The Original Parchment

A brief story on the Original Parchment of 1673 and how it miraculously survives for over 329 years to be photographed in 2002 for prosperity and to be featured here on the website.

If you don’t want to read the story here is a link to photographs of the original parchment of 1673

The Original Parchment of 1673, as most Members of the Society of Archers know, contains the original Articles (Rules) and records the names of the Captains and Lieutenants of the Arrow together with the dates and places where the Meetings were held together with the number of Archers taking part.

After 93 years of being used for this purpose, both sides of the Original Parchment became full and in 1766 a new Record was needed to be made in what we now call Volume 1 where is it written:

“N.B. The original Articles of this Society, being almost defaced or obliterated, the Gentlemen Archers present on the eighteenth day of June, 1766, bought this Book for the same to be fairly transcribed herein, (and also to enter any new rules or orders). We whose names are hereunder written having carefully compared this Transcript, and the following list of Captains, and Lieutenants with the original, do hereby certify the same to be a true copy thereof As witness our Hands:

Geo Allan., Joe Appleby., Geo Harperley., James Allen Jnr., John Sadler., J A Portees., Thos Kelly., J Rowlandson., Robert Jackson., Jas Nicholson., Robert Hall., Jo Gainford., Geo Rickerby., Robt Surtees., Thos Peirse Jnr.

The Original Parchment of 1673 was then folded up and handed down in succession to each new Captain who served as the custodian of this precious and irreplaceable document.

If the condition of the Original Parchment was being described in 1766 as ‘being almost defaced or obliterated’ then by 1902 it must really have been an item of concern. For at that 1902 meeting the future preservation of the ‘Old Parchment’ is discussed and it is decided to have it stretched and put into a glass frame.

The glass frame consisted of an oak frame, with the parchment sandwiched between two sheets of glass, thus making it double sided – so you could see the front on one side and the reverse on the other.

The intention was good of course, but as most people these days now know, framing something behind glass for display purposes only goes to accelerate the fading process.
The next mention of The Original Parchment appears in the Records of 1913 at Clitheroe, where is states: ‘Be it remembered, the Original Manuscript of “Ye Antient Scorton Arrow” bearing the names of all the Captains and Lieutenants is deposited on loan with the Municipal Museum, Hull.’

Twenty-five years later, in 1938 John Yates won the Captaincy and is asked to make enquiries as to the whereabouts of the Original Parchment only to learn that Hull Museum has been destroyed by the catastrophic bombing raids that Hull suffered during the 2nd world war.

Following the war, in 1947, further enquiries reveal that prior to the bombing, Hull Museum had loaned out the Original Parchment to an Archery Exhibition that was taking part at Burton Agness Hall but enquiries there reveal that they no longer have the Parchment, having returned it to Hull Corporation

Some pain staking inquiries and worrying months later, the Original Parchment is discovered in a disused store cupboard at the Wilberforce House Museum, East Yorkshire, safely intact and still in its double glazed oak frame and, to everyone’s relief, it goes back on display amongst the other trophies at the 1948 Meeting.

From 1948 until 1963 the framed Original Parchment is handed down each year to the successive Captain, until concern with its deteriorating condition inside the frame, Mr Sam Henderson (Captain 1957 and member of the Bowmen of Adel) suggests it is deposited with The North Yorkshire County Archivists at the Archives Depository at Northallerton, North Yorkshire. (See Records 1964).

Thirty nine years later………

Wednesday, 30th October 2002 was something of a double celebration for The Society of Archers and The Antient Scorton Arrow.

Not only was a brief History of the Antient Scorton Arrow featured in that mornings Daily Mail Newspaper as being Britain’s longest established Sporting event and giving all the readers the website address (which during the next seven days brought over 4,000 visitors to the website) – it was the same day that three Members of the Society had arranged through the Council of Captains to visit the North Yorkshire County Council Archivist in Northallerton to see, examine (maybe even touch?) and photograph the Original Parchment of 1673 for the website – the first time any member of the Society had seen the Original Parchment for nearly forty years.

