I was kindly lent this old original tool which was made to take apart and reassemble the first Anson & Deeley boxlock shotguns. The purpose of the tool is to compress the main spring and allow the hammer to moved into position so the pin which goes from each side of the action through the pivot hole of each hammer can be aligned up.
If anyone can do a better technical explanation I would be happy to put it here! I am better at managing the ephemera collection it seems than doing the explanations of use!
The Nizam of Hyderabad’s Armoury was the largest single armoury that my father, Walter Clode, purchased during his times in India. The size and expense of the armoury led to a joint venture between his old friend and former manager of Westley Richards London, Malcolm Lyell. Malcolm went on to combine his acquisition of the Westley Richards Agency London with Holland & Holland. The joint venture between Holland & Holland and Westley Richards was a financial split and my father taking care of all the purchase and logistics getting the armoury home from India with which he was much more capable than the other party involved.
Over the weekend I was talking to my father about various times past and this little catalogue was brought out of some cubby hole and given to me. I had seen it many years ago but forgotten about the display cabinets which it represents. I have no idea how many were ever made and sold but I have never seen them appear on the market since.
I am sure that many of you who follow the market and auctions will have seen in recent months various collections being disposed of which were made at the time of this deal taking place. Hyderabad weapons featured quite strongly in these collections and were all magnificent items. I hope that the content of the catalogue will provide the information on the cavalry pistols so I have not repeated it.
For me this catalogue reminded me the attention to detail that Malcolm Lyell applied to the work he did at Holland & Holland. Rather than just sell the pistols individually he created and had made these displays which keep a group of the pistols together, a very nicely considered piece of marketing.
Every year Malcolm would have some special exhibition piece to draw attention to the company and sell, the carved guns by Alan Brown, Saurian 4g, Herculean 4g, the Rococco .410 gun, cased sets of rifles and sets of guns. These items went under the term “Products of Excellence” an annual offering which was immediately stopped by Roger Mitchell when he took over from Malcolm. I have always thought that a very, very stupid move!
At home discussing the ‘old times’ including Hyderabad with my father last weekend.
It is always nice to find rifles with good provenance and the Potocki family certainly bring that. This .318 carbine rifle is very nice in a few ways, we don’t see many surviving Westley Richards rifles in this original carbine format, rarely when we do will they have the original telescope and pouch. To have it in its original case and with provenance is the icing on the cake in this instance. This rifle was built for the 3rd Count Alfred Potocki who inherited the family estates during the first world war and who was reputed to be the wealthiest man in Europe. Descendent of William the Conqueror, godson to Kaiser Wilhelm II, this final Count Alfred was related to virtually all the royalty of Europe. Though land and legal reforms in the 1920s stripped him of some of his inherited properties and noble priviledges, Count Alfred was believed by some to be the wealthiest man in pre-Second World War Europe. Educated at Oxford and Vienna, Alfred traveled the world visiting royalty, hunting on safari, collecting impressive works of art to add to his palace collection and tending to his many properties throughout the continent. In the years before World War II, royalty and the super-wealthy dined, hunted and vacationed at Count Potocki’s palace and his several impressive lodge houses throughout the area.
Another famous member of the family Count Józef Potocki (1862-1922) inherited his mother’s estate in Antoniny, while his elder brother Roman was master of Łańcut. A man of remarkable talent and energy, he turned the 55,000 ha property into a very profitable entreprise. His gains financed the expansion of a stud via acquisitions of new stock in Egypt, India and the Middle East, which brought him in contact with Anne & Wilfred Blunt. His true passion however was hunting. Józef organized several remarkable expeditions in the 1890s to India, Ceylon, Somaliland and later to the Sudan, recounted in beautifully bound and illustrated books. One of them was translated in English under the title “Sport in Somaliland” and this book remains one of the most expensive and collectable books in the big game hunting department, often commanding prices in excess of £6000, a copy of which I have never ‘manned up’ enough and bought!
