This last week Vincent Crowley payed us a visit to deliver back one of his more recent masterpieces. Vince and I have known each other from our earliest days in the ‘gun trade’ having both started out with Westley Richards. It has been a pleasure working with him for over 20 years now, on some of the finest guns and rifles to leave the Westley Richards factory.
Vince has always been one of those lucky talents and I remember with envy some of the exceptional pieces he created as little more than a kid. Both of us have matured (supposedly!) since those early days and through the kind patronage of some fantastic clients, have been privileged to put together some genuine masterpieces of the gun-maker and engravers art.
Gold feathers add beautiful detail to the lock plates.
The gun shown here is one of our classic hand detachable or ‘droplock’ shotguns in 28 bore. With this particular gun Vince has used a process where raised steel scenes are actually carved onto the main action body and cover plate, rather than being of a relief carved style. This gives the scenes unparalleled dimension and it is almost as though the birds are flying out of the backgrounds and streaming past you. For interests sake, the gun is adorned with Bobwhite Quail, Chukar and Pheasant, with a Black Labrador on the trigger guard bow.
As we have come to expect with Vince, the rest of the gun has a wonderful combination of super fine rose bouquets and scroll, carved fences, pierced lever work and super delicate gold work. All of us are very much looking forward to seeing the finished article, as there are a few other nice touches to complete the final package.
Pheasant adorn the cover plate, whilst a Black Labrador retrieves a bird.
Bobwhite quail stream down the right side of the action.
A few months ago we posted images of this gun fresh back from engraving and now here it finally is all complete and ready to head out to the USA. The transformation from ‘in the white’ parts to a finished gun really is quite distinctive and the gun as a whole becomes an object of both gunmaking art and functionality.
One of the more subtle features of the gun is the actual colouration of the steel after it has been case colour hardened and subsequently brushed. All of our double guns and rifles go through the case colour hardening process as carried out by the St.Ledger brothers here in the old Birmingham gun quarter.
Before CCH the steel has a certain silver quality about it that is in basic terms raw and bright. The actual CCH process creates a surface hardness which allows the steel to flex under stress yet provides a protective outer shell or ‘case’. When the fine surface layer of colour is actually removed the steel maintains a slightly more greyed tone which adds a real subtlety to parts that might otherwise look like a shined coin!
In direct sunlight it is often possible to see the very finest traces of colour which can be used effectively to enhance the engraving of the gun. Some engravers will insist on finishing their own work for this very reason. With Westley Richards, no matter who is finishing the gun or rifle, we always try to leave CCH on the triggers, action flats, action face, forend iron and inside the trigger bow. This always adds a tasteful touch, particularly when the gun is disassembled for travel. It also seems such a waste to remove them all!
The gold flush game scenes must be carefully cleaned and highlighted after the case colour hardening process.
The finished article in its lightweight leather case, complete and ready to go.
As I sit and write this latest blog the UK is currently in the grip of a heatwave and the mercury is due to hit 88°F here in Birmingham today, which is hot for England! With weather like this, thoughts of last winter’s sport are a distant memory and it’s hard to image that in just over 6 weeks’ time we will be putting back on our tweeds, dusting off our shooting kit and heading north for the start of the grouse shooting season.
While most people are thinking about the beach rather than the shooting season at this time of year, estates all over the UK have been busy preparing for this coming season’s sport from the moment the final horn blew on the last drive back in February. Relying on purely wild numbers only, moorland keepers are taking stock of what grouse they have on the ground from their spring and summer counts and are planning drives and days accordingly. Lowland keepers are beginning to welcome this year’s birds to the woods and over the next few months will be feeding them into the various drives of the shoot. Equally as important will be the job of pushing back straying birds from the boundaries with their dedicated team of dogs.
We’ve been busy preparing guns for the coming season. We have recently completed an engraving job on a pair of droplocks for an American client who asked us to polish out the old scroll engraving and re-engrave a Cock Pheasant and Hen Pheasant motifs on the cover plates. Beautifully executed by Bradley Tallett, the iris of each bird is gold inlaid along with a gold ring border. The surrounding space is tastefully engraved with scroll work to match the rest of the action. Next step is to case colour harden the plates and brush and ink the motifs.
The client and his team are regular visitors to our shores to hunt driven pheasant and partridge and these guns are now a fitting homage to their chosen quarry.
Wishing all of our American readers a happy Fourth of July!
Although the primary focus of the factory is new gun and rifle production we do have a small amount of repair and refurbishment work taking place. Mostly on used guns that we have sold that need a service, alteration of stock measurements or a general freshen up before being delivered to the successful buyer.
