Sporting magazines may come and go, but none, not a single one, has ever been able to compete at any level with Shooting Times, the shooter’s weekly bible, now in its 125th year of uninterrupted publication. No small feat this, and one which justifies some modest trumpet blowing!
To produce, on a weekly basis, a magazine consistently capable of providing up-to-date news, entertaining articles and features reflecting current trends and attitudes throughout the complex shooting and sporting world, demands dedication, practical experience and a high and consistent standard of journalism.
Readers frequently wonder at the ability of the magazine’s relatively small team to produce, week after week, month after month, a magazine which retains a fresh, inquisitive and often controversial approach to fieldsports, and shooting in particular. But it is a fact that, despite the innovations and changes that are inevitable in a span of a century and a quarter, the shooting world goes round and round, each generation believing that it can outdistance its forebears in knowledge and wisdom. Yet, as Tim Sedgwick (Tower-Bird), a former ST Editor, acknowledged, And for ever there will be the same old arguments about the same old problems and beliefs.
Founded five years before Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee, in the year 1882, Wildfowler’s Shooting Times and Kennel News, as it was first titled, was the brain-child of Lewis Clement, a sporting journalist who wrote under the pen name Wildfowler but was known to his acquaintances as “Lew”. Born in 1844, of wealthy parents, he spent his formative years travelling the Continent in pursuit of sport and, apart from shooting wolves in Bavaria and wild boar in France, he indulged whenever possible his passion for wildfowling and training gundogs.
A prolific writer, he published a number of books on aspects of the sport, including the remarkable Public Shooting Quarters, sub-titled A descriptive list of localities where wildfowl and other shooting can be obtained. This fascinating work, which paints a picture of a shooting world of which we now enjoy only the traces, was published by The Field magazine in 1881, with a new, limited edition published in 1995 by David Grayling.
At the time Lew was the self-styled Kennel Reporter-in-Chief to The Field, but for some reason fell out with the magazine to establish, the following year, his own shooting magazine, Wildfowler’s Shooting Times and Kennel News. Lew, moustached, cigar-chomping and supremely arrogant, was convinced of his own paramount ability, not only as a wildfowler and all-round shooting man, but also as a dog breaker beyond compare. This was a time when field trials and dog shows were burgeoning, the Kennel Club reigned almighty and working dogs, notably pointers, were in steady demand.
Keeping his own kennels, and employing one or two dog breakers, Lew quickly appreciated that he could use his magazine as a vehicle in which to promote and sell his dogs. In the very first issue he advertised his own kennels, noting that Wildfowler sends his dogs on trial, and willingly agrees to pay their return fare, as he knows they will not be returned. For sale were Steady Clumbers, from 10 guineas, clever retrieving cockers from 6 guineas, pointers and setters and no-slip retrievers from 15 guineas. However, it would appear that Lew tended to over-egg the cake in terms of self-adulatory advertising, for all was not quite what it seemed, and in 1906, at the age of 62 and 24 years after founding Shooting Times, he was sentenced to three years penal servitude for fraud involving the purchase and sale of gundogs.
For the first two years of its existence, the magazine had been published from 230 Goswell Rd, London, EC, possibly Clement’s home address. On 12 September, 1884, an office was opened at East Temple Chambers, Fleet Street, and the magazine remained there until 1893. In April of that year, Lew mysteriously severed all connection with the magazine. There was no editorial announcing his departure, simply a note that in future all cheques were to be made out to A. C. Bonsall. Nothing more was heard of Lew until his fall from grace in 1906. Bonsall, having taken over the now thriving magazine, quickly removed any reference to Clement and in his second week of editorship he changed the magazine’s title to Shooting Times, British Sportsman and Kennel News.
Any reference to Wildfowler vanished for ever from the pages, though he probably retained Clement in some capacity for a short period. At the same time, Bonsall also announced a move to “more commodious premises” at 9 and 10 St Bride’s Avenue, Fleet Street. The magazine remained at 2d but the pages were increased to 24 per issue, “ready cut and stitched”. For 31 years, Bonsall was to remain in charge of ST and during this period he founded the Burlington Publishing Co which was to remain the holding company until the 1980s.
