For those of us in the gun and outdoor industry, we find ourselves in the thick of the show season. My colleague, Ricky Bond, and I returned to the U.S. Agency after the Dallas Safari Club convention only to unload and re-pack for what will be a month on the road attending the Antique Arms Show and the Safari Club International Convention, both held in Las Vegas. Westley Richards has been a mainstay at both shows for many, many years and it is always a time of year that we look forward to. While Simon owned and operated one of the best gun makers in the World, he was a gun dealer at heart and he always spoke fondly of the Antique Arms show. Recalling a blog post of Simon’s where he asserted that at no other time, anywhere in the world, is there a larger gathering of fine guns under one roof, this is quite obvious as I walk the isles of the show. It is a cast of colourful characters, historic and collectible firearms and it remains one of the few, and really the best, of the true gun shows left in the U.S. Safari Club International’s convention is two weeks later and it is the largest outdoor show on U.S. soil.
For those of us who are in pursuit of the outdoor lifestyle there is really no other place where one can meet outfitters, taxidermist, gun makers and equipment companies from all over the World in one place. It truly is a spectacle to behold and the four days the show runs is barely enough time to take it all in. Prior to my employment with Westley’s I would notice how many people frequented the Westley Richards booth and I am looking forward to meeting these faithful clients as well as catching up with old friends.
One other aspect of this time of year that Ricky and I are looking forward to is the week between the shows that allows time for visiting clients. Simon and I often discussed being accessible to our customers not only in the Agency but to travel to see them as well. To that point, we schedule time to visit our clients and offer showings in the comfort and privacy of their homes or offices. This also provides an opportunity to pick up items for our used gun inventory. This is a service we offer year round and we are happy to schedule such visits at the convenience of our clients. I encourage any readers of The Explora to make it a point to visit both the Antique Arms show and the SCI convention and this year is as good a time as any. I would also encourage the readers of the blog to feel free to contact us to schedule a visit and private showing on their home turf. This is a great way to see, up close, what Westley Richards offers as well as to discuss their personal collection and how Westley Richards might be able to assist in buying and selling guns for their firearms portfolio.
Antique Arms Show: Jan 20th – 22nd, 2017
Westgate Resort and Casino, Las Vegas, Nevada
We are always amazed by the diversity of products that seem to have left the Westley Richards factory in the last 200 years. Take for instance this rather unusual .410 over and under pistol.
Completed circa 1935 the pistol is based on a design that was originally patented to Charles Lancaster who used the design for their Howdah and Officer pistols. It was available from them in various pistol calibres up to .577 and came in both 4 and 2 barrel versions all operated with a single trigger. The single trigger could also be extended and when cocked act as a set trigger which was handy for precision shooting.
This Westley Richards version is proofed for the .410 2 1/2″ cartridge shooting a 7/16 ounce load which suggests that it could really only have been intended for use either as a vermin control pistol, or more interestingly a specimen collectors pistol. The idea of facing a wounded tiger with it or some hostile native seems definitely out of the question!
Amazingly it comes presented in a lightweight leather case with cleaning rod and brushes all certainly made at the time it was supplied. Seeing such a case always fills us with anticipation and yet again we were not disappointed. A nice fun item to see bearing the Westley Richards name, one we may even use as a template for a new ‘compact’ .410 over and under quail gun!
Just returned last week from engraving is this fabulous .600 sidelock double rifle engraved by Vince Crowley.
I remember fondly the first time I met Vince when in truth we were both kids just starting out in the gun trade. He approached the door at the old Westley Richards factory in Bournbrook like a scrawny Oliver Twist and rather quietly asked ‘Do you have any engravers that can help me? I would like to be a gun engraver.’ Lucky for Vince we had one of finest of the day Rashid El Hadi on site who took Vince under his wing and as the saying goes ‘the rest is history’.
The basis for this exhibition project is our .600 sidelock ejector double rifle action, with extended tang, back action locks, model ‘C’ dolls head fastener and snap action lever work. These heavy action .600’s really do make a statement and they provide a huge canvas upon which to work. The gunmakers here at the factory put many hundreds of hours of patience and skill into building and preparing this magnificent rifle for Vince.
