Above is the portrait of Mr. Charles Boswell (1850-1924) and no doubt his name will be familiar to readers of the Explora. From relatively humble beginnings and a love of shooting his entry into the gun trade, age 14, was through an apprenticeship to Mr. Thomas Gooch and two years at the Royal Small arms factory at Enfield as a sight filer. In 1872 he started his own gun making business, initially carrying out repairs and general gunsmithing. A much admired gun maker, he was popular with the ladies and a talented live pigeon shot, frequenting Hornsey Wood and Westley Richards’ very own Hendon shooting ground, North London, where his skills were noticed by the trap shooters of the time. Boswell would impress and schmooze these shooters, converting them into clients which was common practice for gun makers of the time, James Lang and Harris Holland to name a couple.
The Westley Richards shooting school at Hendon, North London.
Considered to be no great inventor, he preferred to use other makers’ patents under licence but made a of variety guns including large bore fowling pieces, hammer and hammerless actions, muzzleloaders and pistols. Live pigeon guns proved to be Boswell’s specialty and took up a good deal of his production until the prohibition of live pigeon shooting in the UK came about in the early 1920’s. His 126 Strand address in the West End of London is his most famous and the majority of his guns in existence today bear that name.
An active member of the gun trade, in 1906 and 1907 he was elected Chairman of the Gunmakers Association and served it for many years. Around 1914 Boswell changed from having his guns proofed in London and instead moving them to the Birmingham Proof House. One train of thought is he was buying barreled actions in from the Birmingham trade, or another reason is he or his son, who was involved in the business, fell out with the London Proof Master. Hence why it is not uncommon to see his guns with Birmingham proof marks.
One such rifle built by Boswell, which is evidence of his skills as a gun maker, is this fabulous little .303 single shot rifle we currently have at the factory. Completed around 1905, it has the most superb and rare engraving, not commonly found on a rifle such as this. Featuring a selection of African plains game such as Eland, Bluewildebeest and Impala surrounded by intricate scroll work. The name C. Boswell gently rolls around the hinge pin on both sides of the action, the raised panel fences with their bold scroll fold round to the top of the action where I can only guess it to be a 1905 gun engraver’s idea of a Duiker, which stands alert on the top of the tang top lever. The engraving is though, beautifully executed and the three Eland on the right hand side of the action are very accurate and have to be my personal favourite.
The rifle features a 28″ octagonal barrel with matted rib, ramp foresight, one fixed 100 yard express sight and six folding leaves regulated to 700 yards with the 126 Strand address engraved at the breech. A 14 1/4″ pistol grip stock with grip cap, cheekpiece, oval and Silvers recoil pad. The rifle weighs 7lbs 5oz and we think it’s a very cool little rifle and a great example of early 1900’s craftsmanship, imagination and flair.
From the 28th to the 30th of July the annual UK Game Fair was held at the prestigious Hatfield House in Hertfordshire. Only 25 miles from central London, the Jacobean house was built in 1611 by Robert Cecil, the first Earl of Salisbury and Chief Minister to King James I. Still in the family, it is now home to Robert Gascoyne-Cecil, the 7th Marquess of Salisbury.
It was the first time for this grand estate, once a favourite of the royals, to hold this event and its proximity to London proved to be convenient and popular. Friday had a real buzz about the place and the isles were busy. How much money people were actually parting with is always hard to tell and you occasionally hear the classic line ‘oh I can get that much cheaper online’, which gets mixed responses! Not many new products being launched this year, rather people catering for the bargain hunters and displaying their sale items trying to shift old stock or odd sizes.
The layout of the show was an improvement on Ragley but it still isn’t up to the same standard as Blenheim, for me that is the only place to have the game fair. The weather was fine and dry on Friday but in true British summer time tradition, the rains came and by Sunday afternoon it was a mud bath. It still remains a good day out with plenty of food and drink stalls, shooting clothing, cars, gun dog displays, horse jumping and pretty much anything else countryside related and it’s important to mention it’s a much needed promotion of fieldsports here in the UK.
Here are a selection of pre-owned guns which have recently arrived in the gunroom. They are due to go on the used gun site shortly.
Firstly we have a stunning Westley Richards 12g Heronshaw completed in 1934. In total original condition, the 25” barrels have original proofs, good wall thickness with 2 1/2″ chambers and are choked 1/4 and extra full. The double trigger Anson & Deeley action features Westley snap lever work, automatic game safe and is fully engraved with bold scroll and retains a good amount of case colour. The straight hand stock measures 14 1/4″ to centre with a slim heel plate and silver escutcheon. The splinter forend has an ebony tip and Deeley catch. The gun weighs 6lbs 3oz and is in superb original condition and comes in its lightweight leather case with accessories. A lovely, fast shooting gun that has seen almost no use for the last 30 years.
If short barrels aren’t your thing, then this 30” barreled Westley Richards boxlock ejector with a 15 3/4″ length of pull might be more up your street! Built for Sir F. Menzies and completed in December of 1939, the fixed lock, Anson & Deeley action features two triggers, Westley snap lever work, automatic beetle back safety, scroll engraving and retains some nice case colours. The 30” barrels feature our model ‘C’ dolls head extension, has 2 1/2″ chambers and is choked improved cylinder and 1/2. The gun was reproofed in London in 1982. The handsome, straight hand stock measures 15 3/4″ to centre which includes a 1 3/8” wooden extension and gold oval. The splinter forend features a horn tip and Deeley catch. Weighing 6lbs 9oz this is an ideal ‘high bird’ gun ready for the fast approaching season.
The third gun we have to offer is a Westley Richards 12g ‘Centenary Model’ boxlock ejector. This gun is due to go through the workshops to have some barrel improvements and a reproof test. The centenary model was a fixed lock action with a tang top lever, patent one trigger and deluxe scroll engraving. It was offered as an affordable gun for people who wanted our one trigger but couldn’t justify the expense of a best quality droplock gun. This boxlock has 28” barrels with 2 1/2” chambers, choked improved cylinder and 1/2. The straight hand stock measures 13 3/4” to centre and has chequered side panels with fleur-de-lis drop points, the forend features the Anson push rod rather than the Deeley catch. The gun weighs 6lbs 8oz and comes in a leather case.
Something aside from the boxlock shotguns are these great percussion pocket pistols made by John T. Cook of New Street, Birmingham. Beautifully made with 1 7/8” octagonal screw off barrels, elaborate scroll engraving, clam shell panels, dolphin head hammers, folding triggers, thumb safety and chequered handles with grip caps with traps. They are neatly presented in the original box with their powder flask, turnscrew, barrel key, oil bottle, shot mold and it even includes some percussion caps and lead shot. They are neat pair of 19th century pistols that would complement anyone’s gunroom, office or home.
Westley Richards are and always have been very active dealers in the pre-owned gun market and we take great pride in selling fine sporting guns and rifles to hunters and collectors all around the world. We happily welcome expressions of interest whether you’re looking to buy or sell a quality used gun or rifle. For UK enquiries, please email firstname.lastname@example.org or if in the USA, email@example.com
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 firstname.lastname@example.org 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.