Rifle Clubs in Harpenden

A very brief history of Harpenden Rifle Clubs

Our early reverses in the Boer war in 1899 led to the spontaneous formation throughout the British Isles of civilian rifle clubs (both full-bore and small-bore) the members of which were determined to be able to shoot well and thus effectively defend their Country, in the event of invasion, as had the Boer farmers in South Africa.

Harpenden was rather slow in following this example and it was not until 1907 that steps were taken to form a club, it being a small-bore club using .22 ammunition.

First attempts

At a meeting on 7 March that year it was resolved to form a rifle club, register it as a company and raise funds (£1000) to purchase land for a range. After a year only £133 had been raised. At a meeting in February 1908, Mr C F Sibley said he firmly believed there was something the matter with Harpenden, there was no enthusiasm in shooting or soldiering and no public meeting  was attended unless it was a smoking concert where there was something to drink! So the club was dissolved without a shot being fired!

Later that year the Harpenden Lecture Institution and Reading Club decided to form a Miniature Rifle Club for young men. The range was opened on 12 October 1908. It was an air rifle club, shooting at a range of about six yards in the lecture room of the Institution. A charge of one (old) penny was made for ten shots, to cover the cost of the pellets or darts and contribute towards the cost of gas (for lighting), etc., But the club was relatively short lived and the Institution itself closed at the end of 1911.

Supporting the First World War effort

With the outbreak of war in 1914 a small-bore rifle club was successfully formed. This club had the use of a range in a new building provided. and fully equipped at his own expense by Mr Henry Tylston Hodgson of “Welcombe”. The range was situated on a site above which the 3rd Harpenden Scout Group now has its Hut, timber from the range having been used in its construction in the early l930’s.

The club achieved 480 members in its first year but this rapidly dwindled over the five years of its existence so that, when it finally closed its doors on 8 October 1919, only 14 members attended the meeting.

In 1916 a silver cup was presented to the club by J Whitworth McGowan for the Club Championship. It was won that year by F W Dowty, the following year by Edgar Hall and in 1918 and.19l9 by E C Jarvis (founder of the well—known local building firm) who, following the demise of the club, retained the Cup which is still held by his family.

And the Second World War

It needed another major war for Harpenden to form its next rifle club. On 18 June 1942, Mr F N Gingell, then Controller, Civil Defence Harpenden, and a few keen members interested in shooting held a General Meeting at which the Harpenden Civil Defence Rifle Club was formed. The vaults and cellars of the Brewery (which had been demolished) in the High Street became available for use as a 25 yards range and, despite their dampness, continued to be used during the War. Various matches were held with the local Home Guard units, both at home in the vaults and away at Bamville Woods, in a gravel pit at Cross Farm and in a chalk pit at the Hyde near Great Cutts Farm.

In 1945 the club ceased to operate though it continued to hold equipment and funds. In 1966 an attempt was made to revive it but this was unsuccessful. Eventually, at a General Meeting on 17 April 1974 it was resolved to wind up the club’s affairs and donate its assets, in the form of two hall-marked silver cups, to the Hertfordshire Smallbore Rifle Association.

Named the Harpenden Summer Cup and the Harpenden Winter Cup they are awarded annually to the premier teams in the County Summer and Winter Leagues repectively.

In 1977 an unsuccessful attempt was made to establish a rifle range on land at Bamville Farm. However, less than three years later the Harpenden Air Weapons Club was formed. It uses, as its range (indoors at 6 yards and 10 metres) the 3rd Harpenden Scout Group’s Hut off Southdown Road – the very structure incorporating timber from the first range constructed in Harpenden.

(A fuller account of the History of Harpenden Rifle Clubs is available both in the Society’s archives and in the Harpenden Public Library.)

ERIC J MILLER – first published in Local History Society Newsletter 66, Feburary 1995.

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