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.
It was a fine winter day, in the duck season. I had my pickup loaded with all things for an afternoon hunt. My Labrador, Miss Feather (Miss Duckhill Sheba’s Bournebrook Feathershower) had already occupied her place in the passenger’s seat for several hours as she always did on these days. I had worked through the never-easy task of selecting the gun and this one was well beyond ordinary. It was a Scott Premier 10 bore, with Damascus barrels. It was all done up in ducks as they often were, but this one was decorated with several odd and unusual species of sea ducks. I was almost out the door for the 1 ½ hour drive when I received word that Simon had gone to the other side.
My first reaction was not to go hunting, but then realized that was a very foolish notion, one that would disappoint him deeply. Instead, the day and the GUN would be a tribute. The Scott was befitting almost any occasion, but today it had to be a Westley and not just any Westley, but the finest one I knew. One only has to witness the title of these pages to know Simon valued Exploras and I value them as well. In fact I see them as the most complete and sophisticated firearms ever made. The gun today would be “The Queen of Birmingham” a Deluxe Explora and the most wonderful Explora and Westley I have ever met.
It came to me in a rather unusual way; out of an auction. I saw the gun, held it and crushing-love at first sight would be an understatement. It was glorious and essentially new… and I knew I could not afford it. A mutual friend liked the gun equally, but he had something I did not, an invincible purse. He told me simply to bid and buy the gun. If in the end I could afford the hammer price I could have it, if not I was to continue and buy it for him. I wrote a number, my very last number, down before the bidding began. The hammer fell on that number.
With it I began to perfect Explora ammunition, ammunition that would be ballistically identical to that which the great Leslie B Taylor had created. I used a ballistic technique similar to the originals to get 735 grains (1 ¾ ounces) to go 1250 fps at normal shot gun pressure. Then I developed bullets that would fly like the L.T. Capped originals. In the end I had a cartridge driving bullets that would fly exactly to those glorious sights, each and every one of them, all the way to 300 yards; and be deadly when they arrived.
The Queen performed wonderfully as a shot gun; taking valley quail, rare mountain quail, and ducks with perfection. Its crowning moment came late one autumn afternoon in the Sheep Creek Valley. The great yellow 6 x 6 bull elk walked out of the thick young timber into a room-sized open meadow and stood broad side. I was sitting with The Queen on my knees and made my best estimate of 250 yards and turned up that leaf. I looked at those massive shoulders over the sights, sights that were strangely rock solid and crystal clear. My son was beside me and I whispered, “250 yards????”… “Yes, very close”, was his reply. I pressed the front trigger. The big bullet arced across the valley and landed with a mighty “wok” as the bull lurch into the black timber. We listened, for there was nothing to see and suddenly there was a huge fir-rending crash in the timber, followed seconds later by another when the big bull slid out into a little clearing. The bullet struck the top of the front sight with laser precision, dead center and completely through both of his shoulders. She is a very, very special Westley.
I thought back on these things as we watched the sky over the pretty little pond. It was a still cold, a day without ducks. And then he came, the loan magnificent mallard drake with the most brilliant orange feet I have ever seen. He circled twice and levelled across the far side of the decoys; at 40 yards… almost too far for an Explora barrel. The same right barrel spoke and he folded; the only duck we saw that day. Feather broke ice to retrieve him. To me there was a perfection about it all.
It may seem odd that I waited so long to write this, but it took me time to heal and find the courage to fully address the loss of this wonderful man. While he was a bastion of the trade and a truly passionate gun person I think I miss that dry humour and wit most of all. Some time ago I addressed my Selvyt Pad and Tin for preserving the Westley Detachable locks in these pages. When he received this he feigned being stricken and stunned. He thought he had the only tin and I had poached in this sacred space. But then in virtually his last notes to me, he won the day as always, “Well only real Westley men have a tin”!
He does not know this yet, but a Hundred Pounder is making those tracks he is following.
New in this week from engraving is another of our traditional hand detachable lock double rifles in .500 3″ NE. This particular rifle has been built on a heavyweight frame as the client requested that the rifle weigh close to 12lb 8ozs on completion. Aesthetically the additional size at the breach ends makes for a nice sweep in the barrels which will become more evident once the rifle is finished.
