The debate of what rifle, in what calibre, is the best for hunting in Africa is a discussion as old as the sport itself and I don’t intend to delve into or attempt to answer such a lengthy and hotly contested question in this blog. But what I want to share with the readers, is a rifle, that has recently come through our doors, which I believe quite comfortably covers with ease, a wide range of African game and safaris and has a serious chance of answering the aforementioned question for me.
Ray Ward Gunmakers, based in Knightsbridge London, have been a high end gun retailer for a number of years and in more recent times have become a gunmaker in their own right. One such rifle to have been built by the London makers is this superbly versatile take down bolt action rifle, two barrel set in .375 H&H Magnum and .416 Remington Magnum. Completed around 2001, the rifle is built on a standard length Obendorf action with two interchangeable, screw threaded barrels using the Jeffery style screw in peg to secure them in place. The .416 barrel measures 23 3/8” with a ramp foresight and single standing express sight. While the .375 barrel is 22” with the same open sight configuration with the addition of a flip over foresight hood. The Zeiss Conquest DL 1.2-5×36 scope is mounted on H&H QD mounts and the rifle weighs 10lbs 1.7oz in .375 and 10lbs 7oz in .416.
The pistol grip stock is beautifully figured and measures 14 1/8” to the centre of the Silver’s recoil pad with a cheekpiece, grip cap, gold oval, sling stud, two recoil bars and horn forend tip. Expertly engraved by David Tallett with a bold scroll coverage, the case colour floor plate is engraved in gold with the calibres and FOR BIG GAME. The scope rings are also gold inlaid with the calibres and makers name.
The rifle is finished to a very high standard, is well balanced and points with ease. The action is smooth, the barrels are tight on the action and the bores are both in mint condition. It is neatly presented in its leather case with a sling, turnscrew, cleaning rods and accessories.
The .375 has proven its worth time and time again and shouldn’t need me argue its case. The .416 Remington since its introduction in 1988 has gained the affection of hunters world wide, non more so than legendary PH, Robin Hurt. Firing a 400 grain bullet with a muzzle velocity of 2400 fps, it is capable of taking Africa’s largest game and compliments the .375 perfectly. It’s an attractive and beautifully made African all-rounder that you’d be hard pressed to find a hunt it didn’t suit.
The name Beretta needs no introduction to a gun enthusiast. As the World’s oldest gun maker still in existence, the firm has been family owned and operated for almost 500 years and has provided weaponry for every major European war since 1650. For such a long and important history, Beretta’s Worldwide presence in the sporting market is fairly new. In 1933, Beretta introduced its first modern over/under shotgun, the S1, that would be the start of the firm’s very well respected “S” series of sidelock over/under shotguns. Almost 70 years later Beretta would introduce the SO10, what many consider the pinnacle of Beretta o/u shotguns and no doubt one of the finest over/under shotguns being made in the World today.
Typically fine Italian engraving depicting Cock Pheasant.
Machined from a solid piece of steel this hand detachable sidelock design is unique to Beretta. Using a bifurcated lump like the famous Boss & Co. and J.Woodward designs, the low profile SO actions are instantly recognised by the opposing shoulders of the receiver and barrels. Each action is scaled specifically to its gauge and reinforced with a Kersten type double cross bolt. The design makes the actions exceptionally robust yet slim, trim and a delight to handle. The graceful shape of the action is complemented by a pinless surface with hidden detachment levers making them an uninterrupted canvas for the World class engraving the Italians are famous for.
Two wonderful examples of the SO10 have recently walked into the U.S. Agency. A true pair of 20g SO10 EELL, Beretta’s highest grade guns. The pair is beautifully engraved by Maestro Dario Cortini in unbelievably realistic bulino engraving of English partridge, woodcock and pheasants complemented by a decorative Italian scroll. The 30” barrels, solid top and side ribs, with great stock dimensions make these guns a practical choice for the driven bird hunter.
English partridge and woodcock grace the opposing locks on each gun.
In the history of African safari there are the names of individual hunters that should need no real introduction, F.C.Selous, Captain James Sutherland, W.D.M.Bell and J.A.Hunter to name but a few. Whilst some hunted professionally for ivory, others hunted as professional guides taking the emerging elite of the world on lavish safaris into the heart of East Africa.
Amongst this elite group of Professional Hunters can be counted one Baron Bror von Blixen-Finecke (1886-1946), Swedish aristocrat, serial womaniser and husband of famed writer Karen Blixen who wrote one of the greatest books ‘Out of Africa’, so immortalising what many consider the golden age of safari hunting.
The J.Purdey & Sons sidelock underlever double rifle in .500/.465 calibre.
Now Blixen was not your usual run of the mill professional hunter. His reputation for securing huge elephant trophies and for ensnaring beautiful women came in equal measure, only surpassed by his legendary drinking skills! That all said and done, he was without question one of the toughest, ethical and courageous big game hunters who ever lived who had a client list booked many years in advance to hunt with him.
