We are always amazed by the diversity of products that seem to have left the Westley Richards factory in the last 200 years. Take for instance this rather unusual .410 over and under pistol.
Completed circa 1935 the pistol is based on a design that was originally patented to Charles Lancaster who used the design for their Howdah and Officer pistols. It was available from them in various pistol calibres up to .577 and came in both 4 and 2 barrel versions all operated with a single trigger. The single trigger could also be extended and when cocked act as a set trigger which was handy for precision shooting.
This Westley Richards version is proofed for the .410 2 1/2″ cartridge shooting a 7/16 ounce load which suggests that it could really only have been intended for use either as a vermin control pistol, or more interestingly a specimen collectors pistol. The idea of facing a wounded tiger with it or some hostile native seems definitely out of the question!
Amazingly it comes presented in a lightweight leather case with cleaning rod and brushes all certainly made at the time it was supplied. Seeing such a case always fills us with anticipation and yet again we were not disappointed. A nice fun item to see bearing the Westley Richards name, one we may even use as a template for a new ‘compact’ .410 over and under quail gun!
Just returned last week from engraving is this fabulous .600 sidelock double rifle engraved by Vince Crowley.
I remember fondly the first time I met Vince when in truth we were both kids just starting out in the gun trade. He approached the door at the old Westley Richards factory in Bournbrook like a scrawny Oliver Twist and rather quietly asked ‘Do you have any engravers that can help me? I would like to be a gun engraver.’ Lucky for Vince we had one of finest of the day Rashid El Hadi on site who took Vince under his wing and as the saying goes ‘the rest is history’.
The basis for this exhibition project is our .600 sidelock ejector double rifle action, with extended tang, back action locks, model ‘C’ dolls head fastener and snap action lever work. These heavy action .600’s really do make a statement and they provide a huge canvas upon which to work. The gunmakers here at the factory put many hundreds of hours of patience and skill into building and preparing this magnificent rifle for Vince.
The theme of the rifle is classic hunting scenes from the ‘Dark Continent’ combined with a general feel for the flora and fauna. Vince himself estimates that he spent somewhere in the region of 3000 hours engraving this monster. Hard to believe? Just take a look. Practically every single inch of the action has been embellished and what you find on closer inspection is a delicate mixture of fine scroll, sculptured scroll, carving, flush gold inlay, raised gold, and game scenes. The grip trap you saw in an earlier post (‘A singular piece of engraving skill’) and we have yet to show you the butt plate!
Some of the most outstanding workmanship is on the barrels where a combination of flush and raised gold work along with fine game scene detailing and carved animals is pretty spectacular. Once complete the rifle should make quite a statement about the level of gunmaking and craftsmanship achievable today.
Just passing through our workshops and on its way to the Safari Club Convention in Las Vegas is this fabulous pre-owned .577 3″ NE droplock double rifle.
Completed in 2003 and having done only one safari, the rifle is built to deluxe standard with bold scroll, gold lettering and game scene engraving by Peter Spode. It has 25″ barrels, 14 1/4″ length of pull, deluxe Turkish Walnut stock, cheek piece, gold oval, extra locks and all the other classic features you would expect of our droplock double rifle.
Presented in a stunning Alligator skin oak & leather case, with full complement of tools it is a great opportunity for anyone who does not want to wait the three years it takes for a new rifle to be built. Happy hunting!
Firstly we would like to apologise for the delay with our blog posts, but as you will appreciate we have been super busy preparing for the show circuit and were air bound as soon as January hit. The Dallas Safari Convention is the first of our regular shows and this year was filled with the buzz of a new US President.
There was unquestionably a ‘feel good’ factor that was certainly reflected in the interest in both new guns and pre-owned. The safari and general hunting outfitters were noticing an upturn in interest particularly for the 2018 season which is fantastic news all round. Dallas itself is a great venue which sees growth year on year without getting so huge that you cannot get around it all in a couple of easy days.
From our own point of view it was great to catch up with clients old and new. Many came to see us in person to express their condolences at the passing of Simon last year, but to a man they were all as excited as us about the future of Westley Richards. Simon’s legacy here will continue unabated. There are a lot of new young clients coming into the best gun making sector and it is unquestionably in all of our interests to make sure that they are looked after properly. Whether you are selling guns or hunts the reality is that we are all selling ‘fun’ and this should never be forgotten.
