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.
Firstly we would like to apologise for the delay with our blog posts, but as you will appreciate we have been super busy preparing for the show circuit and were air bound as soon as January hit. The Dallas Safari Convention is the first of our regular shows and this year was filled with the buzz of a new US President.
There was unquestionably a ‘feel good’ factor that was certainly reflected in the interest in both new guns and pre-owned. The safari and general hunting outfitters were noticing an upturn in interest particularly for the 2018 season which is fantastic news all round. Dallas itself is a great venue which sees growth year on year without getting so huge that you cannot get around it all in a couple of easy days.
From our own point of view it was great to catch up with clients old and new. Many came to see us in person to express their condolences at the passing of Simon last year, but to a man they were all as excited as us about the future of Westley Richards. Simon’s legacy here will continue unabated. There are a lot of new young clients coming into the best gun making sector and it is unquestionably in all of our interests to make sure that they are looked after properly. Whether you are selling guns or hunts the reality is that we are all selling ‘fun’ and this should never be forgotten.
The English gun and rifle makers were certainly out in force although as one good friend said ‘one of London’s best is suspiciously absent!’ Whilst it is a great opportunity for perspective clients to see all the fine guns and rifles offered by the English Gun Trade, it is also a nice time for all of us makers to catch up and encourage (rather ridicule!) one another so that we all keep pushing the boundary’s of best gun and rifle making.
The next show on the circuit is the Las Vegas Antique Arms followed by Safari Club International. We will of course be attending both of these and very much look forward to catching up with those who can make it. In the meantime we will have some great new posts to keep you all enthused.
We would like to thank Larry Blunk for taking the photos that accompany this post.
Two months ago when Paul Lantuch visited the factory after completing the finishing of the Africa rifle we discussed at length the next projects that were on the cards. These included a pair of round action 12g guns, a .577 Hand Detachable lock rifle and a further .600 NE sidelock double rifle in the Africa, India series.
I was in 2 minds whether to post these drawings of the fist project up, the pair of 12g round body sidelocks, initial thoughts of people plagiarising a practise rife in this area. Perhaps it is a bit premature, but then I felt they are such nice drawings why not!
The drawings also show nicely the process of designing an exhibition gun so that a concrete theme can be executed. So many guns are engraved with minimal, if any, layout and composition work being done in advance. Paul and I have been bouncing drawings and thoughts back and forth across the Atlantic for the past 2 months and these are now the working drawings for the guns. There will of course be additional engravings and carvings but the “theme is set”.
The pair of guns will be executed in the Rococo style, carved steel relief figures and decoration with a gold background. I am afraid you will have to be very patient to see the end result but we are off and running now as they say!
The Game Fair is the celebration of all things country and field sports related which was this year held at Ragley Hall in Warwickshire, roughly 40 minutes from Birmingham and 2 hours from London. The show, in it’s first year under new management, felt very much like previous game fairs and had very much the same layout and vibe about the place.
When first arriving upon 8am it was fairly quiet with just a few shoppers and shooters, but by 2pm the aisles had a good flow of traffic of people and with the sun shining the beers were flowing in the Gun Makers pub!
Friday is usually the day traders do the most business as people have taken the day off work and are in the market for a new shooting coat for the up coming season or a new gun to add to their collection, Saturday tends to have more families having a nice day out and on Sunday it quietens down.
There was the usual clay pigeon shooting have a go stands, 50 bird sporting, fly fishing demonstrations, a huge variety of food and drink stalls from around the country and wide variety of exhibitors.
When the CLA decided to step down from organising and running the show, there were a few different organisations who came up with their own versions of the Game Fair which slightly confused exhibitors and punters alike on which was going to be the show to make the effort to attend. Up until a month or so ago there were two main contenders fighting to be the best show, however when the UK Game Fair was cancelled, it left the Ragley Game Fair as the as the only place to go.
With uncertainty of which show would prosper and other concerns, quite a few well known names in the industry decided to take a step back this year and see how this show panned out. Therefore this year missing from the show, most noticeably was us, then the likes Holland & Holland, Purdey, Blaser, GMK and a few other big names. The feedback and success of this year will no doubt determine the show’s reputation for the next few years to come.
Even with the big gun names missing, the show has great backing from the likes of NFU Mutual, Viking cruises etc.
It’s a great day out for country and town folk alike, especially if the weather continues to hold out, and it’s easy when you are in the gun trade to become numb to a show like this and leave feeling unsatisfied, but for the youngsters and newcomers to our sport who are yet to discover the thrill and excitement of everything fieldsports and the British countryside has to offer, there’s no other event like it.
Next years show will be held at Hatfield House in Hertfordshire, only a 20 minute train journey from London’s King Cross station, from the 28th – 30th of July.
Q: Simon, I appreciate that the making of these rifles required the utmost attention to detail and clearly display an unbelievable array of gun-making skills. I am curious to know what was the most difficult element in the making of these guns (I know every craftsman will say their part!)? Neil.
Inspiration can come from a simple old cufflink box.
