I am afraid this will be a general, visual post rather than a technical one, I took these photos just before I left the factory on Friday and I didn’t note down any of the details of the pair of pistols, the main and obvious question being the bore size. I was slightly (actually very) overwhelmed by the quality and condition of the whole package and the details seemed irrelevant at the time.
The Howdah pistol was the ‘last line of defence’ for a hunter high on top of an elephant whilst hunting tiger. If a Tiger was to charge the elephant and climb up to attack the people occupying the Howdah there was little room in which to defend oneself at the last moment, it was likely that the muzzle loading long arm had been discharged by this time.. Hence the Howdah pistol the short barrel, large bore firearm that could be drawn and manoeuvred in tight space, providing a killing blow, or in the case of this pair 4 barrels, 4 killing blows.
I have always liked very much the whole concept of the Howdah pistol and it was always something that I wanted to make a current version of, a large bore rifle cased together with a matching double barrel Howdah pistol. Our laws on barrel length and pistols has prevented that project from ever happening which is a shame.
Whilst I have seen a small amount of Howdah pistols in my years dealing, they are certainly not common and they have normally been single and quite plain models. I had a pair of Holland & Holland .577 Howdah pistols many years ago at Las Vegas and I remember them selling in a flash.
This pair is quite unique and the condition is remarkable, all the accessories down to spare springs numbered for each lock. One of the oil bottles even has the seal unbroken and contains the very oil filled with 150 years ago, quite remarkable!
This sculpture is at the Royal Armoury in Leeds where the National Collection of Firearms is held. It depicts very well the drama of the tiger hunt and the moments leading up to where a Howdah pistol would be useful if the shot he has held is a miss!
The time had come for another long awaited holiday at my Mother’s Cousin’s farm, near to Uncle Pat’s town and I was going to be able to run loose for a while again.
Not that I was exactly constrained at home but even when we went off fishing, my mother wouldn’t allow us to cook and eat the carp we caught in the golf course dams, despite our pleas. These dams were fed by the ‘Jukskei’ river and although it looked deceptively beautiful when pooled and fringed by weaver-nest festooned willow trees, the metal ‘catch grill’ through which it entered the golf course told another story. Here the plastic bags, empty cans, occasional dead dog and other detritus from the city piled up and that wasn’t even counting the unseen and unknown spills from the industrial area further upstream.
I suppose it was also not a good idea having us kids running around with pellet guns upsetting the neighborhood, in a suburban setting. So even though we enjoyed our catapults, lovingly made with forks cut from the neighbor’s ‘Pride of India’ tree, it didn’t quite have the same tang of adventure that striding through the veld with your trusty pellet gun has.
From my then narrow perspective, life on the farm was uncomplicated and exciting and I was fortunate that the adults who populated my world at that time, allowed me to turn this illusion into reality.
The farm has been in the same family for three generations and consequently, has that comfortably mature look. The old house sits on a very gentle rise looking east, down the dirt access road that stretches straight away for nearly a kilometer, before curving down to the unseen tar road. On either side of the dirt road, lie some mielie fields, which in turn lie below the old fruit orchards and some rickety farm buildings. You have to go over a few cattle grids to get to the house and these were designed with elephant in mind, because they very nearly stopped my Dad’s Chev as well.
The old farmhouse sits in the middle of a large garden surrounded and screened on three sides, by a variety of densely growing mature trees. The number of birds attracted to the garden is astounding; just about everyone’s favourites, were the Lesser Striped Swallows that nested under the eaves each year. Mine though, were the small Laughing Doves that thronged the surrounding trees and filled every morning and afternoon with their slightly mournful cooing. The sound of their call today, is still enough to bring on a bout of nostalgia.
People built solid homes in those days, but they were not always particularly pretty or even well designed and as a result, some of the high ceilinged rooms were hardly ever used, being very cold in winter. Consequently, one part of the sunny ‘stoep’ or veranda had been bricked off, a fireplace installed, filled with overstuffed furniture and books and called, ‘The Snuggery’. This is where adults, dogs, cats and children congregated on winter evenings and where knitting, reading, dreaming and snoozing got done.