The theme of the rifle is classic hunting scenes from the ‘Dark Continent’ combined with a general feel for the flora and fauna. Vince himself estimates that he spent somewhere in the region of 3000 hours engraving this monster. Hard to believe? Just take a look. Practically every single inch of the action has been embellished and what you find on closer inspection is a delicate mixture of fine scroll, sculptured scroll, carving, flush gold inlay, raised gold, and game scenes. The grip trap you saw in an earlier post (‘A singular piece of engraving skill’) and we have yet to show you the butt plate!
Some of the most outstanding workmanship is on the barrels where a combination of flush and raised gold work along with fine game scene detailing and carved animals is pretty spectacular. Once complete the rifle should make quite a statement about the level of gunmaking and craftsmanship achievable today.
On our travels we are always on the look out for any interesting ephemera, photos and journals that may have a link to either the history of Westley Richards or the sport of hunting itself.
Last week in the US we picked up several vintage postcards that certainly make for fascinating viewing. Published in 1910 they depict various hunting scenes from the epic safari of Theodore Roosevelt’s which was conducted from 1909-10. At the time this was the largest safari ever conducted in Africa and involved some of the greatest hunters of the day including F.C.Selous and R.J.Cunninghame.
Over 500 animals and birds were collected by the former US President and his son Kermit, all of which were carefully skinned, prepared and shipped to the Smithsonian Museum in Washington. This huge safari set the standard for the luxury safaris that were to follow and clearly put East Africa on the map for the dedicated US hunter.
Today Africa remains a magical safari destination where sportsmen from around the world can still participate in one of the last great adventures. Whether or not you would be able to send postcards such as these today is another matter altogether!
Just passing through our workshops and on its way to the Safari Club Convention in Las Vegas is this fabulous pre-owned .577 3″ NE droplock double rifle.
Completed in 2003 and having done only one safari, the rifle is built to deluxe standard with bold scroll, gold lettering and game scene engraving by Peter Spode. It has 25″ barrels, 14 1/4″ length of pull, deluxe Turkish Walnut stock, cheek piece, gold oval, extra locks and all the other classic features you would expect of our droplock double rifle.
Presented in a stunning Alligator skin oak & leather case, with full complement of tools it is a great opportunity for anyone who does not want to wait the three years it takes for a new rifle to be built. Happy hunting!
Firstly we would like to apologise for the delay with our blog posts, but as you will appreciate we have been super busy preparing for the show circuit and were air bound as soon as January hit. The Dallas Safari Convention is the first of our regular shows and this year was filled with the buzz of a new US President.
There was unquestionably a ‘feel good’ factor that was certainly reflected in the interest in both new guns and pre-owned. The safari and general hunting outfitters were noticing an upturn in interest particularly for the 2018 season which is fantastic news all round. Dallas itself is a great venue which sees growth year on year without getting so huge that you cannot get around it all in a couple of easy days.
From our own point of view it was great to catch up with clients old and new. Many came to see us in person to express their condolences at the passing of Simon last year, but to a man they were all as excited as us about the future of Westley Richards. Simon’s legacy here will continue unabated. There are a lot of new young clients coming into the best gun making sector and it is unquestionably in all of our interests to make sure that they are looked after properly. Whether you are selling guns or hunts the reality is that we are all selling ‘fun’ and this should never be forgotten.
The English gun and rifle makers were certainly out in force although as one good friend said ‘one of London’s best is suspiciously absent!’ Whilst it is a great opportunity for perspective clients to see all the fine guns and rifles offered by the English Gun Trade, it is also a nice time for all of us makers to catch up and encourage (rather ridicule!) one another so that we all keep pushing the boundary’s of best gun and rifle making.
The next show on the circuit is the Las Vegas Antique Arms followed by Safari Club International. We will of course be attending both of these and very much look forward to catching up with those who can make it. In the meantime we will have some great new posts to keep you all enthused.
We would like to thank Larry Blunk for taking the photos that accompany this post.
A few years ago a group of shooting friends decided to place three similar orders with us for a combination pair of guns comprising a .410 and a 28g droplock. Whilst they all agreed on the same gauge combination, other elements of the guns would become far more personal.
The two most obvious distinctions which you are going to seeing other the next few weeks are the style of engraving and the figuring of the wood. Take for instance this first pair of guns that we have just completed.
