Although repairs and refurbishments have always been a part of the Westley Richards repertoire, in recent years, following record numbers of new gun and rifle orders, we have sadly had to reduce the amount we take on. Repairs can be disruptive to the steady flow of new gun manufacture and often, on vintage guns of various makes, can be time consuming when machining and fitting new parts. Even the small amount we now do results in our production manager pulling his hair out trying to work out quite how he’s going to fit it in his extremely busy new gun and rifle schedule and without wishing the poor chap to be bald before his time, we have to be selective on what we take in. On the odd occasion I do manage to sneak a few into the workshops and one such rifle we have recently completed is this superb Rigby .450 Nitro Express Farquharson rifle. I thought the readers of the Explora would enjoy a few before and after photos of this stunning rifle.
In summary, our initial task was to re-regulate the sight work and sort the issue of faulty extraction. The rifle was shooting high and struggling to extract the spent cartridge. Once the rifle was back into working order it could be stripped down and we could then begin the cosmetic works. The wood work was put into the stock finishing shop and the many coats of oil were carefully applied to build the finish up to our normal best quality, high gloss finish. The action was annealed and we then recut and picked up all the engraving, bringing back to life the elaborate scroll work, Rigby name, double line border and sight work. Any pins that were tired or chewed were replaced and engraved. Once done it could be polished and prepped for hardening. The barrel was then polished and best quality re-blacked, topped and tailed, ready to be reassembled. The action, lever, safety button, grip cap and forend diamond were re-colour hardened, the trigger and pins were blued, sight worked and sling stud were blacked. The rifle was then freed up and fully reassembled before the final checks and finishing coats of oil on the stock were applied, ready for final inspection.
I think you’ll agree the rifle has turned out quite superbly and we are proud to have restored this wonderful rifle back to its former glory.
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.
I think this is a nice and fitting conclusion to the story of the pair of Damascus Barrel guns, which both I and new owner Gary Duffy have both posted about, to show that they have made their way through the restoration and on to a new life in the field doing what they do best!
A simple yet useful addition to our range of leather shop cleaning accessory goods, is this Gun Mat which has been designed to compliment our small travel tool roll.
Providing a soft sheepskin pad for your gun cleaning or display, this roll up mat is made from our very durable ‘salt and pepper’ Swiss army canvas trimmed with organic veg tan leather binding and straps. An integral pocket allows for a small selection of cleaning kit, rod, jags, mops and cloths.
The roll is available now in our online store in standard format and is, like any other of our products, available to order with initialling and in other materials such as full leather.
The past seven or eight years I have been looking for a Westley Richards hand detachable lock shotgun to both use and complement my very modest mix of English, Scottish and American made doubles. And though I have found many, most have had some malady or a mix of short or ill repaired stocks, barrel problems of varying degrees, poorly re-blacked, excessively brushed, chambers lengthened by an unassignable person in most cases, and in short poorly repaired or restored not to mention the most common problem of screws that have been disfigured. The combinations of problems can be innumerable. In these instances you are left to rely on someone’s evaluation and you will likely not have any idea about their integrity or ability to assess the condition and attributes of the gun. I have bought and returned two guns that were not even in the same hemisphere as the dealers’ description. The only conclusion I can come to regarding this is that these, and in no sense am I implying all, dealers are banking on the client being either not knowledgeable enough to recognise the issues or is too lazy to return the gun. The downside for them is that when they do stumble upon a knowledgeable client that has this knowledge they will likely never return to them as a customer, with any sense of trust having been squandered. I have found the good guns, very good ones and they have for the most part been priced out of my range or the timing for me was bad. The guns that I have located without these issues were, at the time, simply not in the budget.
While I have a great appreciation for side lock guns, the simplicity in design of the Anson & Deeley action is my personal favorite and the Westley Richards hand detachable design takes it to a pinnacle of the concept and achievement. I have had a desired configuration in mind which has been the proverbial “needle in the haystack” for me. I wanted: pre-war, hand detachable, 30 inch barrels, straight hand, and preferably cased, and as un-molested as possible. In October of 2015 I took notice of a really nice clean Westley Richards, Heronshaw model on the used gun site. The barrels were 28 inches and the gun was in a nice condition and priced very fairly. After going back and forth to the site over a couple of days and taking several looks I decided, “I’ll take it”. Honestly knowing this is not the configuration I wanted. Yet I then sent off an email and get a prompt reply from Simon that it is being held for a fellow who is away on holiday and that the gun is sold. At this point I am beginning to think that I am not going to find what I want even if I will compromise on model and configuration. Of course the gun I want is available on order, and I am patient and have no problem with the wait, but I cannot make the financial side work. I would just have to sell too many of my other guns to make that happen. In my back and forth communication with Simon I had expressed what I ultimately wanted and he encouraged me to, “Probably better to wait for a droplock. I may have one (or 2) in a minute!” So then a proper used gun remained my opportunity. I would come to realize that this is the first installment of good advice that I would receive and I came to a few conclusions right then, that:
I would rely more on Simon and Westley Richards as the knowledge and ability to correct any issues with the guns lies there, while continuing to look elsewhere. I could purchase a gun in another place and should it be in unacceptable condition or have problems I would need to contract out any work on my own taking additional risk. Just the shipping here and there, back and forth, especially overseas adds up significantly. I wanted to avoid this additional expense.