As with all professional hunters of the time, Blixen had at his disposal an assortment of both bolt action and double rifles with which to tackle the multitude of game that inhabited the vastness of the African continent.
Whilst he clearly owned several rifles of his own, legend has it that he also borrowed the occasional rifle including the rifle shown here. This particular Purdey double rifle in .500/.465 calibre was originally built in November 1908 for the Earl of Landisborough, before finding its way into the hands of a Swedish businessman who regularly took to hunting in East Africa. It is said that rather than travel back and forth from Africa with the rifle that it was left in the capable hands of Blixen ‘on permanent loan’.
Baron Bror von Blixen-Finecke on safari.
The rifle certainly seems to have seen some ‘bush use’ judging by the many subtle knocks and scrapes that it displays, all suggesting that it was used, not abused. The rifle has fantastic crisp rifling and appears as tight today as the day it was made. Interestingly the rifle features a bold scroll engraving pattern as opposed to the more traditional house rose and scroll engraving design found on the large majority of Purdey guns and rifles. The ‘bolted’ safety was a common feature of Purdey rifles, a double safety mechanism to stop the accidental discharge of a rifle should the safety button be innocently pushed off.
The rifle undeniably makes for an interesting piece of history and Africana, we only wish that it could tell a story or two!
The ‘bolted’ safety system as used on the majority of vintage Purdey nitro express double rifles.
‘African Hunter’ by Bror von Blixen-Finecke published in 1937.
A Holland & Holland .410 bore The “Royal” Model bar action sidelock ejector finished in 1964 and displaying all the hallmark patent features of Henry Holland’s collaborative designs.
A wonderful little gun recently showed up at the U.S. Agency, a Holland & Holland The’Royal’ Model in .410 bore. Finished in 1964, this gun was acquired from the family of the original owner and it remains in original, as new condition.
Henry Holland was apprenticed to his uncle Harris Holland in 1860 and by 1876 the two formed a partnership creating the firm “Holland & Holland”. Among the firm’s fifty-one patents, it is Henry Holland’s ‘Royal’ model sidelock ejector, Holland’s flagship hammerless double gun or rifle, that remains one of the main reasons guns from this maker are among the most sought after in the World. I would also venture to say, it is most likely a Holland & Holland ‘Royal’that pops in your head when you think of a sidelock shotgun. The ubiquitous design is used on the best guns offered from makers in England, Spain, Belgium, Italy, and Turkey all the way to Japan and it remains the most copied sidelock action design in history.
A 1901 Holland & Holland advert from The Badminton Magazine
A best quality Holland & Holland ‘Royal’ stocked with a long LOP over a thin leather recoil pad. The stock oval still retains the initials of the original owner “JFT”.
Today bestquality shotguns in .410 bore and 28 bore are in high demand worldwide by both collectors and shooters but this is a relatively new phenomenon. At the end of the nineteenth century and the beginning of the twentieth century, the rapid development of hammerless breach loading gun designs in England was largely fuelled by the sport of shooting driven birds. Shooters were looking to fill big game bags and a pair of 12g guns became the standard for most shooters. While they may have been a bit less effective knocking down a late season pheasant, the smallest bore sizes like the 28 and .410 were considered more appropriate for women or youngsters. As a result these bore sizes are most often encountered as trade made, lesser quality guns with smaller, youth sized stock dimensions.
However, discriminating American hunters preferred the smaller bore sizes for North America’s smaller game birds such as grouse, woodcock and quail. Moreover, the small-bore guns with shorter barrels and lighter weights lend themselves to the American style of walk up shooting over dogs that often occurs in heavy cover. Between the two World wars, the American’s start to fill the English gun maker’s books and a trend emerges of English guns being made in more “American” configurations. By the time gun making resumes in England after World War II, the U.S. had become the biggest market in the World for sporting arms and as a result, the English made guns we encounter from the post-war era reflect this heavy influence of “American” preferences.
That said, while there was an increase in the demand for small bore guns and, as a result, an increase in their production, they remain quite rare, especially in a best quality gun.
This .410 bore is fitted with all of Holland’s hallmark patent features such as hand detachable locks, single trigger, ejectors, self-opening mechanism and the house style ‘Royal’ engraving. In addition, the size of the action is wonderfully filed and scaled, the engraving is beautifully cut and the fit and finish is superb. This is a best quality Holland in every respect.
The ‘Royal’ was originally introduced in 1883 by Henry Holland and John Robertson. Holland’s patent single selective trigger design, arguably one of the finest in the English gun trade, was finalized in 1897. In 1908 the hand detachable lock, or lock plates that are removable by unwinding of the lever on the left side, was patented by Henry Holland and Thomas Woodward.
