Meeting the makers and suppliers

So often these days we rely on the internet for information and to do our shopping, but if you’re looking at buying a longbow or wooden arrows there’s nothing like meeting and talking to the makers and suppliers and handling the merchandise yourself.

So it was with great excitement we visited the International Living History Fair near Warwick, with it’s wide array of historic suppliers.

There were several bowyers there on the day, and a huge selection of shafts, piles and flights for arrow making.

First up, hardly through the door and we found Andreas Doebereiner of A Piece of History (who apologised for his website not being fully finished yet!). He had an excellent array of bows on show. From simple hickory unfinished self-bows at £60, which give you the chance to sand and stain or finish the bow to your own requirements, through to some of Steve Stratton’s warbows and his own Yew longbows. Sourcing his Yew from Estonia has enabled him to keep the costs surprisingly reasonable, and the quality really was good, with much straighter grain than any of the other sub £500 Yew bows we’ve come across.

I have to admit, I did let the side down for the English, by drooling over some of his horsebows – with a selection from Toth, Nomad, Kassai and some phenomenal horn and sinew laminated Grozer bows!

Next up was a quick trip to Richard Head, who was happy as ever for us to rifle through his fine selection of arrow shafts (nicking the ones with the straightest grain is one of the benefits of being there in person rather than ordering online!). Most suppliers there had the usual selection of 5/16″ and 11/32, but as one of the foremost retailers of materials for historic longbow equipment they hold some fine 23/64″ ash shafts, spined and ready to go, as well as Chris Boyton’s excellent 1/2″ to 3/8″ bobtailed warbow shafts. Along with a good supply of full-length feathers and piles for a variety of arrow sizes (including some rough and ready 1/2″ points), their stand is always worth a good trawl.

Richard always keeps a couple of bows on his stands, so that you can see the workmanship, but they don’t keep a stock of “off-the-peg” bows as they make the majority of them bespoke for the archer – nothing compares to being measured up for your bow by the bowyer himself.

Further around the fair (via a few distractions like the Wise Woman and Herbalist Jayne Milner who is fantastic!), we found the ever jovial guys from Fairbow, with a fantastic selection of longbows, horsebows and historical curios like their cable-backed bows. Though the bows are mainly imported from their bowyer in the Netherlands, the guys really know their stock and have immense enthusiasm for what they do. They make the majority of their arrows themselves, with some great horn nocked arrow shafts, constructed in the same manner as you would to foot an arrow – seriously nice looking shafts!

Several of the stands had small selections of arrow heads, ranging from simple machined steel piles through to a wide variety of hand-forged points in all shapes and sizes. The best of these had to be those from Hector Cole, who really is the specialist when it comes to archery blacksmithing, with a great range from plate piercing bodkins through to type 16’s, swallowtails and maille piercing points. He also had a great selection of knives and blades on sale for those moments when you need to get a point of of the woodwork!

Hector wasn’t the only one with impressive blacksmithing skills though – The Arbalist had some presentation quality arrow heads on show – you’d almost want to hang them on the wall rather than shoot them! They also had a good selection of longbows on offer, along with their fantastic range of crossbows. I had to drag myself away from those – maybe next year I’ll be able to afford one!

All in all a great (if expensive!) day out, with more than enough shiny toys for anyone of a historical or military persuasion – we’ll see you at the next one in at the end of October.

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