The Lion Rifle is complete and is a rifle I am particularly pleased with, I think the whole rifle has come together really well and that the engraving is unique. It is refreshing to see another new style so beautifully executed. Not, I am sure, to everyones taste, but certainly to mine! Thanks to everyone involved with its making.
Rifle by Westley Richards, Engraving by Paul Lantuch, Barrel Black Johnsons, Colour Case Hardening Richard St Ledger, Colour Brush Off A.M. Brown.
American businessman and inventor A.E. Lard, the developer of the early single trigger was by all account quite a driven and dynamic entrepreneur. His early development of a single trigger design gained him some six U.S. patents during the period 1899-1915. I am not sure as to what name he used to label his design during that period but I do know that when Hunter Arms of New York, maker of the L.C. Smith purchased the American rights in approximately 1904 they referred to it as the ‘Hunter One Trigger’. This Hunter One Trigger has been both praised and vilified.
In the early 80’s I purchased a beautiful and seemingly perfect L.C. Smith ‘Wildfowl’ model equipped with the one trigger and was so excited to use this on ducks and turkeys only to experience a nightmare with it. At that time I could not locate a specialist for these triggers and so put it in the hand of folks who had no more success than I did. I have an idea today that the softer American Walnut in combination with the torque applied to the sideplates may have been part of the problem. In any case there are several gunsmiths today that can straighten them out and make them work quite satisfactorily.
The Lard Single Trigger from an old gun (top) and the First Westley Richards version that replaced it below.
I am not sure when Westley Richards adopted the A.E. Lard design, I do know that he was an Agent for the company and was advertising the Westley hand-detachable boxlock fitted with the Selective Single Trigger in the American Field Magazine in an August 24, 1901 issue. I would love to read his agreement with Hunter Arms and explore the language pertaining to the sale of his design to them; something tells me that Mister Lard was a pretty ‘slick’ operator. Westley fitted some 1000 plus of these triggers to guns and rifles and adopted the companies own design approximately 1909.
The bespoke process of manufacture in Westley guns and rifles vs. the mass production in the American market to meet demand no doubt has contributed to the success of the W-R single trigger. The combination of the A&D design, with the contained and protected hand-detachable locks, in combination with the single trigger design precisely made to close tolerances and protected within the design of action and stock is one of the greatest combinations of all elements in gunmaking. Being able to withstand high-volume shooting in shotgun, and recoil and conditions of hunting in the case of the double rifles. We have to look no farther than the James Sutherland .577 as an example of its success in combination of these elements. His fondness and confidence in it is well known and documented by his own words in print.
James Sutherland’s .577 Single Selective Trigger Westley Richards Droplock.
I am told that today approximately fifty percent of new Westley shotguns are built with the single trigger and some twenty percent of new double rifles. The single trigger being available up through .600 in the double rifle. There is a pair of 4-bore rifles underway in the hand-detachable, single trigger configuration which will be something to see indeed. The reliability of the A&D design utilizing the detachable locks, coupled with the single trigger makes for as trouble free use as you will find on any. These guns and rifles, from a simple case colored action, through a ‘gold name’, to exhibition engraved so configured is truly ‘Best Quality!”.
Little things: Ever wonder why some guns just look racy and keen laying on the bench?
Or, upon picking up certain guns you know they are really right before even getting them
to your shoulder?
Ever watch a real gunmaker pick up a gun for the first time and look directly
at you while checking out things by feel?
A goodly share of all this is a direct result of very subtile things in the makeoff or shaping of
the stock. Most of the makers have a particular style or look. Some of the differences are readily apparent and some require real effort to distinguish between looking and really seeing.
The diamond shaped hand and lines of Holland & Holland are there for all to see. Boss guns generally have ruler straight lines front to back with one often overlooked exception: Put a straightedge on a Boss stock from just behind the trigger bow to the toe of the stock and, likely as not, you will note just a little relief between that straightedge and the trigger guard on straight hand stocks. That little relief is in no small part responsible for the perfect feel of most Boss guns before before you even mount one.