One such pair that has just been completed is this very beautiful pair of 20g droplock shotguns. Completed in 2000, built for an American gentleman, they were kept here in the UK and shot every season. The guns were returned to us last year to be sold and the new owner, another American gentleman, has decided to also keep them here in the UK for his annual pheasant and partridge shooting trip.
The guns are a matched pair of best quality 20g droplocks with 27” barrels, scroll back, double trigger actions with elaborate scroll coverage and stunningly figured 14 ¾” stocks. Choked ½ in all 4 barrels they are the perfect all round guns, from early grouse through to late season pheasants. The guns are perfectly balanced and are quick in the hands like a 20 should be. Cased in their leather case with canvas outer they are very presentable and attractive pair of guns.
The stocks have had all the handling marks removed and have been gently refinished with our high gloss finish. The barrels have been best re-blacked and both actions and lock work have been completely stripped, cleaned and checked over, ovals have been polished and engraved and the leather shop have made a new lightweight canvas outer with initial patch. The team have done a superb job on the refinish of the guns and they are now safely stored and awaiting the arrival of their new owner.
As another busy week draws to a close and we head into the bank holiday weekend, below is a small selection of shots from the factory floor. Although this is technically deemed as the quieter time of the year, there’s certainly no let-up in the work load and we’re as busy as ever!
Recently through the workshops for a full service is this simply superb Modele De Luxe 12g. In fantastic condition, this gun which was completed in 1914, was built with all the Westley best quality gun features. With the addition of a raised engine turned top rib, clipped fences and 30” barrels it’s a heavy weight gun but beautifully balanced.
As the centenary catalogue describes the Model De Luxe, the gun is ‘elaborately carved and engraved with game subjects’. After 104 years of existence the engraving is still crisp and as attractive as the day it was done and the action retains a good amount of original colour hardening. The expert file up of the action and deep carved scroll along with the extravagant chequering style, engraved barrel breeches and heel and toe plates with horn centre, certainly earns the gun its deluxe status.
It’s a pleasure to see and work on such a beautifully made gun in first class condition such as this one, which is testament to the skill of the early 20th century gunmakers and the gun’s subsequent owners who have cared so affectionately for it since. There should be no excuse as to why this gun will not still bring the same amount of enjoyment in another 100 years time.
Undoubtedly two of the most iconic cartridges to ever come from the British gun making trade must be Rigby’s .416 and Gibbs’ .505 Magnum. Steeped in safari legend, the mere mention of these two big bore rounds evokes images of big tuskers, old dagga boys and the larger than life characters that used them. Both cartridges have been around for well over a century, and remain two of the most popular cartridges among dangerous game hunters today. It goes without saying that the original rifles chambered for these rounds are among the most coveted rifles out there.
The first rifles chambered for these cartridges were ground breaking developments for Big Game hunters. The rifles themselves were built on the new magnum length Mauser ’98 bolt actions that were very well made, extremely reliable and far more affordable than double rifles. Secondly, these big rifles shot cartridges that matched the ballistics of cartridges like the .470 3 ¼” NE or the .500 3” NE.
This was power previously only available in a double rifle and these new big bore bolt action rifles could carry up to 4 rounds. Furthermore, the two cartridges were similarly shaped and their “big” designs offered ample case capacity that made for low chamber pressure. The cases also had long necks for tightly holding the big bullets, a benefit for the rounds in the magazine of heavy recoiling rifles. All these characteristics were, and still remain, reliable combinations for pursuing the World’s most dangerous game.
Original Gibbs .505 Magnum built in 1927.
Safe to say the British trade hasn’t made “many” of anything, but even when put into perspective, original .416 Rigby and .505 Gibbs bolt action rifles are not only some of the most desirable, they’re also some of the rarest. Less than 200 .416 Rigby rifles were produced between its introduction in 1911 and the beginning of WWII. In the case of the mighty .505 Gibbs, somewhere between 70 to 80 were only ever produced. Low production numbers by any standards and, in rifles that were very much intended for hard use, one must wonder just how many survived much less stayed original?
Being that the rifles are so rare, I’ve encountered very few in my career, and to have one of each offered for sale at the same time, is an even rarer moment still.
The J.Rigby & Co. Mauser Sporting Big Game rifle in .416 calibre shown here was shipped in 1913 and must have been among some of the first made. It is built on the original magnum length action made for John Rigby and his new .416 cartridge. The rifle has a 24” barrel with a sleeved front sight and sling swivel and Rigby’s pattern quarter rib, a cocking piece flip up peep sight, two folding leaf rear sights and the classically shaped Rigby stock. Even though the rifle is 105 years old, I am sure it feels as sturdy and sound today as it did the day it was finished.
