The early 1800’s gave rise to some of England’s most famed gun makers and their beginnings are nearly all owed to their family’s already established gun making origins. William Westley Richards came from a well-known family of jewellers, silversmiths and gun makers, James Purdey’s father, also called James, was believed to be a blacksmith and gunsmith based near the Tower of London in the late 18th century. Thomas Boss’s father, William was a gun maker for the famous Joseph Manton and was also an apprentice at Thomas Ketland gunmakers in Birmingham. However Holland & Holland’s inception was somewhat different and was born from the vision of an entrepreneur and later perfected by the talents and ingenuity of a skilled gun maker.
Harris Holland’s (1806-1896) family had no gun making connections and were involved in the music trade and were skilled makers of variety of musical instruments. Initially continuing his family trade and deemed to be a talented musician, around 1831, Harris quit music and entered the retail tobacco trade and set up shop at 5 Kings Street Holborn later moving to a bigger premises at 9 Kings Street. In the mid 1840’s he saw a profitable future in guns and combined selling tobacco with guns. He initially had guns made for him under his name and by 1850 become a gun maker in his own right. It wasn’t until 1860 that Henry Holland, nephew to Harris joined the firmed and was apprenticed to his uncle. He became a partner in 1876 and ran the business after the death of Harris in 1896 until his own death in 1930. Henry’s skill, knowledge and inventiveness coupled with strong business acumen powered Holland & Holland to become a world famous brand.
Harris was a sportsman, keen shot and a successful live pigeon shooter, the sport which had become well established in England by the 1940’s. Frequenting such gun clubs as Hornsey Wood Tavern, Notting Hill and Hurlingham in Fulham, these clubs had wealthy members and Harris made good connections and supplied shooters with their live pigeon guns and accessories. One gun to pass under the lens of our camera is this H. Holland 4 bore live pigeon gun believed to be made for Harris himself. Gun No. 575 is a double barrel percussion 4 bore with 28” Damascus barrels, a 14 1/2” length of pull to a steel butt plate, horn forend tip, pineapple finial on the trigger plate, the rib engraved ‘H. Holland 9 Kings Street Holborn London’, the action and hammers are engraved with best foliate scroll. The gun was built with no rod and only weighs 7lbs 13oz. Completed around 1856 it is recorded as being built for ‘Mr. Holland’. An interesting gun built for a by gone sport, made at the start of one London’s best known makers.
A leisurely 5 minute stroll from the Westley factory, towards the city centre, leads you into the heart of the historic and once thriving, Birmingham Gun Quarter. Based around St Mary’s Chapel the surrounding streets of Loveday, Shadwell, Weaman, Steelhouse Lane and St Mary’s Row housed some of Birmingham’s best known gunmakers, the likes of W.W. Greener, Webley & Scott and Isaac Hollis & Sons to name but a few.
One such maker to call the Gun Quarter home was William Ford. Respected gun fitter, famous for barrel boring and supplying award winning barrels to the likes of W.W. Greener, Lincoln Jeffries and many others in the trade, he made some quite superb guns under his own name. Initially occupying No. 23 Loveday street, he moved to 15 St Mary’s Row in 1899 and stayed there till 1948 when the company made a brief move round the corner to Price Street, a street which still accommodates self-employed stockers, barrel blackers, colour hardeners and general repair gunsmiths and is really the only active gunmaking street left in the Quarter today. After a short spell on Price Street, William Ford moved back to St Mary’s Row at No. 10-11 and in 1953 amalgamated with James Carr & Sons, another Birmingham gunmaker.
