A Brief History of the Antient Scorton Silver Arrow

There has, as one might expect with a trophy aged over 300 years, been a variety of stories down the ages concerning the true origins of the Scorton Silver Arrow.

In truth, no one really knows the origin of the Arrow up until 1673, for despite historical research, no documented evidence has, as yet, ever been found to substantiate or disprove for that matter, any of the ‘mysteries’ or theories of where the Silver Arrow first originated from.

What we do know from recorded documented evidence, is that on the Sunday morning of the 14th May 1673 at Scorton in North Yorkshire, twenty two gentlemen archers gathered to compete for a Silver Arrow trophy. This was won by Henry Calverley, M.P. a gentleman from the village of Eryholme on Tees, who had coincidentally, also provided the trophy. Henry Calverley M.P. was knighted 2 years later in 1675.

The tournament proved such a success that a new society was formed: The Society of Archers and ARTICLES OF RULES laid down to hold the competition on an annual basis. The winner of the Silver Arrow became the Captain of the Arrow and would be largely responsible for organising the next tournament in the ensuing year, assisted by the Lieutenant, who had been the first archer to pierce the red circle.

But what of the origin of Arrow before 1673?

Ben Hird, former Captain of the Arrow in 1900 and author of that excellent book ‘THE ANTIENT SCORTON SILVER ARROW’ Published in 1972 by The Society of Archery-Antiquaries (now out of print but available as a free download file on this website – see Features index page). Says that of all the stories about the origin of the Arrow, in his opinion, the most likely one is the so called ‘Scorton Story’.

This tells of the Waistell family who bought Scorton Manor, Scorton, North Yorkshire in 1616 and where they lived with two sons; Leonard the eldest and a younger son, John.

Both Leonard and John went to Cambridge University in 1647 and 1653 respectively.

John reputedly won a Silver Arrow in an archery tournament whilst ‘down south’ and brought it back home to Scorton, Yorkshire with him. Whether he was allowed to keep the Arrow permanently or should have returned the trophy the following year is a matter of conjecture.

In any event, not long after his return to Yorkshire, it is said that John fell in love with a young maid servant in the household and despite what must in those days have been intense pressure from his family not to marry beneath his station, he ended up eloping and marrying the young lady.

As a result he was disinherited and left the family home, leaving many of his possessions behind – including his Silver Arrow, which was then given to a family friend Henry Calverley M.P., on condition that he makes a solemn vow never to divulge the origin of the Arrow.

This prompts several questions: It is clear from the profession of John Waistell Senior that he is a respected and prominent member of the community, being both a Lawyer and Magistrate; but why would he make any secret that he had given away a trophy belonging to a son who he felt had so disgraced his families name?

Why on the other hand did Henry Calverley wait a minimum of 14 years (John Waistell Senior died in 1659) before calling the first Tournament in 1673?

At St. Mary the Virgin Church, Boston on Swale, near Scorton, North Yorkshire there is a monument in the North Isle which is inscribed:

“Here lyeth John Wastell of Scorton Esq.
Councillor of Law. Justice of the Peace and Master in Chancery
who dyed December 4th 1659.
Also Lady Ann Relict of Sir Richard Tanckred of Scorton
and wife of the above John Wastell, who dyed April 1st 1665.
Also Leonard Wastell, Esq who dyed 1st October 1664.

Another somewhat speculative story handed down over the ages, talks about Queen Elizabeth 1st (born 1533) who ruled from 1558 to her death in 1603, and who had presented a Silver Arrow to her trusted Secretary, Roger Ascham (1515 to 1568), who earlier, when the Queen was a girl, had been appointed as her tutor by her father, King Henry VIII

Queen Elizabeth I, like her father before, was a very keen and enthusiastic Archer and Roger Ascham, besides being an academic was a renown and accomplished archer who had earlier published ‘Toxophilus or the Schole of Partitions of Shooting‘ in 1545. Dedicating the work to King Henry VIII – Henry enjoyed the treatise so much that he granted Ascham a pension of £10 a year.