The English gun and rifle makers were certainly out in force although as one good friend said ‘one of London’s best is suspiciously absent!’ Whilst it is a great opportunity for perspective clients to see all the fine guns and rifles offered by the English Gun Trade, it is also a nice time for all of us makers to catch up and encourage (rather ridicule!) one another so that we all keep pushing the boundary’s of best gun and rifle making.
The next show on the circuit is the Las Vegas Antique Arms followed by Safari Club International. We will of course be attending both of these and very much look forward to catching up with those who can make it. In the meantime we will have some great new posts to keep you all enthused.
We would like to thank Larry Blunk for taking the photos that accompany this post.
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.
It is with great sadness that we must report the untimely passing of Simon Dominic Clode, Chairman & Managing Director of Westley Richards & Co. The following Obituary has very kindly been written by John Gregson former editor of Shooting Times.
‘The talented businessman and entrepreneur who took his taste for adventure and used it to turn a 200 year old business into a globally recognised icon.’
It takes a certain lightness of touch and nimbleness of mind to turn an arcane 200 year old business into a global adventure and hunting outfitter that is known across the world. That Simon Clode achieved this is testament to the man who harnessed his own sense of adventure and used it to build a business that was a first port of call for those whose sporting passions took them to the wildest places.
Simon, who passed away in December after a courageous scrap with cancer, is an enormous loss to the world of best English gunmaking, and a huge loss to his many friends and customers who will miss his dry sense of humour and his interrogating nature. On first meeting, Simon could be brusque in the extreme. In the early 1990s, one English magazine editor asked him for an interview about Westley Richards and the company’s plans for the future only to be told, rather directly, that Simon didn’t think the readership of that particular ‘rag’ was the sort who would appreciate what Westley Richards did. Despite this, years later that editor came to count Simon as a friend and agreed that his appraisal of the qualities of the magazine he edited were pretty accurate even if they weren’t appreciated at the time. Simon knew what was right for his business.
Brought up in Worcestershire, Simon trained in California as a commercial diver in the oil industry, spending time risking his neck in Africa, Saudi Arabia, and the Caribbean. Westley Richards was, at that time, owned by his father Walter Clode, and it is difficult to know whether the young Simon’s sense of adventure came from his association with the business that had built heavy rifles for Sutherland, Ernest Hemingway and Stewart Granger amongst others, or found its source somewhere else.
In 1987 Walter turned 60 and was eyeing retirement. As Simon recalls in the book Westley Richards, in Pursuit of the best gun: “He (Walter) unexpectedly asked us if we would like to join the company; so I did.
“I was then being paid very well in the oil industry but diving is a young man’s job and quite dangerous. I had a young family and these jobs could take you away for months at a time. I joined the company in August 1987. The oil business taught me how to work hard and I was ready for a new challenge.”
After joining the business, Simon realised that if Westley Richards was to remain as a going concern, he had to arrest the loss of skills across the best gunmaking industry and begin rebuilding the momentum of the sector.
“My Father had kept the company going via his dealings with India, and one cannot underestimate how difficult the 1960s, 70s and early 80s were for gunmaking in Britain with inflation and other factors. The market for the antique guns from India had been very important for us, but I knew it couldn’t go on forever.”
The way forward for the business seemed obvious to Simon – Westley Richards would again focus on making the very best guns and rifles, by using the skills available not only with the in house gunmaking team, but harnessing resource from sister company Westley Engineering. The latter specialised in precision components for the automotive and aerospace industries.
Beginning with a dozen .410 detachable lock shotguns –the design that made Westley’s name – Simon discovered that the appetite for new Westley Richards sporting guns was as strong as ever. The first .410 guns quickly sold out and the company introduced other gauges to the line-up, followed by more of the famous models through which Westley Richards had built its reputation. In 1995 the company reintroduced the new model Anson & Deeley double rifle and in 2004 the famous Ovundo over and under shotgun was brought to an appreciative market. So successful was this strategy that Westley Richards can today legitimately claim to have the widest portfolio of sporting guns and rifles of any bespoke maker. Production is now a 50/50 balance of sporting shotguns and rifles, built to best quality only but with varying levels of engraving and ornamentation.
