Great Britains Greatest Archer
by Cliff Huntington
Greatness may be achieved by heroic actions or the long term effect of
accomplishments or contributions. Horace A. Ford distinguished himself both with
great deeds at the butts and the development of a shooting style and technique
that is still sound today. You may search the annals of English archery but will
find no serious challenge to Fords title as "Great Britains
Greatest Archer" and even our own Maurice Thompson stated, "...no
better Archer ever lived."
Ford pursued the archers craft with vigor and enthusiasm, spending
several years of intense study developing a system which would enable him to
excel at the "Queen of Sports." He later published the results in "Archery:
its Theory and Practice," detailing his system and theory of shooting. This
rare classic still enjoys a following, particularly by those who study and
research archerys proud and colorful past.
During Fords time there were no clear cut rules and guidance for
archers, which created styles as widely diverse as the character of the
individuals involved. Fords involvement would soon change "playing
bows and arrows" into a scientific pastime. In a Memoriam published in the
1881 "Archers Register" following Fords death, Mr. Edward
Maitland wrote, "It is true that Fords method was equally the outcome
of his own personal qualities and characteristics, but its one which could, more
or less, be taught to and acquired by others."
Ford was introduced to the butts at Brighton, in 1845. A mere four years
later he earned the "Champion Medal" at the 1849 Grand National
Meeting at Derby. This was the beginning of a brilliant run of eleven
consecutive Championships at the Grand National Meetings. Later, at Cheltenham,
during the 1857 Grand National, he would total a score of 1251 in the Double
York Round which remained an unreachable mark for 72 years. This mark was bested
by Dr. E. K. Roberts of Ventura, California in the 1929 N.A.A. National held on
the Hope Ranch near Santa Monica, California. According to Dr. Robert P. Elmer,
"When Dr. Roberts loosed his final shaft he was borne in triumph from the
field upon a target which was upheld by his comrades."
Ford was a commanding presence at any match, standing 6' 2" and in
possession of a combination of strength, nerve and thoroughness which produced
unequaled results at the butts but lacking the "grace and ease"
normally associated with this activity. His peculiar style once prompted the
following comment from a prominent lady archer, "Well, I had rather miss in
that gentlemans style than hit in Mr. Fords."
After winning his eleventh consecutive Championship in 1859, Ford soon found
himself off the prize lists due to a failing health and injured muscles in his
drawing hand. He labored for several years in an attempt to regain his previous
masterful skill but to no avail. Then, in 1867 the Grand National Meeting was
held at Brighton, the field of his beginnings and destiny beckoned. That day on
the sands of Brighton, a champion once more straddled the line and "practiced
eye and cool judgement gave precision to his shafts, and gained for him the
highest score made upon that occasion" and his twelfth Championship. Ford
continued to challenge the butts for several years after that last magnificent
performance at Brighton but the old mastery never returned.
Come archers, come, all ye who fought
Cressy, Poictiers, Agincourt;
Pay the last honours due to one
worthy to be calld your son.
Horace A. Ford, Champion of Great Britain for eleven
consecutive years, passed away at his residence in Bath, June 24, 1880.