Sykes appears only once among the archers shooting through the 1870’s, 1880’s and into the early 90’s. This was Thomas Hardcastle Sykes, even though there is no reference to archery in his family history that I can find. But he still found space in a crowded business and public life to be a committee member of one of the newest archery societies of his time – the Grand Northern archery meeting, the biggest regional tournament in the north of England.
Frank Sykes, a nephew of Thomas Sykes, is also named among the shooters, with an address given as Edgeley Fold. A Mrs. E. H. Sykes is also named among the women of Cheadle Archers in 1878. This was Mrs. Edmund Howard Sykes, Frank’s mother, or Frances Anne, to use her birth names. She headed the list of mourners in a local newspaper report of Thomas Sykes’s funeral in 1901. It is indicative of the status of women in this era that they were always known formally by their husbands’ initials.
It’s a nice co-incidence that Thomas Hardcastle Sykes, who was born at the Sykes family home, Edgeley House, later lived at Cringle House in Schools Hill, Cheadle, just a couple of arrow shots from my own archery club in Bruntwood Park. (The land on which Edgeley House stood would later become Alexandra Park, thanks to the Sykes family.)
Thomas Hardcastle Sykes became High Sheriff of Cheshire and a JP among numerous public roles – the Treasurer of Stockport Infirmary, for example. . He died at home aged 68 in 1901, and is buried in the family vault at Cheadle Parish Church, with his first wife, Mary, the daughter of John Platt, MP, of Platt Brothers textile manufacturers.
Cringle House was built by Thomas Sykes in 1864 and this was his first home with Mary following their marriage. Mary died in 1875, and six years later, Thomas Sykes married again – another Mary, Mary Turner of Rusholme Hall. Cringle House was demolished in 1914, with two other houses being built on the site in later years.
Mary Platt creates a link with Bruntwood Park itself. Her brother James lived at Bruntwood Hall in the 1880’s – he was known as “the squire of Bruntwood” - and he created racing stables there. Our indoor range is a former stables – but it is uncertain whether these were once those racing stables.
The Sykes family names are written into the landscape of Edgeley – think of Sykes’s reservoirs, which once served the bleach works, and Hardcastle Road, which runs past Stockport County’s ground. The land on which the football club stands was among extensive areas of Edgeley owned by the Sykes family.
A Mrs. C.G. Ross is also named among Cheadle Archers – and she was an outstanding sportswoman, an all-rounder, you might say. Early in her life, she was a follower of the Cheshire hounds – noted for her “fearless riding”, according to her obituarists in The Times and the Western Daily Press of 1892.
She was born on 19 October, 1837, as Christian Alexandrina Paton Henderson in Manchester, the daughter of Scottish-born Charles Paton Henderson, who was an East India merchant. She was christened at St. Luke’s in Chorlton-on-Medlock when the family were living in Oxford Road.
Keeping up the Scottish connection, Christian married Perth-born Colin George Ross, in 1861 at St. Paul’s, Withington. Before setting up home together, they lived in the Henderson household in Withington. At this time, Mr. Ross was a financial partner in the firm of C.P. Henderson – in effect, he married the boss’s daughter.
They would eventually have two daughters and a son, and as Cheadle Archers came into existence, the family lived at Brook Lodge, a Georgian house in Schools Hill, now demolished and replaced by a block of flats. So they were neighbours of that other Cheadle Archers stalwart, Thomas Hardcastle Sykes.
Mrs. Ross’s sporting life is worth celebrating, given the status of Victorian women. As a member of Cheadle Archers, she won many prizes – at the Grand Northern and Crystal Palace, to name just two. She was also successful at lawn tennis in Manchester, enjoyed trout fishing in the Scottish Highlands – her favourite pastime - was fond of deer stalking, and excelled at grouse shooting. In the reference to deer stalking, her obituarists said she “knew how to make good use of her rifle.” As if all this wasn’t enough, she was also a golfer, playing at Hoylake and Nairn where “her skill was remarkable.”
By 1891, Mrs. Ross was living with her husband, son Charles, and their five servants, in Pall Mall, in the heart of Manchester’s financial district. By this time, Mr. Ross, a well-travelled member of the diplomatic service earlier in his life, was working for the Bank of England in Manchester, having joined in 1887. Their home was within walking distance of the Bank of England building on King Street.
