William Westley Richards – The Founder of our Firm.

The Founder of the Firm

When we produced In Pursuit of the Best Gun in 2011, St Phillip’s Cathedral in Birmingham was being renovated and I was unable to get a photograph of the Westley Richards memorial inside for inclusion. On my walk through town this weekend I discovered the work completed, and so here, at last is the picture I missed.

The founder of Westley Richards – William Westley Richards – holds an extraordinary position in the history of gun making, beginning work in the age of the flintlock and contributing to the development of the gun, especially in the key area of the percussion gun. He came from a well established family of Birmingham traders: silversmiths, jewellers, cutlers and gun makers – many of whom appear in the baptismal registers of St Phillips Church (later Birmingham Cathedral).

Born in 1788, he was clearly well-educated and adventurous and founded his gun making factory when he was only 22. His intelligence as a gun maker was celebrated by the leading sporting writer of the early 19th century, Col Peter Hawker, who owned Westley Richards’ guns and was a friend of William Bishop, the London agent for Westley Richards, wrote that: “Mr. Richards is really a scientific man, instead of having more tongue than brains, like many of our gun making charlatans. His barrels are perhaps as good as any in the world.”         

            As a person William Westley Richards “had a slender habit of body, and what his friends called a fine head. Such recollections of his family and friends as still survive are clearly indicative of a genial, lovable, and high-minded man.” He travelled to Sicily in 1811 and kept a diary exhibiting “a lively observation both of men and manners, of scenery and events.” He was also the first man to use an umbrella in public in Birmingham, although the jeering gaze of the public led him to abandon it. One of Westley Richards’s cherished quotations was that “The inside of a barrel is like a fiddle or a woman, Sir.” – referring to the inherent instability of gunpowder, a factor which inspired much experimentation in all fields of gun-making in this period.         

            This curious and much-quoted piece of gun making philosophy may have been partly inspired by troubles in his first marriage. William Westley Richards married twice. He was first married in 1813, a year after founding the firm, Anne, the daughter of John Barlow of Acton Trussell in Staffordshire by whom he had six children including an eldest son Westley Richards, who joined him in the business and like him was a zealous innovator. His other children were Emma, Caroline, Edward, Ellen and Mary Anne. He was divorced from Anne by 1823, and married Harriett Seale in London, in 1823, by whom he had three more sons, Charles, George and William.

            Public spirited in a typical Victorian way, he was a J.P. of the Borough of Birmingham, and from 1816 a trustee of George Fentham’s Charity, who maintained children at the Blue Coat school, (their children wore a green coat) and from which institution he drew a number of his own workmen. A benevolent figure, one anecdote is worth repeating from Leslie Taylor’s centenary history: “A certain workman – we believe, through no fault of his own – had fallen upon evil days. He owned a couple of small houses, but from time to time, borrowed money upon them until the sun totalled £200; the conditions of the mortgage were iniquitous, and it looked as though once again the wolf was going to make a meal of the artless lamb. The man had a reserve and a pride of his own, but at last he sought his master’s advice. To his utter astonishment, Wm. Westley Richards, a day or two afterwards, made him a present of his deeds.”     

            Westley Richards was also chairman of the exhibition held at Bingley Hall in Birmingham 1849 which led to the Great Exhibition in Hyde Park in London in 1851 – of which he was also elected one of the jurors. He also enjoyed music and was a churchwarden at St Phillips Church, was an active sportsman, riding to hounds and game shooting, and bringing his personal experience of the sport to his work on guns. His famous motto was always “To be the maker of as good a gun as can be made.”

From “In Pursuit of the Best Gun” written by Jeremy Musson.

 William Westley Richards family Memorial at Birmingham Cathedral

St Phillip's Cathedral Birmingham.

 

A Pair of Westley Richards Percussion Pistols.

Percussion Westley Richards Pistol Pair

Percussion Westley Richards Pistol Pair

My knowledge of Antique guns is fairly limited, I joined Westley Richards after the period where antique guns made up a large part of our trade. As a result, I am unable to go into a comprehensive description of this pair of pistols especially with the factory closed and ‘all help on holiday’.

I was kindly lent these before the holiday by a customer who showed them to me. Normally, when I see something unusual of our make I will either borrow or buy it so I can take a few photographs, in this instance borrow was the only option! I don’t think these are anything truly remarkable but they do have beautifully carved forepart which I enjoyed seeing and hope you do also.

The pistols are lying on 17th Century  Indian chain mail armour shirts, the original ‘body armour’ needed in a duel!

A Set of 3 Small Bore Westley Richards Droplocks.

Set of 3 Westley Richards Droplocks in 20, 28 and .410From Left: 28g, 20g and .410 Westley Richards Hand Detachable Lock game guns.

On the whole we don’t make that many pairs of guns for American clients who don’t travel to Europe to shoot. Single guns seem to be more the order of the day and rightly so, it is a different form of shooting, walked up versus driven. We have made quite a few sets of two guns matching in different gauges but this must be amongst the first set of three, if not the first.

A Very Happy Christmas from Westley Richards & The Explora.