One such gun made by William Ford, which we were lucky enough to have at our factory, is this diminutive and beautifully made 32 bore triggerguard opening hammer gun. Featuring a rebounding lock, treble bite, double trigger action, c-scroll hammers with hare’s-ear spurs engraved with stunning ornate scroll, 22” etched Damascus barrels with a sunken game rib, snap forend with a horn tip and a handsome straight hand stock measuring 14 ¼”. The gun weighs 3lbs ½oz and fits neatly into its oak and leather case with brass corners. The dainty gun, in an almost forgotten calibre, is a joy to handle and a pleasure to view. The triggerguard opening system is operated with ease with just a small amount of pressure applied with the trigger and middle finger on the front of guard, it slides it back and draws all three bites to release the barrels. It is a truly exquisite example of skill, craftsmanship and ingenuity from a fine Birmingham gunmaker.
There are certain things that Westley Richards is famous for, such as the drop lock action, the .425 or the snap lever work, but the .318 Accelerated Express cartridge is about as Westley as it gets and one that provokes great emotion, not only with collectors but the ‘gun nuts’ here at the factory. This .318 that we recently acquired has been round all the gun makers, each one, in turn, taking his time to admire the shape, feel and form of a classic Westley rifle, hand crafted by their predecessors 104 years ago. They cannot but appreciate the skills they possessed, feel a sense of pride that this is ‘one of our own’ and then try and work out how they are going to acquire it for themselves! It’s really quite special to have this rifle back in our possession and a rarity to say the least.
The .318 is a thing of legend and its credentials needs no questioning. Formidable for its size and a firm favourite for many a hunter, with its 250 grain bullet, it’s conquered the largest of game and has been used around the world. Even after the release and rise in popularity of the .375 H&H Magnum it was still a hugely popular calibre and other gun makers built bolt action rifles in this calibre, proving the success and demand for this round.
This rifle, which is a really super example in characterful condition was completed in 1913, features a 22″ barrel with our combination foresight, raised express sight with one standing 100 yard and four folding leaves regulated to 500 yards. The action is engraved with bold scroll, chequered bolt grip, has a flag safety and a hinged magazine plate with release latch. The full pistol grip stock measures 14 1/2″ to the centre of the steel plated butt and has a grip cap with trap, side panels with points, horn forend tip, cheek piece and a neat peep sight fitted into the nose of the comb. The rifle weighs 7lbs 14oz, has been tested on our range and shoots a 1.5″ group at 50 yards. It will be on our used gun site soon!
Many names spring to mind when one thinks of the most famous, important or influential engravers to have worked in the English gun trade over the years and you could reel off a list as long as your arm, but one name which should always be near the top of that list, if not the top, is Henry ‘Harry’ Kell. He was a pioneer in game scene and animal engraving and pushed the boundaries of artistic, unusual and life like styles of engraving. For three quarters of a century the name Harry Kell, both father and son, was associated with the very best London gun making.
Considered to be possibly the most famous work Harry Kell did was three miniature guns that were presented to George V on his silver jubilee and of course the pair of Purdey guns he engraved for Queen Mary’s Doll House. He engraved for all the best London gun makers but most of his work was unsigned. His work inspired a new generation of engravers, most famously Ken Hunt, who was apprentice to Harry and was taken on by Purdey’s in 1950.
Harry Kell, born Henry Albert Kell in 1880 into a family of engravers served an apprenticeship under his father, Henry John Kell (1860 – 1929), also known as Harry. Henry learnt his trade under Thomas Sanders and worked for his engraving business, Thomas Sanders & Son, which he joined around 1875. Thomas Sanders employed a small team of engravers doing work for much of the London trade and established his engraving workshops, which were based in Soho at 13 Dean Street, in 1862, moving to 6 Greek Street in 1866 and just before the outbreak of the First World War, he moved to 142 Wardour Street where he remained until the business closed in 1919.
In 1919 Henry Kell, who was already a partner in the business, took it over and named it Henry Kell & Son. Henry kept the business at 142 Wardour Street for a few years until moving it to 38a Broad Street in 1921. The business remained there until 1937 when it was moved to 45 Broadwick Street (Broad Street renamed) where it saw out the Second World War and remained until 1957.