Superb pair of Vintage 12g J. Purdey guns.
Put that same straightedge on a Purdey stock from from the rear of the hand along the side to the centre of the butt and you may discover that midway the stock is just a tiny bit fat.
An interesting thing about this is that it is not not limited to Purdey makeoffs. This same slight midway enlargement can be found on the columns of the Parthenon and on Rolls Royce grills.
Known as “entasis” to early Greeks and modern architects, it is, at least in part, responsible for for the softer, lovely, classic look Purdey guns posess. Some stocker at some time almost certainly knew the secret of the Greek columns and applied it to his trade.
While none of this is of any great importance, it might be interesting for some to look again at various examples of the stockmaker’s craft.
After all, it’s those little things that make best guns what the name implies.
Westley Richards stocker Keith Haynes making off a 4g droplock shotgun.
VESTIGIAL: Something that has lost its original function but still retained.
While normally a biological term – think of your appendix – it can apply to an often overlooked but fascinating part of modern best guns. As with all vestigial’s, fences once had an actual purpose and, as that need or purpose became obsolete, those lovely little artistic sculptures devolved into respectful hints of their antecedents.
Sometimes to understand where we are it is useful to look at where we’ve been and the story of these often elegant examples of file and chisel work is part of the story of the path leading to today’s best gun.
The ‘Fence’ can be seen between the nipple and the hammer body.
Two percussion guns showing the original Fences which provided a spark barrier.
In the days of external ignition, fences did indeed serve a real purpose. The prospect of burning black powder, sparking iron and hot gas being blown back into the shooter’s face was cause enough to develop some sort of protective shield. The solution was to leave a protective barrier between the flash and the flesh and, over time, these barriers or “fences” became beautiful examples of the actioner’s skills. In some instances the carving of the more ornate fence work was the job of the stocker. Something not often considered is the fact that on double guns two fences are required. Two identical but mirror image fences. With a single fence a bit of ‘artistic license’ might be gotten away with, if things got a touch off pattern. No such option when the two are side by side just inviting comparison.
Among the various styles, ball and bead was and is the norm on modern guns for such firms as Westley Richards, Boss, Purdey, Holland and Holland and many others. However, makers such as Woodward, Grant, Greener and Rigby to name only a few, developed signature looks, often with great elegance. Woodward and Greener with their distinctive arcaded or umbrella fences along with Greener’s clam shell effect and Rigby and Grant with their sculpted leaf fences all vied with one another. Fleur de Lys and grape and vine leaf were among special styles. The American Parker gun had an arrangement of ball and bead with the number of beads increasing as the grades ascended from “B” to “A One Special”.
The first strokes of the file at the start of the filing up process.
Today’s CNC machines can and do generate fences but the very best work is still done by men with files and chisels and, by definition, best work is what a best gun is about. When asked about the difference between making guns and making best guns, Tom Wilkes made the observation ‘it all comes down to time and control of the tool, doesn’t it’?
To sum up, while of no particular use today, these interesting examples of gunmaker’s skills are part and parcel of what a best gun stands on to the present day.
The next time you hold a really fine British gun you might take a moment or two to carefully look at these little exercises in iron, consider why they’re there, where they came from and what it took to produce them.
My Thanks to David Brown for this guest post and I hope I have illustrated it correctly!
We have a multitude of old ledgers here at the factory, many of which, even after 30 years I have never taken time to look at. One such book is a matching ledger to the Mauser records both of which I had rebound some years ago. This particular ledger is the daybook for gun sales in our London shop for the years 1892 to 1927. The ledger is divided into sections as indicated above. I point out that these are ‘off the shelf’ or stock guns and do not include ‘guns ordered’.
I picked 1907 for no particular reason just to have a look what the London stock gun sales were in those days. 1914 would have been 100 years ago but also the start of the War so I jumped back a few years to what would have been 100 years before we left the Grange Road premises.
