The debate of what rifle, in what calibre, is the best for hunting in Africa is a discussion as old as the sport itself and I don’t intend to delve into or attempt to answer such a lengthy and hotly contested question in this blog. But what I want to share with the readers, is a rifle, that has recently come through our doors, which I believe quite comfortably covers with ease, a wide range of African game and safaris and has a serious chance of answering the aforementioned question for me.
Ray Ward Gunmakers, based in Knightsbridge London, have been a high end gun retailer for a number of years and in more recent times have become a gunmaker in their own right. One such rifle to have been built by the London makers is this superbly versatile take down bolt action rifle, two barrel set in .375 H&H Magnum and .416 Remington Magnum. Completed around 2001, the rifle is built on a standard length Obendorf action with two interchangeable, screw threaded barrels using the Jeffery style screw in peg to secure them in place. The .416 barrel measures 23 3/8” with a ramp foresight and single standing express sight. While the .375 barrel is 22” with the same open sight configuration with the addition of a flip over foresight hood. The Zeiss Conquest DL 1.2-5×36 scope is mounted on H&H QD mounts and the rifle weighs 10lbs 1.7oz in .375 and 10lbs 7oz in .416.
The pistol grip stock is beautifully figured and measures 14 1/8” to the centre of the Silver’s recoil pad with a cheekpiece, grip cap, gold oval, sling stud, two recoil bars and horn forend tip. Expertly engraved by David Tallett with a bold scroll coverage, the case colour floor plate is engraved in gold with the calibres and FOR BIG GAME. The scope rings are also gold inlaid with the calibres and makers name.
The rifle is finished to a very high standard, is well balanced and points with ease. The action is smooth, the barrels are tight on the action and the bores are both in mint condition. It is neatly presented in its leather case with a sling, turnscrew, cleaning rods and accessories.
The .375 has proven its worth time and time again and shouldn’t need me argue its case. The .416 Remington since its introduction in 1988 has gained the affection of hunters world wide, non more so than legendary PH, Robin Hurt. Firing a 400 grain bullet with a muzzle velocity of 2400 fps, it is capable of taking Africa’s largest game and compliments the .375 perfectly. It’s an attractive and beautifully made African all-rounder that you’d be hard pressed to find a hunt it didn’t suit.
A rarity for sure, our latest find is this truly outstanding pair of Westley Richards, double barrel, belt pistols, we believe completed somewhere around 1830. Although there is likely to be a serial number present if you were to strip the pistols, sadly there is no number on the external so we can’t trace the history exactly, but what I can tell you, and is plain to see from the images, they are in absolute first class condition and are a marvel of early 19thcentury craftsmanship by this firm.
Built with brown twist, sighted, 3 ¼” smooth bore barrels engraved ‘Westley Richards London’ with a stirrup ram rod and blued steel belt hook. Both pistols retain vivid case colours and are engraved with a foliate scroll coverage, high fences and dolphin head hammers with a slide back safety. Crisp, finely chequered handles with silver escutcheon and engraved grip cap with trap. Weighing 1lbs 14oz they point effortlessly and remain in unmolested condition, even the pins are clean, straight and untouched.
It’s safe to say we don’t get pistols in like this very often at all and the fact that they are made by our predecessors and remain in such fantastic condition is great to see. Sadly they are not cased but nevertheless, they are quite superb in every way.
An interesting find this last week was this ‘Spicer’s Stalking Records’ of 1914, detailing Red Stag trophies from the 1913 season. The reason we say interesting is that a close link existed between Westley Richards and the famed taxidermist Peter Spicer of Leamington Spa, which until now we have never seen published in anything other than Westley Richards ‘Centenary’ catalogue of 1912.
Peter Spicer was born in 1839 and died in 1935, aged 96. He was one of the pre-eminent taxidermists of the day and was renowned for the quality of his cased birds, fish and Red Stag mounts. His studio operated primarily from Leamington Spa with an offices based in Inverness, Scotland, that handled many of the trophies hunted in the north.