The engraving has been executed by Frederique Lepinois whose work you are now familiar with from this blog. She has her own distinctive style which to our mind falls into the modern ‘Italian’, naturally a product of where she is based. This work comprises beautiful elaborate scrolls with fine game scenes wrapped in ornamental borders. There is always a delicate nature to this Italian style and it works really well with these small frame guns.
The wood on this pair is naturally rich in colour and has that fabulous contrast that we so often like to see here at the factory. It has always been our goal to provide our clients with the very best selection of wood from which to make their choice. Lets face it, we only build around 35 guns and rifles a year so we had best make each one very special. What better starting point than a fabulous piece of wood!
As the other guns come through, you will see just how diverse peoples taste can be which is why building bespoke guns and rifles is so much fun.
Firstly, a kind heartfelt thank you for all of your kind blog posts, letters, emails and phone calls following the passing of Simon D Clode. The Clode family and all of us at Westley Richards are extremely grateful for the kind words. It is clear that Simon was held in high regard by many people around the globe. He will be greatly missed by us all.
There have been requests for the funeral and memorial arrangements, so the family would like to confirm as follows:
Thursday 5th January 2017. The family will hold a small private funeral at Parish Church of St Peter, Chelmarsh, Shropshire at 12 noon.
Friday 17th February 2017. There will be a Memorial Service held at Birmingham Cathedral, Colmore Row, Birmingham B3 2QB at 2.00 pm. Simon’s family and all of us at Westley Richards look forward to welcoming as many people as possible. Further details will be provided in due course, but please let Kerry MacDonald at email@example.com know if you intend to attend so suitable catering arrangements can be made.
The family has requested no flowers and for those who would like to do so, please instead make a donation to the ‘Gunmakers Company Charitable Trust’. The necessity to keep gunmaking skills alive was integral to Simon Clodes’ own long term vision for the gunmaking industry. The GCCT awards bursaries to further encourage this, so all donations are most welcome. Details below:
The Secretary to the Trustees
The Gunmakers’ Company Charitable Trust
The Proof House
48-50 Commercial Road
London E1 1LP
It is with great sadness that we must report the untimely passing of Simon Dominic Clode, Chairman & Managing Director of Westley Richards & Co. The following Obituary has very kindly been written by John Gregson former editor of Shooting Times.
‘The talented businessman and entrepreneur who took his taste for adventure and used it to turn a 200 year old business into a globally recognised icon.’
It takes a certain lightness of touch and nimbleness of mind to turn an arcane 200 year old business into a global adventure and hunting outfitter that is known across the world. That Simon Clode achieved this is testament to the man who harnessed his own sense of adventure and used it to build a business that was a first port of call for those whose sporting passions took them to the wildest places.
Simon, who passed away in December after a courageous scrap with cancer, is an enormous loss to the world of best English gunmaking, and a huge loss to his many friends and customers who will miss his dry sense of humour and his interrogating nature. On first meeting, Simon could be brusque in the extreme. In the early 1990s, one English magazine editor asked him for an interview about Westley Richards and the company’s plans for the future only to be told, rather directly, that Simon didn’t think the readership of that particular ‘rag’ was the sort who would appreciate what Westley Richards did. Despite this, years later that editor came to count Simon as a friend and agreed that his appraisal of the qualities of the magazine he edited were pretty accurate even if they weren’t appreciated at the time. Simon knew what was right for his business.
Brought up in Worcestershire, Simon trained in California as a commercial diver in the oil industry, spending time risking his neck in Africa, Saudi Arabia, and the Caribbean. Westley Richards was, at that time, owned by his father Walter Clode, and it is difficult to know whether the young Simon’s sense of adventure came from his association with the business that had built heavy rifles for Sutherland, Ernest Hemingway and Stewart Granger amongst others, or found its source somewhere else.
In 1987 Walter turned 60 and was eyeing retirement. As Simon recalls in the book Westley Richards, in Pursuit of the best gun: “He (Walter) unexpectedly asked us if we would like to join the company; so I did.
“I was then being paid very well in the oil industry but diving is a young man’s job and quite dangerous. I had a young family and these jobs could take you away for months at a time. I joined the company in August 1987. The oil business taught me how to work hard and I was ready for a new challenge.”
After joining the business, Simon realised that if Westley Richards was to remain as a going concern, he had to arrest the loss of skills across the best gunmaking industry and begin rebuilding the momentum of the sector.