It is well known that the Birmingham gun trade, in addition to servicing its own requirements, supplied an enormous variety of individual parts, part finished and finished guns to the both the London and the provincial gun trade. There are many examples, for example I have a copy of the records of the London gunmaker James Lang & Co. Ltd and its later incarnation as Lang & Hussey and I’ve lost count of the number of times the name Osbourne appears in the ledgers under the heading “from”. In the past I believe that this was perhaps an inconvenient truth to some people, but now the same knowledge is recognised for what it is; unequivocal evidence of the diverse range skills and entrepreneurship of generations of craftsman from Birmingham and the Black Country. What was often of less concern to many in the past was the supply of parts and part-finished guns from Birmingham to the provincial gun trade. I’ll put my cards on the table; I am a strong advocate of the hypothesis that numerous examples of guns can be found bearing the names of provincial makers that are unknown to many but are at least equal in terms of quality and craftsmanship to those that carry the name of many well-known London makers.
My paternal line has at least part of its origins in Manchester and I have in my possession a memorial plaque or “Widow’s Penny” sent to soldier’s families during the Great War bearing the name of my Great Grandfather, Private Thomas Newton of the 1st Battalion King’s Own Royal Lancaster Regiment, who fell at Ypres on 2nd May 1915. When I learned that there was also a Manchester gun maker called Thomas Newton, I had all the excuses I needed to start a collection.
One of the first Thomas Newton guns I acquired was an early 20th century Anson & Deeley type box ejector. It was in overall good condition but there were a few dings and scratches on the stock which had also been spoiled with a varnish-like finish, so I set about to strip the old finish, raise the dents and apply a proper hand rubbed oil finish.
When I took the forend wood off the iron work, I found the words ‘Westley Richards & Co’ a number, which I assumed is a part number, and ‘WR’ in a triangle engraved on the ejector box.
I had started researching the history of the maker Thomas Newton and the businesses which subsequently traded under his name and now another piece of the jigsaw had just fallen into place. What else might it tell me I thought? I got in touch with Karena Clode whose business card I had picked up at a CLA Game Fair, I emailed a picture of the ejector box and asked if these marks could be used to date the part or if anything was known about the supply of these to the Manchester gun makers such as Newton ? My email was forwarded to Trigger who quickly confirmed that the marks were original and it was a genuine Westley Richards supplied part, but unfortunately no records existed to show when such parts were supplied to the trade or anything else.
As quickly as that door on the history of Thomas Newton’s business had opened, it had closed, but never mind it was further proof of the provenance of my Manchester gun; Westley Richards played a part in creating my wonderful box lock ejector before it moved north to Manchester. My collection of guns, both hammer and hammerless and other pieces of shooting ephemera bearing the name Thomas Newton, has grown since I discovered the connection with Westley Richards’ work for the gun trade. Now, I’ve always wanted a Westley Richards and I’m wondering is this the excuse I need to start another collection?
The breech loader got its real introduction to England in 1851, when Casimir Lefaucheux exhibited his breech-loading pin-fire at the Great Exhibition in London’s Crystal Palace. Legend has it that Edwin Hodges, a multi-talented ‘gunmaker to the trade’ with Islington workshops, made an adaptation of the Lefaucheux gun for the established West End firm of Joseph Lang.
Lang’s gun is widely credited as the first proper sporting gun in Britain that successfully combined pin-fire cartridges with a usable, forward facing, under-lever locking mechanism with barrels that drop in a hinge. The idea stuck and breech-loading pin-fires were to dominate the scene for the next fifteen years.
While this step-change in technology was instigated by a London gun maker developing a continental idea, as with so much else in the history of sporting gun development, Birmingham firms, including Westley Richards, were at the forefront of perfecting new concepts and devising better operating mechanisms.
Pin-fire ammunition, though quicker than muzzle loading, was imperfect and the quest to improve upon it was quickly underway. However, in tandem with ammunition developments, the other challenge was to provide a quick, efficient and safe method of locking barrels to breech face. Many sportsmen were afraid that the new breech-loaders would come apart in their faces. Others claimed no breech-loader would ever ‘shoot as hard’, to use a then common phrase, as a muzzle-loader.
The development of the Dolls Head. From Bottom, Pull back lever, Rotating with developed Dolls Head, short lever rotate over extension, Top the first breech opening gun sold by Westley Richards
Among the first and most influential improvements on the rather flimsy Lefaucheux locking mechanism was the Westley Richards ‘doll’s head’. This is based on a projection from the breech ends of the barrels, extending from the rib. It has a rounded ‘head’ with a slot and the whole is drawn into a corresponding cut-out in the standing breech. The slot is engaged by a sliding top-bolt, preventing gravity from pulling down the barrels once the gun is closed.
