I own a Westley Richards cartridge bag. A hundred-capacity ‘Perfecta’ type, made from pigskin. It is probably a hundred years old, originally made for ‘Uncle Geoff’; a grand old aristocrat who served in WW1 and bought my father his first shotgun, back in 1957. It bears not only the Westley Richards stamp, but his initials ‘G.C.W.W’ in classic block format.
It is always interesting to build a rifle in one of the old, oft forgotten classics and so here we have one of our signature droplock double rifles in the .450 3 1/”4″ nitro express cartridge. Now for those of you not familiar with the cartridge, its development can be attributed to John Rigby & Co. and with its launched in 1898 can be said to be the turning point in British big game rifles.
Why, you might ask? Well quite simply this cartridge was the first to use modern smokeless powders combined with steel jacketed bullets that could be propelled at then unheard of velocities delivering phenomenal penetration and considerable energy. Previous to this rifles were mentioned in bore size and anything below 10g being considered a small bore! These old brutes fired lead bullets propelled by black powder which had the rather annoying habit of obscuring the target after the first shot! Real men used 6 bores and bigger for the heavy pachyderms and the rifle could weigh in at a hefty 24lbs!
The name ‘Kynoch’ should need no introduction to those with a passion for vintage sporting guns and rifles. The name is etched into our psyche, synonymous with wonderful cartridge display boards, vibrant red and yellow boxes, the lion trademark and big game hunting. A company renowned for the exceptional quality of their products, who, at one timesupplied practically every major gun and rifle maker in Britain. So where did it all start?
The name we all recognise today started out with one George Kynoch, a Scotsman born in Peterhead, Aberdeenshire in 1834, who at a very early age recognised that he had much bigger ambitions than his native home could foster. In his early 20s, he decided to move south and headed for the very heartland of the industrial age – Birmingham, said to be the city of a thousand trades and, amongst other things, one of the largest arms manufacturers in the world. Naturally, where there were arms, there was a need for primers and explosives. It was into this rather unconventional world that George Kynoch was drawn, taking a job at percussion cap manufacturers, Pursall and Phillips of Whittall Street.
Patented in 1875, the Anson & Deeley Hammerless action is still receiving praise for its design and proven performance. Even in today’s world with more variety in sporting firearms than ever before, the 145 year old design continues to capture the imagination of anyone who appreciates the craftsmanship of a fine gun. Just this year, there is a New book out on the origins of the Anson & Deeley action, Birth of the British Boxlock Shotgun by John Campbell. More recently, a cover shot on the Fall 2020 “Guns & Hunting” issue of Sporting Classics of a pair of modern Westley Richards 20g Modele De Luxe shotguns. The issue’s featured article by Doug Tate is about the timeless virtues of the A&D action that he sums up with, “It warrants the hype that that has grown up around it”.
I could not agree more. The A&D action is what this firm “hangs its hat on” and thanks to this brilliant design and its enduring qualities, we have an order book that is bulging at the seams. The A&D action is one the most celebrated designs in sporting arms history and, again, the praise is certainly warranted but it sometimes overshadows the many other accomplishments, landmark patents, and contributions the firm, and the brilliant men that served here, gave to firearms development and gunmaking.
Just arrived at the U.S. Agency are four outstanding Westley Richards bolt action magazine rifles featuring very rare options and configurations offered by Westley’s prior to World War II. Rarely do rifles like these come to market but to have such a variety, in such high, original condition is remarkable.
This represents only a good opportunity to boost up a rifle collection, it offers a chance to see rifles from both the pre-war and between-the-wars eras with special options usually only seen mentioned in the company’s past catalogs.
Access to, and the availability of, game shooting has never been more egalitarian than it is today. Whether you’re a single gun looking to join a team, a group of friends from overseas wanting your first taste of British game shooting or you are a collection of experienced shots seeking sport on a variety of different estates around the country, there are numerous sporting agents and websites that offer shooting, in all its forms, in every part of the British Isles. And, should you want to be involved in the day without taking part in the shooting; wives, children and (very) well behaved dogs are welcome.
Your actual time on the peg; pulling the trigger, is, in fact, but a small part of the overall day. While it is the sport that brings people together, for many, it is the enjoyment of spending a day out in the great British countryside with like-minded people that brings the real enjoyment. The camaraderie between the guns, beaters, pickers-up and gamekeepers is second to none.
There is more to a day’s shooting than merely reaching the bag as Westley Richards former Gunroom Manager explains.
The cold morning chill; fluorescent, autumnal colours; the smell of gunpowder hanging in the mist; the gentle whimpering of over-excited dogs, the first sip of soul-warming sloe gin; pre-drive nerves followed by an injection of adrenaline at the first flush; the majesty of a towering cock pheasant, wings set, effortlessly gliding across the valley; the quiet admiration of the stylish single shot that folds a super-high bird; and the belly-laughs at that unfortunate friend who can do nothing but clean miss. Just a few emotions that I conjure-up, when thinking about a great passion of mine: driven game shooting. Not only a sport but a way of life for many; a sport deeply ingrained in the history and landscape of the British Isles.
Without really realising it we are a very lucky bunch here at Westley Richards. We get to spend our time building some of the worlds finest sporting guns and rifles, all in the name of work. Every single gun and rifle that we build is unique to the individual and as such genuine ‘one of a kind’ items that allow both the patron and the gunmakers here at Westley Richards to indulge themselves.
Now the level of individuality expressed in an individual gun or rifle can be either heavily influenced by the patron or more hands off, left to the spirit of the gunmaker. It was with this latter attitude in mind that one of our long standing patrons put to us ‘build the best damn .425 magazine rifle that you have ever built!’