A: Neil, thank you for your comment on the previous post on the Africa rifle where I said I needed more space to answer and be able to take some credit for the most difficult element, blow my own trumpet for once! I will try and justify that claim!
There were 30 or so individual craftsmen involved with completing this project over a period of 7 or more years, they were separated by the Atlantic, with gunmaking in England and embellishment in USA. Each and every craftsman, as you rightly said could claim ‘their part’ was the most difficult and certainly they could claim that without their individual skills, the project would never have come to completion.
My claim would be that the hardest part is first having the idea or concept for the project and then bringing all these talented people together, over a period of years, to see the idea through and the projects execution.
The starting point for the Africa & India rifles was the gunmaking and in this instance the inspiration came from a Webley & Scott .600 sidelock rifle I bought, and then sold on the used gun side of our business. It was for me the perfect .600, it had both the scale and perfect dimensions for a rifle of this size, one which I often see too small and light when made in sidelock format. The Rodda .600’s were always a perfect size and I am sure based on this same design. We copied the dimensions of this rifle, incorporated the Model C bolting and dolls head and built the 2 rifles. It was a completely new calibre model rifle for us and in itself, a large project of design through delivery. We were of course in familiar gunmaking territory but the execution relied on the whole of our gunmaking team getting their part correct and perfect. People do not realise today how few double rifles of exceptional quality are actually built and that putting a whole project like this together takes more than just idle promises and talk!
The engraving aspect of the Africa and India rifle project started with a desire of mine to ‘trump’ my fathers project of the ‘Boutet Gun’ engraved by the Brown Brothers, which was completed as a speculative gun in 1985. This gun remains the single longest project executed by the Browns and I recall they took a year or more to engrave and embellish the gun. I certainly remember my father sweating to get it back, to be able to sell it and recoup his costs, an expense I am sure he could ill afford at the time. Efforts to get them to do another similar length project 30 years later fell on deaf ears, a shame, but understandable, their place in gun engraving history required no further justification….’at that time’ I will add as I believe gun engraving is getting better and better by the year and believe that the ‘King or Queen’ of the modern era of gun engraving is yet to be crowned, on that point I am sure.
There is some amazing new engraving talent to draw upon now, engravers who just need the commissions and time to show what can be done. Exceptional engraving takes time and money, realistically very few engravers are ever given this time in their careers. The ‘heroes’ of the ’80s, Ken Hunt, Brown Bros, Coggan have had most of the modern money thrown at them by the recent (1990-2015) period collectors and much of this work remains unseen. I have seen a lot if it and feel much is repetitive and indifferent, engraved for a very small group of clients who led their own design.
Paul Lantuch is one such engraver, immensely talented with classical drawing, engraving and jewellery making skills to his credit. I had offered the India project to Rashid Hadi and Vince Crowley and they came to me with a huge budget and no design. I declined and offered the commission to Paul by telephone 10 minutes later accompanied by an email folder of images I had selected for the design style, he accepted in principle and sent me an email the next day “am in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York researching India project, designs to follow shortly”. I knew at that point I had made a very good decision and one that has led to many fine guns in the years since and I hope to come!
Personally, I am very passionate about gun engraving, it can either ruin or enhance our guns, I have experienced both shock and surprise on a guns returning from engraving in the past and now firmly control that emotion with discussions and drawings during the process with the engravers.
I have always liked having large, long engraving projects running, Rashid Hadi, Peter Spode and Vince Crowley are amongst the engravers who have done many major carved and elaborate works for Westley Richards. I enjoy giving opportunity to new talent and in this I have been fortunate in having the patrons to support this desire over my years here, patrons who have allowed me the freedom to work directly with the engravers, which is important.
On the whole I believe as owners or managers of the company we have a wider knowledge of firstly what ‘has and what has not been done’ but more importantly, what works on our individual style guns and I think it is almost a duty to show off on our guns what can be achieved at any one time.
Thus Neil in this instance I will take the credit for the hardest part, making it actually happen!!
I was really pleased to be shown and then able to buy this piece of Leather ephemera, a vintage etched mirror which was an award of some kind. It seemed an entirely appropriate and irresistible prop for the photography we do. Whilst I cannot and do not wish to take credit for the actual award, we did not make leather at that time. I do think it is appropriate for our small leather workshop and feel they would have given the competition a good run for their money, had we been making our leather goods then!
Over the weekend we attended the Southern Side by Side. I would like to thank all the people who took the time to visit our stand and talk about guns with Anthony (Trigger) and Ricky from the factory and I look forward myself to being present at the show once again next year.
Thank you to Larry also for taking the time to send me some photos of the show to post, giving us an idea what the small show looks like.
From the 22nd to the 24th of April 2016, Westley Richards will be making our annual trip to the Southern Side by Side Championship and Exhibition at Deep River Sporting Clays in Sanford, North Carolina. The show, expertly organised and run by Bill and Mary Kempffer and now in its 17th year. It is one of the principle shows on the East Coast and a personal favourite of ours.