Very early guns built with doll’s head rib extensions had a simple, long turning lever, which blocked the path of the doll’s head when closed. The first of these was made in 1858 as a pin-fire.
The first version of the, now familiar, system employed on Westley Richards guns features an 1862 patent sliding top-lever, rather than one that pivots. It most closely resembles the more commonly encountered Horsley of 1871 in the way the lever is operated. When the lever is pulled back with the right thumb, it slides the locking bolt out of the slot in the doll’s head.
The second version quickly followed in 1864 and became the basis of a classic. While examples of the first version are rare, those of the second version are legion. They span the pin-fire and centre-fire eras. In this second version, the lever rotates to the side when pressed with the right thumb. This rotation operates the removal of the top-bolt from it’s slot. This is still the sole means of securing the barrels to the action. To modern eyes it seems flimsy but it works and many guns built this way are still in regular use. It was employed on both shotguns and double rifles.
The third version of the Westley Richards action retains the doll’s head with its top-bolt as an effective third bite. However, the main holding mechanism is Purdey’s patent double under-bolt of 1863. The combination of the Purdey bolt and the Westley Richards bolted doll’s head is retained to this day in the firm’s double rifles and shotguns.
The Westley Richards treble-grip bolting system was used by other firms in the wider gun trade but far less commonly than the combination of top-lever, Scott Spindle, or Greener lever-work, operating a Purdey bolt. The wider trade favoured simplicity and the doll’s head concept was often imitated in the form of similar looking devices without a third bolt or grip. Third grips became a feature of Birmingham guns, while many London makers preferred the cleaner lines of a gun without a rib extension, preferring to rely on well-made actions and a Purdey bolt alone.
Greener’s rival ‘Treble Wedge Fast’ concept consists of a simple vertical slot in the breech, accommodating a rib extension that drops in, drilled with a hole to accommodate a round-section bolt, which slides into place horizontally, thereby bolting the barrels to the action through the fences, as well as via the Purdey under-bolt. The wider gun trade adopted versions of this system in all grades of gun. When made well, it is very secure but in lower grades, where the fit of parts is not perfect, the benefits of the Greener top-bolt are dubious.
Some firms even adopted a version of the doll’s head without any kind of bolt. The concept persisted with designers and the doll’s head extension became a key part of the Webley & Brain screw-grip action that was so widely used throughout the gun trade in the late 1800s and early 1900s.
Westley Richards hammer guns of the 1860s bridged the development in ammunition from pin-fire to centre-fire. After Daw introduced the centre-fire to the British market in 1861, it began to gain traction. Today it is possible to find Westley Richards hammer guns, as described above, made as pin-fires or centre-fires and a number will be conversions from pin-fire to centre-fire.
The aesthetic norms for hammer guns developed along with the mechanical improvements. Early Westley Richards guns will typically be of bar-in-wood form, with most of the metal of the action covered by a veneer of stock wood, extending to the knuckle. The forend wood is similarly shaped, with wood enveloping the forend iron and looking somewhat like the hinges in the exoskeleton of a crustacean, hence the widely used term ‘crab joint’ to describe this style of gun.
As the 1870s progressed, hammer guns gradually lost their wood coverings and became the familiar pattern of exposed locks and actions with stocking limited to the areas behind the action and forend wood reducing to the, now familiar, ‘splinter’ style, with an exposed iron fitting into the knuckle.
Westley Richards were early to the party when hammerless guns began to gain favour. As patentees of the Anson & Deeley action in 1875, the firm were quick to favour this simple, brilliant and reliable hammerless gun as their house style, while many other firms continued to make hammer guns and experiment with various styles of hammerless action. I think that in the minds of the Westley Richards directors at the time, the hammer gun era was over in 1875.
I am afraid this will be a general, visual post rather than a technical one, I took these photos just before I left the factory on Friday and I didn’t note down any of the details of the pair of pistols, the main and obvious question being the bore size. I was slightly (actually very) overwhelmed by the quality and condition of the whole package and the details seemed irrelevant at the time.