A very Happy Christmas

I would like to wish A Very Happy Christmas to everyone who visits and supports this blog, Over the past year we have attracted over 60,000 unique visitors, many of whom return on a daily, weekly or monthly basis. This may not exactly be classified as ‘going viral’ but in terms of articles on best guns and gunmaking it stands up well when you consider the subscription lists for the better gun magazines stand at about 20-30,000 readers and they have been going many years. I am very grateful for this level of interest and support, it certainly keeps me motivated.

In January when we return to work we will joined by our own in-house web developer who will work alongside our team. During the course of the New Year I am looking forward to completely redeveloping all of the Westley Richards websites, work aimed at making our online experience easier to navigate, more content & knowledge rich and hopefully an experience you will all enjoy.

The Explora will continue as a stand alone site but with a slightly revised interface that will make searching older articles easier. Whilst mentioning the Explora part of our site, I do send out a message that I welcome any ideas or contributions to the blog, you will notice that sometimes I stall, perhaps because of workload, but more often due to lack ideas!

Thank you all again and I hope that Santa brings you what you wished for.

My Very Best Wishes,

Simon

The New – Pocket Size – Westley Richards Gun Catalogue.

Westley Richards Gun Catalogue.

I am very pleased that today we received from the printers our new 48 page pocket sized gun catalogue that we have been working on for the forthcoming shows. I do hope you will pass by our stands at one of the shows, say hello and get hold of a copy.

We will be exhibiting our new guns at: Dallas Safari Club, The Las Vegas Antique Arms Show the Safari Club International Convention and The British Shooting Show.

A Virtual Visit to Westley Richards. Guided by Emma Slater

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I asked Emma to shoot photographs today of what you could expect to see if you visit the factory, a virtual tour by camera. I hope that those of you who are unable to visit the factory enjoy these and I hope that any of you considering coming to visit will be encouraged to do so by what you see here.

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The Westley Richards I want in my Santa’s Stocking.

Westley Richards Black Proto. 300 WMMy unfinished Westley Richards ‘Black’ 300 Win Mag.

A comment by Neil in my last post suggested a post on ‘what I would like Santa to bring me in my Christmas stocking’ so this is the first item I want to see sticking out the top when I wake up!

Before I go to my box I would really like to hunt a Marco Polo sheep and/or an Altai Argali sheep. I don’t relish the thought of altitude sickness and filthy camps but I find the Marco Polo a majestic animal and it has been on my bucket list for many years. ‘Thou shall not covet another mans trophies’ but I have always done so with my friend and frequent hunting companion Sultan Al Thani’s Altai Argali, one which he took in the early 90’s and was a very close world record. The size and mass of the horns make me want to steal it every time I see it to add it to the walls of interesting stuff here at WR.

In order to do these hunts I need a nice, light, bomb proof rifle with a fixed scope. A rifle with which I can learn to control my shakes and ineptitude with a scoped rifle when shooting at distance. A rifle I can leave at the top of the mountain if needed. The Plastic Fantastic was born, but, I hastily add, has not yet been conceived. The specifications seemed pretty simple to me, a special alloy sheathed lightweight fluted barrel on a new Mauser 98 action all fitted to a synthetic stock to our normal stock design and shape in a take apart format.

To date retaining crisp lines on our stock profile has been a problem, I have paid for moulds and machining and all kinds of stuff, I have 3 or 4 failed attempts and the cost of my rifle grows with alarming pace and is shortly going to exceed that of one our very best take downs. The trophy fees unfortunately grow at an alarming pace also!

They say a shoe maker never has a pair of his own shoes and the same certainly applies to this gunmaker. I have attempted many times to make my own new guns and rifles but the dealer in me always lets them go before I finish them and I start again. So if Santa could help complete this quickly I would be a very happy hunter!

I can imagine all the traditional readers rolling around in horror at the very thought of Westley Richards doing such a thing but just wait until you see the finished item, you will want one for your mountain trips in your stocking too!

 

The Guns & Rifles of Westley Richards.

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The days have been passing with great haste as we lead up to our Christmas shut down next week. I had a message earlier today  just checking I was still alive, this as a result of my poor activity here on the Explora! So just to show I am alive, a quick post with some new shots taken this week for use at our shows in the USA next month. Familiar guns I know but in a different setting.

Next week, assuming the printer delivers as promised, I look forward to revealing our new pocket catalogue which we have prepared for our shows next year and one which I posted about some months ago, when it was in planning stages. In pre press it looked really nice and i look forward very much to seeing the finished item myself.

Thank you for your continued visits!

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Another Year and Another Monteria.

Monteria in Spain

This year the wonderful estate of Torrejon De Modua, a 75 minute drive north of Madrid, was the setting for our first day of Monteria in Spain. We were a team of 17 guns from all around the world, France, Lebanon, Qatar, England, South Africa, Namibia, Spain, Germany, Switzerland and Mexico. We were outfitted as usual by the person I consider the most professional and enthusiastic hunter I have ever had the pleasure of knowing and hunting with, Diego Satrustegui one of three partners owning Espacaza, a company we have recommended for a long time to many of our customers who enjoy hunting in Spain and elsewhere in the world.