Harry Kell was apprenticed to his father around 1894 and took over the company when his father died in 1929. Harry changed the name of the business in 1952 to Henry Kell, but remained at 45 Broadwick Street until 1957 when failing eye sight and health forced him to move into the Purdey factory, he died a year later in 1958.
The latest used gun to pass through our hands is a Purdey 12g sidelock engraved by the great man himself. Completed in 1932 as the No. 2 of a pair it was made as a lightweight gun weighing only 6lbs 3oz, with 28” barrels made for M.M. Johnson Esquire. Beautifully engraved game scenes with pheasants flushing from a wood, surrounded by intricate rose and scroll on the left lock, partridges in a woodland scene, again surrounded by rose and scroll on the right and a retrieving spaniel on the bottom of the action with more rose and scroll. The gun retains some lovely case colour and is a truly superb example of what between the wars engraving had become and what lead the way for future engravers, pioneered by the likes of Harry Kell.
When it comes to shotgun shooting, eye dominance plays a pivotal role in the shooter’s success and can totally change the style in which you shoot or the gun you use. There are various types of eye dominance and some weird and wonderful ways to deal with them. For the lucky ones, we have absolute dominance of the eye looking down the rib, in my case right handed – right eye dominant. No action needed. For the nearly lucky ones, they have predominant dominance, meaning one eye is nearly but not quite fully dominant, this normally doesn’t cause any problems with the right amount of cast on the gun but some people need to squint the weaker eye so the other becomes fully dominant. For the not so lucky, these are the ones with true cross dominance, i.e. right handed but left eye dominant or vice versa. Actually quite common and there are a few remedies such as a squinting/closing the opposite eye, use a full cross over/eyed gun or, depending how ambidextrous you are, shoot from the other shoulder. Easier said than done! Intermittent or occasional cross dominance can be caused by poor focus or bad gun mounting and indeterminate dominance is when both eyes are fighting for control. Lastly we have central vision, where neither eye is dominant, so to combat this either put a patch on the opposite eye or shoot a central vision gun. Although every gun is different, normal cast measurements for a central vision or sometimes known as a semi cross over gun are: 1/2” at the comb, 7/8″ at the face, 3/4″ at the heel and 7/8” at the toe. The stock is often swept at the face to allow the head to move over further to create the central vision down the rib without the cast at heel being too dramatic. If you have absolute eye dominance it is certainly a bizarre sight picture when mounting a central vision gun but you have to admire the skill in the stocking and the ingenuity to overcome this, what I can only imagine, quite an annoying eye dominance to have. But I have no doubt the well-seasoned central vision shooter can shoot as good as any other eye dominance and I should imagine it would be quite fun to watch!
Recently through the WR doors came this interesting pair of Westley Richards 12g sidelock ejectors with central vision stocks. Completed in 1962 they have 26” barrels with double trigger, Holland style hand detachable, sidelock actions engraved with a large floral scroll. The dark, well figured stocks measure 14 3/4” to the centre of the butt and are cast off 9/16″ at the comb 3/4″ at the face, 15/16″ at the heel and 15/16″ at the toe. The guns are in overall very good condition and will be on our used gun site shortly. I’m sure there is a central vision shooter out there, somewhere!
Stocker, Keith Haynes, taking detailed cast measurements.
It’s rare to have central vision or cross eyed stocks on new guns these days but it certainly was much more common place between wars and for those of you who have been to the factory, you will remember the painting we have on the stairs of Colonel H.H. Shri Sir Ranjitsinhji Vibhaji, Maharaja Jam Saheb of Nawanagar, an esteemed cricketer who played for England and was said to be one of the best batsman of all time, standing proudly with two shot lions and a cross eyed stock double rifle. From the research done several years ago, we assume that the rifle in the painting is his Holland & Holland .240 cross eyed stock double rifle, which he ordered in 1922.
Here we have a small selection of used guns that have recently come up for sale at our UK factory.