The guns are all listed in columns by serial number and the totals sold were:
Best Hammerless Guns 45
Plain Hammerless Guns 84
Best Hammer Guns 0
Plain Hammer Guns 1
Double Rifles All Kinds 23
Keepers Guns and Cheap Guns 16
Secondhand Guns 41
Single Rifles 2 Best, 56 Bolt Action, 5 Lee Enfield, 35 Rook &Rabbit.
A brief overview is that most of the shotguns were 12g, the double rifles were .303, .318, .450, .476, .500 and .577’s (4). The bolt actions were mainly 318’s with .275, .303 and .375 being the largest with 3 sold. Rook rifles were .22 and .300 and the odd .250. In the revolver section you find Colts, S&W, Mauser, Webley and Bergman.
As with any old journals I cannot be sure how accurate the information is and how well it was kept, but I imagine it is actually totally accurate! Certainly it is also much easier to find than on the modern computer. It is just a shame we cannot write as elegantly as they did 100 years ago and maintain such perfect records for the future.
A .470 Westley Richards Droplock with Scroll Back Action in Lightweight Case.
This is a recently completed .470 Droplock for which we have used the scroll back action, typically found on our shotguns and which I have only ever seen on one vintage pre-war rifle. That rifle was a .476 and one that I have tried on many unsuccessful occasions to buy back from the lucky owner.
The scroll back works really well in my opinion and allows a more rounded shape to the action and ultimately very pleasing lines to the rifle. This is a feature we can now feature on any of our double rifles and possibly you will have seen this on a .600 which I posted ‘in the white’ some days ago.
The canvas and buffalo skin outer covered oak & leather case made in our leather shop.
The 470 is quite a common calibre now, a multitude of gunmakers are turning them out in one form or other, some of them very nice and some I wouldn’t wish to pull the trigger of. There is no Jeremy Clarkson of the gun world, the reviewer who tells it like it is, a person not influenced by the advertisers $ or £, but rather gives an honest opinion based on many similar products, at least products designed and manufactured to do the same job. I think in a way it’s a shame, it would keep every manufacturer on his toes.
The .577 however, is quite an uncommon calibre and there are, to my knowledge, only a handful of gunmakers remaining who undertake to make this and other similar ‘large’ bore double rifles. These makers are the ones with a long and solid history of making double rifles, ones who bring years of experience to the bench and ultimately to the rifle. This is a calibre the owner of which wants to get up close to something, something that wants to kill him, he wants a rifle with pedigree, a rifle that he can entrust his life upon. Of these few gunmakers, I believe Westley Richards has probably made more rifles in this calibre than any other.
Potocki, Sutherland, Hemingway, Granger are just 4 of the many famous hunters who have taken delivery of a .577 droplock rifle over the last 100 or so years and we continue today to deliver these on a fairly regular basis, I think at least a dozen .577 & .600 rifles are making the slow journey through the factory at the moment. It may not sound like a lot but in best gunmaking terms it is a lot, I assure you!
This Westley Richards .577 Droplock Double Rifle is the most recent one completed and leaving the factory this week. Fitted with sideplates which have been beautifully engraved by Peter Spode, extra Hand Detachable locks and fitted in a buffalo skin covered oak and leather case with outer cover. This is a rifle of which we are proud to be among the few remaining makers with both the capabilities and customers trust to make.
Some years ago at IWA in Nuremberg, my daughter Karena took her first order for a double rifle at Westley Richards, actually her first order was for a pair of rifles. She was ecstatic, I was mortified! The order was from a gentleman that I had had a long relationship with and decided I wouldn’t put business ‘in amongst’ the pleasure of the friendship. On many occasions I had declined the offer of his orders.
That day in Nuremberg he certainly came up with a tactic to get some rifles from us, when I declared ‘foul play’ he just shrugged and said ‘she took the check and shook my hand’ and for those of you who have done business with us, you will know the handshake is all we need.
So, some years and a few specification changes later, here are the rifles!