But Simon didn’t just rebuild the gunmaking side of Westley Richards, he completed a whole makeover of the gunmaking brand and its sister engineering division. In 2007/08 the old Westley Richards premises in Birmingham was sold to make way for the redevelopment of part of the city. Instead of downsizing the company, Simon used the opportunity to build a stunning factory and retail space in disused industrial buildings on the outskirts of the city. He then housed Westley engineering on the adjoining site, bringing real integration to his business model.
And the Westley Richards building is an honest to God site of pilgrimage for the sportsman and fine gun lover. The retail space is stunning and the working environment for the gunmakers is the best in the business. The building is topped off by the penthouse apartment that Simon built so that he could ‘live over the shop’.
To complement the retail shop, Simon built a thriving online shop and also brought in house a leather workshop to build beautiful cases, slips, magazines and luggage right in the heart of the factory.
But many who have never met Simon will be familiar with his voice through his blog The Explora. He used it to speak frankly and honestly about the gun trade in a way that no one ever had before. He debunked myths and pricked inflated egos, much to the amusement of his readers, if not the entire gun trade. But he also showcased stunning guns – of his make and others – brought into glorious focus by his own skills honed with his beloved Leica cameras.
But why was Simon such a force of regeneration in an industry that could have disappeared without trace, its products being dismissed as relics of a bygone age?
It is simple; he lived the sport and adventure with the same fierce passion as his customers. He knew the safari guides and knew the same miles of sun bleached bush and veldt that they did. He relished the history of sporting shooting and safari in particular and understood its conservation benefits. Like all great hunters, Simon loved the animals he pursued. But, of equal importance is the fact that he was always a good businessman and marketer, understanding that his clients belonged to a very special club; that small group of international adventurers who hunt game in wild places not simply to shoot, but as an affirmation of life and to experience the sheer exuberance that can be found off the beaten track and away from the noise and clatter of everyday life. Simon once said that he ‘loved expensive people’. By this he was not referring to wealth per se, but to those people who pursue their dreams often against all odds.
Let’s leave the last word to Simon himself: “I am fortunate to live the sport. I love the practical side of it and where the gun leads to – safari is one of the most interesting ways to travel. I enjoy sharing my love of the sport with clients from all around the world.”
Simon leaves four daughters: Karena, Natasha, Sophie and Francesca. His wife Lucy predeceased him in 2005.
As many of you have seen over the years we have been very privileged here at Westley Richards to post images of some truly stunning workmanship created dually by our gunmaking and engraving team.
Yesterday Vince Crowley returned with a magnificent .600 sidelock double rifle that he has just finished engraving for us. From a pure engraving perspective the rifle is a real showcase of the diverse skills that he has developed and as always there are lots of beautiful touches. As such one piece in particular really stood out and that was the grip trap cap.
The ‘Hummingbird’ Gun engraved by Rashid El Hadi
Vince was mentored many years ago by Rashid El Hadi who engraved the fabulous Hummingbird Gun. Rashid still rates as one of the finest, most talented engravers we have ever met and his imagination and creativity were exceptional. He inspired and influenced Vince greatly and I think that this singular piece showcases just that.
More images will follow in the coming weeks but as a taster this seems a fitting introduction!
For those of you who are unfamiliar with Birmingham, the city is currently undergoing quite the transformation. The skyline is changing at a rapid pace and from the factory floor window I can count half a dozen cranes building new offices, multi story car parks and old Victorian factories being converted in to luxury apartments. HSBC are in the process of moving their retail division from London to Birmingham and big firms like Deloitte and Deutsche Bank are already present. With high speed rail coming to town in the next 10 or so years it will change beyond all recognition.
It is therefore, in these modern times, easy to forget what this city of ours once was, what it produced and what it stood for. And I’m sure it’s not unfair to say that it’s my generation and younger that are guilty of not knowing the routes of the city and in particular its gun making history. There’s no doubt a large proportion of society that would like disassociate guns with Birmingham and not so long ago a petition very nearly saw the name of our historic Gun Quarter changed and resigned to the history books. Luckily it was successfully fended off and common sense prevailed, a rarity in these times.
For me the gun making history of Birmingham is hugely important and something that should be remembered, not just in sporting gunnery but military as well and never more so than when our great nation faced the unimaginable prospect of World War One.