The George Gibbs rifle chambered in .505 Magnum was made in 1927. A hulk of a rifle also built on an original magnum length Mauser action with a 26” Vickers barrel, island rear sight and banded front sight with a folding sight hood. The massive size of the action and barrel are appropriately scaled for the equally large cartridge that propels a bullet, one-half inch in diameter, at 2200 fps. This rifle was built for one purpose and it serves this purpose very well.
Original .416 Rigby built in 1913.
The long single square bridge magnum length Mauser ’98 action of the .416 Rigby.
These are two rifles that are not only an iconic representative of a bygone era but they still remain very useful tools for the pursuit of dangerous game or as a cornerstone of a fine gun collection.
Both rifles have been sold prior to the posting of this blog. These are indeed rare and desirable guns and, as it goes with items like these, they are quickly sold. Our method of selling such guns is much more discreet than most other dealers. If these are the types of investment grade firearms you might be interested in, please contact us. We would like very much to know you and add you to our list of discerning clients.
We make no apologies here at Westley Richards for showing you some of the finest guns and rifles built by some of the worlds greatest craftsman. Included in this list of master craftsman are without doubt Gerhard Hartmann and Otto Weiss, founders of Hartmann & Weiss, gun and rifle makers of Hamburg, Germany.
For many years, perhaps decades, they set the standard for excellence in gun and rifle manufacture so encouraging a whole new generation of craftsmen both in Europe and the Uk, a benefit to us all and the industry as a whole.
This set of three take down bolt action rifles in .300 Winchester Magnum, .416 Rigby and .500 Jeffery, are testament to their continued skill. What makes them even more special is the fabulous engraving executed by master engraver Alain Lovenberg. The detail and precision of work is without compromise and explains why Alain has forged such a reputation in the engraving world. It is great to see his level of workmanship on these three fine rifles.
At SCI this year I had the pleasure, along with several other gunmakers from both the Uk and Europe of sharing Otto Weiss’s company at the bar for a few beers. Whilst you might take him for an unassuming and quiet old man, he can still hold his own at the bar regaling many a fantastic tale of yesteryear. Later this year Otto celebrates his 80th Birthday, a landmark by anyones reckoning, even more so when you consider he still turns up for work every day!
Elegant lines in keeping with vintage British rifles.
Fantastic design and execution by master engraver Alain Lovenberg.
Fresh back from engraving is this super .500 droplock double rifle with bold scroll engraving, gold naming and a game scene of a hunter being charged by a bull elephant.
The game scene is an interesting and not unusual concept which always poses the question ‘What happened next?’ For anyone who has ever been in such a situation there is nothing more exciting! A large bull elephant with ears spread wide, kicking up dust is a truly intimidating sight, one that makes even the largest of double rifles seem small in the hands of the hunter.
More often than not the tension is relieved by the mutual backing off of both parties, each content to go their separate way. Then again, should it all go wrong…………………..!!!!!
Although by no means prolific, it is always great to see a new bolt action rifle in Westley Richards signature .318 calibre reach completion here at the factory. Once the medium bore calibre by which all others were judged, like so many of the great British calibre’s, including .333 Jeffery and .350 Rigby, it slipped into semi obscurity after the Second World War.
In truth the .318 Westley Richards cartridge shooting a 250 grain bullet at 2250 feet per second is still a great and fun cartridge to use for general plains game hunting and even driven boar in Europe. The long torpedo bullet has phenomenal sectional density and with its moderate velocity (by modern standards) proves a deep penetrating round, at one time capable of tackling every type of big and dangerous game on the planet.
Peep sight located on the cocking piece.
The rifle you see here was built to a very traditional lightweight format with the addition of Westley Richards take-down system. The client had requested the rifle to be built primarily for open sight use, hence the sleek lines of the rifle. Westley Richards signature patent combination foresight was a given as no true Westley Richards magazine rifle is complete without one. It was then decided to fit a very traditional island rear sight base with one standing plus three leaf express sight regulated to 200 yards. A peep sight fitted to the cocking piece was also utilised so creating a very classic style of rifle.
As with all our guns and rifles a super piece of Turkish walnut was selected with which to stock the rifle. We came to the conclusion some time back that with the comparatively small number of guns and rifles that we build each year, we may as well use the very nicest wood that we can obtain.
Certainly destined for Africa, we are looking forward to hearing how this classic round performs in this new rifle.
Beautiful Turkish walnut stock.
The new rifle compared to a vintage example. Either rifle would be fun to use today in Africa.
Page from Westley Richards ‘Centenary’ catalogue detailing the .318 Westley Richards.