13-21 Kings Rd, Berkhamsted
Butts Meadow is a public park in the centre of Berkhamsted town, located around a third of a mile (625 m) south-west of Berkhamsted Castle.
It took its name from Berkhamsted’s ancient association with archery. In the 14th century, a company of archers based at Berkhamsted practised their skills on this site. A ‘butt’ is an archery shooting field, with mounds of earth used for the targets. The name originally referred to the targets themselves, but over time came to mean the platforms that held the targets as well. The word appears in Shakespeare’s Othello:
“Here is my journey’s end, here is my butt” (Act V, sc. ii).
During the Hundred Years’ War, when the Edward Black Prince left Berkhamsted to fight at the battles of Crécy (1346) and Poitiers (1356) he took with him archers from Berkhamsted. These archers were skilled with using a new weapon, the English longbow, which was instrumental in winning decisive battles that changed European history.
There is no archaeological evidence of archery at Butts Meadow, but in 1931, a 13th-century crossbow was dug up from the Castle moat during excavations by the Office of Works, a rare piece of evidence of Berkhamsted’s military past, It is now in the British Museum Collection in London.
By the 17th century, most of Butts Meadow was owned by the churchwardens of St. John The Baptist, Aldbury, with a smaller part in the hands of the churchwardens of St Peter’s Berkhamsted. In the 1880s, Aldbury Parish attempted to sell off the land for housing. The meadow was saved from developers by a local wealthy benefactor, Mrs Lionel Lucas, sister of Sir Julian Goldsmid MP, who bought the land in 1886 to preserve it for use as a public recreation ground. In the 1930s, the sloping playing field in Butts Meadow was levelled, much to the relief of the local cricket and football teams.
As warfare changed over the centuries, archery evolved from a skill of battle to a sport of the leisured classes. In the 19th century, a local archery club attracted both men and women. The Longman publishing family who lived at Ashylns Hall were connected with the club, and William Longman’s son, C.J. Longman was British Archery Champion in 1883. In his 1923 book Trifles and Travels, local author Arthur Keyser mentions “Annual Archery Meetings held in the picturesque grounds adorned by the ruins of Berkhamsted Castle”.
A modern club called the Berkhamsted Bowmen was formed in 1950 to continue the ancient archery tradition in Berkhamsted. Although the group usually shoots at Cow Roast, they celebrated their 50th anniversary in 2000 with a celebratory shoot at Berkhamsted Castle (courtesy of English Heritage).