Though the so-called Golden Age of gameshooting was still filling the record books, a realisation was abroad that mass production of game and its attendant destruction of raptors and any creatures which might pose a threat to driven shooting was coming to an end. In 1889, the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds was founded; shortly after came the Field Sports Protection Society and the Keepers Benefit Society, while in 1911 the Society for the Promotion of Nature Reserves was established and the Forestry Commission followed in 1919. From the point of view of shooting and ST, however, the most significant event in the early years of the 20th century was the founding in 1908 of the Wildfowlers’ Association of Great Britain & Ireland (WAGBI) by Stanley Duncan, strongly supported by the magazine which was to become the official weekly organ of the association and now the British Association for Shooting and Conservation (BASC).
Throughout the four ghastly years, 1914-1918, which we term, perversely, The Great War, ST continued to publish, though diminished in size through lack of paper and pertinent news. Shoots fell into desuetude, keepers and their employers were sent to the trenches and, inevitably, only a very few returned.
The magazine was now published from 72-77 Temple Chambers, London EC, the price remained at 2d but the title had changed to Shooting Times and British Sportsman. Photos as well as line drawings were now beginning to appear. Among the contributors were Henry Sharp, who edited the long-running series Gun Talks, Stanley Duncan himself, who contributed for more than 60 years, and James (Jimmy) Wentworth Day, who recalled being paid seven shillings and sixpence (37½p) for a 1,200 word article! In 1917, a writer who was eventually to become one of ST’s greatest Editors, contributed his first article he was, of course, Noel (Tim) Sedgwick who, later, was to assume the pen name of Tower-Bird.
In 1924, however, an era came to an end with the death of Arthur Bonsall, and for the next four years the magazine was conducted by Arthur Hughes, who was, apparently, the business manager. By now the price had risen to 6d (2½p) and the once-familiar blue banner appeared on the cover page. Richard Sharpe was in charge of Kennel Notes, H. C. Folkard wrote on wildfowling, while Stanley Duncan continued with Jottings for Wildfowlers.
After Bonsall’s death, Tim Sedgwick also joined the magazine as an assistant editor, but his tenure was brief as he quickly fell out with Hughes, a man whom he described as a businessman but not a practical sportsman. He was replaced by Arthur Heinemann, who had produced the hunting notes, but he, too, rapidly departed and Sedgwick rejoined in 1927.
The following year, 1928, the distinctly odd Dr Wagner, a clergyman and alleged dentist from Sligo and son of the Bishop of Boyle, became Editor. He was described by one contributor as a charming man who believed in fairies but whose ambition, or greed, led to his downfall when it was discovered that he was writing articles under a series of pen names and being paid for them. Considered at the time a great authority on shooting, perhaps his most significant contribution to ST was to create an association with Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese pub in Fleet Street, one which was to last well into the 1960s.
From 1932, when he was appointed Editor, until 1965, Tim Sedgwick steered Shooting Times and, in my opinion, was the force behind the creation of the magazine which we know and love today. He was to work closely with Stanley Duncan to ensure that the passing of the 1939 Wild Goose and Duck Act did not have too dramatic an impact on fowling, changing as it did the opening day of the season from 1 to 12 August and the close from March to 31 January.
Almost on his own, Sedgwick steered a lean Shooting Times through the war years and still published on Saturdays at the price of sixpence. One consolation, however, was the appearance in 1942 of one of the greatest gundog trainers of the 20th century, Peter Moxon, who began to write a weekly Kennel Topics feature and was later to be appointed gundog editor. It was a fraught period, made even more so by Blitz damage, which destroyed many of the earlier bound volumes of the magazine, but ST survived with no weekly copies lost and, in its own fashion, made a firm declaration that a way of life would continue despite the worst that Hitler could contrive.
In 1950, Tim was joined by Peter Whitaker as assistant editor, and it is a matter of applause and remark to know that Peter still writes a lively fortnightly column under his pen name of Petrel long may he do so. The magazine remained in Fleet Street at 76 Temple Chambers and was now owned by Stephen and Fraser Bird, while the managing director was an L. H. Willett. The latter suggested the office move to 29 Old Bond Street, as it was closer to his club, a move which accordingly took place.
As a relative youngster, just discharged from National Service and attempting with remarkable lack of success to pursue a boring career in insurance in Pall Mall, I made myself known to the ST team of Sedgwick, Whitaker and L. A.W. “Robbie” Robinson, the splendidly large and avuncular advertising manager, and I recall with nostalgia numerous visits to Old Bond Street and the local watering hole, Shelley’s. It was a period when the office was treated in the fashion of a sporting club, attracting anyone of sporting and eccentric taste who was passing through London. There was, for instance, the game warden who carried a sack containing the skeleton of an African tribesman, the man who demonstrated his blowpipe by firing darts through plywood indeed one never knew exactly who one might encounter. I recall one odd character in the pub who tried to sell me an 1851 Colt revolver in superb condition for £15. Unfortunately, I couldn’t raise such a vast sum at the time.
