The Witleys were the birthplace of The Lord Ednam League of air rifle clubs founded by the Dudley’s of Witley Court and still going today in a number of local villages. The sport is known as ‘Bell Target’ shooting and there are a number of leagues around the country.
The Lord Ednam League was originally open to teams of 10 members, drawn from villages within ten miles of Great Witley. Meetings were always held at the Hundred House Hotel in Great Witley, although sadly the Great Witley team folded around 1983. The last scorecard in the clubs records on 17th March 1982 included: K Breakwell, R Hope, F Williams, R Quarterman, L Smith, Doug Bowen, Don Bowen, M Davis, C Chance, M Greg (reserve T Quarterman).
Co-incidentally, Lord Ednam who resides in France, is now Lord Dudley as his father died in 2013.
For more information about how the league started see this article in the Airgun World magazine in 2010 by Mike Pennington, who at the time was the League secretary and captain of the Admiral Rodney shooting team. This article, which shows John Westwood shooting, also explains more about the sport.
Full details about the sport can be seen on the main website at www.belltarget.com
A similar article to Mike Penningtons appeared in the Worcester News on Monday 7th Mar 2005, and is reproduced below.
‘Robert Stevenson Smyth Baden-Powell may be most famous nationally as the father of the Scout movement, but in Worcestershire his impact was on an altogether different level. Lord Baden-Powell, as he later became, had been impressed by the marksmanship of the Afrikaans farmers he had fought during the Boer war.Back home, he enthused about their sharpshooting skills to one of his friends, Lord Ednam, the eldest son of the Earl of Dudley, who lived in the magnificent surroundings of Witley Court, the country mansion about eight miles west of Worcester.
The Witley estate employed hundreds of people and Lord Ednam saw the Boers’ example as a way to encourage the local men to become more familiar with firearms.
After all, the only people to have regular contact with guns then were the landed gentry and their hunting and shooting guests. Lord Ednam suggested forming an air rifle league. Although, as I will explain shortly, this did have a degree of self-interest.
The league was to consist of 10 villages, all located within a 10-mile radius of the Hundred House Inn at Great Witley, its HQ. Lord Dudley’s solicitor drew up the rules and the permanent secretary was Great Witley’s vicar.
The basic rules were the use of .177 BSA air rifles, shooting over a range of five yards at a Bell target. A Bell target consists of a four inch steel plate drilled through the centre to create a “bull” and enclosed in an illuminated box, the early illuminations being candles or oil lamps. If a pellet shoots through the bull, it rings a bell that indicates to everyone a score of five points has been registered.
Five practice shots were allowed before the match and five in the match itself. So if five bulls were scored this would give a total of twenty five points, which in the early days apparently didn’t happen very often. Even good marksmen found it difficult to keep shots within the first circle, which counts as four points. The next circle counts three and the outer counts two.
The choice of .177 BSA air rifles was no coincidence. It came about because Lord Dudley and Lord Ednam were major shareholders in the Birmingham Small Arms Company – or BSA as it was better known – and usually all 10 members of one team shot with one BSA rifle with fixed sights.
It was only in the 1920s that air rifles of a rival manufacturer, Webley, were allowed.
The founder teams or clubs of the Lord Ednam Air Rifle League were Abberley, Stamford, The Shelsleys, Martley, Wichenford, Holt, Shrawley, Astley, Little Witley and Great Witley. Over the years some have dropped out and been replaced by others and the defining radius has been increased.
Currently teams represent the Rose and Crown at Shrawley, Live and Let Live at Whitbourne, Astley Village Hall, Martley Village Hall, the Hunters Lodge at Sinton Green, the Fox at Monkwood, the Cross Keys at Menith Wood, Alfrick, who shoot at the Cross Keys, Suckley, Wichenford, who shoot at the Camp Inn, Grimley, and the New Inn, Clifton upon Teme. All teams consist of 10 members, but reserves are allowed.
The number of pub teams is no co-incidence. In the early days, the venues for the shooting matches had to be at a central point in a village, so it was logical the local public house was chosen.
Transport from one village to another was by horse and cart, bicycle or shanks’ pony. But all modes of transport could be fraught with difficulty, especially when all the matches are held at night during the winter months from October to March. Most don’t finish until after 10 o’clock and with three or four pints of cider to warm them and still eight or ten miles to go home in rain, sleet or snow it was sometimes a merry return journey for the shooters.
Although some shooting ranges are in skittle alleys, others employ rather more ingenious settings. When the Alfrick team was based at the old Swan Inn, teams shot from the bar, across a passageway and into an outhouse.
The earliest trophy to be competed for was, naturally, the Lord Ednam Cup presented to the team with the highest number of wins or points over the season.
Since then many others have been added, including trophies for ladies, seniors and young shooters. Sir Gerald Nabarro, the colourful, but late, MP for South Worcestershire, presented the Nabarro Shield, for a team knock out completion that takes place over the season with the Webley Shield for the runners up.
A doubles knockout competition is held for a cup presented by Don Taylor and Arthur Dennis two members, who shot in the league for many years, and two shields, the Banks Shields, are awarded to the individual knockout winners, Banks Brewery being the donors.’