The unmistakable Holland & Holland ‘Royal’ engraving developed in the late 1890’s.
Holland’s self-opening mechanism was patented by Henry Holland and William Mansfield in 1922.
It never ceases to amaze us of the depth and variation shown by our predecessors here at Westley Richards. In fairness, with over 200 years of history there are always going to be new finds and something interesting to arouse the collectors or hunters eye.
Take for instance this Westley Richards .318 magazine rifle completed in 1909. It has all the best features of a Westley Richards bolt action of the time including horn tipped bolt handle, wooden side panels, edged cheek-piece and bold scroll engraving. However, of far more interest is the full length engine turned rib which is finished at the muzzle with Westley Richards patent flip over combination foresight that actually recesses into the rib!
The amount of work required to do this would have been considerable and the attention to detail shown by some long lost gun maker is all that we have come to expect of historical Westley Richards.
The story does not end there. Attached to the cocking piece is a Rigby style peep sight which allows for a clear view all the way along the top rib as the actual express sight consists of totally flush fitting leafs regulated out to 500 yards! The peep sight itself has been regulated to match perfectly with these leafs.
The rifle retains most of its original finish including take down cleaning rod in the butt plate and spare foresight beads in the grip trap. To find a rifle in this condition, in this configuration really is a rarity and it always reminds us that you have never seen it all and never know what might just be out there!
Lovely traditional bold scroll coverage.
Horn tipped bolt handle. A classic Westley Richards feature.
Scooped top rib to accommodate Westley Richards flip over foresight protector.
The full length engine turned rib is an unusual feature of this rifle.
Just as other British gun makers offered Winchester rifles for sale prior to WWII, Westley Richards & Co. also offered a large variety of pistols, revolvers and rifles from makers all over the World such as Colt, Browning/Fabrique Nationale, and Mauser. In addition, Westley Richards also stocked and sighted various types of barrelled actions like the Martini single shots and magazine rifles based on the Mannlicher-Schonauer, Lee-Enfield and Mauser service rifles. However, as diverse as Westley Richards offerings were in the first part of the 20thCentury, neither myself or anyone else I know has ever encountered a Krag Jorgensen rifle by Westley Richards.
In 1893 a Swedish-Norwegian commission set out to develop the perfect military round and came up with a 6.5mm caliber bullet and a rimless case that was 55mm long. The new cartridge has had many names throughout its history but today is known as the 6.5x55mm and remains a tried and true choice for hunters in North America, England, and Europe. In 1894, after that commission’s findings, Norway’s Army adopted the 6.5x55mm cartridge and the Model 1894 Krag-Jorgenson rifle, designed by Norwegians Ole Herman Johannes Krag and Erik Jorgensen, as its new military rifle. Krag rifles are a bolt action repeating rifle instantly recognisable by the “half-capsule” clam-shell type magazine mounted on the right side of the action. Somewhere around 33,000 Model 1894 rifles were made under contract with Steyr of Austria between 1896 and 1897 for the Norwegian Army and the Civilian Marksmanship Organisation.
Sometime prior to 1906 Westley Richards stocked and sighted this original Model 1894 Krag-Jorgensen barrel and action made by Steyr in 1897. A new stock was expertly shaped and inletted to accommodate the unusual action and it has a checkered pistol grip and forend and the original smooth steel trap butt. The barrel remains the original 27” but was turned down and tapered to a livelier weight and a pedestal mounted front sling eye was added. The rifle was sighted with Westley’s pattern sights including a ramp front sight with protector and an island rear sight base fitted with a standing Express sight regulated for 100 yards, two folding leaves regulated at 200 and 300 yards and a Tangent sight marked to 1000 yards. Each sight leaf is “platina-lined” as our catalogs from the early 1900’s referred to the platinum alloy wire inlay on the sight leaves. The barrel carries 6.5mm London proof marks and just under the rear sight the barrel is engraved “.256 Krag Jorgensen Cartridge”, the commercial name for the 6.5×55 used in England through the 1930’s. Finally, the top of the barrel is named “Westley Richards & Co., London”.
Inside the stock the rifle is numbered 32107which is no doubt a Westley Richards serial number. Sadly though, we do not have the ledger book containing this block of numbers, which would have just preceded the book we have starting in 1906. While we may never know the whole story on this most unusual Westley Richards rifle, it is a good reminder that there is always something new to learn from a company with such a long and interesting history.
A rarity for sure, our latest find is this truly outstanding pair of Westley Richards, double barrel, belt pistols, we believe completed somewhere around 1830. Although there is likely to be a serial number present if you were to strip the pistols, sadly there is no number on the external so we can’t trace the history exactly, but what I can tell you, and is plain to see from the images, they are in absolute first class condition and are a marvel of early 19thcentury craftsmanship by this firm.