The following year the family were living in Grey Street, Newcastle-upon-Tyne, where Mr. Ross is described as an agent of the Bank of England. They obviously had the status to live at prestigious addresses. Grey Street is renowned for its Georgian architecture, and was voted by BBC R4 listeners as the best street in the UK. It was praised by the poet and architecture buff, Sir John Betjeman – he believed it was better than Regent Street in London.2 And it was at 37 Grey Street on 24 August, 1892, that Mrs. Ross died of uterine cancer at the relatively early age of 54.
The women of Cheadle Archers practised by shooting three dozen arrows at 60 yards and 50 yards, with the men shooting the same amount of arrows at 80 and 60 yards. This appeared to be common throughout the archery clubs of the time, with simple but graceful longbows and wooden, feather-flighted arrows being used. This arm of the sport is still very popular today, despite the development of recurve and compound bows, arrows, strings and stabilisers, using state-of-the-art materials.
Cheadle Archers were competitive and well-travelled. At the 13th Grand National Archery Meeting in Leamington, the club was represented by a Mrs. Worthington in 1873, an early recording of the club’s activities.
But – in a practice common today – they travelled en masse to tournaments, no doubt by train. At only the third meeting of the Grand Northern at Harrogate in 1882, Mrs. E.H. Sykes, Mrs. A. Waithman, Mrs. P.J. McLaren, Mrs. Holland, Mrs. Hulse, and Mrs. Mitton, plus Mr. A.T. Holland, Mr. A. Waithman, and Mr. G.C. Greenwell, all shot. The rounds were the National for women and the York for men - rounds still popular to the present day.
Mrs. Mitton shared the best gold prize – worth £2.10s (£2.50) – with Mrs. Waithman and a Mrs. Faulkner. Mrs. Waithman also won the 50 yard prize, worth £2. It doesn’t sound much - but it was the equivalent of around £178 and £134 respectively at today’s values, depending on which multiple you use.3 It was only 12 years earlier that the law was changed to enable women to keep any money they earned.4
At the second Grand Northern, in Liverpool the year before, all the familiar Cheadle Archers names appeared, with the addition of that sporting all-rounder, Mrs. Ross. In total, 11 Cheadle Archers shot, with the addition of Thomas Hardcastle Sykes as a Grand Northern tournament committee member.
But it wasn’t all competitive archery. Those Victorians knew how to have fun. The Manchester Courier and Lancashire General Advertiser of 1891 reports that the Cheadle Archers held a ladies’ cricket match on the “Cheadle Archery Ground” – this is the only reference I have found to an actual home location.
It was a light-hearted match between the men and women, with the men playing left-handed and using broomsticks. (Try suggesting that in today’s more equal society!)
The Sykes family appear to have dominated proceedings. Alan Sykes, the second son of Thomas Hardcastle Sykes, was captain of the men’s team, while Miss Holland captained the women. Frank Sykes also played, along with Herbert Sykes and Miss Mabel Sykes. Alan Sykes would later become the family’s fourth mayor of Stockport, he would later be knighted – and become the family’s most publicised member.
The cricket match took place in the club’s declining years. Does it suggest a slackening interest in archery? Perhaps.
Many archery clubs in the Victorian period recorded their scores in The Field, which described itself as “the country gentleman’s newspaper,” as well as in the Archers’ Register.
The Field reported a busy season in 1886 for Cheadle Archers, which appears to have followed a recent revival of the club. The first meeting that year was on 15 May. No venue is recorded but the weather certainly is….”a gale of wind blew across the targets.” Some things never change!
A prize for best gold was won by Miss Holland, who also shot with Mrs. Holland. Eight women shot, and only two men, Mr. R.K. Birley, and Mr. F. Sykes, (Frank Sykes) who was the club’s honorary secretary. In the third meeting on 12 June, Frank was joined by T.H. Sykes, the only time Thomas Hardcastle Sykes is mentioned as an actual archer.
Frank Sykes was an only son. His mother died aged 74 in 1902 – the year after T.H. Sykes died – and Frank himself died in 1917 at the relatively early age of 60, according to the family grave at Cheadle Parish Church. Their address was Brookfield, Cheadle.