Behind the house, the rest of the farm stretched up to a far ridge of low hills on one side and up to the tip of a higher point on the other. You could see a very long way from this point and sometimes, it even snowed up there in winter. Since it was primarily a cattle farm, the only cultivated fields were the mielie lands and these were surrounded by natural grassland, cut through with thorn-tree lined dongas. Small farm dams, stocked with bass by Uncle Pat, were dotted around as sources of water for the cattle. There was even an atmosphere of history lingering around, because if you looked long and hard enough, you could still find old cartridge cases from some long forgotten skirmish during the Boer war and the one boundary was a stone wall built way before posts and wire were available.
We arrived late on a Saturday afternoon, after what seemed an interminable drive – there appears to be a limit to the adult sense of humor when a boy enquires for the hundredth and fifty-second time, ‘are we nearly there yet?’, so it was with relief on all sides that we poured ourselves out of the Chev and stretched our legs.
Some adults have the gift of talking to children in such a way, that the child feels important, so when Nora smiled and told me how happy she was to see me, I started melting. When she admired my pellet gun and told me she was really glad that I had brought it along because she just couldn’t get anyone to supply some doves for a pie she had been thinking of making, she had me deep in her pocket. It was with a sense of purpose and responsibility that I set off early the next morning.
Cattle were moaning in a far paddock, a black cuckoo was giving its characteristic, drawn-out ‘mid-mar…sloooop’ call way off in the bluegums and my pocketful of lead pellets felt reassuringly heavy as they made my khaki shorts sag to one side. I was after Red-eyed Turtle Doves, which although being rather wary and not nearly as plentiful as the Cape Turtle Doves that also lived there, they are plump and designed to fill a pie – I was to learn the virtue of perseverance that day.
The hunt started by scouting the old orchards and then through and around the mielie lands. There were certainly enough doves about, but despite careful stalking, they were on the lookout and I watched in frustration as they craned their necks in my direction before taking off with a clattering of wings just as I got within range. Uncle Pat’s trusty BSA had seen a lot of action and the spring was so weakened, that if you shot straight up into the air the pellets’ flight path was easily visible to the naked eye against the light background. This meant that any successful shots further than twenty meters out, were verging on being miraculous and I had only managed to work one miracle before lunch. Now a pie needs more than a single bird, but Nora told me not to be discouraged as she was sure I’d get enough in due course but that she’d ‘put a roast in the oven just in case’. Her cheerful faith in my ability to feed the ravenous hordes, had me really determined and excusing myself from the lunch table quickly.
The day had grown hot and the sweat tickled down my back as I headed off behind the house to explore the thorn-clad dongas, where succulent aloes grow in the open patches and the water runs fast and muddy after heavy rain. That day though, the ground was dusty and the air had become still. Grasshoppers flew up with a ‘click-click’ and a ‘whirrrrr’, to land ahead of me, only to repeat the process as I got closer again. As a couple of hawks soared lazily high above me, the only other sounds were a low, scolding chattering from a sunbird and the scuttling of a lizard as I went by.
Eventually, by way of another minor miracle, a second careless dove fell to my shot, snagging high in the branches of a thorn bush. Fifteen minutes and many scratches and youthful curses later, I emerged from the embrace of the thorns to consider my options; at the rate things were going, certain starvation stared us in the face.
Sitting on an anthill gloomily contemplating this state of affairs, I absently watched two Red-eyes circling and then dropping to ground towards the old implement shed far away in the distance, to the side of an old orchard. I took a bit more notice when another dipped in two minutes later and really sat up when they were followed in by three more. The old BSA again felt light and the scratches forgotten, as I hurried with renewed energy to take the most direct route to the shed.
A prospector finding a fat nugget, probably gets close to the feelings I felt, as my eyes slowly inched over the top of the grass separating me and the area in front of the creaky old building. There must have been at least forty-five dove-pie ingredients pecking over the heap of bare maize cobs strewn over the ground. After a long aim to calm my pounding heart, the closest bird slumped at the shot and the rest took off in mild puzzlement to a nearby tree, only to reappear in dribs and drabs soon after. A quick reload and I was another bird richer.
