Just arrived in Zambia this last week was this new Westley Richards .500 droplock double rifle built very much to our traditional format. Whilst super high grade work graces our factory on a regular basis these days, it is always nice when one of these ‘originals’ finally leaves for the hunting field. The client made subtle additions, like the carved fences and gold naming, but otherwise left to us the task of building him the perfect hunting rifle.
Perhaps we have become a little too blasé in recent times, as this is the type of rifle that helped build Westley Richards reputation as a dependable and formidable rifle maker over a century ago. In recent years our rifles have hunted all over Africa and accounted for some truly wonderful big game trophies. This rifle is set to continue in that vain and will in the coming decades have many stories of its own to tell. Most importantly a new generation of young clients are the ones embarking on those adventures.
The gunmaking name E.J.Churchill conjures up for the majority of gun enthusiasts the ‘XXV’ (25″) barrel shotguns that the company was so famous for promoting in the pre-war years. The raised rib and short barrels made for quick gun handling and suited a very instinctive style of shooting promoted by family member Robert Churchill. Brand names such as ‘Hercules’, ‘Zenith’ and ‘Premiere’ remain synonymous with the company.
Double rifles by the maker are few and far between so this particular rifle really is a treat. Built as a ‘Hercules’ best quality model fixed lock ejector in the fantastic .470 nitro express calibre and completed circa 1940, everything about the rifle really is ‘best quality’ with wood that even by modern standards is super exhibition quality, complemented with a fabulous fleur dy lis checkering pattern. The engraving is the tight full coverage Churchill house scroll with the rifle retaining nearly all of its original case colour hardening and finish. As fixed lock double rifles go it is probably one of the best you will see.
Established in 1891 by Edwin John Churchill, the company still thrives from its base in West Wycombe, Buckinghamshire, where ironically and very professionally it caters to thousands of shooters every year, a fitting tribute to both Edwin John Churchill and later Robert Churchill who were fanatical shotgun enthusiasts and instructors. For any travelling sportsman coming this season to shoot in the Uk you cannot go wrong paying the shooting grounds a visit and sharpening up your skills.
Above is the portrait of Mr. Charles Boswell (1850-1924) and no doubt his name will be familiar to readers of the Explora. From relatively humble beginnings and a love of shooting his entry into the gun trade, age 14, was through an apprenticeship to Mr. Thomas Gooch and two years at the Royal Small arms factory at Enfield as a sight filer. In 1872 he started his own gun making business, initially carrying out repairs and general gunsmithing. A much admired gun maker, he was popular with the ladies and a talented live pigeon shot, frequenting Hornsey Wood and Westley Richards’ very own Hendon shooting ground, North London, where his skills were noticed by the trap shooters of the time. Boswell would impress and schmooze these shooters, converting them into clients which was common practice for gun makers of the time, James Lang and Harris Holland to name a couple.
The Westley Richards shooting school at Hendon, North London.
Considered to be no great inventor, he preferred to use other makers’ patents under licence but made a of variety guns including large bore fowling pieces, hammer and hammerless actions, muzzleloaders and pistols. Live pigeon guns proved to be Boswell’s specialty and took up a good deal of his production until the prohibition of live pigeon shooting in the UK came about in the early 1920’s. His 126 Strand address in the West End of London is his most famous and the majority of his guns in existence today bear that name.
An active member of the gun trade, in 1906 and 1907 he was elected Chairman of the Gunmakers Association and served it for many years. Around 1914 Boswell changed from having his guns proofed in London and instead moving them to the Birmingham Proof House. One train of thought is he was buying barreled actions in from the Birmingham trade, or another reason is he or his son, who was involved in the business, fell out with the London Proof Master. Hence why it is not uncommon to see his guns with Birmingham proof marks.
One such rifle built by Boswell, which is evidence of his skills as a gun maker, is this fabulous little .303 single shot rifle we currently have at the factory. Completed around 1905, it has the most superb and rare engraving, not commonly found on a rifle such as this. Featuring a selection of African plains game such as Eland, Bluewildebeest and Impala surrounded by intricate scroll work. The name C. Boswell gently rolls around the hinge pin on both sides of the action, the raised panel fences with their bold scroll fold round to the top of the action where I can only guess it to be a 1905 gun engraver’s idea of a Duiker, which stands alert on the top of the tang top lever. The engraving is though, beautifully executed and the three Eland on the right hand side of the action are very accurate and have to be my personal favourite.
