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date: 04 July 2022

Legh, Alice Blanchefree

(1856–1948)

Legh, Alice Blanchefree

(1856–1948)
  • Hugh D. Hewitt Soar

Alice Blanche Legh (1856–1948)

by unknown photographer, pubd c.1894

Bodleian Library, University of Oxford

Legh, Alice Blanche (1856–1948), archer, was born in Canada, probably at Galt, Ontario, the eldest of three daughters of Piers Frederick Legh (1830–1925) of Lyme Hall, Cheshire, then resident at Zorra, Ontario, and his wife, Emma Beata, née Burrowes (1834–1920). In 1862 they returned to England to live at Grange-over-Sands, north Lancashire, where her two younger sisters were born. Her parents joined the Lonsdale Archers and became closely involved with the pastime; they were said to have been instrumental in forming, in 1868, the North Lonsdale Archers, a club located close to Lake Windermere.

Living on private means, the Legh family moved to Bretforton in Worcestershire, from where they joined the Cheltenham Archery Society. Although this society was in abeyance between 1865 and 1871, when croquet replaced archery as a social occupation, those who wished to continue the activity arranged to shoot in the town's Pittville gardens, calling themselves the Pittville Archers. Emma Legh was prominent among them, and it is probably there, with her mother's guidance, that Alice developed her technique.

Alice Legh's first recorded competitive tournament was with Cheltenham Archery Society at their June 1874 meeting in Montpellier Gardens. Shooting the ladies national round of four dozen arrows at 60 yards, and two dozen arrows at 50 yards, she made a modest 44 hits, scoring 168 with two golds; at the September meeting of that year however this had improved to 55 hits, 251 scored with two golds.

In 1875 Legh attended her first public meeting, at Leamington, Warwickshire, shooting a double National round and scoring 405 with 93 hits and 6 golds, gaining an award for best gold at 50 yards. From then on she shot competitively every year up to and including 1923, with the exception of 1876 when she was absent in Canada, and during the war years, 1915–1918.

Alice Legh was national ladies' champion twenty-three times, between 1881 and 1922. After her first victory, at Sutton Coldfield in 1881, she lost the title in 1882 to her mother, who held it for the next four years. Alice Legh regained it in 1886, at Bath, and held it consecutively for seven years until 1892, and then for eight years between 1902 and 1909. Her score of 840, including 30 golds, made with a maximum 144 hits, shot at the Grand Western meeting at Bath in 1881 has yet to be bettered with the longbow shooting two ways. She set great store by her status as national champion, and although invited to shoot at the 1908 Olympic games, she chose not to do so. As the national championship meeting was to take place a week later, it is likely that she preferred to save herself for that. She is recorded as having taken part in international competition just once, at Le Touquet in 1905, although the opportunity was open to her on six occasions.

Legh's shooting technique was precise, unhurried, and deliberate. She drew the arrow conventionally to the right side of her mouth with three fingers and these did not drop away but remained in place when she had released her shaft. Her advice to would-be competitors was to practise on various types of ground in preparation for what they might find when they arrived. She paid much attention to her costume, which was invariably smart and fashionable, and advised others to do so, explaining that competitors should take care with their dress when shooting.

Legh was always ready with advice for newcomers to archery. She set out her philosophy towards the pastime in her contribution, 'Ladies' Archery', to the volume Archery (1894) by C. J. Longman and H. Walrond in the Badminton Library of Sports and Pastimes. She felt it to be a gentle and elegant amusement for young ladies, and most suitable to the matron who 'feels it undignified to take part in some outdoor games and yet is quite young enough to enjoy them' (Longman and Walrond, 385). She added that 'even quite old ladies can shoot and shoot well too'; she herself shot until aged sixty-seven, when she retired, having attained her twenty-third championship at the national tournament meeting of 1923. She is said to have confided her disappointment to a friend at not achieving a twenty-fourth victory.

Although Legh regularly won prize-money by her skill, her attitude to the monetary rewards offered at the public meetings and elsewhere was ambivalent. She insisted that competitors remained amateurs so long as they paid an entrance fee, and received a monetary reward only if they did well. In her view, professionalism was when archers were paid a certain sum to shoot for the amusement of spectators. While acknowledging that she benefited from prizes, and that they were attractive, she considered that without them, entry fees might be reduced.

Legh's preference was for self-yew bows; and her surviving equipment suggests that she favoured that made by Aldred of London. She habitually used two bows, one for shooting at 60 yards, and the other for 50 yards. Her arrows were of pinus silvestris, 25 inches in length, each weighing 3 s. 3 d. against silver coin. A selection of her equipment is in the Cheltenham Museum.

Legh was credited with a quiet and gentle personality, and with impeccable manners at the target. For much of her life she lived with her parents and unmarried sisters near Minchinhampton, Gloucestershire. Her shooting record has never been equalled and she remains the greatest of all the British national lady archery champions. She died at Resthaven, Pitchcombe, near Stroud, Gloucestershire, on 3 January 1948, and was buried at Minchinhampton.

Sources

  • Archery News, 1 (May 1948), 4
  • P. Cant, The history of Cheltenham Archers, 1857–1975 (1975)
  • C. J. Longman and H. Walrond, Archery (1894)
  • census returns, 1881, 1891, 1901

Likenesses

  • photographs, 1894, repro. in Longman, Archery, 368–9 [see illus.]

Wealth at Death

£13,600 5s. 9d.: probate, 15 March 1948, CGPLA Eng. & Wales