Not being able to see me, they never became alarmed enough to get going permanently. Instead, the interval between the ‘thwap’ of the pellet gun and their return just took a bit longer as time went on. I stopped at twelve doves, reckoning that a grand total of fourteen had dented the population enough for then, while at the same time ensuring that hunger would not be a factor for that day at least.
The guineafowl were calling each other and it was starting to get cold fast, as I slowly made my way up to a warm kitchen and some adults, who for some reason looked surprised at the pile of birds tipped onto the kitchen table. After dinner, I plucked doves till my fingers ached, and then staggered off to bed and one of those toasty, feather eiderdowns that they don’t seem to make anymore.
The following evening after a long day fishing in the farm dams, I returned to the farmhouse to some tantalising smells and later, a large, oven-blackened dish covered with brown, crisp, flaky pastry emerged from the kitchen. Inside, fourteen plump doves simmered in dark gravy, together with kidneys, potatoes, onions and some other magic ingredients. When this fragrant mixture was served over rice, accompanied by large hunks of fresh bread smothered in salty farm-made butter, silence descended on the table till the last lip-smacking morsels were gone – the left-over lamb roast was put back in the refrigerator untouched.
Thinking back, that pie was so good it has made me scour my memory for the recipe and it goes like this:
Firstly take one small, keen boy. Send him to a farm where plump doves live and…….
To me, a great part of the enjoyment of fine guns is the discover of things apparently insignificant; the “bits and pieces” that form parts of the whole that is history. Here are three of them that speak quietly of grand times gone by.
It is a simple thing, a finely painted tin box holding a miniature pillow anointed with some very special elixir. We often find the “Selvyt” cloth, a kind of short velvet, perhaps the predecessor to micro fiber for wiping down and preserving guns. But here is the Selvyt “Preserving Pad”. Its single purpose was to maintain the wonderful Westley Richards Hand Detachable Locks. At this modern moment it has another, to correct and maintain history properly. They are not, droplocks. They are, “Westley Richards Hand Detachable Locks, one of the grand accomplishments in gun making. Regardless of purpose, the wee Selvyt pad and tin are one of those delights of days gone by.
Next is a tool, the only of its kind I have ever encountered and one that more or less should not exist. It is a “Fixer” a tool very common in the world of the Holland & Holland Paradox and other shot and ball guns. Its job is to create a ring crimp in the cartridge case, pressing into the big groove in the Fosbery-Paradox bullet. These “normal” Paradox loads began as black powder loads (that were routinely reloaded) and evolved to some degree into the nitro era. Our “Fixer” here is Westley Richards AND Explora marked. The curious thing about it is, unlike the other shot and ball guns, the Explora began life as a very high performance nitro/cordite round. There were many sophisticated things inside: a special liner to support wads allowing the powder to burn and among others a very long “primer” that was turbo-charged with black powder or gun cotton to effectively ignite a powder that was fundamentally too slow for the application. Also, the L.T. Capped Explora bullets had only a very small central ring and the Explora cartridges I have seen are not “ring” crimped in the same way as the other shot and ball loads. In short I just do not think the average hunter/shooter loaded Westley Richards Explora cartridges. But here we are, confronted with a Westley Richards Explora Fixer. My answer to its existence is the “Special bluff cone jungle bullet”. These are big round nose bullets, with a very large central ring. I suspect this fixer is made to crimp them in place, perhaps in darkest Africa or India, with black powder.
Lastly we find a quiet relic, something to my eye that is very special. When I bought it, it was quality shot pouch in nice condition. The maker was “Bishop” but I thought little of that. When I unwrapped it, there it was; not just Bishop, but Bishop Bond St.! Now that was another Bishop altogether, this Bishop was none other than Westley Richards Bishop, The Bishop of Bond Street. This is William Bishop who was Westley Richards’ agent in London for a very long time. His hands and a Westley Richards percussion gun grace the dust cover of The Second Edition of the Bicentennial book Westley Richards, In Pursuit of The Best Gun. Also, within the book is a very interesting chapter about “The Bishop.”