The first offering is a slightly unusual Westley Richards 12g, fixed lock ejector, assisted opener. Built in 1955, on a Webley scroll back action with two triggers, tang top lever and automatic beetle back game safe. It retains some original case colour and is engraved with large scroll and the Westley name in a block format. It has 26” barrels with 2 ¾” chamber, choked ¼ & ⅝. The straight hand stock measures 14 ⅝ to centre and a splinter forend with Anson push rod release. It’s slightly unusual to have made a fixed lock action with assisted opening and it’s not a gun we would have made many of. It’s a very lively gun in the hands and points very quickly weighing only 6lbs 3oz, it would make the ideal walk up gun and the assisted opener works flawlessly meaning you really can get your next two shots off much quicker. The gun would benefit from a light refurbishment but is sold as is and personally I would just take this gun out and shoot it and enjoy it for what it is, a solid, usable quick shooting boxlock.
Next we have a superb Marcel Thys sidelock double rifle in 7x75R Vom Hofe calibre. Bolstered sidelock action with two triggers, the front of which is chequered and articulated, engraved with large floral scroll and retaining all original case colour hardening. 24 ½” chopper lump barrels with a single folding leaf sight regulated to 100 yards and ramp foresight. Semi beavertail forend and a full pistol grip stock measuring 14 ⅛” to centre with carved drop points, strap over comb, grip cap with trap and black rubber recoil pad. The wood is exhibition quality and absolutely stunning. Weighing 9lbs 2oz this is a high quality rifle from a very respected Belgium maker.
In bolt actions we have a Holland & Holland .275 H&H Magnum take down rifle. Built on a Mauser ’98 action with a 26” threaded take down barrel held in place by a locking pin and keeper pin, it has a rear island base with one fixed sight regulated to 200 yards and two folding leaves at 350 and 500 yards. The stock measures 14” to centre with a cheek piece, horn heel plate, case colour hardened grip cap with trap and horn forend tip. Weighing 7lbs 14oz this is an opportunity to own a really very nice Holland take down rifle in their propriety cartridge.
We also have a Gastinne Renette of Paris bolt action rifle in .300 H&H. Built on an DWM Mauser action it has a 25” barrel with a rear island base with one fixed and 3 folding leaf express sight and ramp foresight. Full pistol stock measuring 13 ½” to centre with a rubber recoil pad, strap over comb and grip cap with trap. The rifle comes with a Zeiss Diavari 1.5-6×42 on quick detachable claw mounts. A well-made bolt action in a popular plains game calibre. Weighing 7lbs 14oz with the scope, a nice practical package.
Last but not least we have a J.Rigby .275 which has been re-barrelled by Paul Roberts of J.Roberts & Son. 22″ barrel with a mint bore, hinged floor plate, 13 7/8″ semi pistol stock with a slim Silvers pad and sling studs. Weighing 7lb 5ozs the rifle comes with 1″ mounts and is an affordable and usable English rifle in a popular, smooth shooting calibre.
All the guns and rifles will be on our used gun site shortly but for any initial enquires, please email me at email@example.com or call +44 121 333 1918.
For those of you who are unfamiliar with Birmingham, the city is currently undergoing quite the transformation. The skyline is changing at a rapid pace and from the factory floor window I can count half a dozen cranes building new offices, multi story car parks and old Victorian factories being converted in to luxury apartments. HSBC are in the process of moving their retail division from London to Birmingham and big firms like Deloitte and Deutsche Bank are already present. With high speed rail coming to town in the next 10 or so years it will change beyond all recognition.
It is therefore, in these modern times, easy to forget what this city of ours once was, what it produced and what it stood for. And I’m sure it’s not unfair to say that it’s my generation and younger that are guilty of not knowing the routes of the city and in particular its gun making history. There’s no doubt a large proportion of society that would like disassociate guns with Birmingham and not so long ago a petition very nearly saw the name of our historic Gun Quarter changed and resigned to the history books. Luckily it was successfully fended off and common sense prevailed, a rarity in these times.
