This week we completed another .577 hand detachable lock double rifle, bringing the total we have delivered since 1900 to 97. This rifle will be accompanied on its first safari by Trigger, who is travelling with the client later this summer to ‘Christen’ the rifle on safari in Tanzania, hosted by Danny McCallum.
The .577 has been a special calibre for Westley Richards having been used by many prominent hunters over the years. James Sutherland, Admiral Baker, Count Potocki, Ernest Hemingway, Stuart Granger all took a Westley .577 to Africa. Today you see a number of gunmakers around the world making .470 and .500 rifles but rarely do you see anyone attempting the .577 or .600.
When filling in the ledger for this new rifle and noticing it was the 97th, it occurred to me that the 100th .577 we deliver should be a special one, so I have reserved that number for a special ‘celebration rifle’. It will have to be a single trigger rifle with extra locks and also it will have to look like a classic hunters rifle, with perhaps a slightly more extravagant execution of the traditional engraving. A stout canvas case and a cartridge magazine containing 100 rounds would be appropriate. It is the sort of project I enjoy putting in work!
I have mentioned before that pairs of double rifles have always appealed to me. We have just completed this pair of .470 sidelock rifles which are now heading off to hunt in Africa. The rifles are engraved with fine rose and scroll executed by Dave Tallett and are cased in a best oak and alligator leather case which was made in our leather department.
It is strange what you can run into on a short trip in the USA!
The Greener St George gun is a gun that has been copied more than once by the current Greener company, perhaps I should say re-interpreted rather than copied. There is however never anything quite like the original version, the one which carries the history and the story. The Greener St George was started in 1890 as a “show gun” and was made at ‘no expense spared’. The very best damascus barrels, a beautifully figured piece of Circassian walnut which required over 100 perfect inlays that would normally have been considered uneconomical and 12 months of engraving by Greener’s then top engraver Harry Tomlinson working to Harry Greener’s designs.
Tomlinson broke down twice whilst executing the engraving. On both occasions after throwing his tools around the workshop he was later found in the public house opposite the factory gates where he remained for several days, unconscious for the most time and totally drunk’ ( The Greener Story. Graham Greener).
This gun is built on what is known as the Greener Unique version with a Greener cross bolt and a non selective single trigger. The gun was never checkered.
I had a Scottish reader moaning about the lack of Scottish guns featured on this blog. I did point out that this is an English gunmakers blog so one could probably expect a bias towards English guns and especially our own.
Anyway, as a means of keeping the peace as we run up to our General elections in England, during which the Scottish National Party look to take over England, here are some shots I took in my hotel room of 2 very nice 28g Over and Under Scottish guns by David Mckay Brown which I have just picked up. Both of these guns were engraved in Italy one by Creative Arts and the other by Pedretti.
The 2 unfired guns will shortly be on our used gun site and whilst engraved in different styles the guns are consecutive numbered and have the same measurements.
Nice to see hammer guns and side by sides in the shooting cart.
On Thursday this week, Bill & Mary Kempffer of Deep River Sporting Clays welcome some of the industries best know gunmakers and gun dealers to their property in Sanford NC. The event, The Southern Side by Side championships has been running now since 2000 and is now firmly established in many shooting peoples diary.
Tomorrow I am heading to USA for the weekend in Sanford followed by a road trip through North and South Carolina, Georgia, Tennessee, Arkansas and ending in Texas, Dallas a week later. I look very much forward to meeting old friends at the show and to seeing old clients and trying to wrangle the guns I sold them many years ago out of their safes! I will let you know how I get right here!
Please pass by the Westley Richards stand at Sanford if you are able to attend, I look forward to saying hello!
Guy Bignell of Griffen & Howe giving Daniel Cote a break from his Double Gun Journal stand
In 1949 James Purdey & Sons purchased the gunmaker James Woodward & Sons. I am sure there were other reasons for the purchase, but the main reason was to get the Woodward over and under design in order they could adapt and use it for themselves. Unlike Boss & Co., Purdey had never been successful in developing an elegant, lightweight and strong over and under. They had built a strong over and under but it was heavy, and certainly not elegant.
Vintage woodward over and unders do not seem to appear too often, I have no idea what sort of quantities they made them in but when you do get to see a vintage pair you can quickly understand why Purdey was in a hurry to buy the company. They are a superb looking gun and I believe it was, amongst other things, the stock shape that was responsible for making them look so nice. I say that as I always seem to remember the stock shape of a pair of 20g guns and a pair of 16g guns I saw many years ago in Las Vegas.
This pair of guns sit here in storage, the stocks on the guns at the moment are replacement left hand stocks but we do have the original right hand stocks also. They are a super pair of guns and came from the same collection as the Boss I have featured on this blog before. I can honestly say that that person had a very good eye, and collected some superb guns, I wish he had many more!