I would need to have a range of configuration requirements in mind and be quick to know what compromises I would be willing to make quickly. I really had to know what I wanted.
I needed to have an idea concerning grade and condition that is a minimum that I would accept.
I would need to have the budget amount nailed down to allow me to commit to a deal quickly.
So, some 6 months later, getting to the office early as usual and running through the suspect sites including, The Explora, and Westley Richards, I see the blot post, “Damascus Game Guns Sir”? The picture caught my attention immediately. In it I see not one but two droplocks, in a three lock, three label case. The pictures alone told me a story of pre-war guns that interest me. In Simon’s description I learn that they were made in 1907 that the barrel length was 30 inches and that barrel integrity and original chambers were there. He then proceeded to outline the detailed elements of the restoration for both of these particular guns. At this point there is not much for me to think about, only to get a few more details as soon as possible.
The difference is that this time I was prepared along the lines of the criteria I previously mentioned and I believed that I might have found my “needle(s) in the haystack”. I immediately sent an email with a few basic questions and received a prompt reply. The guns were available and the terms were given to me with a note to “be quick”! I countered the terms, lost the battle, and was promised satisfaction with the guns with a more or less, “trust me, you will not be sorry” statement from Simon. At this point I committed to the deal, he agreed and a really pleasant experience began, which in all honesty only enhanced the whole affair. I took a look back through the emails and this was approximately a four hour process from start to finish. Simon did let me know via email the following morning that I had in fact been quick, made a good decision and that his inbox was full of those who wanted these guns. I was next contacted by Ricky Bond, Gunroom Manager and he entertained a few questions, supplying prompt answers as to choke, etc. Ricky asked me what modifications that I wanted to make, did I want to vacate the stock ovals and add my initials? I knew that I wanted to keep it all, guns and case, in a sense together as it came. So the ovals were left as they were though they were made better as to fit and finish through the process. My follow on to that was that we should just complete the work that Simon has outlined. Throughout this four month restoration process Ricky kept me appraised of various activities; barrels back from proof house, barrels at browner, stock being refinished, checkering completed, etc. This level of communication makes the wait easier. Then, as it seems as I get older, the time just went away somewhere and Ricky gives me notice that we are, “about two more weeks or so out”, followed a few days later with “your guns have been shipped”.
Then last Friday as I am wrapping up a busy week. I received an email that my package has been delivered to my dealer. This was a very long day at work! My first impression was the care taken in crating and packaging. I am not really sure that I had a picture in my mind of what the package would look like or had even thought about it but I was nonetheless impressed. The whole thing was in a very well-done wood crate clearly made to fit its contents. The original leather case was on top inside the crate wrapped in bubble wrap and blocked to the center with foam blocks. The original leather case had been fitted with very nice replacement leather case straps that were missing in the original pictures. This was the first of a few more surprises. Upon opening the leather case, there were no guns, only small items wrapped in tissue. After removing the leather case I find in the bottom of the crate a nice hard aluminum and plastic foam lined case also blocked into place. In this one, the guns, carefully wrapped first in oil paper, followed by tissue, and then bubble wrap. This was a better package opening experience than any Christmas Morning! The best though, was yet to come. The original case had been, in Simon’s words, “made right”. A great surprise and added bonus was that the original case had been very nicely re-accessorized with basic Westley Richards branded items and those all wrapped as little gifts in tissue. I do not know that I could have unwrapped the guns any more slowly. One I was being careful and two I didn’t want this process to be over so fast. This was fun!
After looking over each piece of the guns I could now see what Simon saw in the beginning that these guns were great candidates for, “a light restoration and refurbishment” as he had put it. As we say in the South, there were just no “hickeys” on these guns. Only honest, even wear and in their original configuration and clearly had been very well cared for.