The flask is simple plain leather with a steel lever top, but obviously of fine quality and one that has had care beyond the norm. All of the stitching and leather are still in good pliable working order, including the ring at the bottom. These almost always fail after 150 years. It is shown in the photograph with an original swivel, spring snap on an original harness, keeping company with Westley Richards #9360, a best percussion lock 10 bore game gun circa 1850. (The serial number conflicts with later dates, but there is a significant duplication from the mid percussion era and the early 1900s in that range). I will carry the gun again this autumn, but this year it will be charged from the Bishop’s flask. If one is afflicted with the romantic, it is pretty easy to see the Bishop in his top hat and white cuffs handing the gun to his customer and wrapping the flask in a packet of brown paper for the coach ride home.
After a couple thousand targets, a few doves and one armadillo who insisted on digging under everything in our yard, I’m down that road far enough to have formed some opinions about .410 guns and one Westley Richards gun in particular.
First and foremost, this gun has given me more enjoyment and just plain fun than any gun of any sort I’ve ever had. Super quick, super light, no recoil and super unforgiving if I don’t pay very strict attention. When the stars align and things seem right with the world, targets break and birds come tumbling down. When they don’t, they really don’t.
For me, at least, the lesson is pay attention to all the little details; leads, follow through and especially gun mount. The slightest error in any of these things and my success rate drops, really drops.
Chokes and loads have been an education. While I have neither the patience nor the statistical background to properly dissect the mathematical meaning of all those little dots on our plating board I can determine if the centers of patterns are where they belong and if a bird or a target is in danger at various distances in those patterns. Loads go where I point, no question and with both barrels. Half ounce loads of number nines will break every target on the skeet field if I do my part but much beyond 25 yards with .004″ constriction skeet chokes things fall apart very quickly. In my opinion this is simply not an adequate combination for game shooting. However, thankfully there is a three quarter ounce of number eight and one half loads from Winchester which is another story indeed. I’ve shot several hundred of these loads at various distances at targets both feathered and clay and I see little difference between success rates with the .410 Winchester loads and with standard 28 gauge loads. If the Quail gods smile this season I fully intend to do as much damage to the population as I possibly can with this little .410 as the primary weapon.
By this point the gun has been pretty well vetted and I can say as an absolute fact that the function has been perfect. Ejectors always work, trigger pulls consistent and lock up is the same after a couple thousand rounds as it was with the first box of cartridges.
For whatever it might be worth, the view that a .410 is a silly, useless toy is simply wrong.
A really good .410 with the proper chokes and loads used under reasonable conditions can be as enjoyable a gun as one could hope for.
Proof of the pudding being I run my eye over a group of pretty nice guns almost daily and recently realized I’ve used almost nothing else for the past two months. That is something that has never happened with me prior to this Westley Richards .410 showing up at our door. I’m fortunate indeed.
A simple yet useful addition to our range of leather shop cleaning accessory goods, is this Gun Mat which has been designed to compliment our small travel tool roll.
Providing a soft sheepskin pad for your gun cleaning or display, this roll up mat is made from our very durable ‘salt and pepper’ Swiss army canvas trimmed with organic veg tan leather binding and straps. An integral pocket allows for a small selection of cleaning kit, rod, jags, mops and cloths.
The roll is available now in our online store in standard format and is, like any other of our products, available to order with initialling and in other materials such as full leather.
The drawings are transferred to the guns with some corrections according to the real “geography” of the objects. I’m practicing on steel copy of British coin, 38 mm in diameter, the figure of Pistrucci’s St. George is bigger than the horsemen on the shotguns, any way, technically it is close. Sending photos of all stages of unfinished experiment.
