• Sat. Nov 26th, 2022

The Story of Butts Close, Hitchin


12:00 p.m. 5 December 2021

Tony Riley of Friends of Butts Close explains the park’s historical significance as a medieval archery site and more.

Tony Riley from Friends of Butts Close, Hitchin
– Credit: Friends of Butts Close

We walk through it, pass by and visit it for circuses and fairs without realizing that Butts Close is our greatest monument to medieval Hitchin.

In 1363, a royal law required that common lands be used for the compulsory practice of longbow, and the name derives from archery – butts are the correct name for targets.

The first written record is in the 1492 will of John Sturgeon, who supplied armaments to the forces of King Henry VI. He left £ 10 to repair the ‘track from Tilehouse Striete to the Buttes’.

But records show that Hitchin’s archers fought in wars long before that. It took years to master a longbow of military strength, and every Sunday archers trained and competed on the Close.

We thought about putting this back together and approached an archery association, but they concluded it would be just too dangerous!

Butts are closing, Hitchin

Butts are closing, Hitchin
– Credit: Friends of Butts Close

Fast forward to the last century and bows and arrows make a sudden comeback. In 1904, Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show entertained about 24,000 people on the Close. His entourage of over 700 people and 400 horses arrived by special train from St Albans and set up camp.

Her round of shooting was the biggest draw, and Simon Walker of the Hitchin Historical Society remembers his grandmother going to the show as a child and coming home with a penny that had a hole through. I often wonder who cleaned up after the horses left …

After World War I, Hitchin received a tank and two field guns which were set up on the Close by Fishponds Road. The tank was called the “Fearless”. But it turns out that quite a few of the floats were shown in cities across the country, and many were also referred to as the “fearless”. It was sold for scrap in 1937.

The interwar period saw a number of military parades, and even a civil defense exercise where a fake chalet was set up and a plane flew over and dropped a supposed bomb on it.

The chalet caught fire and someone inside called for help – firefighters and police “saved” him with a ladder. I don’t think the Health and Safety Executive would approve this now!