It is with deep sadness that Woodlore shares the news of the untimely passing of Chris Boyton:
There are a few names that stand out in the history of British archery, King Henry I, King Edward I, Robyn Hode, King Henry V, Roger Ascham, Adrian Eliot Hodgkin and Robert Hardy. To these revered champions of Archery must now be added Christopher Boyton. Who sadly passed away on Sunday.
In the world of traditional British archery Chris Boyton was a much loved and respected figure. Without a doubt he will be remembered as the most influential bowyer of our time. I was privileged to have known Chris as a friend for over thirty years, we shared a passion for bows of all description and an interest in the medieval war bow, but beyond all that we just respected each other. Chris taught primitive bow making on many Woodlore courses and shared his passion on several guided walks. His patience and untiring professionalism as an instructor were wonderful to behold.
One of my fondest memories was taking one of his bows to Tanzania and giving it to a Hadza man whose bow I had broken a few years earlier. The Hadza continue to live as hunter gatherers and as a consequence every Hadza man is both an archer and a bowyer, learning to make and use a bow for survival from early childhood. The Hadza love to shoot their bows and when they first fired Chris’s bow they were astonished. I can still recall their gleeful laughter and exclamations of wonder; no finer tribute could ever be paid to a bowyer than that.
Chris was a humble man who shunned publicity, preferring to let his skill represent him. He was widely consulted for his expertise which he shared both generously and willingly. A bowyer to his core, in his historical research Chris worked tirelessly to understand, honour and champion the master bowyers who preceded him. One of his greatest pleasures was working as a consultant on the bows recovered from the Mary Rose.
Bowyery is an art as much as a craft, the greater details of which were never written down. Instead the knowledge was passed by word of mouth from master to apprentice as they stood beside the tiller, from generation to generation. This is where Chris also stood, beside the master bowyer Dick Galloway, who he always held in the highest esteem.
Many years ago, Chris asked me to come to his workshop and select some short sections of yew so that he could combine them to fashion an apprentice’s bow. This was the old qualifying project for a bowyer, a perfect bow made from only short pieces of wood glued together, a daunting task indeed. Our schedules and some ill health on Chris’s part prevented this, which is a pity, for it would have been a wonderful bow to have seen him make. But, of course, rather superfluous, for Chris had long before, become a master bowyer. Although I do not believe Chris ever really understood how good he was; his students were lucky indeed for I truly believe that Chris was one of the greatest bowyers who has ever lived, combining as he did an astonishing level of craftsmanship with an encyclopaedic knowledge and dedication to his art.
I have many memories of Chris, most involve laughter. One is the astonishing lightness of step he demonstrated as a dancer stripping the willow at a medieval banquet. But I like best to remember him in the green wood shooting a bow at marks. Roving with Chris one quickly discovered that unlike many craftsmen, he could not only make bows, he could also shoot them, with the dexterity and skill that only comes with long practise.
While we will never again hear his cheerful, gentle, dusty voice that always suggested he was smiling. We can always recall him in these immortal words from Geoffrey Chaucer…
A sheef of pecok arwes, bright and kene
Under his belt he bar ful thriftily,
(Wel koude he dresse his takel yemanly:
His arwes drouped noght with fetheres lowe)
And in his hand he baar a mighty bowe.
All of our thoughts rest with his beloved family at this sad time.
– Ray Mears
I was lucky enough to spend 2 days with Chris maybe 10-15 years ago and he taught me how to make English longbows yes and trilaminated – being a cabinet maker already it was easy to pick up on – i still have a arrow jig he gave me and the bow i made under his guidence .. – great Man and taught me well ..
I am currently writing a brief ‘Thought for the week…’ reflection and remembering a day as a punter on one of Ray’s Bushcraft days in the Ashdown Forest (c2005). I was trying to remember the name of the wonderful craftsman archer who joined us in the afternoon, and spoke with such quiet passion for the art of making bows from yew, as we sat beneath an old Yew tree. I’m sure it was Chris, and so it is with sadness that I find myself here reading of his untimely death. It remains a stand out day and encounter for me, and I pray that his friends and family know that he was appreciated by strangers as well.
I value his advice and like to think there will be something of him in any self bow I make. Nicest bowyer I ever met.
I had the privilege of shooting alongside Chris a few times at the Society of Archer Antiquaries meet. A wonderful, knowledgeable and skilled archer who won the ‘best gold’ for his shooting regularly but also humbly and humorously accepted the ‘clogs’ for the ‘worst white’ at the same shoot – a true measure of his character. A giant of the longbow, sadly missed, but will never be forgotten whenever the longbow is in hand!
I knew Chris not because of archery but as school friends at Ealing School for Boys and the after at Brentford Secondary School. Chris was my best friend and I knew that he made bows. Once I went to see him at his workshop. Chris you are a great GUY.
Your old friend, Frank Calleja
I am so saddened to hear of the death of Chris,having shot with him on many occasions in Sussex and Kent.I still have some of his fine arrows and lots of happy memories of great days in the woods and fields spent in his company.He may have gone but he will not be forgotten.
I met him only once but had a really good chat about arrows. Speed vs cast. Very informative. It helped me shoot a lot more accurately. A nice man worthy of remembering.
In my experience souls worthy of lasting memory are very few and far between. I think Chris will be remembered by many and for a long time. A worthy epitaph!
This is a great piece of writing. Chris would of loved it. I’ve known Chris for over 23 years and he’s shown me how to carve/ shape a bow. We’ve had many, many long chats over the years about everything. Will miss these the most.
What a truly beautiful eulogy, really captures the true essence of what Chris was all about,
thank you Ray.
I had the privilege of knowing Chris, I remember ringing him for the first time and nervously asking would he build me an Egyptian angular bow fearing a rejection and he jumped at the chance saying he would be delighted and instantly describing various Egyptian composite bows off the top of his head such was his emense knowledge in all aspects of archery.
I know for a fact All of the top shooters in longbow classes in field archery only shoot Boyton bows and boyton shafts and have been for many years in Southern england, no disrespect to other bowyers but such is his reputation for such unmatchable craftsmanship and quality, everything he produced was the finest you could ever dream of.
What a wonderful man who was so generous with sharing his knowledge, suggesting idea’s, demonstrating things, always enthusiastic, an emence talent and warmth of character with lovely humour
And grace, so calm and patient, ever helpful. Chatting to him in his workshop I could listen to him for hours enraptured as all who were blessed enough to know him.
Truly The greatest bowyer of our age.
The archery world will never be the same again.
I too knew Chris and have shot the marks with him . My memory of him is that ” he didn’t do ego ” . He will be missed , but to quote one comment I saw on facebook “well I suppose all the angels will have Boyton bows now” .
I think your tribute is as good as anyone could wish to have said of them Ray !
I to knew Chris for 30 years. I remember him arriving at an evening class I ran with arrow shafts he had made. We made them up and tried them all to see which wood worked the best, ending with pinus sylvestris (Scots Pine) which have become so well loved all over the World.