Peter Spicer 1839-1935
The opening page of ‘Spicer’s Stalking Records’ giving the two retail address’s used by Westley Richards at the time.
Individually ‘tipped in’ photos of some of the better stags shot during the 1913 season.
‘Spicer’s Stalking Records’ is a very nice publication that detailed many of the great deer forests, along with the best trophy Red Stags shot on those estates. Many of the better stags have tipped in images along with a short story about the trophy. The would unquestionably have been fierce competition amongst estates to produce the best trophies!
Westley Richards clearly had strong links with Peter Spicer and although no records exist today of how this relationship came about, it is probably safe to assume that it was of mutual benefit between the two great companies. If clients shot game with Westley Richards guns and rifles then clearly they needed a good taxidermist to prepare the varying trophies. It is worth remembering that Westley Richards also offered fishing rods, reels and accessories at the time and so all forms of taxidermy were a requirement for the sporting elite of the day.
Interestingly, Spicer’s Inverness office offered for sale Westley Richards guns and rifles, clearly acting as an agent in the north for the company, something we were until now unaware of.
The First World War would soon consume everyones attention and it would be somewhat sobering if time permitted, to see how many of the names listed in this 1914 Stalking Records actually survived the war.
An advert for Westley Richards Deer Stalking rifles.
With the international following that Westley Richards has, most of both the new and pre-owned guns and rifles that we sell never return to the factory, having been shipped out to some far flung corners of the globe. On the odd occasion, guns that are sold slightly closer to home can sometimes end up back in our hands, generally with more character and a few more war stories to tell.
One such example in this classic William Evans .500 nitro express, boxlock ejector, double rifle. Sold to an Englishman by Trigger and Simon through our Grange Road factory 22 years ago.
Completed in 1912 for Consul General Christian Thams it was built as a plain, 2nd quality boxlock ejector double rifle with 26” barrels with a raised, engine turned top rib with ramp foresight, flip up moon sight, 100 yard standing express sight with two folding leaves regulated at 200 & 300 yards. A 14 3/8” pistol grip stock with no cheek piece, grip cap and traditional recoil pad. The fixed lock, double trigger action interestingly is fitted with an automatic game safety and is engraved with a small coverage of fine scroll. The barrels are engraved; William Evans (From Purdey’s) “500 3″ Solid Taper Case”
63 Pall Mall St. James’s London 80 Grs Cordite 500 Grs Soft Nose Nickel Bullet.
The rifle has seen a great deal of action and has been to Africa many times. It’s a true workhorse, a classic, no frills big game rifle of the African bush. It’s easy to see why the English boxlock ejector was the go to rifle for client and PH alike. It’s also testament to the strength and durability of the Webley action, the rifle performs faultlessly, the action is tight as a drum, the club head barrel extension is as strong as they come, and the rifle points with ease. On first inspections, the bores look a little frosty, but the rifling is good and as they say, the proof is in the pudding; this test target shows just how accurate the rifle still is, after all these years and many a safari.
William Evans ledger from 1912 showing rifle No. 9897
It’s hard not to admire an old rifle like this, although simple in design and engraving, it’s just a very cool, classic double that has been there, done it, got the t-shirt and after 106 years, is ready to do it all over again.
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.
On our travels we are always on the look out for any interesting ephemera, photos and journals that may have a link to either the history of Westley Richards or the sport of hunting itself.
Last week in the US we picked up several vintage postcards that certainly make for fascinating viewing. Published in 1910 they depict various hunting scenes from the epic safari of Theodore Roosevelt’s which was conducted from 1909-10. At the time this was the largest safari ever conducted in Africa and involved some of the greatest hunters of the day including F.C.Selous and R.J.Cunninghame.
Over 500 animals and birds were collected by the former US President and his son Kermit, all of which were carefully skinned, prepared and shipped to the Smithsonian Museum in Washington. This huge safari set the standard for the luxury safaris that were to follow and clearly put East Africa on the map for the dedicated US hunter.
Today Africa remains a magical safari destination where sportsmen from around the world can still participate in one of the last great adventures. Whether or not you would be able to send postcards such as these today is another matter altogether!
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!