National Shooting Centre

 Bisley, UK

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From origins on Wimbledon Common

The National Rifle Association (now the governing body of fullbore rifle and centre-fire pistol shooting in Great Britain) was founded in 1859, originally to provide a focus for marksmanship for the newly formed corps of volunteers which had been raised to meet the perceived threat of invasion by the French. The NRA was granted Royal Charter in 1894. This Royal Charter continues to this day for the "promotion of marksmanship in the interests of the Defence of Realm and permanence of the Volunteer Forces, Navy military and Air".

The Association organised the first set of competitions on Wimbledon Common in July 1860, on land where Earl Spencer and the Duke of Cambridge, founders of the NRA, held manorial rights. Queen Victoria fired the first shot and gave a prize of 250 for the best individual marksman. This set the pattern for the Annual Meeting which has been held every year except during the two World Wars. The Queen's Prize remains the premier award for the rifleman and the July Imperial Meeting is internationally famous. It also established the unbroken link between the Association and the Monarchy. The present Prince of Wales has held the office of President since 1977 and has shot for the House of Lords in the Vizianagram Match, held annually against the House of Commons.

The NRA Meetings at Wimbledon flourished but as the area developed there was increasing pressure to find an alternative site and the last Meeting at Wimbledon was in 1889. By that time a series of possible sites had been examined, including Richmond Park, Cannock Chase, the Berkshire Downs, Dunstable, Lewes and Staines. The Guards Camp had been at Pirbright since 1881 and the prospect of support from troops there and from Aldershot probably swung the decision. After much debate the members of Council voted to move to Bisley, and 15 months later the Princess of Wales, later Queen Alexandra, fired the first shot at the beginning of the 1890 Imperial Meeting.

The Move to Bisley

At Wimbledon the ranges had been developed over 30 years. The NRA built temporary office and catering facilities there each year, and many of the competitors and staff lived under canvas, but there were good transport links and services and ample accommodation for the less hardy. Bisley was miles further from London and had nothing. The Council had to buy land, build ranges, provide permanent accommodation, and create the infrastructure. The purchase of land cost over 13,000 and almost exhausted the reserves. The War Office provided working parties from Aldershot to level the ranges and construct the butts.

The wood and canvas offices and Pavilion, and the Clock Tower, were brought from Wimbledon and huts with 40 rooms were built. The London and South Western Railway Company, which operated the Waterloo to Southampton line, built a spur from Brookwood Station to serve the Camp, and the light tramway was relaid to connect Camp and ranges. The original range layout proved its worth in 1890 and its basic outline remains today. For a few years the NRA met the demand for clubhouses and living accommodation by renting out the buildings, but by 1894 the Association was financially overstretched and the policy changed to selling ground leases.

A world-class venue

The ranges laid out in 1890/91 are substantially similar to those of today. Stickledown (the long-distance range) was extended from 24 to 40 targets in 1903 (later 50), and the greatest distance was increased from 1100 to 1200 yards in 1910. Century was so named in 1903 when the Great Butt was widened from 90 to 100 targets (now 108). These two very large ranges and the associated danger areas provide a framework for the siting of smaller, specialist ranges, and have proved adaptable for many new types of shooting disciplines which have evolved in the 100 years since they were designed.

Most recently, Bisley hosted all the shooting events for the 2002 Commonwealth Games. Brand new formal clay facilities were constructed and the Lord Roberts Centre was built to house a smallbore rifle range and press facilities. On the 300m range it is now possible to shoot using the latest electronic targetry.

Set in 3000 acres of Surrey heathland some 30 miles from Central London, Bisley has the unique combination of the best, most modern, and largest arrangement of shooting facilities in the world combined with colonial-style clubhouses.

Modern facilities set in a Victorian / Edwardian time warp

Bisley, apart from being able to offer a great variety of shooting, has other advantages. It is the largest range complex in the world within a major centre of population and has few restrictions such as those which now inhibit new ranges being built in populated areas. A glance at a map will show the ranges and their associated danger areas as an oasis in a near suburban part of the South of England; and an added bonus for all, especially the naturalists, is the abundance of flora and fauna - some of which are unique to the area. The ranges are now a European Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) and so protected from modern development.

It is in large part a Victorian and Edwardian time warp. Nearly all the original buildings survive and a recent massive restoration programme has put most of them in good order and to good use. Relatively little has been built since 1914 to spoil the charm of the Camp; and such as may be built hereafter must be in keeping with the older buildings now that the bulk of the Camp is formally designated a Conservation Area. Visitors from home and overseas are agreed that Bisley Camp has a special appeal. The Council of the NRA is well aware of this sentiment that does much to distinguish Bisley from ranges or shooting centres elsewhere in the world, and has resolved to maintain it so, in contrast to the inevitable brick or steel or concrete of modern constructions. 

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