Well here is just that rifle. What you see before you is unquestionably THE FINEST Westley Richards .425 detachable barrel magazine rifle ever built by the company, one that exemplifies the very meaning of ‘excellence’ in a modern British sporting rifle. Not only did we get to build a rifle how we wanted to see it, but what better way is there to reward someones faith than by producing something truly exceptional.
The basis for this ‘special project’ started several years ago when we were approached to build a ‘Model de Grande Luxe’ detachable barrel magazine rifle in our own iconic .425 Westley Richards calibre. At the time nothing of the wood or engraving was discussed, quite simply we examined all the features that might go into making this rifle something special, a platform from which to build a rifle the likes of which we had never had the opportunity to do. We naturally began with a modern Mauser ’98 action with double square bridges, a side safe and traditional interchangeable flag safe, strap over comb, extended guard tang and a peep sight.
The action would be of our detachable barrel configuration, variants of which we have been producing since pre-War days. The detachable barrel was an important feature of this project as it would allow us later down the line to fit the rifle into a neat more ‘balanced’ case.
Almost unique to Westley Richards the action was also hand fitted with our ‘side clips’ and radius lifter which appear on many of the higher quality .425 calibre rifles built by us over the years. These combined features help with the feed of the cartridge which has a rebated rim and so needs a controlled and positive pick up and feed into the chamber.
No piece of the rifle has gone without some form of engraving ornamentation. Carving, elaborate scroll, intricate gold line work, checkering and beautiful flush gold inlays feature throughout the rifle.
Another interesting feature of this rifle which has probably not been picked up on before is the extended magazine release catch inside the trigger bow. Whilst widely used on British Mauser ’98 based rifles (and now most modern rifles) older .425 rifles tended to have the earlier lever release mechanism as seen on many original own brand Mauser ’98 rifles. Several years ago we built a classic .425 and at this point machined our own extended magazine boxes with the ability to release through the trigger bow. Whilst only a minor modification, aesthetically it makes a huge difference where a rifle is likely to be heavily engraved. Not only that, but the lines of the rifle with the big magazine look more trim.
Traditional open sights sat on our house style quarter rib, with the classic Westley Richards combination foresight, all of these features complemented on the barrel with the addition of a traditional ‘hook eye’ sling swivel base.
Turning to the engraving of the rifle this is where the patron of this rifle took the ultimate ‘leap of faith’. He left the decision entirely to us. At this point you know that you have to produce something really quite outstanding and in our mind was to execute something of a classic yet extravagant nature, befitting of a ‘Model de Grande Luxe’. We looked to the era of the maharajas who had a penchant for gold work, elaborate scroll and game scene engraving. Engravers of that time had only ever seen animals in books and perhaps zoos if they were lucky and so game scenes of that time were more often naive in execution. Today we have the finest photography and to a degree time. With this in mind it was decided to bring together the skills of three engravers so bringing the very best of each element to the rifle.
So it was that the engraving began with the most careful of fine gold border inlay. This task in its own right is a difficult one as against the bright of the steel the gold lines can look deceptively neat. It is only in the final finishing that the true straightness and sharpness of execution can really be seen. At this point the animals were decided upon and whilst the Dangerous game or ‘Big 5’ of Africa were a natural choice, warthog, bongo and waterbuck would add a little novelty. Once again these were executed in flush gold with fine detailing, the bull elephant on the base of the extended magazine looking particularly impressive. Elements of carving were then added to features of the rifle, the remaining space being filled with a beautifully delicate, yet masculine scroll. No area of the rifle went un-noticed including the swivel bases and trigger.
With such a unique rifle it was only fitting to finish the project off with a suitably matching case. So it was that a brown buffalo skin best quality oak and leather case was created, the internals fully French fitted in green goat skin. The external would be protected by our signature outer cover with patron detailing. The hand made tools, sling and pouches add a further refinement to the internal fitting, all finished off with a gold leaf impressed lid insert, all once again carried out by hand. All in all the rifle and its case has consumed hundreds and hundreds of hours, utilising the finest crafts men and women. Ultimately that is what it takes, along with a generous and visionary patron, to produce the finest .425 magazine rifle ever built, in fact one of the finest rifles ever built in our history.
This rifle will be on display with us at both the Dallas Safari Convention and Safari Club International in 2020.
Its not often these days that we get to see a really great hammer gun by Westley Richards pass through our hands. There are clearly notable collectors of hammer guns out there and there must be some wonderful pieces tucked away, but truth is we just don’t see them.
Last week at the factory a simple stunning and elegant 12 bore black powder proof centre-fire hammer gun came in. Not just any hammer gun, but the one used in our 200 year history ‘In Pursuit of the Best Gun’. This gun has remained tucked away in a private collection for many years and we have always coveted it. This gun is about as good as it can get from Westley Richards, especially when you consider that it was built as late as 1885, 10 years after the invention of our famous Anson & Deeley hammerless gun!
This particular hammer gun ouzes quality.
Last month our continued collaboration with another elite British brand – Bentley Motors via Bentley Birmingham – saw the team capture our fine leather goods out in the Worcestershire countryside.
For the campaign imagery we were lent the very latest Bentayga V8, newly launched this year, as the ultimate travelling companion to our in-house leather collections. All I can say is the vehicle lived up to its billing “…exceptional innovation and outstanding ride comfort letting you experience every environment in world-class refinement…” – It certainly holds up perfectly to all our country pursuits, as seen on a trip to Wales for Time in the Field with Bettws Hall.