A few years ago now, one of the largest individual collectors of new best guns, decided, that none of his future new guns, singles or pairs should be cased. It was a simple decision, one based on the fact that his guns went into a rack in his large gunroom and the cases went into a barn on his property. He paid £6000 or more for a best, custom made oak and leather case with tooling and put it in the barn, probably never to be seen again! 100 new guns, £600,000 of cases in a barn, a sensible decision? Probably not.
If you had asked the Indian Maharajah’s if they were ever going to sell their guns and rifles I am sure they would have said ‘no, never, we love our sport and our guns, we will never sell them’. However it came to be that they did, and in vast numbers. When that time came, we, Westley Richards in the shape of my father were there in India, and we purchased a great deal of them. A frequent question we asked was ‘is it cased or are they cased?” It is a question that I am sure you yourself always ask as a gun buyer, I certainly ask it when I buy and people ask it of me when buying from me, we all actually want a case, when there is a case we will pay more for the gun or it will be the case that just tips the balance when looking at 2 similar guns, one cased the other not.
The Indians often (much like the modern auction house I regret to say) felt that the value achieved of their cased guns was more if they separate the items and so would sell the guns in one deal, the case, possibly to another person, in another deal, finally the tools in yet another deal. I recall very well a fabulous pair of Dixon ML guns we found one year in India, we bought one gun of a pair in 1992 and were then sold the case for the pair in 1993. In 1994 we were offered the tools (for those who know Dixon cases will know the tooling was extensive) Finally in 1995 they then showed us the No2 gun which they had previously denied having, which unfortunately, having been separated from its pair and case during the past few years, had fallen over in their store and the stock was broken. They ended up with about a quarter of the amount they could have got selling the cased pair as a whole!
I have over the years opened a huge amount of gun cases and I tend to buy guns on the first emotion, I open a case, always hoping for a magnificent mint condition find, and they will either just say buy me or perhaps don’t buy me! There is nothing like a great gun or rifle in its original casing. You come to recognise types of cases and you know that should be a Boss, or that should be a pair of Purdey’s, Westley Richards had a very distinct looking case so were easily spotted.
When I started at Westley Richards I always found it very hard to get a great quality case made, there were few makers around and I must say that the situation hasn’t changed much in 30 years. Mr Brady was making cases in Birmingham as was Bryant in London but they were both soon to cease. All the tooling came from Mike Marsh and to this day still does, we are grateful that Mike will still make our tooling, we buy as “much as he can make” knowing one day he will have had enough and turn off his lathe.
I established an in-house case maker quite soon, I think in about 1995 taking on Roland Lane’s case making business, Roland worked for some years on his own in our workshops making our cases and was then joined by Martin & Tracy Jones who were with Brady up until the time they closed. Martin and Tracy continue to work here and together with Witold & Joanna produce all our leather goods in house. It is a part of the business I am very proud of and one I insist that the products always compliments the quality of the guns we make.
Westley Richards leather department offer many sorts of cases, all are made for the individual gun and can be from a lightweight canvas case to oak and leather covered with alligator and anything in-between, we make flat cases and motor cases. We also hold quite a good stock of old cases which can be refitted to suit a vintage gun if needed.
So, should you case a new gun? Yes, I believe you should, It will one day come to market and you or one of your family will certainly get better value. The case will keep all the parts together and protect it over the years, the case will help the gun retain condition. It is I think a very important part of the gun, I appreciate it is expensive but I feel it is almost actually essential.
Above is a selection of cases made in the Westley Richards leather workshops over the years.
The Leica shop in Mayfair were kind enough to lend me a couple of lenses for my camera this week when mine packed up, they sent me a replacement 120mm and their Tilt Shift lens to try on the camera. It will take me some time getting to grips with the Tilt Shift lens no doubt but it can take some rather extraordinary views of a gun! It may look a little odd but it certainly puts another perspective on the shots as you can see above. I hope with a little more practise I can get the peacock on the butt-plate and the elephant in focus!
If I was asked to name just one of the classic Westley Richards rifles, a .425 magnum take down bolt action would have to be on the short list. Here is a .425 rifle that has just been completed in our workshops and is now destined for Botswana, to the experienced hands of a young hunter who travels Africa in search of his game.
Presented in a classic, green canvas and leather case, this is a no frills rifle, a practical rifle and one which is destined to hunt hard. For those of you unfamiliar with the calibre the .425 has ‘neck and neck’ ballistics with the .416 Rigby. Rigby would no doubt claim more power but we would object, strongly! The WR cartridge was designed to fit straight into a standard size Mauser action and originally the cartridges were sold in a 5 shot clip, you would load from the clip directly into the 5 shot drop magazine you see here on this rifle.