The past seven or eight years I have been looking for a Westley Richards hand detachable lock shotgun to both use and complement my very modest mix of English, Scottish and American made doubles. And though I have found many, most have had some malady or a mix of short or ill repaired stocks, barrel problems of varying degrees, poorly re-blacked, excessively brushed, chambers lengthened by an unassignable person in most cases, and in short poorly repaired or restored not to mention the most common problem of screws that have been disfigured. The combinations of problems can be innumerable. In these instances you are left to rely on someone’s evaluation and you will likely not have any idea about their integrity or ability to assess the condition and attributes of the gun. I have bought and returned two guns that were not even in the same hemisphere as the dealers’ description. The only conclusion I can come to regarding this is that these, and in no sense am I implying all, dealers are banking on the client being either not knowledgeable enough to recognise the issues or is too lazy to return the gun. The downside for them is that when they do stumble upon a knowledgeable client that has this knowledge they will likely never return to them as a customer, with any sense of trust having been squandered. I have found the good guns, very good ones and they have for the most part been priced out of my range or the timing for me was bad. The guns that I have located without these issues were, at the time, simply not in the budget.
While I have a great appreciation for side lock guns, the simplicity in design of the Anson & Deeley action is my personal favorite and the Westley Richards hand detachable design takes it to a pinnacle of the concept and achievement. I have had a desired configuration in mind which has been the proverbial “needle in the haystack” for me. I wanted: pre-war, hand detachable, 30 inch barrels, straight hand, and preferably cased, and as un-molested as possible. In October of 2015 I took notice of a really nice clean Westley Richards, Heronshaw model on the used gun site. The barrels were 28 inches and the gun was in a nice condition and priced very fairly. After going back and forth to the site over a couple of days and taking several looks I decided, “I’ll take it”. Honestly knowing this is not the configuration I wanted. Yet I then sent off an email and get a prompt reply from Simon that it is being held for a fellow who is away on holiday and that the gun is sold. At this point I am beginning to think that I am not going to find what I want even if I will compromise on model and configuration. Of course the gun I want is available on order, and I am patient and have no problem with the wait, but I cannot make the financial side work. I would just have to sell too many of my other guns to make that happen. In my back and forth communication with Simon I had expressed what I ultimately wanted and he encouraged me to, “Probably better to wait for a droplock. I may have one (or 2) in a minute!” So then a proper used gun remained my opportunity. I would come to realize that this is the first installment of good advice that I would receive and I came to a few conclusions right then, that:
I would rely more on Simon and Westley Richards as the knowledge and ability to correct any issues with the guns lies there, while continuing to look elsewhere. I could purchase a gun in another place and should it be in unacceptable condition or have problems I would need to contract out any work on my own taking additional risk. Just the shipping here and there, back and forth, especially overseas adds up significantly. I wanted to avoid this additional expense.
I would need to have a range of configuration requirements in mind and be quick to know what compromises I would be willing to make quickly. I really had to know what I wanted.
I needed to have an idea concerning grade and condition that is a minimum that I would accept.
I would need to have the budget amount nailed down to allow me to commit to a deal quickly.
So, some 6 months later, getting to the office early as usual and running through the suspect sites including, The Explora, and Westley Richards, I see the blot post, “Damascus Game Guns Sir”? The picture caught my attention immediately. In it I see not one but two droplocks, in a three lock, three label case. The pictures alone told me a story of pre-war guns that interest me. In Simon’s description I learn that they were made in 1907 that the barrel length was 30 inches and that barrel integrity and original chambers were there. He then proceeded to outline the detailed elements of the restoration for both of these particular guns. At this point there is not much for me to think about, only to get a few more details as soon as possible.