The rifle features a 28″ octagonal barrel with matted rib, ramp foresight, one fixed 100 yard express sight and six folding leaves regulated to 700 yards with the 126 Strand address engraved at the breech. A 14 1/4″ pistol grip stock with grip cap, cheekpiece, oval and Silvers recoil pad. The rifle weighs 7lbs 5oz and we think it’s a very cool little rifle and a great example of early 1900’s craftsmanship, imagination and flair.
To all great rifle enthusiasts the name of Daniel Fraser should need no introduction. Established in 1878 in the city of Edinburgh, Fraser would become one of the pre-eminent Scottish gun and rifle makers, with particularly emphasis placed on rifle manufacture. Anyone who owns or has ever handled one of Frasers original rifles can only be impressed by the level of workmanship and quality that went into its manufacture.
Take for example the double rifle illustrated here. Built in .475 3 1/4″ nitro express calibre, the rifle has the distinctive crescent shaped action, carved fences and wonderful fine rose and scroll engraving familiar to all of Frasers best quality double rifles. Interestingly the rifle is fitted with scope mount bases, the scope itself sadly missing from the case. This same scope mount can be found on Frasers wonderful single shot rifles which seems to indicate that he was a great advocate of the riflescope and its aid to accuracy. How the scope performed under the recoil from such a rifle is anyones guess and perhaps explains its absence!
Fraser’s business was relatively short lived, as the cost of producing such high grade rifles, coupled with competition from the vast Birmingham manufacturers, sadly led to his closing of the business in the early 1900’s. Various family members continued in the gun trade, but the name of Daniel Fraser & Co. vanished until the 1980’s when it saw a re-birth and later amalgamation into the Dickson & MacNaughton group, based once again in Edinburgh. Regrettably this year the Edinburgh premises of Dickson & MacNaughton was closed sliding this once great name back into exile.
Thomas Horsley Gunmaker, was originally founded in 1832 in Doncaster, England moving within only a couple of years to the City of York where the rifle shown here was manufactured circa 1840. This particular .450 percussion rifle retains much of its original finish and patina, but is particularly interesting in that a damascus telescopic sight has been added at some stage, presumably by the maker. This is the only muzzleloading double rifle that we have seen fitted with a quick detachable telescopic sight and there certainly cannot be too many around as it would undoubtedly have been a very new invention for the time.
Going back to the business, Thomas Horsley the elder passed the company onto his son Thomas who continued the operation from Coney Street, York. On his death, circa 1915, the business passed on once again to his son, another Thomas (!) who ran it with his brothers from Blossom Street, York and later Micklegate, York, which was to be the company’s last address when it ceased trading in the late 1950’s.
Another interesting feature of this rifle is its compact size. Whilst we cannot confirm it, we have always rather romantically referred to this rifle as a ‘Howdah Rifle’ as its compact nature befits the tight space likely encountered from the howdah on the back of an Indian elephant. It would certainly be very handy to use and the telescopic sight might just help pick an animal out from amongst the tall grass. The wonderfully naive engraving on the lock plates of tiger and deer adds greatly to this hypothesis!
It is always nice to see another ‘beast’ completed here at the factory and this .577 droplock proves that we continue to lead the way with the production of big bore double rifles. Based very much on the Sutherland .577 double rifle that we have here at the factory this rifle has been built very much to be used and its new owner is itching to get the rifle into the field and hunt some dangerous game.
This rifle is the full blown magnum version of the .577 firing the 750 grain bullet, however the rifle only weighs in at 12lb 8ozs and so it is a little lively on the range! Before anyone asks, this is how the client wanted it built and so true to form we built the rifle. Lets be honest, in the face of a full on charge a handy .577 will be of less concern than a touch of recoil!
Another masterpiece has returned recently from one of our top engravers and we have to say that it is certainly one of the prettiest small bore guns that we have seen anywhere in a while.