The Spring Classic, held on Deep Rivers’ 65 acre site, features two courses, eight stations and 5-Stand fields of varying targets designed to accommodate all gauges and types of side by sides and with the emphasis being on friendly competition! There are many competitions and cups to be won in small gauge, hammer guns, Compak Sporting and several other such categories.
Aside from the shooting there are multiple tents with the industries top gun makers and dealers offering a wide variety of guns for sale, appraisals and advice, clothing, accessories and also gun fitters and shooting instructors advising and teaching. But just as important is catching up with old friends and making new ones in this relaxed, beautiful setting.
Westley Richards will have a good selection of used guns, both shotguns and rifles, as well as some examples of our new guns which we will bring from the factory for you to view. Please do stop by our stand for a chat and we look forward to seeing you all there!
Finally our ‘show season’ comes to a conclusion with the end of the British Shooting Show yesterday at Stoneleigh Park. I think in general and for most vendors, the show was a great success but this is now the second year we have exhibited at this show and we have decided it is not the best arena for Westley Richards, as such this year will be our final one at least for the time being. I think the fact that we land from USA and Safari Club on the Tuesday and have to start this on the Thursday doesn’t exactly help and makes this decision easier.
We also had a separate stand for Teague Precision Chokes who had a great show and were busy every hour of every day with a constant stream of enthusiastic users and potential users of our choke system. A team of 5 people from Teague answered questions, offered advice and demonstrated the various options we provide.
I would like to thank all the visitors for their very kind comments on our guns and our stand in general and also thank the organisers for all the help they gave us in an effort to make the show a success.
Nigel Teague and Ken Halbert share their many years of knowledge with visitors at the Teague stand.
I am sort of ashamed to say it, but I never really look forward to January. For the past 30 years it has meant the show season in USA, 3 large shows in a row, my finding out the ‘state of the gun trade’ and what the New Year holds for our business, it is my nervous month. I have always felt that how we do during this one month trip pretty well reflects how the year will pan out. It is not an exact science, but a pretty accurate guide. If you can’t sell guns in America you’re going to find it very difficult everywhere else!
This year I left England with the knowledge we face ever increasing obstacles, hunting in Africa is threatened, probably more so than at any time in my career. There is the Cecil saga which has left many concerned about being publicised, there are trophy importation bans, there is ISIS which leaves many concerned about travel in general, the Oil price is on the rocks, it is an election year, the stock markets are tumbling, the list goes on and the news is not good. It was with all that in mind that I arrived in Dallas on January 5th for the start of my stay this year. I was concerned to say the least!
However, on the positive side, I do always always look forward to January for other reasons, it is a time when I get away from the factory to say hello in person to all the people I email and phone during the year, it is a time to meet old friends and a time to make new ones. There are familiar faces at every event, people like me who have been covering this circuit for years, and whilst everyone is competing for the business they are all extremely generous with their offers of help and assistance to set up, transport and take down exhibits. Whatever else it may be considered, the hunting community is a very robust one, a dedicated group of generous, enthusiastic and friendly people and my sincere thanks go out to everyone who made the this past month both memorable and possible. On top of this in the positive mode, English driven shooting is going from strength to strength, it is also one of the best Quail seasons in Texas on record, so all is not lost!
So how have these shows developed over the years, have they got better or worse for the consumer? I am not sure I can actually answer this fairly but my view is that they have probably got worse and for one reason only, their size. Understandably the organisers want more stands and exhibitors, it is their purpose to make money for their organisation, in the case of Safari Club the annual convention accounts for a huge amount of their income, would I be wrong to say 75%? I don’t think so but would be pleased to be corrected. The result of this is that anyone is accepted, you have the money and the donation and you get space, hunting related or not it doesn’t seem to matter. There was one booth selling second hand saddles in Las Vegas and I felt they would be more appropriate at a horse show but then horses are used in hunting so perhaps…..
My feeling is that the 2 main shows Dallas and SCI are becoming diluted, the likes of Bass Pro and Cabela’s I don’t feel bring anything to the table, they sat on the sidelines for years and when the show got popular they barge in, throw money around, take a load of space and bring no new blood as customers. Customers, visitors and new members is what the shows need and it should almost be a criteria for new exhibitors acceptance, are they going to bring new blood in the aisles or just dilute the existing visitors. I could go on for ages about the decline of the quality of exhibitors, but it is not my place to do so.
The shows are so big now it is unmanageable for most people to get around with ease, this is after all a retail show not a trade show, it is supposed to be pleasure for visitors and little I heard from my visitors suggested that it was. The motor cart people had the easiest ride literally, probably the only people able to cover the whole show in a few days and the numbers of those is certainly on the increase, traffic police will soon be needed!
So what do I conclude after a month in USA and how did our year start off? Thankfully it went very well, way beyond my expectations, we took our expected amount of orders for new guns and rifles, which this year had a definite lean towards the small bore shotguns. These orders are now hard to win and we compete heavily with all our English competitors for the business, most of whom are present at these shows.
Westley Richards will continue to offer an excellent quality product at the most competitive price possible and this combined with making the experience of making a bespoke gun enjoyable and fun seems to keep the customers coming back. Times are hard and quality really counts.