The Howdah pistol was the ‘last line of defence’ for a hunter high on top of an elephant whilst hunting tiger. If a Tiger was to charge the elephant and climb up to attack the people occupying the Howdah there was little room in which to defend oneself at the last moment, it was likely that the muzzle loading long arm had been discharged by this time.. Hence the Howdah pistol the short barrel, large bore firearm that could be drawn and manoeuvred in tight space, providing a killing blow, or in the case of this pair 4 barrels, 4 killing blows.
I have always liked very much the whole concept of the Howdah pistol and it was always something that I wanted to make a current version of, a large bore rifle cased together with a matching double barrel Howdah pistol. Our laws on barrel length and pistols has prevented that project from ever happening which is a shame.
Whilst I have seen a small amount of Howdah pistols in my years dealing, they are certainly not common and they have normally been single and quite plain models. I had a pair of Holland & Holland .577 Howdah pistols many years ago at Las Vegas and I remember them selling in a flash.
This pair is quite unique and the condition is remarkable, all the accessories down to spare springs numbered for each lock. One of the oil bottles even has the seal unbroken and contains the very oil filled with 150 years ago, quite remarkable!
This sculpture is at the Royal Armoury in Leeds where the National Collection of Firearms is held. It depicts very well the drama of the tiger hunt and the moments leading up to where a Howdah pistol would be useful if the shot he has held is a miss!
To me, a great part of the enjoyment of fine guns is the discover of things apparently insignificant; the “bits and pieces” that form parts of the whole that is history. Here are three of them that speak quietly of grand times gone by.
It is a simple thing, a finely painted tin box holding a miniature pillow anointed with some very special elixir. We often find the “Selvyt” cloth, a kind of short velvet, perhaps the predecessor to micro fiber for wiping down and preserving guns. But here is the Selvyt “Preserving Pad”. Its single purpose was to maintain the wonderful Westley Richards Hand Detachable Locks. At this modern moment it has another, to correct and maintain history properly. They are not, droplocks. They are, “Westley Richards Hand Detachable Locks, one of the grand accomplishments in gun making. Regardless of purpose, the wee Selvyt pad and tin are one of those delights of days gone by.
Next is a tool, the only of its kind I have ever encountered and one that more or less should not exist. It is a “Fixer” a tool very common in the world of the Holland & Holland Paradox and other shot and ball guns. Its job is to create a ring crimp in the cartridge case, pressing into the big groove in the Fosbery-Paradox bullet. These “normal” Paradox loads began as black powder loads (that were routinely reloaded) and evolved to some degree into the nitro era. Our “Fixer” here is Westley Richards AND Explora marked. The curious thing about it is, unlike the other shot and ball guns, the Explora began life as a very high performance nitro/cordite round. There were many sophisticated things inside: a special liner to support wads allowing the powder to burn and among others a very long “primer” that was turbo-charged with black powder or gun cotton to effectively ignite a powder that was fundamentally too slow for the application. Also, the L.T. Capped Explora bullets had only a very small central ring and the Explora cartridges I have seen are not “ring” crimped in the same way as the other shot and ball loads. In short I just do not think the average hunter/shooter loaded Westley Richards Explora cartridges. But here we are, confronted with a Westley Richards Explora Fixer. My answer to its existence is the “Special bluff cone jungle bullet”. These are big round nose bullets, with a very large central ring. I suspect this fixer is made to crimp them in place, perhaps in darkest Africa or India, with black powder.
Lastly we find a quiet relic, something to my eye that is very special. When I bought it, it was quality shot pouch in nice condition. The maker was “Bishop” but I thought little of that. When I unwrapped it, there it was; not just Bishop, but Bishop Bond St.! Now that was another Bishop altogether, this Bishop was none other than Westley Richards Bishop, The Bishop of Bond Street. This is William Bishop who was Westley Richards’ agent in London for a very long time. His hands and a Westley Richards percussion gun grace the dust cover of The Second Edition of the Bicentennial book Westley Richards, In Pursuit of The Best Gun. Also, within the book is a very interesting chapter about “The Bishop.”
The flask is simple plain leather with a steel lever top, but obviously of fine quality and one that has had care beyond the norm. All of the stitching and leather are still in good pliable working order, including the ring at the bottom. These almost always fail after 150 years. It is shown in the photograph with an original swivel, spring snap on an original harness, keeping company with Westley Richards #9360, a best percussion lock 10 bore game gun circa 1850. (The serial number conflicts with later dates, but there is a significant duplication from the mid percussion era and the early 1900s in that range). I will carry the gun again this autumn, but this year it will be charged from the Bishop’s flask. If one is afflicted with the romantic, it is pretty easy to see the Bishop in his top hat and white cuffs handing the gun to his customer and wrapping the flask in a packet of brown paper for the coach ride home.