The actual engraving is a choice made from several designs that were put forward, aimed specifically at the small bore guns that we build, in this case a 28g droplock. The client was looking for an intricate design that would look both complex and clean on the delicate frame of the gun. The etched background only adding to the overall effect of the design.
As with all elaborate scroll engraving, the actual ‘flow’ of the scrolls is very important and this particular execution seems to capture that very well. The little carved touches add considerably to the whole design and once case colour hardened, inked and brushed the gun should look spectacular. We look forward to sharing the end result with you.
You may have found us a bit quieter than usual of late. Well, that is because we have been hard at work on an exciting new project. After considerable time and effort, we at Westley Richards are proud to announce the launch of our brand new website.
Featuring the finest imagery and design, and industry-leading technology, it showcases the world of Westley Richards like never before. Designed and developed especially for those with a passion for fine guns, hunting, bespoke leather goods and the very best shooting clothing and products, the new site is a reflection of what we do here at Westley Richards in our relentless pursuit of perfection. We hope you enjoy it and we look forward to welcoming you all into our world.
There are certain things that Westley Richards is famous for, such as the drop lock action, the .425 or the snap lever work, but the .318 Accelerated Express cartridge is about as Westley as it gets and one that provokes great emotion, not only with collectors but the ‘gun nuts’ here at the factory. This .318 that we recently acquired has been round all the gun makers, each one, in turn, taking his time to admire the shape, feel and form of a classic Westley rifle, hand crafted by their predecessors 104 years ago. They cannot but appreciate the skills they possessed, feel a sense of pride that this is ‘one of our own’ and then try and work out how they are going to acquire it for themselves! It’s really quite special to have this rifle back in our possession and a rarity to say the least.
The .318 is a thing of legend and its credentials needs no questioning. Formidable for its size and a firm favourite for many a hunter, with its 250 grain bullet, it’s conquered the largest of game and has been used around the world. Even after the release and rise in popularity of the .375 H&H Magnum it was still a hugely popular calibre and other gun makers built bolt action rifles in this calibre, proving the success and demand for this round.
This rifle, which is a really super example in characterful condition was completed in 1913, features a 22″ barrel with our combination foresight, raised express sight with one standing 100 yard and four folding leaves regulated to 500 yards. The action is engraved with bold scroll, chequered bolt grip, has a flag safety and a hinged magazine plate with release latch. The full pistol grip stock measures 14 1/2″ to the centre of the steel plated butt and has a grip cap with trap, side panels with points, horn forend tip, cheek piece and a neat peep sight fitted into the nose of the comb. The rifle weighs 7lbs 14oz, has been tested on our range and shoots a 1.5″ group at 50 yards. It will be on our used gun site soon!
The British .303 cartridge was at one time a favourite choice for the small bore double rifles being built by the great rifle makers of the pre First World War years. Its great benefit was that it was the service round of the British Army which with its vast Empire meant ammunition of some description was always available. The majority of double rifles were regulated for the 31 grain cordite cartridge firing a 215 grain soft point bullet. This was a very effective load on small to medium game, solid nickel bullets were even capable of taking large and dangerous game in the right hands.
All the British makers initially offered the .303, but as each developed their own calibres to feed an imaginative market so the .318, .350, .375 2 1/2″ and others started to take a share of the market in small bores. Another theory is the ban on .450 calibre rifles by the British Government in 1907, may have worried makers about the adoption of anything too military based and so the .303 fell out of favour.
The rifle here is a lovely Westley Richards fixed lock ejector that was completed in 1900 and sold via our London, Bond Street address. Often the giveaway of these pre 1900 rifles is the lovely swamped ribs which have a short raised island holding the express sight as opposed to the later adoption of a full quarter rib. This particular rifle has all the hallmarks of the period, including fine house scroll engraving, checkered side panels and the distinctive Westley Richards kidney cheek piece. The ‘bolted’ safety is another of those lovely features that existed on many pre-war double rifles built by Westley Richards, H & H and J.Rigby.
In unmolested condition, complete in its oak and leather case the rifle is another of those classic time capsules that we all like to stumble across from time to time.