For me the gun making history of Birmingham is hugely important and something that should be remembered, not just in sporting gunnery but military as well and never more so than when our great nation faced the unimaginable prospect of World War One.
Leslie B. Taylor – Westley Richards Managing Director 1899 – 1930
In the years running up to war we were busy inventing and perfecting our sporting guns, under the expert guidance of Leslie Taylor who became managing director in 1899 and saw Westley Richards through the First World War. It was a busy time supplying the domestic market as well as the far reaching empire with guns and rifles and the Anson & Deeley action, the Droplock, the Explora and Fauneta guns were all in production by this point and the company was certainly in a state of advancement and success. Not long after we celebrated our centenary in 1912, Europe was at war and not only did the company see huge changes but the city and country as a whole.
Orders for sporting guns were generally suspended although some orders were taken through our London agency, which at the time was run by Arthur Gale, and the sole focus concentrated on the war effort. This was a time for carrying out government orders and taking up military contracts which while they would have put a huge level of intensification and stress on the company and to quote Mr. Taylor the work was ‘exacting and tedious’, there certainly would have been money to be made from the contracts and under Mr. Taylor’s famously logistical brain and management skills the company geared up for war.
A small pamphlet issued after The Great War to explain the work that had been carried out by the company during that time and to apologise for not completing orders that had been placed.
In 1914 we received an urgent order from the government to convert 10,000 service rifles to a ‘modern type’ for use of our army. The government ordered the employment of all of our highly skilled labour and early and late working for the rifles were badly needed. We were also involved in what was known as the Peddled Rifle Scheme which was basically a collaboration of various manufacturers to make a complete rifle, each factory would produce what it was they were most proficient at. We made complete rifle barrels with the blade front sight and complete rear sights which was closely monitored by the government inspection team that was set up in the factory over see our work.
Leslie Taylor also set up a Rifle Repair Department for reconditioning used guns which had been broken, damaged or had parts missing whilst used on the battlefield. Over the course of the war Westley Richards was responsible for repairing or converting over 200,000 rifles. We, of course, were one of many factories and gun works that produced or repaired weaponry or munitions for the war but perhaps the most famous of all was the Birmingham Small Arms company situated in Small Heath. They produced, amongst many other arms, the short magazine Lee Enfield .303 infantry service rifle and the Lewis machine gun, also in .303 and were producing around 10,000 rifles a week. There would have been several subsidiaries of the BSA and many back street workshops producing component parts to supply the bigger industrial factories. Many Ministry of Munitions employees were on ‘piece work’ and would have been paid for every part, round or task completed. People with, what was known as ‘reserved occupations’ such as engineers, were spared being sent to the front line as their skill set was deemed more valuable to kept back in England. So many people like tool makers were drafted to work in the gun making factories as their skills were transferable. However even with the drafting of men from other sectors, Westley Richards had to employ many unskilled men and boys to carry out delicate and detailed gun making such was the shortage of workers. At the peak of the war our work force had quadrupled in size and the factory ran day and night with our week starting at 7 o’clock on Sunday evening and the machines running without stopping until 5 o’clock the following Saturday afternoon.
A page from the centenary catalogue of 1912 showing the various departments at the Grange Road factory.
While many men would have joined up to fight right away, Leslie Taylor lobbied very hard to keep key workers from being called up while the factory was on munitions work. Some of our unskilled workers from our London agency were called to fight however Mr. Gale in fact wrote to the War Office to keep one particular man from being drafted.
A letter from the Ministry of Munitions of War in reply to Leslie Taylor and Arthur Gale’s request to keep workers from being called to fight.