The difference is that this time I was prepared along the lines of the criteria I previously mentioned and I believed that I might have found my “needle(s) in the haystack”. I immediately sent an email with a few basic questions and received a prompt reply. The guns were available and the terms were given to me with a note to “be quick”! I countered the terms, lost the battle, and was promised satisfaction with the guns with a more or less, “trust me, you will not be sorry” statement from Simon. At this point I committed to the deal, he agreed and a really pleasant experience began, which in all honesty only enhanced the whole affair. I took a look back through the emails and this was approximately a four hour process from start to finish. Simon did let me know via email the following morning that I had in fact been quick, made a good decision and that his inbox was full of those who wanted these guns. I was next contacted by Ricky Bond, Gunroom Manager and he entertained a few questions, supplying prompt answers as to choke, etc. Ricky asked me what modifications that I wanted to make, did I want to vacate the stock ovals and add my initials? I knew that I wanted to keep it all, guns and case, in a sense together as it came. So the ovals were left as they were though they were made better as to fit and finish through the process. My follow on to that was that we should just complete the work that Simon has outlined. Throughout this four month restoration process Ricky kept me appraised of various activities; barrels back from proof house, barrels at browner, stock being refinished, checkering completed, etc. This level of communication makes the wait easier. Then, as it seems as I get older, the time just went away somewhere and Ricky gives me notice that we are, “about two more weeks or so out”, followed a few days later with “your guns have been shipped”.
Then last Friday as I am wrapping up a busy week. I received an email that my package has been delivered to my dealer. This was a very long day at work! My first impression was the care taken in crating and packaging. I am not really sure that I had a picture in my mind of what the package would look like or had even thought about it but I was nonetheless impressed. The whole thing was in a very well-done wood crate clearly made to fit its contents. The original leather case was on top inside the crate wrapped in bubble wrap and blocked to the center with foam blocks. The original leather case had been fitted with very nice replacement leather case straps that were missing in the original pictures. This was the first of a few more surprises. Upon opening the leather case, there were no guns, only small items wrapped in tissue. After removing the leather case I find in the bottom of the crate a nice hard aluminum and plastic foam lined case also blocked into place. In this one, the guns, carefully wrapped first in oil paper, followed by tissue, and then bubble wrap. This was a better package opening experience than any Christmas Morning! The best though, was yet to come. The original case had been, in Simon’s words, “made right”. A great surprise and added bonus was that the original case had been very nicely re-accessorized with basic Westley Richards branded items and those all wrapped as little gifts in tissue. I do not know that I could have unwrapped the guns any more slowly. One I was being careful and two I didn’t want this process to be over so fast. This was fun!
After looking over each piece of the guns I could now see what Simon saw in the beginning that these guns were great candidates for, “a light restoration and refurbishment” as he had put it. As we say in the South, there were just no “hickeys” on these guns. Only honest, even wear and in their original configuration and clearly had been very well cared for.
To say that the work undertaken and the results exceeded my expectations is maybe the understatement of my life. Every facet of these guns are now in fabulous condition. The wood is even better than the excellent photographs reveal, remaining just proud as is desired even after refinishing. I had expected the heel and toe plates to not fit perfectly but they do. All screws are North and South. The barrel striking and browning is of such quality that it is hard to describe and is just superb along with the re-blacking of the furniture. The checkering is in great shape and the stock finish all that could be desired. I believe that these are either a three or four iron pattern Damascus pattern and they are beautiful with mirror bores. They were reproofed at 1 1/8 oz. and that is suitable for any use that they will see. I shot them for pattern with Hull brand plastic case 15/16 oz. #7’s and Hull brand paper case 1 oz. #6’s. The barrels pattern beautifully consistent left to left and right to right as the bore and choke dimensions are virtually identical in both guns. Incidentally the guns are consecutively serial numbered along with the barrels, top lever, and forend iron being numbered #1 & #2 in gold. The cast-off in both stocks is at about 3/16 inch which is perfect, with good length, they fit very well. They will be off to West Texas to Dove hunt in the next two weeks followed by a trip to South Dakota for Huns, Sharp-tails, and Pheasant in late October then winter Quail hunting in West Texas and Western Oklahoma. I look forward to using them throughout the coming months.
Finally, I have not one but two Westley Richard’s hand detachable guns. A true pair, so engraved, consecutively serial numbered, cased, scroll back action with beautiful wood and barrels along with many more fine attributes. Not only pre-war but pre-many wars. The other thing that I have not mentioned is that these guns lived their life in the immediate vicinity of my family’s ancestral home. That did draw me to these guns in some odd way.
