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
At Cressy, Poictiers, Agincourt;
Pay the last honours due to one
Most 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.