“My Father had kept the company going via his dealings with India, and one cannot underestimate how difficult the 1960s, 70s and early 80s were for gunmaking in Britain with inflation and other factors. The market for the antique guns from India had been very important for us, but I knew it couldn’t go on forever.”
The way forward for the business seemed obvious to Simon – Westley Richards would again focus on making the very best guns and rifles, by using the skills available not only with the in house gunmaking team, but harnessing resource from sister company Westley Engineering. The latter specialised in precision components for the automotive and aerospace industries.
Beginning with a dozen .410 detachable lock shotguns –the design that made Westley’s name – Simon discovered that the appetite for new Westley Richards sporting guns was as strong as ever. The first .410 guns quickly sold out and the company introduced other gauges to the line-up, followed by more of the famous models through which Westley Richards had built its reputation. In 1995 the company reintroduced the new model Anson & Deeley double rifle and in 2004 the famous Ovundo over and under shotgun was brought to an appreciative market. So successful was this strategy that Westley Richards can today legitimately claim to have the widest portfolio of sporting guns and rifles of any bespoke maker. Production is now a 50/50 balance of sporting shotguns and rifles, built to best quality only but with varying levels of engraving and ornamentation.
But Simon didn’t just rebuild the gunmaking side of Westley Richards, he completed a whole makeover of the gunmaking brand and its sister engineering division. In 2007/08 the old Westley Richards premises in Birmingham was sold to make way for the redevelopment of part of the city. Instead of downsizing the company, Simon used the opportunity to build a stunning factory and retail space in disused industrial buildings on the outskirts of the city. He then housed Westley engineering on the adjoining site, bringing real integration to his business model.
And the Westley Richards building is an honest to God site of pilgrimage for the sportsman and fine gun lover. The retail space is stunning and the working environment for the gunmakers is the best in the business. The building is topped off by the penthouse apartment that Simon built so that he could ‘live over the shop’.
To complement the retail shop, Simon built a thriving online shop and also brought in house a leather workshop to build beautiful cases, slips, magazines and luggage right in the heart of the factory.
But many who have never met Simon will be familiar with his voice through his blog The Explora. He used it to speak frankly and honestly about the gun trade in a way that no one ever had before. He debunked myths and pricked inflated egos, much to the amusement of his readers, if not the entire gun trade. But he also showcased stunning guns – of his make and others – brought into glorious focus by his own skills honed with his beloved Leica cameras.
But why was Simon such a force of regeneration in an industry that could have disappeared without trace, its products being dismissed as relics of a bygone age?
It is simple; he lived the sport and adventure with the same fierce passion as his customers. He knew the safari guides and knew the same miles of sun bleached bush and veldt that they did. He relished the history of sporting shooting and safari in particular and understood its conservation benefits. Like all great hunters, Simon loved the animals he pursued. But, of equal importance is the fact that he was always a good businessman and marketer, understanding that his clients belonged to a very special club; that small group of international adventurers who hunt game in wild places not simply to shoot, but as an affirmation of life and to experience the sheer exuberance that can be found off the beaten track and away from the noise and clatter of everyday life. Simon once said that he ‘loved expensive people’. By this he was not referring to wealth per se, but to those people who pursue their dreams often against all odds.
Let’s leave the last word to Simon himself: “I am fortunate to live the sport. I love the practical side of it and where the gun leads to – safari is one of the most interesting ways to travel. I enjoy sharing my love of the sport with clients from all around the world.”
Simon leaves four daughters: Karena, Natasha, Sophie and Francesca. His wife Lucy predeceased him in 2005.
As many of you have seen over the years we have been very privileged here at Westley Richards to post images of some truly stunning workmanship created dually by our gunmaking and engraving team.
Yesterday Vince Crowley returned with a magnificent .600 sidelock double rifle that he has just finished engraving for us. From a pure engraving perspective the rifle is a real showcase of the diverse skills that he has developed and as always there are lots of beautiful touches. As such one piece in particular really stood out and that was the grip trap cap.
The ‘Hummingbird’ Gun engraved by Rashid El Hadi
Vince was mentored many years ago by Rashid El Hadi who engraved the fabulous Hummingbird Gun. Rashid still rates as one of the finest, most talented engravers we have ever met and his imagination and creativity were exceptional. He inspired and influenced Vince greatly and I think that this singular piece showcases just that.
More images will follow in the coming weeks but as a taster this seems a fitting introduction!