Caterham and District Rifle Club, in company with many others in this country, was founded following the Boer war in South Africa. The object of the club as expressed in our rules is to train members that "they may be better fitted to defend the Realm in times of peril".
We are justly proud of our origins but enjoy our marksmanship today in a friendly atmosphere as part of the international sporting scene.
From the "Guide to Caterham" for 1908 we glean the following information:
The club was formed on 4th October, 1907, the President being Mr R.J.Turner, J.P., and the Hon. Treasurer, Mr. W. Garland Soper (a name very familiar to all students of Caterham's History). The minimum subscription was one shilling per annum. The land was presented by Mr. E.H. Coles and the Range building by Mr R.J. Turner, J.P. The Range was of the regulation length of 25 yards.
King Edward VII was on the throne, the Liberal Party under Prime Minister, Sir H. Campbell-Bannerman formed the Government of the day and Mr. Jones the butcher in Caterham High Street was advertising rabbits at one shilling each! Still fresh in the minds of the Nation was the recent war against the Boer in South Africa, and as a result of certain short-comings in our own strategy it was the desire of the military minds of the day that a movement of .22" calibre "Miniature" Rifle Clubs should be encouraged throughout the land, thus producing hundreds of men capable of shooting to a very high standard.
Against this background, the ever-active W. Garland Soper and a certain Councillor Arthur E. Green issued a circular letter to all the inhabitants of Caterham inviting them to a meeting at the Masonic Hall, Caterham Valley on 18th September, 1907 for the purpose of forming a rifle club. At this meeting Mr. Jones of Whyteleafe said "We started a Club in Whyteleafe four or five years ago - so 'Buck-up', Caterham"!
Caterham duly "bucked-up" and 18 days later, on 7th October, 1907 the Club was officially formed. Twelve months of frantic activity passed during which Mr. Turner's club-room and range were built on Mr. Coles' land. Some delay was experienced due to the Home Office being slow in granting the safety documents. Some things never change.
The grand opening of the Club's new premises was "grand" indeed. Caterham was honoured by a visit from the then Minister for War, the Right Hon. R.B. Haldane, K.C., M.P. A great military parade was held in Queen's Park and later a torch-light tattoo. The day ended with a crowded meeting in Caterham Valley. The Caterham Weekly Press & County Post reported:
"...when the party reached the Valley there was a considerable concourse of people waiting in the Square, and a dense crowd outside the hall, where the distinguished visitor was received by a guard of honour of the 4th Queen's ... a number of Guards - chief sergeants and corporals under the command of Colour Sergeant Stroud. The entrance of the party into the hall - already crowded, left over 100 disappointed would-be spectators in the road - was the signal for the rising of the whole audience, who greeted the Secretary for War with loud cheers. The platform afforded a brilliant spectacle with its variety of uniforms. Caterham and Kenley Boy Scouts had a position at the side of the hall and many of the local 'Terriers' were present in their new scarlet uniforms."
At the time the adult male membership amounted to 254, but including the ladies section and other affiliated groups, some 350 persons were using the facilities of the Club. Today's membership (including ladies, gentlemen and juniors of both sexes is c. 95). Prizes were presented by the Rt. Hon. Minister that evening. The evening concluded with a very important speech on the Territorial Army delivered by the Rt. Hon. R.B. Haldane.
Extra telegraph facilities had to be arranged at the valley Post Office and a special train bearing news reporters of all the national papers had been laid on. The local Press gave it a complete page with a headline proclaiming "SECRETARY OF STATE FOR WAR AT CATERHAM - important Speech on Territorial Forces". In all, over 100 column inches reported every word and the photographs of four grim military Edwardians, together with the smiling, bearded and bespectacled countenance of the irrepressible W. Garland Soper are all immortalised in print. No other Club in Caterham can boast an opening such as this!
The great clash of 1914-18 was soon to be upon these people and by 1915 the "Caterham Training Corps" was using the Range for training at a rent of £10 per annum. After the armistice, interest in rifle shooting faded. In 1921, an advertised meeting of all interested parties produced only four souls. With the Club at a low ebb in 1923, the Committee learned that the land (whose deeds they were not given in 1907) had been sold to Mr. Toms, a Nurseryman. His asking price to the Club was £145. The local gentry were approached and for a donation (in guineas, no doubt) an Hon. Vice-Presidency was bestowed upon the donor.
Thus, on October 12th 1923, flush with Vice Presidents, the Club purchased its land out-right.
The 20s and 30s passed with quite a good social side to the Club's activities. Dance and social evenings were the order of the day (Ladies shot on Wednesday afternoons and one year, the prize for the best lady was a presentation rifle).
Then came 1939, and another major war. In the Club's records is a letter from the Adjutant of 2/6th Btn. of the Queen's Regiment stating that "...200 men had been trained to shoot on the range and were now in France". The Evacuation from the beaches of Dunkerque was still in their futures.
The Club's fortunes ebbed again after the War and in a effort to boost Membership, an advertisement was projected upon the screen at the "Capitol" cinema in Caterham valley during the showing of "Winchester 73". By 1959 the club had increased in strength and pistol shooting at 20 yards was under way. Today, many Members shoot larger calibres at Bisley and the Club is very secure almost 100 years on.
Rule 3: The object of the Club is to encourage skill in shooting by providing instruction and practice in the use of firearms to any of Her Majesty's subjects so that they will be better fitted to serve their country in the Armed Forces, Territorial Army or any other organisation in which their services may be required in the defence of the realm in times of peril.
Many of the older-established rifle clubs throughout the land have a rule that will be found to be similar in spirit to our own. Little could its original writers have imagined that the .22" calibre target shooting movement would develop into the international precision sport that our members enjoy today.
Our members are active in a wide range of leagues an individual competitions. Caterham & District Rifle Club is one of the oldest sporting organisations in this community.
We have come a long way from that Edwardian October parade, the fluttering of the flags, and the Officers' plumes, the carriages of the gentry and Mr. Jones' shilling rabbits.
Adapted from an article written by Norman W.T. Skinner in February 1988 for an exhibition at the East Surrey Museum, Caterham.
We have recently celebrated our centenary! The celebrations went well. It was a good excuse for a party (actually two). We are proud to be still active so many years after our inception, and hope that Mr R.J.Turner would be pleased with what we have become.