James Purdey’s Bicentennial offering is looking remarkably like our own, which we will have to take as a further compliment to ideas formed in Birmingham! Edward Nash the architect who has worked with me for many years on my house, The Grange Road factory, our showroom in Springfield USA and most recently our new factory, was commissioned, after a ‘Purdey team visit’ to this site, to design the new Purdey factory, currently under construction.
This Purdey bicentenary design is based on the old carved R. B. Rodda designs used in the 1910 era as seen on the .600NE below and will be offered with 2 other guns, one of which is a damascus over and under.
For any of you who travelled to the London gunshops during the days when Asprey had their gunroom on Albermarle Street, the face of Tony Pritchard will perhaps be a familiar one. Tony was the manager of the gunroom floor at Asprey for the full duration of its existence, about 16 years. Opened whilst under the control of the Asprey family in the early 1990′s, ownership by the Sultan of Brunei followed for a short period and the gunroom was finally closed down in 2005, under the then new owner Lawrence Stroll, himself a keen shot and sportsman.
Tony, like myself, worked for Oceaneering, the American based diving company prior to entering the “Gun Trade”. Having decided to end his diving career, which included a record depth decent, Tony headed for London and worked for J C Field & Stream, a company based in Fulham, London. It was a beautiful shop and became the agent in London for Westley Richards for some time. Unfortunately the business didn’t last too long and following this I helped Tony gain the position in Asprey.
It was really very nice to meet up with Tony last week at his home in the South of France where he now runs a small guest house “La Theroniere”with his wife Kate or ‘KDP’ as she is called. Stop by if you are in the area and Tony will entertain you with endless stories of his years at Asprey selling guns to the more interesting states of the world.
The Birmingham firm of Westley Richards is one well known to all with an interest in arms: a firm established in 1812 by William Westley Richards, surviving the passage of time and is still with us today.
Westley Richards took over the management of the firm from his father in 1840 and ran it until his retirement in 1872. He was undoubtedly one of the most successful of the British gunmaker inventors of the period. When we look at the records of the British Patent office we find that between the years 1855 and 1872 alone he obtained no less than 17 major patents relating to firearms and many of these protected more than one invention. One of them No 633 of 1858 related to the design of the famous capping breech loader affectionately known as the “Monkey Tail”.
A capping breech loader is one of those transitional breech loading systems developed in the mid-nineteenth century, it is a gun loaded at the breech but fired by means of a percussion cap placed on an external nipple. It is one of the stages that firearms design passed through before development of the metallic self-contained center-fire cartridge.
The Monkey Tail is an arm that I am sure needs no introduction to readers of our list, an arm well know and sought after by collectors worldwide. It was without doubt the most successful of all British made capping breech loaders. The British War Office was to adopt it for cavalry issue and purchased over 2000 carbines direct from the inventor, a further 19,000 were made at the Royal Small Arms Factory Enfield under licence. Substantial numbers of rifles were also obtained for infantry troop trials, and further experiments were carried out with Pattern 1853 Enfield rifles converted to breech loading by this system. The military authorities of the day seriously considered adopting it as the first standard issue breech loading rifle of the army. Curiously this honour was given to the Mont Storm another capping breech loader in 1865, and then being passed to the Snider, when it was found the Mont Storm skin cartridges were to fragile to be practical for military use.
A testament to the success of the Monkey Tail in government service is the fact that it was not declared obsolete until 1881. An advertisement circulated by Westley Richards in the late 1860’s lists the following governments and units which purchased and used arms of this design.
James Sutherland Sat On One Of The Many Elephant He Shot With His Westley Richards .577 ‘One’ Trigger Droplock Double Rifle
The Escutcheon Engraving On Sutherlands .577 WR Sutherlands Classic Book From 1912
James Sutherlands .577 WR Serial Number 16650
Depending on your own historical tastes there are many great hunters from the world of big game hunting in Africa. These include classics such as William Cotton Oswell, F.C.Selous, W.D.M.Bell and my own favourite James Sutherland.
Sutherland was born in 1872 and after arriving in Africa late in the 1890′s turned his hand to becoming a full time professional elephant hunter. This could not have been a more opportune time to embark on such a career as not only were there still great elephant herds to be found throughout Africa, but it marked the beginning of the nitro express age.
Luckily for Westley Richards, Sutherland decided that he would be a patron of the company and amongst the various rifles ordered his most famous is certainly the one ordered in 1906, one ‘best quality W.R double hammerless ejector rifle fitted with one trigger and hand detachable locks .577 bore.’
As a calibre quickly adopted by Westley Richards at the turn of the last century the .577 3″ Nitro Express was real firepower for the professional elephant hunter. The fact that Sutherland ordered it with ‘One’ trigger really says something about his faith in the company and its products. To this day we are still building one trigger double rifles, as well as plenty of .577′s.