To say that the work undertaken and the results exceeded my expectations is maybe the understatement of my life. Every facet of these guns are now in fabulous condition. The wood is even better than the excellent photographs reveal, remaining just proud as is desired even after refinishing. I had expected the heel and toe plates to not fit perfectly but they do. All screws are North and South. The barrel striking and browning is of such quality that it is hard to describe and is just superb along with the re-blacking of the furniture. The checkering is in great shape and the stock finish all that could be desired. I believe that these are either a three or four iron pattern Damascus pattern and they are beautiful with mirror bores. They were reproofed at 1 1/8 oz. and that is suitable for any use that they will see. I shot them for pattern with Hull brand plastic case 15/16 oz. #7’s and Hull brand paper case 1 oz. #6’s. The barrels pattern beautifully consistent left to left and right to right as the bore and choke dimensions are virtually identical in both guns. Incidentally the guns are consecutively serial numbered along with the barrels, top lever, and forend iron being numbered #1 & #2 in gold. The cast-off in both stocks is at about 3/16 inch which is perfect, with good length, they fit very well. They will be off to West Texas to Dove hunt in the next two weeks followed by a trip to South Dakota for Huns, Sharp-tails, and Pheasant in late October then winter Quail hunting in West Texas and Western Oklahoma. I look forward to using them throughout the coming months.
Finally, I have not one but two Westley Richard’s hand detachable guns. A true pair, so engraved, consecutively serial numbered, cased, scroll back action with beautiful wood and barrels along with many more fine attributes. Not only pre-war but pre-many wars. The other thing that I have not mentioned is that these guns lived their life in the immediate vicinity of my family’s ancestral home. That did draw me to these guns in some odd way.
In this journey my contribution was listening and taking Simon Clode at his word and advice along with exercising patience which is a quality I am thankful to possess. The major contribution was made somewhere around the year 1907 when these guns were specified and built by outstanding turn of the century Gunmakers. I can imagine that they went home at the end of the day deeply satisfied at the results of their labor of love. The latest contribution in this year of 2016, 109 years later, has been made by the team existing at Westley Richards today, to include all of them, each playing an equally important role and function. I feel that they should go home at the end of the day equally as satisfied and proud of their effort just as those that did in 1907. They are building on and enhancing a truly historic legacy and one that is very uncommon today. The entire team has done what their mission states if I may take a little liberty, “They have restored and refurbished a Unique pair of Especially Good Shotguns”. I do not know of any better way to praise the whole team than to say that, “I strongly recommend them without any hesitation”.
Am I a sycophant for Westley Richards? No. There are many great Gunmakers and guns. Am I a fan, supporter, advocate, and customer? Yes. And unapologetically so!
Am I happy with this whole process, from the discovery of the guns, through the whole of the process until today? Why yes, furthermore ecstatic. I found my needle in the haystack!
Under normal circumstances when we consider “restoring” most kinds of firearms it is a fool’s play. As one of my old mentors would say, “Like pounding fat down a rat hole.” If done well, by quality workmen, you will almost certainly spend more than the arm is worth and it will not be worth what you spent in the end. . . . HOWEVER!
One day I was pulled onto the rocks by the siren’s song by a piece so rare and wonderful that I could not resist. It had the look of “Out of India” with a very bad restock, forend used completely up and an attempt at a new hinge pin. But otherwise it was untouched; high mileage yes, but unmolested by “gunsmiths”. And what it was, at least in my mind, justifies my folly. It was an early Patent Royal Best Quality Holland & Holland. It was 16 gauge, it had Damascus barrels and it was a Paradox!
The bores had some frost, but were untouched and the first question before any madness began was, “would it still shoot.” It answered well, with both black powder and nitro loads with bullets from an original mould. So, her soul was alive and well. Now was the time for grand decisions; first, who to do the work and then what to do.
My whole thought process was aided and assuaged by another gun. This was a best quality, gold-name, Super Magnum Explora with detachable locks that I paid her makers extravagantly for more than a decade earlier. It was a very complete restoration (on an obviously unmolested gun): magnificent stock, beautiful case colours, rust and charcoal blue, done by Westley Richards. It was and is one of the most handsome firearms I have ever seen, simply magnificent elegance as it left the workshop nearly 100 years earlier. I knew what could be done and who could do it. Further I have a long association with Westley Richards and know from the owner down to many of the lads in the workshop they understand old things and their history. The Holland went into a crate and left for England.
I waited for their assessment and even to know if they would agree to take on the challenge and to my delight the answer was “yes”. Some of the work was obvious: A new stock with a perfect piece of “old” wood with stump figure as used in the originals, straighten the bent guard bow, make a new hinge pin and other various pins and screws, and put it all mechanically perfect. That was easy, but then the question from Simon Clode, “where should we quit?” The barrels obviously needed to be struck and browned, but other than some small places the engraving was still sharp and untouched. Ultimately after much discussion we decided, “Not to stop”. My final instructions were to, “Make it new again, just like the day it left the showroom in the late 1800s”. I added a few grand complications: the furniture must have real charcoal blue, the barrel brown must be perfect with high pattern definition and the chequering must be “flat top”. Now it was time to wait, and wait. There was only one sensible time requirement . . . there was no time requirement. “I want your best workmen, in their happiest mood, under no pressure.” Years passed.