Leslie B. Taylor – Westley Richards Managing Director 1899 – 1930
In the years running up to war we were busy inventing and perfecting our sporting guns, under the expert guidance of Leslie Taylor who became managing director in 1899 and saw Westley Richards through the First World War. It was a busy time supplying the domestic market as well as the far reaching empire with guns and rifles and the Anson & Deeley action, the Droplock, the Explora and Fauneta guns were all in production by this point and the company was certainly in a state of advancement and success. Not long after we celebrated our centenary in 1912, Europe was at war and not only did the company see huge changes but the city and country as a whole.
Orders for sporting guns were generally suspended although some orders were taken through our London agency, which at the time was run by Arthur Gale, and the sole focus concentrated on the war effort. This was a time for carrying out government orders and taking up military contracts which while they would have put a huge level of intensification and stress on the company and to quote Mr. Taylor the work was ‘exacting and tedious’, there certainly would have been money to be made from the contracts and under Mr. Taylor’s famously logistical brain and management skills the company geared up for war.
A small pamphlet issued after The Great War to explain the work that had been carried out by the company during that time and to apologise for not completing orders that had been placed.
In 1914 we received an urgent order from the government to convert 10,000 service rifles to a ‘modern type’ for use of our army. The government ordered the employment of all of our highly skilled labour and early and late working for the rifles were badly needed. We were also involved in what was known as the Peddled Rifle Scheme which was basically a collaboration of various manufacturers to make a complete rifle, each factory would produce what it was they were most proficient at. We made complete rifle barrels with the blade front sight and complete rear sights which was closely monitored by the government inspection team that was set up in the factory over see our work.
Leslie Taylor also set up a Rifle Repair Department for reconditioning used guns which had been broken, damaged or had parts missing whilst used on the battlefield. Over the course of the war Westley Richards was responsible for repairing or converting over 200,000 rifles. We, of course, were one of many factories and gun works that produced or repaired weaponry or munitions for the war but perhaps the most famous of all was the Birmingham Small Arms company situated in Small Heath. They produced, amongst many other arms, the short magazine Lee Enfield .303 infantry service rifle and the Lewis machine gun, also in .303 and were producing around 10,000 rifles a week. There would have been several subsidiaries of the BSA and many back street workshops producing component parts to supply the bigger industrial factories. Many Ministry of Munitions employees were on ‘piece work’ and would have been paid for every part, round or task completed. People with, what was known as ‘reserved occupations’ such as engineers, were spared being sent to the front line as their skill set was deemed more valuable to kept back in England. So many people like tool makers were drafted to work in the gun making factories as their skills were transferable. However even with the drafting of men from other sectors, Westley Richards had to employ many unskilled men and boys to carry out delicate and detailed gun making such was the shortage of workers. At the peak of the war our work force had quadrupled in size and the factory ran day and night with our week starting at 7 o’clock on Sunday evening and the machines running without stopping until 5 o’clock the following Saturday afternoon.
A page from the centenary catalogue of 1912 showing the various departments at the Grange Road factory.
While many men would have joined up to fight right away, Leslie Taylor lobbied very hard to keep key workers from being called up while the factory was on munitions work. Some of our unskilled workers from our London agency were called to fight however Mr. Gale in fact wrote to the War Office to keep one particular man from being drafted.
A letter from the Ministry of Munitions of War in reply to Leslie Taylor and Arthur Gale’s request to keep workers from being called to fight.
While the government contracts took up most of the production, the London shop did take some sporting gun orders, with delivery postponed until after the war. Several men from the London shop were sent up to Birmingham to help out in the factory. We also took several private orders for rifles suitable for training and arming territorial personnel. In 1915, Sir Henry Bunbury of Manor House, Mildenhall ordered twelve .303 Martini rifles with bayonets, for a ‘Training Corps’. Ipswich Volunteers ordered eighty Westley Richards .303 Martini rifles. The Lincolnshire Territorial Army also placed an order for four Mark 1 Star Lee-Metford magazine .303 bore rifles with telescopic scopes and the Regent Street Polytechnic placed an order for one hundred .303 Westley Richards Martini Long Infantry Rifles for the Polytechnic’s Volunteer Training Corps.
The assembled gunmakers of Westley Richards photographed just prior to The First World War.