While the government contracts took up most of the production, the London shop did take some sporting gun orders, with delivery postponed until after the war. Several men from the London shop were sent up to Birmingham to help out in the factory. We also took several private orders for rifles suitable for training and arming territorial personnel. In 1915, Sir Henry Bunbury of Manor House, Mildenhall ordered twelve .303 Martini rifles with bayonets, for a ‘Training Corps’. Ipswich Volunteers ordered eighty Westley Richards .303 Martini rifles. The Lincolnshire Territorial Army also placed an order for four Mark 1 Star Lee-Metford magazine .303 bore rifles with telescopic scopes and the Regent Street Polytechnic placed an order for one hundred .303 Westley Richards Martini Long Infantry Rifles for the Polytechnic’s Volunteer Training Corps.
The assembled gunmakers of Westley Richards photographed just prior to The First World War.
The war contracts actually continued up to 1920 but by then the sporting gun production had been restarted. Sadly as the government contracts finished there was an inevitable slump for most British industry. In 1920 the management of Westley Richards, which at the time was Leslie Taylor the managing director, the chairman – George Dawson Deeley the son of John Deeley the Elder and Charles Gardener was the export manager, had to reduce the workforce from 300 to 100 as well as a reduction in wages for the 100 who remained. Not much of a reward after the strains of the war!
The first world war had changed Westley Richards and Birmingham forever and gun making played a pivotal role in the industrialisation of Birmingham. The numerous factories all over the city making guns and munitions were so successful that sewing machine, bicycle and later car manufacturing all took inspiration in terms of manufacturing techniques and mass production from how Birmingham made guns.
Birmingham was always known as the city of a thousand trades and gun making has always been a proud part of its history. As the city changes its appearance and a new age of people take up residence I feel it important and necessary to acknowledge our gun making predecessors and the city and what they both achieved in our country’s time of need over 100 years ago.
I am fortunate, that in the Westley Richards used gun department, we deal with a wide variety of guns and rifles made by a whole host of different makers and it is with genuine excitement and intrigue that when a ‘new’ preowned gun comes through the doors, I get to unwrap the parcel and find out what’s inside. Sometimes my excitement is short lived when the gun is not what we’re looking for but luckily, for the majority of the time, the excitement stays with me as we offer the gun for sale.
This gun is the perfect example of that. It’s a beautiful Westley Richards Heronshaw boxlock ejector in superb original condition. Featuring 28”barrels, 2 ½” chambers, choked ¼ & Full which nearly all Heronshaw guns were choked. The action is a fixed lock, double trigger with all the normal Westley features, snap lever work, model ‘C’ dolls head extension and beetle back safety. The engraving is of our classic Westley scroll style which is unusual for a Heronshaw as they normally were engraved with a basket weave. It retains a good amount of original case colour hardening and the stock is highly figured with a very nice finish to it, measuring 14 5/8 to centre. The gun was completed in 1935 and comes in a leather case with accessories. It will be on our used gun site shortly at £4,995.
The first models of the Heronshaw were built from around 1920 onward and were sold as more of a value ejector gun as an alternative to the more expensive hand detachable lock. Priced at £52 and 10 shillings for a double trigger and £63 for a single, the Heronshaw proved to be a popular model with some later models having single selective triggers and hinged cover plates for inspection. It is a personal favourite of mine and is a solid, well made boxlock ejector that carries its own style of beauty and certainly stands out from the other boxlocks on the market. Should you not be lucky enough get your hands on this one, I have two more due in very soon!
I would like to take this opportunity to introduce myself to our readers of the Exlpora. My name is Ricky Bond and I am the gunroom manager here at the Westley Richards & Co. factory and showroom and have been in this role now for 2 1/2 years, previously working as gunroom manager for William Powell under the guidance of Peter Powell.
I now consider myself fortunate enough to work under the guidance of both Simon Clode and Anthony Tregear ‘Trigger’, my path into the trade has been an enviable one and I’ve been lucky enough to gain some great experience and knowledge from some of the very best in the business. I spent most of my early career farming at home in Devon and when people ask how or why I ended up here, the answer is simple, my love of guns and hunting. I have been fortunate to hunt all over the UK, as well hunting in New Zealand. So I share the same passion and interests as most of our clients and am always on hand to offer advice or arrange shooting here in the UK or overseas where we have a huge network of contacts we know personally and trust.
