Ken Halbert has provided the backbone to the gunmaking here at Westley Richards since he joined the company in the late 70’s. He became foreman the year I joined the company in 1987 and remained in that position until his retirement in 2007. Now ‘semi retired’ Ken continues to work at the factory a few days a week, actioning guns and imparting his knowledge to the young team we have now.
Ken has always commanded great respect in the trade and amongst other gunsmiths. He has a deep interest and passion for all vintages of guns and is one of the few people today who could make a best gun action from a lump of steel. That is how I first remember him when I arrived at the factory, slowly creating what was to become ‘The Gorilla Gun’ from a large block of steel. It took hours, books full of time sheet hours, too many to ever dare to count and cost. The .600 rifle he was making was a magnificent project, engraved with mountain gorillas by the Brown brothers at their peak.
These are 3 used double rifles which have just been completed this month in our workshops. They will be up on the used gun site shortly and in future I will be showing the best new rifles and shotguns we get in, here first. Each rifle has been fully checked and regulated to modern ammunition and as such are ‘Safari Ready’. The rifles are currently in England and will be shipped to USA shortly.
I was very fortunate last week to be a guest at Snilesdale where we had 3 fantastic opening days on the grouse moor. No photographs of flying grouse as I was too busy with my guns but some snaps of the people who make the days on the moor possible. The dedication and enthusiasm of the keepers, beaters, loaders and pickers ups always make this sport a memorable occasion.
If anything typifies Westley Richards’ gunmaking design, then it must surely be the Hand Detachable Lock or ‘Droplock’ action. Discovered as much by accident as intention the removable (hence detachable) seven part lock mechanism was, and still is, gunmaking in its very simplest form. Patented in 1897, only the look of the lock has really evolved to distinguish that of the shotgun from that of the double rifle. The shotgun lock has an integral hammer with striker (illustrated above) whereas the rifle lock uses a separate striker.
The ease with which the lock can be removed and cleaned has made it a stalwart amongst big game hunters from the dawn of the nitro age. Today, it remains our most popular action design in both double rifles and shotguns. As you would expect every lock is proportionate in size to the relative calibre or gauge all the way through from .410 to 4 gauge, and .243 to .700/.577 nitro express.
The Irish Elk in my office (top picture) has always attracted a great deal of comment. Having a span of 11 feet I am always asked ‘what is it’ and ‘where did you hunt it’! The antlers are actually a cast of a set I purchased at auction about 15 years ago. They were on display for some time in our shop in Springfield, Missouri where I had them cast, reproduced and made into a giant light fitting! In 2000 we took the Irish Elk to Las Vegas Safari Club as part of our display and could have taken many bookings there for hunting the species!
The Giant Deer (or ‘Irish Elk’) lived during the Pleistocene Period of the Great Ice Age. It probably originated in Siberia but migrated westward under the influence of increasing cold. Its range extended over a wide part of central Europe and Asia and the largest concentration of its remains have been found in Ireland, chiefly in the marl underlying bogland. This marl has a high calcium carbonate content, which assists in preserving the bones. The majority of these ancient antlers were discovered in caves in Counties Waterford, Cork and Clare. They have long been a feature of the Irish banqueting hall and are particularly suited to the Scottish baronial style.
When I moved the USA shop from Missouri to Montana the casts came back to England, along with the mould. Anyone interested in a faithful reproduction can let me know. An original set of Antlers achieved a sale price of £43,250 at Christies last year.
A Trio of Westley Richards Round Action Sidelock’s
A Trio of Westley Richards Lightweight Droplock 12g’s.
Often we are asked why people order a set of three guns. I was lucky to be invited this week to shoot grouse in North Yorkshire where we had three excellent days sport, the weather was warm but not too warm, there was wind and the sun was not out. 2 people in the line of guns had gun failures (not our guns I hasten to add!) during the 3 days which left them shooting with one gun. With driven grouse, or in fact any game now when you are paying for double gun days, being left with one serviceable gun is quite a handicap. You will only get the 2 shots off at a covey, not 2 as they approach and 2 as they depart. So the purpose of the third gun is as a spare in the event of a malfunction. It should be taken on the hill and be ‘at hand’, to put in instant play should the need occur. For those people considering a pair of sidelock guns from our friends in London, it is well worth looking at ours. 3 guns and some change for the price of their 2!
‘The Roe-Stalker’ from H.F.Wallace ‘A Highland Gathering’
A C.I.C Gold medal Roe buck trophy
Well the Roe buck rut has now pretty much drawn to a close here in the UK. This elusive little deer which is truly native to the UK, is one of the most popular species to stalk. Once considered vermin they are now stalked during a proper season and with careful management are capable of producing some of the nicest trophies that you will see. This particular example was measured by a representative from the Conseil International de la Chasse (C.I.C) who are renowned throughout Europe as one of the top trophy measuring and conservation organisations. It was awarded a Gold medal after achieving just over 142 points, the minimum requirement for Gold being 135.
Rear page detailing the .318 Westley Richards as a standard chambering in the type ‘A’ rifle
Whilst searching through archive it was interesting to find this old Mauser pamphlet from before WW II. Mauser really were the pre-eminent mass manufacturer of quality affordable big game rifles, and as we all know suppliers of actions to the British gun trade on which so many great proprietary calibres were introduced. What is significant on this particular pamphlet is the notification of both the .318 Westley Richards & .404 Eley Rimless (Jeffery) as chosen calibres in the type ‘A’ rifles. The only two British calibres. The reason sited was the availability of ammunition where Mauser cartridges were not so easy to obtain. The .318 Westley Richards really must have been popular to gain this accolade, maybe its time for Mauser to offer it as a standard chambering once again?!
Elsie Fenwick In B.E.A In 1904-5 with her Rigby .275 Rifle
It’s not every day that you find a safari diary like this, particularly one written by a woman. Elsie Fenwick would certainly have been a pioneering woman in her day as it really was a man’s world. Her diary which contains 150 photos and 74 pages, covers her safari in British East Africa with her husband and brother in law during 1904-5. It is a fascinating insight into a bygone era when Africa’s game was still very much untouched and hunting was certainly for the elite.
Diary extract of a days events. Driven bird shooting had clearly not reached the British Empire in 1904!