There are many definitions of a 'longbow' as there are many parts of its history and we are not qualified to offer a definitive answer (hence we refer you below to a number of articles from the better qualified European Traditional Archery Society and the Society of Archer Antiquaries.
We relate to the 'English Longbow' which should perhaps be referred to as the 'Welsh Longbow', as the original development of the medieval weapon appears to have been concentrated there and the most feared mercenary archers often came from that country.
Basically the longbow is a stick, originally made from a single piece of wood utilising the differing characterics of the centre and sap woods of certain trees (in particular Yew) to provide maximum efficiency (more often using multiple laminates to reproduce greater performance and lifespan from lower-weight bows. These days a single wood bow can also be made from two billets taken from a single piece of wood and joined at the middle to provide a readily symetrical bow).
The bow will be in the region of six feet in length and originally flexed 'through the handle' to take power from every part of the bow. It will also be of a 'D' section shape for its length (the 'D' section differentiates the longbow from the flatbow design). It is traditional to use tips of the bow (knocks) carved from horn to carry the string attachment. There are no sights or aiming devices and the arrow position on the bow is not assisted by any mark or resting plate.
Much of the pleasure of shooting the longbow comes from this total simplicity - the tactile feel of the skilfully carved wood and the forces within it.
The war bow was a fearsome weapon and the English/Welsh bowmen its most feared exponents - and had a major military impact over several centuries.
The modern sporting version of the longbow was subsequently developed during the sixteenth, seventeenth and eighteenth centuries involving a general reduction in 'draw weight' and a change to the balance of speed generation through the bow length - a process which has continued in recent years to develop the modern version of the longbow.
There is some argument over the 'draw weight' of the war bows but what is certain is that it comfortably exceeded the usual range of the modern sporting longbow at 40 - 80 lbs, but even our 'baby longbows' are shooting with a reasonable level of accuracy between 160 and 220 yards, depending upon the 'draw weight' and archer.
The shafts must be made of wood (usually pine)
The tips and flights can vary in size, shape & weight and, for the flights (or fletchings) colour - which is used to identify the arrows belonging to individual archers at the target.
The shaft can be of varying thickness and strength (spining), which should be matched with the draw weight (power) of the bow for the best performance and/or accuracy.
The fletchings are normally made up of a central 'cock arrow' of one colour (used to help load the arrow to the bow correctly) and two of another colour, positioned either side of the 'cock arrow'.
The length of the arrow should match the design draw length of the bow (the maximum distance between the string and the bow at full extension).
The 'knock' which attaches the arrow to the string is usually comprised of a plastic cap which clips lightly to the bowstring - but arrows can be traditionally 'self-knocked' (a simple slot in the tail of the arrow, albeit slightly more difficult to use).
Tapered and barrelled arrows are often used for extra distance by those into such things.
How much does this all cost?
A beginner using basic and/or second hand equipment can be ready to go (bows, arrows and basic aids) with a total budget in the region of £250 or less and the club will help with equipment loans and guidance during the early days.
A top-flight modern laminate bow from a top bowyer will cost in the region of £300-£450 and this price increases for 'specials' and 'self-bows' as the price of exotic wood continues to rocket.
Standard arrows cost approximately £5 each, but vary in price.
You will also need a finget tab, wrist guard and some form of quiver to carry the arrows, but these are not particularly expensive and this cost is included in the starter budget set out above.
For help with equipment options and costs, we have listed a number of makers & suppliers known and/or used by ourselves - see our links page.