Ricky is a keen and very competent shot, winning the last Westley Richards team event.
My role is very much a varied one and the main reason why I enjoy my job. No two days are the same here at Westley Richards, one minute I’m visiting outworkers in the trade, blackers, hardeners, engravers dealing with new gun and repairs, the next I’m conducting a factory tour for a team of visiting hunters and then I’m out field testing a new shotgun before it passes to the next stage of production or completion.
While my title is gunroom manager, on my first day at WR Trigger made it clear that the company didn’t really believe in being tied to job titles and that here we just get on and get things done, whether it is specifically in our job roll or not, the important factor being to make sure our clients are always serviced quickly, efficiently and politely, something that we as a company believe very strongly about. Therefore my role encompasses pretty much everything we do here at Westley Richards, from new gun and rifle production, the buying and selling of used guns, historical enquiries, dealing with the import and export paperwork, and even helping out with Teague Precision Chokes our sister company when needed.
In addition to this I manage the collection of over 200 best guns and rifles that we have on display here at the factory. This is possibly the finest individual collection of best guns in the country and covers both vintage and new guns by most of England’s premier makers. We have an excellent range of classic bolt actions from original .500 Jeffery’s to modern day Hartmann & Weiss, we have old Holland Royals in most calibre’s and new ones also, Boss’s, Purdey’s, Fabbri’s and many other wonderful examples engraved by the modern masters, Browns, Coggan’s, Lantuch, Crowley, Spode and even Italian masters. In Westley Richards own make we have a very wide variety including the unique Boutet Gun, Africa and India rifles through to our vintage Ovundo’s single shots and other unique examples. The knowledge to be gained from this collection alone is invaluable.
The personal favourite part of my job is the used gun dealing, something which Simon is very passionate about and which he has enthused me to pursue and shares his intimate knowledge. The used gun dealing has always kept Westley Richards alive and helped us continue to trade to this day. From Mr. Walter Clode’s dealings in Inida and then Simon in more recent times, acquiring some of the finest English guns and rifles made to ever come to market has been their passion and has made Westley Richards the place to buy from if you’re a serious collector. I would think 70% of this business is done discreetly and privately as many clients don’t want it known they are either selling or buying. As a result we’re always on the look out to buy used guns individually or as collections either outright or to be sold on a commission basis competitive to the auction house terms. I love to see old guns put back through our workshops, given a new lease of life, knowing the enjoyment the new customer will have with them will be probably as much as the person who first bought them 100 or so years ago.
To contact Ricky please call at the factory (44) 121 333 1900 or via our email.
Westley Richards is now actively looking for an an assistant to join our team in Florida USA. A person with a passion for guns and hunting with great admin and customer skills and a desire to learn our business. Please email me via the Explora for details.Simon
So Jozef, tell us a bit about yourself and your background?
Well, I am 22 years of age and come from Sint Truiden which is a small town with a population of 40,000 people in the Flemish region of Belgium. My interest in shooting and guns comes from my father taking me to shooting ranges from the age of about 15, shooting his pistols and rifles. In fact most of my family are into shooting and I have been around some very nice guns from a young age so it has been my passion for many years. I don’t do much hunting in Belgium as you are not allowed to shoot until you are 18 and you need permission off the government to shoot over a certain piece of land, you also have to have a licence which costs you around £300 annually, it is not as easy to take up as it seems to be in the UK.
How did you begin your journey into gun making?
I left school at the age of 15 and decided to get a job in construction laying tiles and doing masonry work. I did this until the age of 19 but it was not the job I could see myself doing for the rest of my life. I knew guns and gun making were my true passion and it was this I needed to pursue a career in. I obviously knew about the gun making school in Liege as it is only 30km from my home but I was undecided as to whether it was the route I should go down. I spoke to Victor Petslers who runs a gun makers in Sint Truiden and is well known in the area, he advised me I should study there before looking for an apprenticeship with a gun maker. I gave it a long hard think, weighed up the pros and cons and took his advice. I told my boss construction wasn’t for me and I would no longer be working for him and without telling my parents I joined the gun makers school in Liege!