Then the note came that said, “We are close”, and some tantalizing photos of the progress. At every step there was wonder in the images; the lines at first and then the details. Finally one day that brown UPS truck with a red-label overnight extra signature giant box. I can only say I was shocked, stunned and thrilled. There she was, new and magnificent in every detail. The perfect inletting and lines, the impossible flat-top chequering and a horn butt plate that had grown with the tree. The furniture black looked an inch thick and the barrel brown not only perfectly coloured, but with every detail of the Damascus pattern vivid. Colour hardening as it would have been back then and the internal lock pins left properly white, while the main pins were colour hardened. The action and barrels were tight, but not that grudging tight as found on so many new guns. Ms. Holland’s action had been made “free”, one of the last and lost arts in fine gunmaking. After hardening the various bearings are burnished, made to move and fit perfectly.
She came coincidentally on the first day of dove season. The first shot folded a bird at about 25 yards; the third round killed a pair, both of them stone dead crossing at 40 yards. They even added the magic! I confess it has allowed some birds to escape without a shot; I was busy staring at the gun while they slipped by.
Lastly, I want to personally thank each and every gunmaker who touched it, amongst whom I know Ken Halbert and Sam Banner action work, Romain Lepinois stocking, the 2 Chris’s, Eggington and Bridge finishing and all the others who played some part. Finally Simon Clode for guarding a company so it remembers that it has been making greatness for more than 200 years. The end result testifies to the fact that there was effort above and beyond; for I know a perfect restoration is much more difficult than finishing a new gun.
Tomorrow, a little over 3 months after that post, the pair of guns leave the country, headed for USA and a new, patient owner who was fast to pick them up for his personal use having seen them on The Explora. There was a lot of interest in these guns and I think rightly so, damascus, 30″ with good stock measurements all suggest a useful pair of guns in any circumstances. The very nice wood, hand detachable locks, original Westley style case with all original labelings, just make the package perfect.
The process of gun and rifle refurbishment is something I have always been very interested in, it is an area I believe that Westley Richards is exceptionally good at, we retain skills learned from the refurbishment work done on literally 100’s of best guns from the Indian continent, carried out during my Fathers tenure of the company, skills which remain in house and are passed over to the new gunmakers.
Restoration is the art of not having been there, bringing back the guns or whatever it may be to life, near its original condition, with no obvious signs of dramatic changes. For it to work everything has to be faithful and of its period. A distinct knowledge of ‘what should the particular gun actually look like’ is essential, which is where our collection of over 200 vintage guns and rifles plays a vital part in that decision making. Our craftsman can look at a very good example with ease and apply what they find.
Modern case colours, are I find, one of the biggest culprits for destroying English guns than any other work. Executed by some this work is often too intense for English guns, they are immediately noticeable and in my opinion rarely enhance the guns value but rather degrade it. Of course in some cases the guns need ‘some help’ so that is also fine, it is of course to the client and owners personal taste but the grade and value of the gun should be considered before this re-colour work is done. I know in general I walk away from any gun that has been re case coloured by the unknown practioner. Annealing, colour hardening and freeing a gun is no small task and is one that requires considerable skills knowing the distortions that can occur in this process.
There are many other areas which have to be considered carefully for the job to be done correctly. Re-stocking should be done faithfully to the makers shapes, we all have individual shapes of stocks and re-stocked guns are often so obviously over fat and with awful lines that destroy the guns original looks. If you have the original stock insist the shape is copied. Try your best to select a piece of wood that is appropriate to the age of the gun in colour and style of the era it was made, hard but possible.
For the blacking of barrels and parts the polish is foremost, without a good polished base the black or brown will look flat and always find the very best barely blacker or browner available, flat dull black just doesn’t work.
Consider carefully any suggested mechanical work on the gun, it is sensible to have anything that is obvious done but ‘we should replace this or that’ is often a waste, if it is not broken leave it, as there is no knowing when it actually will. We have suffered the embarrassment of a spring breaking after a full and lengthy restoration but this is fate rather than anything, it could have lasted another 100 years.
The pair of guns seen below have undergone a full restoration as we see needed nothing more, after some use the stocks will dull down, the barrel brown will wear, the guns will look of their period, but for the moment they show of the damascus and stocks to their original best and I think are a super example of the work we can do.