In this journey my contribution was listening and taking Simon Clode at his word and advice along with exercising patience which is a quality I am thankful to possess. The major contribution was made somewhere around the year 1907 when these guns were specified and built by outstanding turn of the century Gunmakers. I can imagine that they went home at the end of the day deeply satisfied at the results of their labor of love. The latest contribution in this year of 2016, 109 years later, has been made by the team existing at Westley Richards today, to include all of them, each playing an equally important role and function. I feel that they should go home at the end of the day equally as satisfied and proud of their effort just as those that did in 1907. They are building on and enhancing a truly historic legacy and one that is very uncommon today. The entire team has done what their mission states if I may take a little liberty, “They have restored and refurbished a Unique pair of Especially Good Shotguns”. I do not know of any better way to praise the whole team than to say that, “I strongly recommend them without any hesitation”.
Am I a sycophant for Westley Richards? No. There are many great Gunmakers and guns. Am I a fan, supporter, advocate, and customer? Yes. And unapologetically so!
Am I happy with this whole process, from the discovery of the guns, through the whole of the process until today? Why yes, furthermore ecstatic. I found my needle in the haystack!
For the past 2 weeks or so I have been unable to get behind the camera to take some photographs of new or vintage guns, the shooting season is on us, there is much to do.
Earlier this week I was spurred into action when this magnificent and very rare pair of near mint condition, Charles Lancaster percussion double rifles ‘walked in the door’. Today I was able to put some time aside so that I can share them with you.
The ‘Princely’ guns and rifles of India have played a large and important part in our recent history and during the 60’s and 70’s were ultimately responsible for the survival of the company. The gun dealing was the backbone of the business during the years of small ‘new gun demand’. India with its magnificent armouries were the resource and backbone of this dealing activity a result of which is my admiration and fondness for guns and rifles such as these. These are the predecessors and inspiration to my India and Africa rifle projects, guns and rifles ‘fit for Kings’.
This pair of Charles Lancaster rifles are a magnificent example of what could be discovered in the armouries and this particular pair of percussion rifles have remained in near perfect condition, down to their original slings, since their manufacture for the Maharajah of Joudhpur in 1862, no mean feat in itself as they have travelled many miles.
I hope that you enjoy them as much as I have as items like these rarely walk in the door these days to be seen and discovered.
Under normal circumstances when we consider “restoring” most kinds of firearms it is a fool’s play. As one of my old mentors would say, “Like pounding fat down a rat hole.” If done well, by quality workmen, you will almost certainly spend more than the arm is worth and it will not be worth what you spent in the end. . . . HOWEVER!
One day I was pulled onto the rocks by the siren’s song by a piece so rare and wonderful that I could not resist. It had the look of “Out of India” with a very bad restock, forend used completely up and an attempt at a new hinge pin. But otherwise it was untouched; high mileage yes, but unmolested by “gunsmiths”. And what it was, at least in my mind, justifies my folly. It was an early Patent Royal Best Quality Holland & Holland. It was 16 gauge, it had Damascus barrels and it was a Paradox!
The bores had some frost, but were untouched and the first question before any madness began was, “would it still shoot.” It answered well, with both black powder and nitro loads with bullets from an original mould. So, her soul was alive and well. Now was the time for grand decisions; first, who to do the work and then what to do.
My whole thought process was aided and assuaged by another gun. This was a best quality, gold-name, Super Magnum Explora with detachable locks that I paid her makers extravagantly for more than a decade earlier. It was a very complete restoration (on an obviously unmolested gun): magnificent stock, beautiful case colours, rust and charcoal blue, done by Westley Richards. It was and is one of the most handsome firearms I have ever seen, simply magnificent elegance as it left the workshop nearly 100 years earlier. I knew what could be done and who could do it. Further I have a long association with Westley Richards and know from the owner down to many of the lads in the workshop they understand old things and their history. The Holland went into a crate and left for England.
