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