|Founder||Major General Charles Edward Luard|
|Merger of||The British Rifle League (1903)|
|Type||National Governing Body|
|Legal status||Company Limited by Guarantee|
|Headquarters||Lord Roberts Centre, Bisley Camp|
The National Smallbore Rifle Association, the NSRA, is the national governing body for all Small-bore Rifle and Pistol Target Shooting in the United Kingdom, including Airgun and Match Crossbow Shooting.
The NSRA is based at The Lord Roberts Centre, within the grounds of the National Shooting Centre, Bisley Camp, Surrey. National postal competitions are organised all year round, together with a series of meetings, culminating in the Bisley Rifle Meeting, or National Meeting in August, preceded by the Scottish Rifle Meeting in June/July.
In 2006, the NSRA founded the National Association of Target Shooting Sports working group in association with the National Rifle Association of the United Kingdom and Clay Pigeon Shooting Association, to explore the practicalities and benefits of a merger between the bodies. The project was shelved in July 2009 following the withdrawal of the CPSA, followed by the NRA.
The NSRA was originally formed in 1901 as the Society of Working Mens Rifle Clubs. A series of heavy defeats during 1899 in the Second Boer War had demonstrated a lack of marksmanship ability amongst British military-age men, whilst the Boers had been able to pick off British officers at ranges in excess of 1,000yards. Although the National Rifle Association had been founded in 1859, ranges suitable for large-calibre service rifles were necessarily rural and costly to travel to. Cost of ammunition for civilians was also a limitation. With the development of the cheap .22 Long Rifle cartridge in 1887 it became apparent that principles of marksmanship could be taught and trained using these small calibre "miniature" rifles on local or even indoor ranges located in towns and cities.
Major General Charles Edward Luard was at the forefront of this line of thinking and pressured the British Government to sponsor such a movement from 1899 until 23 March 1901 when a meeting of MPs, city Mayors and dignitaries representing many Working Men's Clubs, passed a resolution founding the Society.
“That the foundation of THE SOCIETY OF WORKING MEN’S RIFLE CLUBS, for facilitating rifle shooting, more especially in the evening, with small-bore rifles and inexpensive ammunition, as an ordinary branch of recreation by working men’s and working boys’ clubs and institutes, be now proceeded with”
Founding Resolution of the SWMRC, 23rd March 1901
The organisation was founded on the premise of being funded primarily by gentlemen, with the working classes expected to join the clubs and avail themselves of this opportunity. In many ways this was a spiritual update on the ancient English law requiring all men and boys to practice archery, which would often have been facilitated by the local clergy and gentry, and many modern rifle clubs still benefit from this legacy having inherited the grounds and quarries that land owners made available to these new Miniature Rifle Clubs as range space.
Major Luard took the Chair of the Executive Committee, with Earl Roberts of Kandahar acting as President and affording the group enormous publicity through his celebrity status as a celebrated Field Marshal. The 15th Duke of Norfolk was appointed as Chair of the non-executive Council.
In 1902 with around 80 affiliated clubs, the Society of Working Mens Rifle Clubs entered into co-operation with The British Rifle League - an organisation with similar aims operated by popular magazine "The Regiment". In collaboration they held their first shooting match and the first "Miniature Bisley" was held at The Crystal Palace in March 1903 as a smallbore version of the NRA's Imperial meeting - by now moved from Wimbledon Common to Bisley Camp in Surrey.
The two organisations merged later in 1903 becoming the Society of Miniature Rifle Clubs (SMRC), a name it held until 1947 when it renamed itself the National Smallbore Rifle Association (NSRA).
In 1904 Earl Roberts retired from active military service and devoted himself to the newly merged SMRC, driving a major fundraising campaign and seeking to found a club in every town. In 1906 he successfully gained recognition from the Army Council, putting the SMRC on an equal footing with the NRA and exempting members of affiliated clubs from the Gun Licence Duty, which was the considerable sum of 10 Shillings. The exemption from this cost enabled a new wave of clubs, resulting in the training of tens of thousands of men by the outbreak of the First World War.
The First World War saw a downturn in fortunes for the SMRC. In 1914, Earl Roberts passed at the age of 82, having developed pneumonia whilst visiting troops in France. The Presidency remained vacant until 1917 when Field Marshal Earl Haig was appointed as President. By the end of the war the number of affiliated clubs had fallen dramatically to around 1,500 as many club members had either lost their lives or were no longer inclined to shoot after the horrors of the trenches. The Firearms Act 1920 - enacted in fear of growing socialism and the shadow of the Russian Revolution - further constrained the ability of clubs to operate.
World War 2
The Society worked to reverse this trend, upsizing through several London bases and having 2374 affiliated clubs by 1939. The Second World War saw a growth in clubs. Just as many original clubs from 1902 had grown from volunteer militia groups, so new clubs formed around the Home Guard Units in areas where no clubs existed already. SMRC affiliations grew to 4019 clubs by the end of 1945. The War Office continued to support these clubs despite having stood down the Home Guard in 1944. The war also saw the Society move after their London Headquarters was destroyed in May 1941, resulting in the loss of the Society's records as well as the destruction of 48 valuable trophies. Their printers were also hit that night, destroying their stock of targets, as were the offices of the Society's solicitors and auditors. Nonetheless, they were fully operational just three months later from new headquarters in the relative safety of Richmond, Surrey.