The pattern of more women than men shooting is repeated right through the club’s history as far as we know it. In the May of 1886 there was Mrs. Holland, Miss Hampson, Mrs. E.H. Sykes, Miss Holland, Mrs. Sidebotham, Mrs. R.K. Birley, Mrs. T. Carill-Worsley and Miss C. Ashton, shooting, along with the two men already mentioned.
To show just where all this research can take you – a descendant of the family of Mrs. T. Carill-Worsley was Group Captain Nicolas Tindal-Carill-Worsley, a Second World War bomber pilot who was imprisoned and then helped plan and execute the escape from Stalag Luft III.5 An ancestor of the Carill-Worsley family, John Carill Worsley, built Platt Hall in Rusholme around 1764.6
There is a possible link between Cheadle Archers and Holcroft House, near to the archery ground we see marked on those Victorian maps. In the last reference we have to Cheadle Archers, a Mrs. Holland and two Misses Holland are named. Holcroft House was the home of Dr. Joseph Holland, who had four daughters. So it may well be that his wife and two of his daughters were Cheadle archers. Dr. Holland was the occupant of Holcroft House by 1881 until the late 1890’s. The first reference to a Mrs. Holland among the Cheadle Archers is in 1883, and she appears again with the two Misses Hollands in 1893.
The last of nine meetings of Cheadle Archers in 1886 was on 4 September. The main prizes appear to have been a Lady Champion’s Belt and a Gentleman’s Cup. (If anyone still possesses these trophies, we would love to know.) Membership rose and fell over the years, it would seem, but there is no record of actual membership year on year, and the last reference to the club that we have to hand was in 1893. As well as the Sykes’s, the Ley family were also regular shooters.
So it would appear that Cheadle Archers disbanded before the new century arrived.
Earlier, I mentioned that my club was in possession of a horned trophy that once belonged to Cheadle Archers. In the intervening years we have also been handed two silver goblets, one with the inscription Cheadle Archers 1873 and the other simply Cheadle Archers.
We don’t know who donated them. The goblets were handed over the fence at our shooting ground in Bruntwood Park many years ago, gratefully received, of course, but with none of us thinking to ask where they came from.
They have been a valuable addition to our mounting list of trophies, awarded every year following our club championships, so those Cheadle Archers live on in spirit.
Archery is part of our island history, and Stockport is still playing its part. Today we have the Bowmen of Bruntwood, now one of the biggest and most successful clubs in the north of England. There were those extremely active Cheadle Archers in the late Victorian period. And then, a century earlier in the reign of George III, there were the Teucerean Archers of Stockport. But that’s another project!
Finally, I must acknowledge the help of the Family History Society of Cheshire in Mobberley – a remarkable organisation – plus the staff of Cheadle Library and Stockport Heritage Library, and of course, Wendy Hodkinson and Andrew Furey at Manchester Museum, Hugh Soar, of the Society of Archery-Antiquities, our club secretary, Phil Martin, who first alerted me to the archery ground in Cheadle on a Victorian map, historian Pat Seddon – a font of local knowledge - and our club founder, Trevor Francis, whose curiosity all those years ago resulted in that vital A4 sheet of paper containing details of Cheadle Archers.
© David Hulme, 2013.
Sources: Newspapers as detailed in the article, (via the British Newspaper Archive); The Field (Victorian gentleman’s magazine); The Archers’ Register (Victorian archery periodical); Cheshire Notes and Queries (a Victorian magazine); census records; T.H. Sykes file, Stockport Heritage Library; Wikipedia entry on T.H. Sykes; E.L. Briggs’ Pride of Edgeley, Cheshire History magazine, 1989; A4 sheet on Cheadle Archers, Bowmen of Bruntwood; National Probate Calendar, 1892; Manchester and Salford at the close of the 19th Century: contemporary biographies. W. Burnett Tracy and W.T. Pike; baptism records, St. Luke’s, Chorlton-on-Medlock; General Register Office, Newcastle-upon-Tyne; Victorian maps of the period available from Cheadle Library; Barnes Hospital development file, Cheadle Library; Barnes Hospital Archaeological desk-based assessment, March, 2013; extensive web entries on Lloyd Hesketh Bamford-Hesketh.
Wikipedia – Women in the Victorian Era.1
Wikipedia -Grainger Town.2
Michael Nisbet – the Victorian web.3
Wikipedia – Women in the Victorian Era.4
Wikipedia – Nicolas Tindal-Carill-Worsley.5British History Online.6