Engraving wise we have another variation on our traditional ‘house’ scroll. In this instance the fences have been carved with a design that complements the scroll very well. The game scene of a mean old looking buffalo combines carving with fine detailing, as opposed to the more rounded carving of animals you get to see, which often lacks lifelike details. There is a nice perception of distance with the scene that should be highlighted more when the cover plate is blacked in the traditional manner.
We are looking forward to getting this one completed and out to the hunting field this year where with a bit of luck it will take a big buffalo or two!
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 email@example.com or call +44 121 333 1918.
The show season continues unabated this year with our return to home soil and the British Shooting Show. This year we will be displaying a nice collection of our new guns and rifles including the ‘India’ and the ‘Africa’ .600 sidelock double rifles, as well as the ‘Lion’ .470 sidelock double rifle.
The show goes from strength to strength each year and represents a strong cross section of what is available to the shooting public in the Uk and from further afield. Attendance is certainly growing as the show refines, and being indoors certainly makes for a great day out mitigating the usual vagaries of the Uk weather!
We look forward to welcoming our customers old and new to our stand located in hall 2 zone 7.
A few years ago a group of shooting friends decided to place three similar orders with us for a combination pair of guns comprising a .410 and a 28g droplock. Whilst they all agreed on the same gauge combination, other elements of the guns would become far more personal.
The two most obvious distinctions which you are going to seeing other the next few weeks are the style of engraving and the figuring of the wood. Take for instance this first pair of guns that we have just completed.
The engraving has been executed by Frederique Lepinois whose work you are now familiar with from this blog. She has her own distinctive style which to our mind falls into the modern ‘Italian’, naturally a product of where she is based. This work comprises beautiful elaborate scrolls with fine game scenes wrapped in ornamental borders. There is always a delicate nature to this Italian style and it works really well with these small frame guns.
The wood on this pair is naturally rich in colour and has that fabulous contrast that we so often like to see here at the factory. It has always been our goal to provide our clients with the very best selection of wood from which to make their choice. Lets face it, we only build around 35 guns and rifles a year so we had best make each one very special. What better starting point than a fabulous piece of wood!
As the other guns come through, you will see just how diverse peoples taste can be which is why building bespoke guns and rifles is so much fun.
At Westley Richards we are lucky enough to build a multitude of large calibre big game bolt action rifles. All of these tend to be in the classic British calibres, .318 WR, .375 H &H, .416 Rigby, .500 Jeffery, .505 Gibbs, with the odd European classic for driven big game hunting.
Whilst hunting in Africa a few years back, a very good Professional Hunting colleague asked if we could put together a stopping rifle for him. Naturally the answer was ‘yes’ and so then came the classic question of calibre? At the time he was using a .505 Gibbs that he had borrowed and found to be adequate and so this was the immediate choice. A fine and reputable calibre, capable of stopping the largest of big game.
The order was raised back at the factory, but then later on a phone call came ‘can you build the rifle in .460 Weatherby?’ Well those of you in the know are very aware of the ‘brute’ introduced by Roy Weatherby in 1958. At the time it was the most powerful commercially loaded big game cartridge, capable of pushing 500 grain projectiles well over 2600 feet per second. Its reputation was formidable and whilst the idea of the power impressed many, the ability to shoot it was quite another!!!!!
So, back to the rifle in question. Yes it is a .460 Weatherby and yes it is a beast! That said knowing the history of the calibre we were careful to make sure that the stock was slightly thicker at the forend to obtain more grip, the open sights you will see are unusual style for our rifles and were manufactured specifically as wrap arounds so that the bearing surface on the barrel was the absolute maximum. The rifle is set up specifically for open sights so the stock is shaped specifically for this and set the foresight bead to hit point of aim.
The final result is a very handy and quite frankly devastating stopping rifle made to the PH’s exact requirements ‘bespoke’, like all our guns and rifles.
Just be sure to stand behind it when the ‘beast’ goes off!
My Father, a Veteran of WWII combat in the Pacific Theatre had a few sayings and was not one to suffer fools. He could best be described as a very gentle man. Four amphibious combat assaults will apparently teach one much about themselves. At thirteen, I lost him too early. It is a strange phenomenon that we continue to learn from our parents long past adulthood, and even after they have gone ahead. There seems to be to be a certain imprinting that takes place and endures.
