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.
The name Charles Gordon (1853-1918) will be very familiar to those of you with a genuine passion for vintage sporting arms of the hammer gun variety. Born in Peebles, Scotland, he was the product of a privileged if somewhat sad upbringing. By the age of 14 his mother and both adoptive parents had died leaving him with a large fortune and considerable property in Edinburgh. His great passions had always been shooting and fishing, but with the inheritance of such great wealth he decided to indulge himself in collecting, amongst other things new pistols, guns and rifles from various noted gun and rifle makers. His favourite would be John Dickson & Son of Edinburgh where from 1868 when he placed his first new order to 1906 when he was practically bankrupt and made his last purchase he had acquired no less than 229 pistols, guns and rifles!
What really stood this eccentric, often mad Scottish gentleman out from all the rest was his insatiable appetite for ordering new weapons built on old designs, over 50% of the pistols, guns and rifles being muzzleloaders at a time when the hammerless breech loader was unquestionably at the fore.
To pick any one of the magnificent guns that he had built is always going to be tricky, but illustrated here is one of the five 8 bore double percussion shotguns that he had built. This particular example was ordered on 25th October 1883 and is still in unfired condition complete in its case with all the accessories. The quality of work is simply outstanding and pays tribute to the skill of the gunmakers at the time. You need to put in perspective that in 1875 Westley Richards had patented the first hammerless breechloading gun, yet here 8 years later John Dicksons were building a hammer percussion 8 bore with detachable hammer noses! The proportions of this gun are wonderful and even from a modern gunmaking point of view the whole cased package is inspiring.
Charles Gordon would end his days in lonely seclusion, mentally unsound in 1918. Whilst his extravagant spending and at times illogical purchasing almost bankrupted the man, he left one of the greatest legacies in fine gunmaking that has ever been seen. The guns he commissioned still bring huge enjoyment to a diverse group of collectors today and the fact that so many are in pristine unfired condition only adds to the desire to own one.
For the complete history of John Dickson & Son see Donald Dallas book ‘John Dickson & Son – The Round Action Gunmaker’
Finally this week we completed the 4 bore ‘Model de Luxe’ that completes the set of seven already delivered to celebrate our bicentenary back in 2012. We suppose in gunmaking terms 5 years after the event for such a one off beast cannot be too bad! In truth it was ordered after the original set were delivered, as up until then we had not designed let alone built a 4 bore double shotgun in hand detachable lock format.
The final result with full case colour hardening by the St.Ledger brothers is a seriously nice job and we have to give credit to all those involved in the building of this magnificent gun. The 4 bore really is in a league of its own and for those of you who have never handled one they truly are a gargantuan gun!
The ‘Swan’ carved game scenes really do complement this gun very well, especially when combined with the carved fences, traditional scroll and gold borders. All of us here at Westley Richards would like to thank the very patient owner whose commission made this gun and the earlier set of seven guns a reality. They are a unique and very special set of guns in the history of Westley Richards.
Here in the UK the season for hunting Roe Bucks opens tomorrow, April 1st. This diminutive little deer is revered throughout Europe and the stalking and taking of a mature 6 point trophy is considered by many one of the finest hunts you can partake in.
As a tribute to the Roe deer we were commissioned a few years ago to build this beautifully scaled hand detachable lock double rifle in 9.3 x 62 calibre. Weighing a mere 6lb 14ozs the rifle is fitted with Westley Richards patent single selective trigger, a slim semi beavertail forend and open sights regulated at 100 yards for relatively close range hunting.
In this calibre the rifle is primarily intended for the great Spanish ‘Monterias’ where you might also encounter big Red Stags, Fallow Bucks and huge Wild Boar. Nevertheless, it makes a super compact and quick handling woodland rifle and would certainly be great fun to use during the Roe Buck rut in late July/early August when the deer can be called to within yards of the hunter!
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.
Well they just keep coming! Another .500 3″ hand detachable lock double rifle has just been completed from engraving this week and it once again shows a subtle variation on the classic Westley Richards ‘house’ scroll. Yet another style of carved fence which combines a banner with acanthus leaves, nice indeed.
It seems that we are one of the few double rifle manufacturers actually getting anything out there these days. The beauty of this rifle is that it is going to a young enthusiastic hunter who will use it considerably, once again proving that we build genuine user rifles as well as the fabulous presentation pieces you see on this blog.
Finding real quality in vintage guns is certainly getting harder and harder these days. Much of what is coming to the market is clearly tired or in many cases now of recent manufacture. It is therefore nice to see a pair of guns like these lovely Holland & Holland ‘Royal Brevis’ guns from the 1930’s.
Hardly used the guns retain practically all of their original case colour hardening and it has to be said they are in fantastic condition. The original ‘Brevis’ name came about in the 1930’s in response to the success that E.J.Churchill were having with their short 25″ barrel guns. The word Brevis is taken from the latin meaning ‘short’ and the Holland guns were originally built with 26 1/2″ barrels primarily aimed at the grouse and partridge shooting market. In 1932 the name was changed to ‘Royal Brevis’ as the guns were of Holland’s best quality.
With the short barrels and Holland self opener, these guns really are very handy and quick to shoot and quite honestly there is no reason why they would not be relevant today on a good grouse moor or for shooting partridges in Norfolk.
The guns are fitted with Hollands detachable locks.
The engraving on the bottom of the actions clearly highlights the self opening patent of 1922.
Whilst the shooting season may well be behind us now it is always nice to be finishing guns with a view to the coming season which for many is only 6 months away! The pair of guns shown here will certainly be one of the first pairs put to good use when the grouse season starts.
These 16g guns are built with 30″ barrels on our hand detachable lock action with traditional full scroll engraving, case colour hardening, double trigger and Prince of Wales grips. The slim beaver-tail forends are an unusual choice on a pair of guns for the British shooting scene, such forends found more commonly on guns built for the US market. That said the new owner shoots big days and is a big man so the extra surface area of the beaver-tail should make for comfortable grip on a hot peg!
Presented in our dark tan lightweight leather case with tools and gold leaf leather label, they make for a wonderful package which the new owner will have years of fun using. Hopefully the grouse numbers this year will be kind to him!
Whilst we are best known for our hand detachable lock (droplock) shotguns which are the mainstay of our shotgun production, it is always nice to see our sidelock side by side shotgun pass through the factory. At present we have several pairs of 12g, a trio of 16g, several 20g and a 28g passing through the works.
Our sidelock shotgun is built on a round body action with assisted opening, Southgate ejector work and exhibition walnut as standard. We offer both pinned and pinless locks with the majority of exhibition grade guns now moving towards pinless so that the engraving is uninterrupted.
Here we have a lovely pair of 12g guns with elaborate relief scroll, carved fences and traditional game bird scenes. The rounded lines of the guns lend themselves to a wrap around format of engraving that is certainly very elegant and keeps everything flowing. The wood is once again outstanding, another signature feature of Westley Richards best guns and rifles.
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!