I waited for their assessment and even to know if they would agree to take on the challenge and to my delight the answer was “yes”. Some of the work was obvious: A new stock with a perfect piece of “old” wood with stump figure as used in the originals, straighten the bent guard bow, make a new hinge pin and other various pins and screws, and put it all mechanically perfect. That was easy, but then the question from Simon Clode, “where should we quit?” The barrels obviously needed to be struck and browned, but other than some small places the engraving was still sharp and untouched. Ultimately after much discussion we decided, “Not to stop”. My final instructions were to, “Make it new again, just like the day it left the showroom in the late 1800s”. I added a few grand complications: the furniture must have real charcoal blue, the barrel brown must be perfect with high pattern definition and the chequering must be “flat top”. Now it was time to wait, and wait. There was only one sensible time requirement . . . there was no time requirement. “I want your best workmen, in their happiest mood, under no pressure.” Years passed.
Then the note came that said, “We are close”, and some tantalizing photos of the progress. At every step there was wonder in the images; the lines at first and then the details. Finally one day that brown UPS truck with a red-label overnight extra signature giant box. I can only say I was shocked, stunned and thrilled. There she was, new and magnificent in every detail. The perfect inletting and lines, the impossible flat-top chequering and a horn butt plate that had grown with the tree. The furniture black looked an inch thick and the barrel brown not only perfectly coloured, but with every detail of the Damascus pattern vivid. Colour hardening as it would have been back then and the internal lock pins left properly white, while the main pins were colour hardened. The action and barrels were tight, but not that grudging tight as found on so many new guns. Ms. Holland’s action had been made “free”, one of the last and lost arts in fine gunmaking. After hardening the various bearings are burnished, made to move and fit perfectly.
She came coincidentally on the first day of dove season. The first shot folded a bird at about 25 yards; the third round killed a pair, both of them stone dead crossing at 40 yards. They even added the magic! I confess it has allowed some birds to escape without a shot; I was busy staring at the gun while they slipped by.
Lastly, I want to personally thank each and every gunmaker who touched it, amongst whom I know Ken Halbert and Sam Banner action work, Romain Lepinois stocking, the 2 Chris’s, Eggington and Bridge finishing and all the others who played some part. Finally Simon Clode for guarding a company so it remembers that it has been making greatness for more than 200 years. The end result testifies to the fact that there was effort above and beyond; for I know a perfect restoration is much more difficult than finishing a new gun.
I am sure that less than 10% of our readers will ever have the opportunity to actually visit our factory in Birmingham. Everyone has the opportunity but the distances, oceans and time factors make trips like this difficult.
Recently I was fortunate enough to have the factory photographed by one of the worlds leading interior photographers, Simon Upton a keen sportsman himself. Simon travels the world extensively shooting magnificent interiors for magazines. His client list is a who’s who of interior and decoration magazines amongst which are The World of Interiors, Vogue, House and Garden, Elle Decor, Harpers Bazaar, Architectural Digest and Vanity Fair.
We were joined for the shoot days by the man who is largely responsible for the overall look of the factory,Hubert Zandburg. I first met Hubert, a young South African interior designer in 2005, just prior to my embarking on the new factory project. Hubert like myself is a compulsive ‘collector hunter gatherer’, we cannot resist buying items of interest and allow them to take over our lives and he has a remarkable ability of displaying the collected items to be shown at their very best. Literally give him a pile of objects large and small and short hours later they will be displayed in a manner you would never have expected and to great effect.
My decision to work with Hubert on the factory came from an initial sketch he did for the lobby to display my Elephant head. He placed this on a black steel riveted stand and left it in isolation in the hallway, it excited me very much. It was a clean modern look and one I felt totally appropriate for the factory, from this clean space lobby you would enter a world of objects, colour and interest. What Hubert has created for Westley Richards is very special indeed and I remain totally indebted for his work, advise and the friendship that has resulted from our meeting all those years ago.
The result of this collaboration has received a huge amount praise, the ambiance and interest that the factory generates has been fantastic and I hope that as many of you as possible will be able, at one point in your travels, be able to visit in person. We look forward to welcoming you.
This series of photographs covers the entrance lobby, showroom and after the image of antlers on the back staircase ‘my space’ at the top of the building where I now have my office and photo studio. We did not shoot in the gun making area, another set of photographs I commissioned and taken by Brett covers this and I will be posting a selection from that shoot later on this month.