3 General description.

There has been little interest in archery butts as a distinct class of field monument. They receive only passing mention in general works on medieval archaeology (eg. Taylor 1974; Aston 1985) and to date there has only been one county-based study of archery butts (Faull & Moorhouse 1981). There are a number of general works on archery and the use of the longbow in the medieval period (eg. Strutt 1903; Hardy 1976) but again, the butts receive little or no attention. To date, there has been no excavation of an archery butt.

The name "butts" originally applied to the dead marks or targets which were shot at during archery practise and competitions, but the term is usually associated with the range or area of land that was given over to the sport. However, the earthen platforms on which various targets were placed are also called butts.

An archery butts is composed of a level flat area of land forming a range along which the archers could shoot. This is often a rectangular area, measuring up to 200m along the longest axis, which specifically set aside for this purpose.

Within the range are a number of circular flat-topped, turf-covered target mounds, usually occuring in pairs. These were used to provide a level platform for the targets and were usually positioned at one end or either end of the range; where the latter case occurs the individual mounds are usually separated by a distance of up to about 100m suggesting that either two targets were erected at one time or that one mound was used as a firing point while aiming at the other. At Long Riston, Humberside, there are two pairs of mounds set 100m apart.
The dimensions of the mounds vary from between 2m to 8m in diameter by 1m to 3m high. The butts at Wold Newton, Humberside, are approximately 6m in diameter and 1.5m high while the single butt at Widecombe, Devon, is only 3m diameter and 0.5m high. The mound may be surrounded by a shallow ditch; this seems to be the result of digging out the soil to construct the mound and it does not appear to serve any functional purpose. When they have gone out of use, the mounds may be converted into other monuments such as mill mounds, prospect mounds or stack stands.

Prehistoric barrows may also have been used as target mounds and some may have had their tops flattened for this purpose, although no specific examples are known. Conversely, several mounds in prominent positions which are thought to be barrows may turn out, on examination, to be archery butts.

Documentary references may provide some information about the location and frequency of use of archery butts. Manorial court rolls often record various infringements of the strict regulations controlling archery. In 1497 the Methley court rolls (West Yorkshire) record that the men of the township were responsible for making the butts while in 1532 it is stated that the men must report with their bows to the butts on each Ascension Day (Faull & Moorhouse 1981, 839). Archery was also a royal pursuit; in 1530 Henry VIII paid Thomas Harte 51s 2d for making a pair of new butts (Strutt 1903, 46).

The study of place-name evidence, coupled with ground survey, can be instrumental in identifying the sites of archery butts (eg. Faull & Moorhouse 1981, 838-9). The two most common place-name elements are OE sceotere, meaning shooter or archer, and OF butt meaning archery butt. However, the latter now has the identical modern form "butt" as ME butt meaning an abutting strip of land, a name which is frequently found when referring to medieval field systems. The site of the medieval butts in Sandel, West Yorkshire, is preserved in the name Shooter Close which was first recorded in 1275 (Faull & Moorhouse 1981, 839).

No formal classification of archery butts based on morphological evidence has yet been published. All examples are of the same form and there does not appear to be any regional or historical correlations. A provisional classification may therefore be based on the number of target mounds in a specific location. Given the recorded variations from documentary sources and fieldwork, three main types may be recognised:

All three types may exist within a relatively small area and in some cases it is possible that one type superseded another. Figure 1 shows some examples. At present, no geographical patterning or chronological changes can be identified.

Archery butts are the areas of land which were used for archery practise by all sections of society in the medieval period.