Thickthorn Hall was bought by Mr and Mrs Derek White in 1977 and soon after that he opened a clubroom for the Norwich Compagnie of Archers in the large downstairs room that looked out across the valley towards the railway line. This view has now rather been impaired by the dual carriageway A11 with its constant stream of traffic which it etched across it. Before the road was built in the 1980s it was only the railway which interrupted the view, and that was not a very busy line. Even when a train passed the sight gave nothing but pleasure. Until the A11 was made dual along most of its length (the final section around Elveden is still being built) the road passed on the other side of Thickthorn Hall. The Hall was down a long driveway and although what is now a quiet backwater was a very busy road, it did intrude upon the house at all.
This provision of a base for the local archery club was not a mere whim on the part of Mr White; he himself was a keen archer. I was a beginner at toxophily when I joined the club in 1978, soon after Mr White bought Thickthorn Hall. He had the targets set up on a lawn to the side of the house. Gold is the centre circle of an archery target that you have to aim for. Red comes next, then blue and finally black. As with rifle shooting, grouping your shots is almost as important as scoring a bull.
As for the technique of shooting arrows, it is slowly coming back to me, being something I haven’t done for more than 30 years. I had a quiver and 6 arrows, an arm guard to stop the bow string from hurting my wrist and a leather loop to release the bow string. It was alright when I hit the straw target (which was most of the time) but if I missed I had to walk a long way the hedge the end of the lawn to retrieve my arrows. . The nick in the end of an arrow – not the sharp end- is called the nock. The terminology needs learning; you can shoot an arrow but you certainly cannot fire one although this distinction is lost on most people. “Fire” is a word associated with firearms, and equally you cannot fire an airgun or a crossbow.
It was pleasant enough, but I found it a rather solitary sport. If you were a dedicated archer fine, but as far as I was concerned there was no social life that went with toxophily, an eventually I gave up and concentrated instead on playing badminton; with a mixed doubles foursome you always had certain amount of companionship.
Some extracts from my diary, 1978:
26 April. I rushed off to Thickthorn Hall for the Archery. There were 5 of us. We practised for an hour and a quarter until it began to drizzle.
3 May…the evening was enjoyable but I did not get so many on target as last week. We were 5 yards further away. We left a 9.
10 May. I start off quite well with several golds, but I got worse as the evening wore on. My left arm got increasingly tired and wobbly.
Thickthorn Hall itself is a Georgian mansion with an interesting history. It was built in 1812 just south of Norwich. It was conveniently situated for men of business in the city to use as a country estate. The Gurneys who were prominent Quaker bankers were the owners for most of the nineteenth century. Another branch of the family lived at nearby Earlham Hall and they are better known because Elizabeth Fry (nee Gurney) grew up there. A. R Colman of the mustard firm was a later owner of Thickthorn Hall; he was killed in a flying accident as a member of the Air Transport Auxiliary in 1943. At this time the leading members of the Colman family lived at Crown Point in Trowse, and later at Bixley Manor. After the Second World War the Mackintosh family bought the Hall, having earlier rented it. They were well known sweet manufacturers (think Quality Street), having bought out Caley the local firm some years earlierr.
Thickthorn Hall appears to get its name from the venerable hawthorn tree that has grown just across the parish boundary in Hethel for about a thousand years. Many legends surround this tree, including that it sprang from the staff belonging to Joseph of Arimathea (who donated his tomb to the crucified Christ). Legend has it that Joseph of Arimathea visited the island of Britain two thousand years ago, and a similar story relates to the thorn tree at Glastonbury.
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