Today Sutherlands rifle holds pride of place at Westley Richards and always creates quite a stir when produced for the discerning big game hunter. Few individuals get access to such famous rifles as most are in private collections and extremely valuable. This one always draws the question ‘I wonder what stories this rifle could tell?’
Sutherland saw his years out as a professional elephant hunter to the very end. He passed away in 1932 in his beloved Africa and with him went one of the last of the great elephant hunters. Thankfully his fantastic book of 1912 and his wonderful rifle remain as a reminder of the man.
Every once in a while we get a query regarding the Westley Richards .318 ‘Square’ shoulder cartridge. In all the years that I have been involved with Westley Richards I have only ever seen a couple of examples of both the ammunition and rifles including one double rifle chambered for the round. Its history and reason for introduction has always been a bit of a mystery, until now.
Recently Robert Wegele a cartridge collector in the USA contacted me asking what I knew about the square shoulder round. As usual I responded that we had no information about it and that the round was a rare modification. Robert thanked me for my kind response and that was that. However a couple of months later and Robert kindly forwarded me the attached pamphlet which in turn came from another collector Bill Fleming.
The pamphlet is self explanatory so I don’t need to labour on about its content. What it does establish for me is why the design probably never became hugely popular. It came to the market in 1914 the year the Great War began. Westley Richards moved massively into War production and so the ‘improved’ case came at a time when other interests were of far more importance. After the Great War it was probably forgotten as industry slumped.
Hopefully for those of you lucky enough to own a square shoulder .318, this pamphlet from our friends across the pond goes a long way to clearing up the mystery.
We are asked on a fairly regular basis why we don’t make our ‘Ovundo’ shotgun model in a slightly more aggressive manner, by which I mean actually offering it, rather than not!
The over and under shotgun is a model I have always shied away from making. Whilst no doubt commercially sensible, I personally have always shot with a side by side, and have preferred, whilst the company is under my guidance to focus on these side by side models. I clearly recall when I was young, that an over and under shotgun was completely frowned upon when taken to a game shoot, it was “go home and shoot clay’s” material.
Westley Richards has always had a very strong presence in the used gun and rifle market, we offer a very sensible and controlled alternative to the auction rooms, selling our guns to an extensive database of worldwide collectors and sportsmen. With the launch of our new used gun website we are now actively looking for items either for outright purchase or for sale on a consignment basis. Please contact either Kevin at our Bozeman shop or Anthony ‘Trigger’ Tregear at our UK factory for further details.
Some of the many guns and rifles we have sold this past year:
A Pair of 1930′s vintage James Purdey & Sons 12g Game Guns
One of a pair of Fantasy Engraved Westley Richards 12g Round Action Sidelock guns.
It is always exciting to get guns back from the engravers, especially when they have been away on a long project like this pair has, it has been definitely well worth the wait in this case! I have always believed fantasy style engraving suits guns so well and I am a great admirer of it. The Italian engravers are masters of the subject when done in fine bollino style, but here in its raw state and before case colour hardening, is a much deeper cut version which once hardened and finished will look very special indeed. The subject matter, masks, ornaments and figures lend themselves to the three dimensional work so well and when executed so carefully, as in this instance, they make a very welcome change form the traditional game scene guns of which we see a lot.
This is another pair of guns which we plan to have on show in USA during the early show season. I look forward to posting the photographs of the pair when they are finished in a couple of months time. At that point I plan to do a profile on the engraver, showing the full range of work he has completed for us to date.
Back in 1992 I was called by an elderly gentleman from Maine, who had just taken retirement at the age of about 70. He called to order a 30-06 hand detachable lock rifle and told me the rifle he wanted was exactly as illustrated in our 1949 catalogue, which he had had since the early ’50′s. He wanted the same look, the same case, telescope and accessories, all exactly as in the photograph which he would post to me that afternoon. The gentleman told me that he had dreamed of having this rifle all his working life, had saved accordingly into his retirement fund in order to treat himself, once he reached that time in life, which was now!
It was a great pleasure to build this rifle for someone who had waited such a long time and we built it in ‘quick time’, having been requested “I am not in quite as good health as I expected to be at this time, so could you hurry it along please?”
About 18 months later he flew to England with his best friend, another keen hunter, in order to collect the rifle. Ken Halbert and I remember the visit well, the gentleman was frail by that time and we were nervous when he asked to shoot the rifle on the range. We worried initially about him holding the weight and then the effect of recoil perhaps causing the beats to stop! To our surprise he shot away with absolute accuracy and no problems, clearly enjoying pulling the trigger again and again on a rifle he had waited so many years to use.
A very nice Holland & Holland 375 Flanged Magnum Dominion model which is cased in Oak & Leather with all accessories. This rifle is ready to go hunting and will be up on our used gun site within the next few days. With 26″ Barrels, Automatic Ejectors and a 15.5″ length of pull. The rifle is fitted with a Zeiss 1,1 – 4 x 24 on H&H quick detachable mounts. The rifle will be priced at £24,500.00 ( $39,000.00 ) so represents super value.