He had many sayings, which were as a practical matter his philosophies. He lived by them without much, if any, variation or discussion. One of these sayings I often think of and find can be applied to business dealings and the contingent relationships. “When all is said and done, let more be done than said”. I never met my Grandfather, he had passed early as well, but my Father spoke of what he learned from him in tough days during the American Depression. They fed themselves and family, gardening, hunting small game, and fishing. I hope that I have those qualities in my character.
Character can exist in many things and manifest itself in many different ways. It can make up and distinguish an individual, group, or nation as to how they conduct themselves and behave; it can separate distinguishable things into categories; identify a nature. It can separate things by its essential elements or traits; it can be a set of qualities that make a place or thing different from other places or things.
A good friend of mine for some thirty five years and a knowledgeable gun lover of the highest order just recently returned from a three week tour of Scotland, Ireland, and England. He had reserved a good part of the last week of the trip to visit London Gunmakers and a few dealers he was familiar with. In our conversation I expressed to him that I would like to make that exact trip. His response was, “Don’t. Instead see the tourist things in London, the famous Gunmakers are a waste of time, and no fun. I felt like I was at my in-laws”. This statement did shock me just a bit. He went on to tell me that he went into one of the most famous makers, at a most famous location and of three employees, not one, spoke even a single word to him. He is a good sport and can find humor in almost anything, and left the subject alone after the comment, “I suppose they would have taken cash, but they didn’t ask for it”. I actually found this hard to believe yet he assured me his account was accurate. He went on to tell me about his experiences at a couple of the other famous makers and felt it was a little better, but not by much and he just did not feel welcome. He came away with the impression that because he was dressed comfortably for a full day of activity that he was somewhat disqualified at a glance. He tells me that his experience at some of the dealer shops was an altogether the opposite experience, telling me what he saw and may follow up on. This man does not have a pretentious bone in his body nor any “chip on his shoulder”. If he is right, that he was dismissed just on his casual appearance a big mistake was made. This gentleman can impact an order book in a serious way if he so chooses, and likely has time for the wait.
The magnificent facade of James Purdey & Sons.
I do feel that this is an extreme example and at least hopefully not the norm. In full disclosure I have not made the trip, so have not had this experience personally at the London locations. This was not the first time I have heard this, but this time from a most reliable source. I have experienced it in a different environment at the large shows of SCI and DSC in the United States, admittedly not so extreme. The very nature of these shows is a little more relaxed. The puzzling thing that has occurred to me on many occasions is that I have looked at a maker’s guns and walked away without having either been taught anything about their particular guns nor have they solicited any questions or business. Maybe I am just lucky to get to see their guns or need to wear a suit.! They are not doing anyone favors by letting them look at their goods. Isn’t the purpose of being at these shows, for lack of a better description, an attempted outreach to new customers? This approach is baffling to me.
This seems to me to be a relationship model, maker to customer, which is completely inverted. It is at minimum in my opinion an organizational character problem. If in the previous account of my friends experience the front line sale force will not make contact, certainly there is little hope of anything more. The periodicals that I read which are both American and English are full of very well done, slick ad copy. These ads do give you a sense of what a company can do, at least for someone! This perceived ‘stuffiness’ is I am convinced at least one of the reasons there is a healthy used or secondary market in English guns. Of course there is the favorable pricing, immediate delivery, but I am suspect that it is also to avoid this stuffiness!
There are exceptions in my experience;
Marc Newton in the Rigby Workshop.
I believe over the last three years at DSC that Mark Newton, MD of John Rigby & Co. has recognized me, if not by name, and made an effort to answer any and all questions and go as far as to sit down and take a few minutes to have a friendly visit. They set their space up in a manner that facilitates, and invites this. This seems to me to be the purpose and value of being there. From what I can see they are on to a good thing, and I for one wish them well and greatly appreciate the way that I have been approached. I believe that they, “get it”.
