An esteemed and venerable institution of international renown, Tony Jackson looks back at the history and toasts the future of the exclusive Shooting Times Woodcock Club.
Much respected, the Shooting Times Woodcock Club is a unique institution. Worldwide, there are few others that carry as prestigious a reputation, or can be joined only through a rare and skillful feat of sportsmanship under demanding conditions.
Established in 1949 as a promotional vehicle for the Dutch Bols Liquer company, the club was originally known as the Bols Snippen Club (BSC). Such was its instant appeal that, by 1970, it had more than 2,000 members, many of them from Great Britain and Ireland. In 1966, from a total of 52 new members, 22 were recruited from England, five from Ireland and nine from Northern Ireland. It was also the intention of the BSC to further knowledge of woodcock through grants and financial assistance to researchers.
The privilege of membership through the achievement of a right-and-left at woodcock before two witnesses is still the entrance pass to the club. Members proudly sport their club tie and the badge, with its four pin feathers.
In 1983, as Editor of Shooting Times, my attention was drawn to the fact that the Bols Liquer Company had decided not to continue with the club. I obtained permission to acquire the rights to the club, and the transference of former members to the new institution.
I was determined to ensure that the terms of membership of this much sought-after club would retain their former stringency - a gun, for instance, must not be lowered between shots and the confirmation of two witnesses is still essential. It was also to be a club with some style: our first annual dinner, a black-tie affair, took place in the Guildhall at Windsor, accompanied by a Scottish piper and speeches.
The club has always enjoyed the benefits of sponsorship: in the early years we were delighted to be associated with J&B Rare whisky, a bottle of which was sent to each new member; subsequently, sponsorship transferred to the Balvenie Distillery, an association that continued until 2004. Unsurprisingly, the proud association of whisky with the club continues to this day ? we are proud to have as the club's current sponsors Glenfarclas whisky, part of the Pol Roger group. What better tipple for a true rough shooter to put in his hip flask on the coldest of days?
Each year, members of the club, of which there are now 1,410, are invited to a dinner held at a prestigious site countrywide. These occasions provide an opportunity for members to meet, exchange news, discover aspects of the latest woodcock research and also to contribute to the important research into woodcock carried out by the Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust (GWCT).
Until a decade or so ago, members who attended dinners may recall that a feature of the occasion was a table centrepiece, consisting of a pair of cased woodcock, superbly mounted specifically for Shooting Times and the club by talented taxidermist Sean Connell. For some curious and unexplained reason, however, the case disappeared and has not been seen or heard of since. Maybe a reader has knowledge of its whereabouts as the magazine is eager to rediscover the case for future dinners.
The 2008 Shooting Times Woodcock Club dinner was held on 26 April in the elegant surroundings of the Founder's Dining Room at Royal Holloway University, in Egham, Surrey. During the night members and guests raised over £4,000 pounds to fund Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust research into the woodcock by bidding on auction lots given by various supporters. Bidding was strong on fishing lots from Roxtons, woodcock shooting and stalking lots from The Gearach Estate on Islay and sporting clothing from James Lock and Co, Barbour and Musto. One of the highest prices paid on the night was for an original painting of a woodcock in flight produced by artist Owen Williams especially for the evening.
In a departure from the normal format, guests also raised £1,000 for a second important cause, Help for Heroes. The charity, founded last year by sporting cartoonist Bryn Parry, has so far raised £4.5million in order to fund rehabilitation projects for soldiers wounded in Iraq and Afghanistan, including a dedicated swimming pool at the Defence Medical Rehabilitation Centre, Headley Court, just down the road from Royal Holloway in Surrey. In a moving after dinner speech, Mr Parry told his audience of the story behind the remarkable success of the charity, as well as the support that has been especially forthcoming from the fieldsports community.
If you have shot a right-and-left at woodcock and would like to become a member of the Shooting Times Woodcock Club, or if you require details and tickets for this year's club dinner, please contact Katharina Doyle, tel 020 3148 4741 or email email@example.com
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