Monteria in Spain

The day starts with a traditional Monteria breakfast named ‘Migas’, a mixture of fried breadcrumbs with garlic, onions and pepperoni topped with fried eggs, a furness of carbs to keep you warm during the 5 hour hunt, all washed down with coffee and Rioja.

Monteria in Spain

Once fed, Diego gives a thorough safety talk, 17 rifles out in the field together requires everyone to abide by a strict set of rules to ensure the safety of every member of both the shooting line and dog handling/game driving line.

Monteria in Spain

Following the safety talk, prayers are held for the success of the hunt and for hunters, especially for those who have passed. A loud ‘Viva Espana’ follows the prayers and then the draw for ‘posts’ is held, the post being the number of your stand for the day, there are normally a series of lines of guns covering the estate. A card or envelope is selected by the individual guns from the pile on the table and the organisers will record your position in the draw.

The map of the estate showing the lines of shooting posts.

The map of the estate showing the lines of guns. My post was El Buho 1. The dark blue arrows show the direction and starting point for the teams of dogs.

Admiring rifles before the hunt.

After breakfast a moment to compare hardware before the hunt. The Westley Richards 300 win mag in Carbine format in the left hand received much praise and envy!

El Lobo 1 My Post for the day North

El Buho 1, my post for the day occupied by Jose Maria Pascual who has guided me for the past few years. A competent and enthusiastic ‘Secretario’ is for me, essential for an enjoyable day. I have never been able to concentrate on a shot and select from 6 running animals which is the better or correct target, the quiet and confident ‘3rd from front’ sort of call, is for me, essential. You can see from this shot that the area which you cover with your rifle is about 200 yards long, in this case to the north with a width of about 50 yards. Animals will both cross the open area and run down it.

El Lobo 1 My Post for the day  South

The southerly view from my post.

The dogs and Dog handler

At 11am with everyone safe on their post, the dog handlers release their dogs and proceed to walk the estate driving or moving the game, it takes about 4 hours for the handlers to walk their section of the estate and return to where they started. During this time game will suddenly appear so the rifles need to be in a constant state of readiness, sit down and it’s a given a boar or stag will race past, you won’t have time for a shot having gathered yourself up. Each day will have a quota for each gun to shoot, this day each gun had the opportunity to shoot 2 fallow deer, 1 stag and 6 boar. If we liked we could swop one fallow for another boar. The Monteria is in essence an estate cull, the keeper and owner will decide what needs to be taken off the land that year and this will be sold and taken by the group of hunters, a balance of providing income for the estate and managing the herd. This is not trophy hunting and the estate need the cull also to work efficiently. Every estate will give a different quota according to their requirement, it could be 2 stag and 4 hinds if the numbers dictate that. In Spain Red Stag, Fallow, Boar and Mouflon are the main species encountered on Monteria.

The Hunting Dogs

The Hunting Dogs

The hunting Dogs

The hunting dogs are a fearsome and motley bunch. They work hard, often to the point of exhaustion.

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I was fortunate to take 5 boar and 2 Fallow deer from my quota this day. This shot of a Fallow shows the distance to the post where Jose is sitting, across the ride.

Boar

The finest ‘big tusker’ boar of the day. My host Sheikh Sultan Al Thani took a very fine gold medal Fallow outclassing my mere possible bronze! The days bag was 77 boar, 10 Fallow and 12 stags.

The Monteria is a very fine and exciting hunt, bathed in tradition it is an experience I can recommend very highly and one which I return to enjoy year after year.

For details on hunting please speak to Diego Satrustegui at Espacaza in Madrid, I am quite certain he will look after you!

New Barrels for a Westley Richards .476

New Barrels on vintage Westley Richards .476The re-barreled  Westley Richards .476

A year or so ago, a very good client of ours purchased from a used gun dealer this .476 double rifle, it is a Gold Name model rifle made in the early 1900’s. Having received it he then had problems getting it to shoot and so sent it across the Atlantic for us to have a look at.

The rifle had, unfortunately, been shot at some point with monolithic solid bullets which had pushed the rifling to the outside of the barrels rather than being on the inside. Worse still there was a hairline crack in the centre of the barrel, barely noticeable unless you look carefully, rendering them as scrap.

Whilst hugely disappointing for the client I was very pleased that he immediately thought of sending us the rifle to check, rather than load and try to get the rifle to shoot himself. The barrels were totally unsafe and the crack could at any point have opened up and potentially caused injury.

I have come across quite a lot of old rifles which have been shot with the wrong ammunition, and whilst I will not say this is a common problem, it is not uncommon either. When you are buying a double rifle ( or shotgun in fact) the barrels are the most expensive item to replace and it is worth thinking a vintage gun is only as good as its barrels. Spend the time to check them or have someone check them for you. It is possible in the case of the rifle to see the rifling on the outside if it has been raised by the wrong solid use, hold the barrels to the light and look up the outsides and you can see the feint twist of the rifling. This is perhaps easier said than done but worth remembering to check or ask someone to check for you! The penalty is a bill for in excess of $20,000 for new ones!