Why didn’t you tell your parents? What did they say when they found out?
Because I thought they would say it wasn’t a very good idea! But in actual fact when I did tell them they were very supportive and have been throughout. They were a little concerned because gun making is such a small industry and also the school is in the French speaking area of Belgium and at the time I couldn’t speak French!
How did you cope with the language barrier? Did you have to take French lessons?
No I didn’t take any French lessons I picked up a lot from my Flemish friends at the school and also from my teachers. Most of my learning was trying to speak it and making mistakes and learning from those mistakes.
What languages can you speak?
I speak Flemish, Dutch, French and English.
What about Brummie?
Not yet but if I carry on working next to Adam it shouldn’t be too long before I’m fluent!
What was the gun making school like? What was a typical day?
I spent three years there, as I joined the school when I was 19 I only did 3 days a week. Younger students who join the school at say 15 or 16 have to study other subjects as well, subjects you would be studying at school for example. In my first year it was quite slow and basic as we learned very simple things such as how to hold a file and how to use the machines and other quite boring things. I found it a little hard going back to school after being out to work for the last few years. The second year we were given a boxlock barrelled action and we had to make all the working parts from a solid piece of steel, all the springs, locks, lifters etc. As well as having lessons on machining, physics, metal work etc. In the third year we had to buy all the components to make a boxlock ejector and make the gun from scratch. We didn’t stock the gun as we weren’t taught stocking as part of the three year course. If you wanted to do stocking you had to stay on for another couple of years after the first three years of metal work. At the end of the third year you choose a gun that you are interested in and you had to give a presentation to your teachers and gunsmiths. A typical day would start at 08:15 with work on building your own gun until 12:00, then from 13:00 to 17:00 we would have more lessons.
What gun did you do your presentation on?
The Martini Henry falling block rifle. I am very fond of this style of action and in my opinion it’s the mother of all falling block rifles.
How many students attended the school? What different nationalities?
Well the school was not only for gun making it also had an engraving section, jewellery making and tool making. There were around 200 pupils in total from a range of different countries like France, Germany, Italy, USA, Iran and even Ethiopia. Most of them in their 20’s but we had older students as well, the eldest being 46.
Any British Students?
Did you have accommodation at the school?
I caught the train in everyday as it’s only 30km from my house. There is no accommodation at the school, foreign students have to find their own which can be quite difficult!
Have your friends at the school found apprenticeships as well?
No, I am the only one to have left and got an apprenticeship. They have all stayed on at the school. Some are now studying stocking or engraving or whatever they were interested in. I felt I wanted to get an apprenticeship and learn on the job.
Why did you choose Westley Richards?
To be honest it was the first place that came to mind. My passion and ambition was to work on big game double rifles and I knew if I wanted to do that I had to come to Westley Richards. Growing up I read a lot of books on big game hunting and Safaris and had come across the name and the guns many times. I also followed the blog and had read that Westley Richards had a very good apprenticeship program in place. I emailed Lloyd who replied the next day and in no time at all I was making my very first trip to England to come for an interview.
So how is your apprenticeship going so far? Would you recommend the gun making school to young gunsmiths of the future?
I am really enjoying it here so far, it’s only been a few weeks but I feel I’ve learnt a good amount already. You have a good team here and the gunmakers are happy to help and teach me things. I hope to progress my knowledge and skills and work on some big double rifles and one day I hope to be able to hunt with a Westley rifle. I would recommend the school to future gunsmiths as it’s a very good base from which you can build your knowledge, however an apprenticeship has its benefits because you learn on the job and you have much more one on one time with experienced gunsmiths.