As you will see from the advertisement at the bottom of the post which is from our 1912 catalogue, we have reproduced the classic lines of the rifle faithfully, the drop box with horn nose which covers the hinge mechanism and the raised side panels with drop points both give this rifle its signature and masculine look.
As I imagine not everyone looks at the comments, I have added this response to the post. It says what I should have said, better than I could have!
Dear Simon, thank you, Exquisite, absolutely.
Sorry, but no 416 can come close! As you say this really is a classic rifle. The late Captain FC Selous would have been impressed. Wonderful to see this superb classic calibre making a comeback. So, we await posts highlighting new bespoke doubles with detachable locks chambering the .425. An earlier post here from your records listed a total of 33 double rifles built in .425 in just over a century.
It is timely to remember that Pondoro Taylor spoke well of this round, in fact he much desired more than just one gun in .425. This he made clear in arguing for a pair of bespoke rifles built to share a single calibre: one a double, the other a magazine, with custom barrel lengths, respectively. Poignantly, Taylor considered Westley Richard’s.425 the ideal calibre for this pair of rifles. It is worth recounting what he wrote in Big Game and Big Game Rifles (pg 207):
“I have often thought that a battery consisting of an open-sighted double .425 (26-inch barrels) and a ‘scope-sighted .425 magazine (25-inch barrel) would take an immense amount of beating for general all-round work amongst dangerous game, and am seriously considering just such a battery when it is possible for me to order a new one.” And one reads the near identical statement on pg 20 in African Rifles and Cartridges. Tragically, Taylor never realized his dream.
I like to term this nucleus of the Ideal Battery – quoting a Taylor chapter title – “Pondoro’s Pair”. Something to save for!
Further, with respect to similar big bores, we should remember the .425’s .435″ diameter bullet – at 410gr – outperforms the .423″ bullet of the highly respected and exhaustively tested .404 Jeffery; arguably, the .425 comes close to the .458s, with 90% of the latter’s cross-sectional area (CSA) and ~15% lighter bullet. But the .425 has the benefits of higher velocity and less recoil, and avoids the foibles of the too-short .458 Winchester “magnum” shell (with propellants etc) – albeit problems solved by the .458 Lott. Obviously, one is then dealing with a full-bore .450. And it is worth reflecting that the widely popular .416 has 8% less CSA.
Okay, I will stop this reply here….and not start on refuting all the silly speak by armchair critics about the rebated rim/barrel length/magazine-springs etc of the .425. This ignorant badmouthing a calibre they are unqualified to judge has been ridiculed by real experts who actually proved the .425 under challenging conditions.
Most grateful thanks to you for enlivening the easter weekend
Receiving a book as a gift is always a special treat, receiving an old out of print book which one should have discovered years ago is even more of a treat. So it was with very great thanks that I received this week, a copy of William Harnden Foster’s book ‘New England Grouse Shooting’ from a friend in Texas.
This gift came about as a result of discussions on what engraving we should put on a new .410 hand detachable lock shotgun we are building for the said gentleman. A conversation on engraving a small bore gun for an American will undoubtably lead to discussing native birds as happened in this instance.
I was able to recount to him my few efforts of hunting the American ruffed grouse in Michigan. My first ruffed grouse hunt made me finally understand why so much blaze orange is worn by hunters in America, I had always thought it was solely for protection against being shot, which to a great degree it is. However once in the thick forests of Northern Michigan, in driving snow, I quickly realised that if my neighbouring gun and guide didn’t have blaze orange, I would probably still be wandering around Canada now, some 15 years later.
Our discussion turned to artwork for engraving which depicted both the native birds and hunting scene. Artwork is an essential ingredient for engravers and I have always felt that drawings are a better source than photographs, they use a similar technique to engraving with the added benefit that a good artist will capture the mood and the moment much better visually, than a photographer ever could.
I am not going to review the book here, I have yet to read it properly. My message is more for those of you considering new guns and engraving, a message to even the engravers themselves. Search out these types of book on the subjects that interest you, try and find material such as this, material which strikes a chord with you and which you can imagine on your gun. There are many wonderful books on our sport and many wonderful drawings. Don’t hesitate to show them to your gunmaker as he will always be delighted to have reference as will the engraver and it will no doubt lead to them offering more similar examples from their own libraries once they know what is liked.
I think any of the illustrations above would look very fine on a gun, each can be adapted to the metalwork canvas or certainly in the case of our guns, be used on the lock cover plate underneath. There are many more in this book to choose from also.
I myself never did manage to shoot a Ruffed Grouse in Michigan, I visited 3 times, heard them flying away but never saw them when with gun in hand. Hopefully after reading this book I will be better equipped to get a result should the opportunity arise again!