Turbulent history of Selkirk Silver Arrow

The Selkirk Silver Arrow, competed for by exponents of the longbow since 1660, will be contested this month by the Queen’s official bodyguards.

Dr Lindsay Neil was one of the founding members of the resurrected Ettrick Forest Archers.
Dr Lindsay Neil was one of the founding members of the resurrected Ettrick Forest Archers.

Made from silver plate by a Captain James Fairbairn on the instructions of the then Selkirk Burgh Council, the arrow was originally competed for in the royal burgh by archers all over Scotland, and was first won by Walter Scott of Goldielands, south of Hawick.

The rules were that the winners were not allowed to take the arrow out of Selkirk, instead having their “arms” added to it.

However, according to local historian Dr Lindsay Neil, there was a bit of jiggery-pokery when the then Company of Archers was invited to compete by Selkirk’s Sheriff-depute Sir Walter Scott – himself a member of the company.

The Selkirk Silver Arrow was in the safe hands of Senior Burgh Officer James Heatlie when the Royal Company of Archers came to town in 2015

Lindsay said: “The arrow had until then been safely kept in the charter chest in Selkirk.

“It was won by a company archer, Charles Nairn, and without the knowledge of the Selkirk council, spirited away to Edinburgh.

“In 1835 there was a deal of disquiet in the council when the arrow was discovered to be missing and Baillie Clarkson was dispatched to Edinburgh to retrieve Selkirk’s property.

“He returned to Selkirk without it and no reason was given for his failure.”

Dr Neil said that when the local longbow club, the Ettrick forest Archers, was resurrected in 2006, approaches were again made to hand the arrow back.

He said: “Without delving into and waging a battle for ownership it was agreed that the Royal Company and Selkirk Burgh would each share the arrow as both had important traditions to maintain and each could be happily accommodated by each having custody for six months annually.”

Therefore, on Saturday, May 25, at 3pm on a field adjacent to the Haining, the Royal Company of Archers will shoot at clout distance (180 yards) for the arrow in question, which is on display during the summer months at the town’s Halliwell House Museum.

Competitors will be entertained to lunch at the Victoria Hall by Scottish Borders Council convener David Parker prior to the shoot.

The archers, in their full uniform, and members of the council will then march to The Haining behind two traditional halberdiers and the Selkirk Silver Band.

Shooting will continue until around 5.30pm when the Silver Arrow will be presented to the winner.

The company will then march back to the courthouse where, after a general salute, the order to dismiss will be given.

A mess dinner will be held in the evening at Bowhill at the invitation of the Duke of Buccleuch, Captain General of the Royal Company, which provides a formal body guard for the queen at official state events in Scotland.