Roger Ascham died in 1568 from an unknown illness at the age of 53. Queen Elizabeth so missed her confidant she said, “I would rather have cast ten thousand pounds into the sea than be parted from my Ascham”.

There was never any trace of his ‘Silver Arrow’ either at his Southern home or his main residence in Kirby Wiske, North Yorkshire – 15 miles from Scorton.

105 years later, Henry Calverely M.P., produces a Silver Arrow from ‘persons unknown’. When asked how he acquired the Arrow, he states that he has made a solemn vow never to divulge the origin of the Arrow!

Finally, another story by Hugh D Soar, the much respected Archery Historian and Author, who mentions yet another ‘lost’ Arrow, in his work ‘SEVENTEENTH CENTURY ARCHERY‘ ( reproduced on this website) this time belonging to The Society of Finsbury Archers, which Huge says disappeared in 1670 and has to be replaced in 1672 – a year before the Scorton Arrow!.

Hugh draws some interesting parallels and similarities, which appear more than just coincidental between the two sets of Rules of the Society of Archers (Scorton) and The Society of Finsbury Archers.

But the evidence for the Scorton Arrow of 1673 being the Finsbury Arrow lost in 1670 lacks documented substance. The Society of Finsbury Archers lost their records in the Great Fire of London in 1666 – what is to say there arrow didn’t go up in the flames too?.

Neither are there any records then by the Finsbury Archers until 1687 – a span of 21 years, so what proof is there that a new replacement Arrow was purchased in 1672 and if so, where is the ‘new’ Finsubury Arrow now?

As Hugh points out. The enigma must remain!

Whatever the origins of the Arrow, we do know that the first tournament took place in 1673 and the Silver Arrow was won by Henry Calverley M.P., who does not appear to have shot for it again. The Lieutenant was William Wheatley and it was here that the original parchment setting down the Rules of the Society of Archers and for future meetings, were drawn up.

As one might expect for a trophy of such antiquity, the Silver Arrow has had somewhat of a chequered history; Gilded sometime between 1750 and 1760, it then becomes the Golden Arrow. After a few years, when the gilding wore off, it reverts back once again to being the Silver Arrow.

It has been reputedly stolen once in Leeds and then fortunately recovered. Pawned and redeemed by members of the Society just in time for the next competition. Mislaid by a Captain “who lost his reason” (mental breakdown). Accidentally left on a park bench by a Captain who had celebrated his win rather too well and was returned by the park keeper next morning. It has also been believed to have been shot from a bow, broken and repaired.

Following a doubt by sceptics over the years as to the true authenticity of the Arrow, who some suggested that it might possibly be of Victorian origin and obtained in 1873 as a souvenir of the bicentenary of the formation of the Society, it was decided to submit the Arrow to the Assay Master at Birmingham Assay Office for analysis in November 1966.

The main extract from that report states:

The main tube and point seem to be the oldest part of the Arrow and could date back to circa 1600. The flights and flight end tube are more likely to date from circa 1700. (Remember it had been repaired at sometime). However, it is possible that the whole existing Arrow was made at one time from two different pieces of silver during the 17th century”

The Birmingham Assay Master’s full report is with the 1967 Records in Volume IV.

Today the Antient Scorton Silver Arrow is deposited for safe keeping on loan to THE ROYAL ARMOURIES in Leeds, Yorkshire where it is on permanent display and can be enjoyed along with its history by the many thousands of visitors who visit the Royal Armouries Centre each year.

It is taken out annually for one day of the year to be competed for by the members of The Society of Archers who continue with this historic and most prestigious of all Archery Tournaments and then returned to the safety of The Royal Armouries.

A replica Silver Arrow, generously commissioned by former Captain (1951) Frank Newbould of Knaresborough in 1952 is awarded in its place to the winner.

It is the responsibility of The Society of Archers to ensure the perpetuity of the tournament continues in the same time honoured way, adhering to the codes and practices of our gentlemen archery forebears.

© Philip Rolls, The Society of Archers. The above article may be copied or extracted from for Editorial purposes as a Press Release for newspapers and/or magazines.

The Antient Silver Arrow