Frank Newbould (Senior Captain from 1951) and by profession a professional photographer., Cedric Abbott, who had painstakingly copied all the original leaves from the Societies Record Books for the web site, and myself, the web site editor, all met up in Harrogate at Frank Newbould’s Photographic Studio, where we loaded up all Frank’s photographic equipment and lights to take to Northallerton.

It was around 11.30am when we arrived at the Archive Depository, signed the visitors book and were taken into a large private office where we met Mr Stephen Allen, the Archive Conservator. A most helpful and obliging gentleman we were to discover as our meeting progressed.

On the large black leather topped mahogany table in the middle of the room was a large opaque plastic wallet, measuring about 30″ x 30″ (75cm). We knew instinctively what it contained and all three of us peered at it – trying to look through the whitish opaque plastic.

It was me that broke the silence. “Can we take it out to see it please?. I asked”.

Mr Allen explained that only he was allowed to handle the Parchment and he must remain with us at all times throughout our visit.

Carefully and gently he slid the parchment from out of its protective sleeve and our equal reaction was of amazement, excitement, joy and indeed privilege in being able to see the actual document that forms the very foundation of our Society – The Original Parchment of 1673.

The condition of the Parchment was somewhat better than we had imaged. Yes, the writing is significantly faded and difficult to read in places but with careful and close scrutiny, moving the head and eyes to varying degrees of angles, it was, in many parts, legible, though feint. Headings could be seen and read, along with much of the Articles, the signature of historical Captains and Lieutenants names, the various venues and number of Archers taking part. Only in certain areas had the writing faded so bad that that it was completely illegible.

This was history. A piece of Parchment that to us three might have been just as precious as the dead sea scrolls. Written at the time during the end of England’s revolution and political unrest, when the enjoyment and participation in sport had not long been restored following the death of the puritanical Lord Protector William Cromwell and Charles II had been restored to the Monarchy, beginning a new era of liberalism and social freedom. This was our Societies heritage and historical legacy and it was in the good, safe hands of the County Archivist.

The Parchment itself measures approximately 25″ x 25″ and is written on both sides. It had been folded in half, in half and then in half again, making it act like a folded up book. Accordingly, the scripted writing, when the Parchment is unfolded back to the one sheet format, does not follow on but appears upside down to the next corresponding ‘page section’.

Mr Allen, the Archive Conservator explained that the Parchment was of sheepskin origin and its purpose was to act like a book, being folded into several sections. It had obviously faded over the years and one area in particular that appeared damaged through something either being spilled on it or getting wet / damp. There was slight damage along the folds which had needed some repair and the edges were ragged and torn, which is why it has been put into ‘protective edging’ (the surround that now goes around the original parchment). All of these things are quite common on a parchment of this age but the repairs had been minimal, just enough to preserve the document, he added. It was now kept in an archive draw inside the protective sleeve which would safeguard it from penetrating daylight.

For the purposes of the record only, for I had no personal doubts, I asked if the document was fully authentic and accurately dated from 1673. Mr Allen confirmed, “that beyond any doubts whatsoever, this is fully authenticated and genuine document dating from 1673”.

Mr Allen gently mounted the Original Parchment onto a display easel and Frank Newbould set about carefully setting up his photographic lights. He had brought special dimmed lights with him that only gave a minimal amount of light – Frank called these ‘modelling lights’ and said the main illumination would be created by photo-flash light that would be activated as he pressed the shutter on his camera to take the pictures. This met very much with the approval of Mr Allen, who commented that he had been a little concerned about subjecting the old Parchment to too much light and was pleased Frank obviously possessed the professional technical expertise to ensure this was not the case.

Cedric in the meantime set about capturing the Parchment with his digital stills camera and then a digital video camera.

The photographic session lasted almost one and a half hours, Frank taking both full size pictures of the Parchment and then zooming in for close up detailed shots.

Finally when we had finished, Mr Allen carefully removed the Parchment from the copying easel and gently slid it back into protective sleeve in readiness for it to go back into its darkened draw in the Archive Depository. A place where all three of us on our return journey to Harrogate agreed, could be no better or safer custodian for the Societies Original Parchment.

And, for people who know me and will obviously ask the question – ‘Could you resist touching it?’

It was one temptation too far – just a finger on one corner. I had touched our history!

Philip Rolls

The Antient Silver Arrow