I do believe, and this from personal experience, that Westley Richards is the standout in all phases of service and customer care and I hear this consistently from friends of mine who are clients. They also have great advertising content, with excellent photography, but this is not the end of it. They show a diverse catalog of new and used guns, along with restoration services, traditional in-house made leather goods with custom one-off capability. There is also a comprehensive retail side of clothing, foot wear, etc. It is approaching impossible to thoroughly cover all of the in-house capability that Westley Richards currently have. Even with this large offering of goods and services this is still not the end of it.
While this is all outstanding, it goes much deeper than this. There is a transparency that you will not see anywhere else and much of it displayed on The Explora. I think Ross Seyfried said it best in a previous post, “those in the workshop understand old things and their history”. Westley Richards staff know and understand the historic legacy and standards that comes together to form the character of the company. Because the folks working there gain an understanding of the company’s history and where it came from they gain an insight into its character. Those in leadership know that this understanding is just as important as the technical and trade skill competency. Should a project’s complexity require it, advice is available to a client not only from experienced and qualified manager of a particular department but from the owner of the company. I am sure it could be found at the smaller boutique makers as well. This same advice may exist at other makers and I am just not aware of it. If so and you find this opinion offensive; my apologies. I do not think though that so much knowledge across such a broad spectrum of products, guns, and rifles exist anywhere else. Not to mention used guns and restoration capability. It goes beyond sales, yes that is an element, but it manifest itself more in the manner of consultation and a way of doing business.
Where does this come from? It comes from knowing the company’s history. It comes from a family’s investment, dedication, and toil in a company through good and bad times. It comes from Walter Clode knowing the company’s history, where it came from, all the way to the turn of the last century and beyond and spending time in the land where many of the companies guns were sold and lived, repatriating those guns to be given a new life. This knowledge and experience being passed on to Simon to steward this legacy and at the same time moving the company forward as conditions require yet not forgetting the past and acutely understanding the character of the company. This cycle of work, failure, success, adjustment, and work builds character. The character of Westley Richards is one of perseverance, doing the best work that they are capable of doing, and being in a position to consult clients in a manner that gives the customer confidence. The strength and competency of the individuals who understand the history of a company, when in a collective creates a company whose core competency as a company then becomes one of character. When the day to day work and customer contact is being conducted in the context of a constancy of purpose, “to build the best gun that we can build”. When the leadership is making decisions in a cycle of continuous improvement, not forgetting the history and hard won character of a company. All of this separates, distinguishes, and creates a window of transparency into a company. I believe that knowing who they are is the strength of Westley Richards.
I believe they are very much a company that exhibit, “when all is said and done, let more be done than said”.
When discussing vintage nitro Westley Richards rifles there are three in particular that always end up dropping into the conversation somewhere along the line. Not only were they used by three very famous individuals, but all were of the same calibre – .577 3″ Nitro Express.
These rifles were owned by professional ivory hunter Capt James Sutherland, hard man actor Stewart Granger, and legendary writer Ernest Hemingway. All three men suited this iconic calibre as their personalities were certainly of the larger than life variety.
Captain James Sutherland’s .577 now on display at our factory.
Sutherland’s rifle resides here at the factory and although well used it still has crisp rifling and great condition. Luckily we have the case and spare locks to go with it. This rates as my own all time big game rifle particularly as it has all the great Westley Richards features, including our single selective trigger!
Stewart Granger’s .577 with tallies of game hunted inlaid in stock.
The Granger and Hemingway rifles now reside in private collections and are both cherished by their respective owners. Each is a great historical rifle in terms of our own legacy and that of the two men who owned them.
Ernest Hemingway’s .577 complete with original case.
Both of these rifles retain lots of original finish as they were ‘client’ as opposed to ‘professional’ use rifles. I always like Grangers inlaying of Elephant, Rhino and Buffalo in the stock with the tally of each hunted, those marked with a ‘c’ having charged him!
I was lucky enough myself to hunt buffalo with a brand new Westley Richards .577 hand detachable lock double rifle last year in Tanzania with Danny McCallum safaris. Not only was it a privilege to hunt my buffalo with Danny himself, but I was able to take one at under 15 paces in typically long grass. Whilst there are many that would deride the use of such a heavy calibre rifle I have to say that it was certainly very comforting in the thick stuff and as Danny himself said ‘it speaks with authority’. Need I say more!