During the Second World War, the Society suspended all airgun events focussing solely on cartridge shooting, and the post-war NSRA showed little interest in redeveloping it. This gap was filled by the emergence of the Air Rifle Clubs Association in the 1960s. This led to a split where the NSRA was the recognised authority for international smallbore and air gun shooting despite ARCA being the de facto authority on airgun shooting. This changed with the recognition of ARCA by the Central Council for Physical Recreation following an intervention by CCPR chairman the Duke of Edinburgh. This recognition led to a rebrand from ARCA to the National Air Rifle and Pistol Association (NARPA). NARPA organised a National Airgun Championship, initially at Rushden, Northamptonshire, and later at RAF Cosford in Shropshire. Under pressure from this new organisation the NSRA launched their own British Air Gun Championships in 1974 with the inaugural meeting held at the National Sports Centre for Wales, in Sophia Gardens, Cardiff, and remaining there until 1990 when it was held in Manchester ahead of the 1991 European Air Gun Championships which were held in the same Manchester venue. In 1980 NARPA closed, with the NSRA absorbing their responsibilities.
Over the decades, various attempts were made to establish a National Range for the hosting of Smallbore Meetings. In 1977 a demountable range was developed that could be erected annually on Bisley's Century Range, and the Society (now renamed the NSRA) made the decision to leave London for the last time, setting up base in 1980 on Bisley Camp which was rapidly being developed as a National Shooting Centre.
In 1991, the purpose-built National Indoor Shooting Centre was opened at Aldersley Leisure Village near Wolverhampton. The centre was located adjacent to a 100yard smallbore range operated by Wolverhampton Smalbore Rifle Association and hosted local clubs but also provided a more central location for the British Air Gun Championships, which were held there between 1992 and 2001, moving to Bisley in 2002 following the opening of the Lord Roberts Centre. The LRC was a state-of-the-art smallbore and airgun range complex constructed for the 2002 Commonwealth Games, featuring an Olympic-grade Sius Ascor electronic scoring system and office space for the NSRA whose headquarters had stood on the site previously.
Construction of the Lord Roberts Centre
The Lord Roberts Centre was a controversial building from its inception. Oriented North-East rather than due North, early morning shooters on the outdoor ranges were blinded by the sun rising over the targets. This was compounded by the decision not to include cross-range baffles, as are common in similar range complexes in Hannover or Munich. The first floor - where the airgun range was located - was criticised for using a sprung construction which produced noticeable bounce on the firing point. Despite this, Niccolò Campriani successfully scoring a 599 and a perfect 600 score at the British Airgun Championships in 2013. Most notable however was the financial strain that this large facility placed on the NSRA, which had no experience operating a dedicated range complex. With the prohibition on both centrefire and smallbore pistols in 1997, visitor numbers from air gun and rifle shooters to the centre were insufficient to cover the operating costs, resulting in the Association's commercial arm seeking other sources of income, including wedding receptions and a long-term deal that saw the upstairs hall configured as a roller-hockey rink.
Bisley Rifle Meeting
The first meeting was held in 1922 and has been held annually with the exception of the war years.
The meeting is normally held at National Shooting Centre for a week starting on the third Saturday before August Bank Holiday Monday. Most competitions are shot on about 200 firing points sited on the 200-yard firing point of Century Range. The remaining matches, including the three positions events, are fired at the Lord Roberts Centre on Sius Ascor electronic targets broadly under ISSF Rules. The entry for the meeting is about 900 competitors.
- The British Prone Rifle Championship, the "Roberts", first stage on Friday, second stage on the second Saturday morning (both 20 shots each at 50m and 100 yd); final for the top 20 on the second Saturday afternoon (40 shots each at 50 m and 100 yd).
- British Men's 3x40 and Women's 3x20 Championships, an Unsquadded 3x20 (open to all) and an Individual Double English Match, fired on electronic targets.
- Finals of the Astor Club Team Championship (club teams of 6), the Queen Alexandra Cup (county teams of 6 and individual) and the NSRA/Eley Competitions in Prone and 3P rifle (individual), the initial stages of which are run as postal competitions.
- During the "First Weekend" volunteers run the "SMRC Meeting" – a two-day event for Historic Arms in timelined designs (Classic = pre-1919, Veteran = 1919-1945, Open Historic = pre-1946 and some "Extended period" courses for basic rifles up to about 1960 design. Courses of fire for Prone, Offhand (Standing unsupported) a "new" Standing Supported course based on 19th-century practices: Classes of rifle include Target, Sporting, Military Training and – unusually for the NSRA – allow "pistol-calibre" rifles.
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