For the past 2 weeks or so I have been unable to get behind the camera to take some photographs of new or vintage guns, the shooting season is on us, there is much to do.
Earlier this week I was spurred into action when this magnificent and very rare pair of near mint condition, Charles Lancaster percussion double rifles ‘walked in the door’. Today I was able to put some time aside so that I can share them with you.
The ‘Princely’ guns and rifles of India have played a large and important part in our recent history and during the 60’s and 70’s were ultimately responsible for the survival of the company. The gun dealing was the backbone of the business during the years of small ‘new gun demand’. India with its magnificent armouries were the resource and backbone of this dealing activity a result of which is my admiration and fondness for guns and rifles such as these. These are the predecessors and inspiration to my India and Africa rifle projects, guns and rifles ‘fit for Kings’.
This pair of Charles Lancaster rifles are a magnificent example of what could be discovered in the armouries and this particular pair of percussion rifles have remained in near perfect condition, down to their original slings, since their manufacture for the Maharajah of Joudhpur in 1862, no mean feat in itself as they have travelled many miles.
I hope that you enjoy them as much as I have as items like these rarely walk in the door these days to be seen and discovered.
Based on an old 1912 period small pocket catalogue, of which I have only ever seen one copy, the one above, our 2016 pocket catalogue has been very well received and I hope many of them are kept and reveal themselves in 100 years time.
As many people will not have had the opportunity to pick one up at the various shows we do, or at the shop here in UK. Here is the full content of the catalogue which I hope you enjoy.
This is the 2nd edition of the book with a dust wrap illustrating C. Fletcher Jamieson with his Holland double .450
As a manufacturer of traditional big game rifles there are always those classic books that come up in discussion and without question one of the very best is John ‘Pondoro’ Taylors “African Rifles & Cartridges” published in 1948.
I have always found this book a great resource as it details all the great British calibre’s, specifically bullet weight and velocities. Having worked at Westley Richards for well on 13 years this has proved invaluable as we have been lucky enough to deal in so many great vintage rifles, both double and bolt action in every calibre mentioned in Taylors book. Being able to turn to this book in my early days was of real benefit when looking up the oddities that still arrived from India.
What continues to amaze me from a modern perspective is that even with the advancement in bullet technology and optics, the traditional British big game rifle of Taylor’s era has remained virtually unchanged, a testament perhaps to all round perfection in gunmaking.
Today we have in production double and bolt action rifles in .300 H & H, .318 WR, .375 H & H, .425 WR, .450/.400 3″, .404 Jeffery, .470, .500, .505 Gibbs, .577 and .600, calibres all discussed in detail in Taylor’s book.
Taylor himself spent the greater part of his life as an ivory hunter, come poacher and was lucky enough to be around at a time when big game hunting and access to the rifles of the great British manufacturers of the time were both readily available.
Whilst Taylors own exploits and life remain controversial, no-one can take away the fact that he wrote a fantastic book, one that has often been copied, but never bettered. The whole layout, photography and line drawings make for a great visual and informative book dealing principally with British big game calibres, rifles and hunting in Africa.
One of the many photos taken by the famous hunter C.Fletcher Jamieson which illustrate Taylors book
The line drawings and descriptions of the various cartridges and bullets make for a fascinating insight
The Sable has always been a top trophy and one that I have always wanted to hunt. Whilst Taylor considered this a ‘fair average’ specimen it would probably be considered very good indeed today!
A modern era Westley Richards take down bolt action rifle in .425 WR.
In my own humble opinion no serious African hunter or avid gun collector should be without a copy of this book in their library. I have owned several copies since the age of 15 and at one stage ticked off all the different calibre’s I was lucky enough to shoot here at Westley Richards and out in the field!
A brace of Holland & Holland .375 Flanged Magnum ‘Royal’ double rifles.
Taylor was always a great advocate of the .375 Holland cartridge and today it still remains the ‘all around’ cartridge and one which no hunter should be without.