The war contracts actually continued up to 1920 but by then the sporting gun production had been restarted. Sadly as the government contracts finished there was an inevitable slump for most British industry. In 1920 the management of Westley Richards, which at the time was Leslie Taylor the managing director, the chairman – George Dawson Deeley the son of John Deeley the Elder and Charles Gardener was the export manager, had to reduce the workforce from 300 to 100 as well as a reduction in wages for the 100 who remained. Not much of a reward after the strains of the war!
The first world war had changed Westley Richards and Birmingham forever and gun making played a pivotal role in the industrialisation of Birmingham. The numerous factories all over the city making guns and munitions were so successful that sewing machine, bicycle and later car manufacturing all took inspiration in terms of manufacturing techniques and mass production from how Birmingham made guns.
Birmingham was always known as the city of a thousand trades and gun making has always been a proud part of its history. As the city changes its appearance and a new age of people take up residence I feel it important and necessary to acknowledge our gun making predecessors and the city and what they both achieved in our country’s time of need over 100 years ago.
Many of you may remember that to celebrate our Bicentenary in 2012 a very unique set of 7 droplock shotguns were commissioned from .410 through to 8 bore. Each of these guns was built on a scaled frame increasing proportionately in size as they increased in bore. The guns were engraved in a style found on an original and very beautiful ‘Model de Luxe’ shotgun built in 1927.
A rare 1927, 12 gauge Model de Luxe shotgun from which the design of the bicentennial set of seven guns was created.
Missing from this set was a 4 bore double barrel droplock as at the time we had no designs or had ever in fact built such a gun. To commission such a new design did in our mind require more than just the one order as the amount of research and development would be quite considerable.
As things often turn out shortly after the completion of the set of 7 another client approached us with his desire to have a pair of super deluxe quality droplock double barrel 4 bores built. With this in mind we approached the owner of the set of 7 who readily took us up on the offer and challenge – finally the missing piece of the puzzle was underway!
About this time last year we finally completed the first pair of 4 bores which really were a credit to the skills of the gunmakers here at the factory. The scaling up or down of any action design is always tricky, but the guys here did a great job with the 4 bore as it really is so much bigger than even an 8 bore.
Whilst we do appreciate the 4 bore ‘Bicentennial’ is a little late, it really will be a fitting climax to an already magnificent set of guns. Being the largest of the set it is appropriately engraved with carved Swans a fitting subject for such a monster of a gun.
One of the great enjoyments of traditional gunmaking from my perspective is the clients wish to have something built exactly how they want it. I like to feel that everything we do is special and that we go that extra mile to make the whole package and experience an enjoyable and unique one.
Take for instance the rifle rifle shown here. This is not your usual run of the mill .577 nitro rifle. The client came to us with the request for a ‘lightweight’ .577 droplock double rifle that he could carry all day sensibly buffalo hunting, but would not have the fierce recoil of a full blown .577 3″ 750 grain magnum load rifle. Such rifles used to be built under the guise of ‘Tiger’ rifles and they were aimed primarily at the Indian market. They were built 1 to 1 1/2 lbs lighter than the magnum version rifles and fired a 650 grain bullet. As far as we could tell no such rifle had been built by us since before the second world war and so this was certainly going to be an interesting project.
The rifle we knew from years of experience we could lighten whilst still retaining the correct proportions and balance, the hard part was developing the ammunition for the rifle. Various versions of the .577 lightweight load were known to have been loaded. All used the 650 grain bullet, but the case length varied from 2 3/4″ to 3″ to 3 1/4″. We decided on the 3″ case as the rifle would be proofed for the full magnum load and so in a pinch 750 grain loaded ammunition could be used in the field. Working closely with the Birmingham Proof House we were able to develop here at our factory a load developing 1,950 feet per second which is perfect for this bullet and weight of rifle.
The rifle itself is in our opinion finished off very nicely in ‘Gold Name’ format which was a classic Westley Richards brand with vivid case colour hardening and lovely dark walnut woodwork. The 25″ barrels give the rifle a nice profile and hark back to the days when such rifles were common place in the jungles of India. The rifle comes complete in one of our traditional lightweight leather cases and is supplied with 200 rounds of ammunition. This is a real hunters package and one of those great rifles that we know will get used as much as admired.