In 1954, the magazine changed its publishing day to Friday and the price rose to 1s.3d. Gough Thomas, the renowned gun expert, began to write a regular feature, as too, four years later, did Geoffrey Boothroyd and, with the expansion of shooting, the magazine’s circulation achieved
a steady growth until it was to achieve a peak circulation of 55,000 a week in 1979.
A further change of office, to 19/20 Noel Street, Soho, took place in 1960, and a year later I joined the magazine as the lowest form of journalistic life, an editorial assistant. It was an extraordinary period and, looking back, I still sometimes wonder how the magazine appeared each week. Tim, Peter and myself worked like Trojans throughout the morning, reading galleys, designing pages ourselves, for graphic artists were unheard of, and then retiring at lunch time to either the Coach & Horses (of Jeffrey Barnard fame), or to Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese in Fleet Street.
Tim Sedgwick was incorrigible. He invariably carried a catapult and would not infrequently demolish a London pigeon with it, while his puckish sense of humour led him, on more than one occasion, to tip a glass of beer down the back of a friend’s trousers. Unfortunately, as his sight deteriorated as a result of cataracts, on one occasion the joke misfired when he chose a total stranger for immersion! In the early 1960s, one Leslie Pine, who had edited Burke’s Peerage, was brought in as managing director. An unpleasant little man, with no sense of humour, he and Peter Whitaker at once took a strong dislike to each other. It was a feeling which pervaded the entire office, and was justified when Pine left, only to reveal through a red-top tabloid that he was an anti and had been using his time in the office to obtain ammunition to denigrate fieldsports.
A complete hypocrite, he had spent a day with the Courtenay Tracey Otterhounds and was presented with the mask of a 19lb bitch otter.
It says much for his character that he had it mounted and proudly displayed above his desk while he was plotting the downfall of shooting and hunting. Sadly, Tim’s health deteriorated and in 1970 he died of a heart attack and was buried at Pulborough, his home for so many years. Peter Whitaker had already departed to edit the Country Landowners’ magazine and a new Editor, Philip Brown, had been appointed in 1965. It was a surprising choice, for Philip had been secretary of the RSPB for many years and had been deeply involved with the return of the ospreys at Loch Garten and also with the re-establishment of avocets as a viable breeding species.
Yet Philip, perhaps because of his deep understanding of conservation and his ornithological background, was a committed enthusiast for all fieldsports and hunting in particular. Despite some opposition, he introduced the sport, in all its branches, into the magazine, a stance which I fully supported as I actively hunted with a West Sussex pack, the Chiddingfold, Leconfield & Cowdray.
It was to prove a shrewd move and, supported by writers such as the late Douglas Leslie and Rex Hudson, contributed in no small measure to the rapidly expanding magazine circulation. In 1974, I took over as Editor, and Philip Brown became editor-in-chief until his retirement in 1978. I remained as Editor until 1986, when I, too, became editor-in-chief, retiring to become a freelance journalist a year later. The astonishing success of Shooting Times in the 1970s and 1980s was due, in no small measure, to the inclusive editorial coverage and also, it must be said, to the
lack of opposition in the fieldsports magazine world. We had, for a considerable period, a clear playing field a situation which was rapidly to change as publishers began to realise the potential for countryside-orientated magazines.
My tenure as Editor for 12 years was enhanced, personally, by the knowledge that I acquired as a regular writer that grand countryman John Humphreys, a man who remains the backbone of the magazine and who, I hope, will continue to embellish its pages for many years to come.
Following my departure, a series of Editors was appointed, including Derek Bingham from The Field, Jonathan Young, who had been my assistant editor and who went on to edit The Field in grand style, a post he retains to this day, John Gregson, Mark Hedges, now editor-in-chief, Julian Murray-Evans, Rob Gray and, of course, our current Editor, Camilla Clark.
Looking back over the magazine’s 125 years, there have, of course, been lows as well as highs, but the weekly output has never faltered, despite the enormous pressures under which staff have to work. The production of a monthly magazine is, with the greatest respect, not even to be compared with the exigencies which can beset the relatively small staff on a weekly such as Shooting Times.
That today the magazine’s circulation is extremely healthy is tribute to its Editor, Camilla Clark, her deputy, Alastair Balmain, and the staff who, week after week, ensure that you, the reader, can take pleasure and enjoyment in a magazine which is, in its own way, unique.