Built with brown twist, sighted, 3 ¼” smooth bore barrels engraved ‘Westley Richards London’ with a stirrup ram rod and blued steel belt hook. Both pistols retain vivid case colours and are engraved with a foliate scroll coverage, high fences and dolphin head hammers with a slide back safety. Crisp, finely chequered handles with silver escutcheon and engraved grip cap with trap. Weighing 1lbs 14oz they point effortlessly and remain in unmolested condition, even the pins are clean, straight and untouched.
It’s safe to say we don’t get pistols in like this very often at all and the fact that they are made by our predecessors and remain in such fantastic condition is great to see. Sadly they are not cased but nevertheless, they are quite superb in every way.
How nice is this?! The latest treasure to arrive at the factory is this simply stunning little Westley Richards .22 rook rifle. Originally built in 300 calibre, it has been Parker rifled to .22LR, as were so many rook rifles over the years and comes complete with an Aldis Bros Ltd scope on Parker Hale rings. The 25” octagonal barrel with matted top is fitted with a standing 50 yard express sight and two folding leavings regulated at 100 & 150 yards.
The action has our classic semi bold scroll coverage, snap lever work, beetle back safety and retains lots of original case colour. The pistol grip stock, which has been pinned at the head, is beautifully figured and has an extended tang, grip cap, silver stock oval and vulcanite stock extension to 14 ½”. The snap forend has the traditional horn tip.
A quaint and very rare little rifle, it weighs 6lbs 13.5oz with the scope on and the rifle comes in the original case with some interesting accoutrements. Completed on the 22ndMarch 1907 for ‘Twyford’, it was, for many years, the property of Major Ernest & Mrs. Vivian Ambler, of Branton Court, Knaresborough, North Yorkshire. Major Ambler of the West Yorkshire Regiment passed away in 1958 and Mrs. Ambler, who lived to be 94, passed away in 2002, which was when this rook rifle was acquired by its latest owner, another passionate collector. Their house was said to be a treasure trove of fantastic art work, antiques and arms. And clearly this little rook rifle had spent many years in a fine gun collection being well looked after.
The last time a rifle like this arrived back at the factory was in 2002 and was fortunately caught on camera. For those who don’t know, Clarissa & The Countryman was series of TV programmes in the UK which followed TV chef Clarissa Dickson-Wright and her friend Johnny Scott, involved in hunting and all things country pursuits related, a show which now would be the thing of nightmares for mainstream media bosses.
The TV crew paid Simon a visit at the Bournbrook factory and below is a short video of Simon inspecting a very similar rook rifle and an interview with barrel filer Roy Hall and mater engraver Rashid El Hadi (with a small clip from the proof house half way through).
At Westley Richards, when it comes to dealing in second hand guns and rifles, we obviously focus on firearms from English makers. However, while we rarely mention American made guns on this blog, that certainly doesn’t mean we have any less appreciation for firearms from U.S. makers. I suspect most of our readers feel the same way and will find the Winchester rifle Trigger and I recently acquired just as interesting, and relevant to this blog, as we did.
For those of you not familiar with Winchester, a brief history on the company and their lever action rifles.
Oliver Winchester was an American industrialist, early venture capitalist and, in the mid to late 19thcentury, was a driving force in firearms development. His first success in firearms was in 1860 with his newly formed New Haven Arms Co. and Benjamin T. Henry’s patent Henry Rifle. The Henry rifle won much acclaim in the American Civil War and it is this rifle design that is the basis for the lever action format most of us think of today. Following on the success of the Henry, the Winchester Repeating Arms Co. was founded and the first gun the new startup produced was an improved version of the Henry, the Winchester Model 1866. Seven years later and the introduction of the firm’s second rifle, the Model 1873 colloquially known as “the gun that won the west”, solidified Winchester’s place in gun making history.
Each of these new rifles were based on a design first developed by Walter Hunt for a breach loading repeating action operated by a lever with a tubular magazine under the barrel. When the lever is dropped, it ejects the spent case and cocks the hammer. When the lever is closed it lifts a round pushed from the spring-loaded magazine, closes the rifle’s bolt and chambers the loaded cartridge. These rifles became known Worldwide for their reliability and increased firepower and were adopted by both domestic and foreign armies as well as part and parcel to the U.S. expansion westward.
Much of Winchester’s success was due to the cutting-edge firearms designs the firm was producing. Always in search of the next big thing, it was not long until a young Mormon gunsmith and his newly designed falling block single shot rifle caught the company’s attention. In 1883 that young inventor, John Moses Browning, sold the company the rights to the design for what would become the Winchester Model 1885 High Wall. This would be the first of 44 patents the Winchester Company would eventually buy from Mr. Browning over their almost 20 years of collaboration. John Browning would go on to become one of the most important and prolific firearms designers in history. In turn, and due in part to Browning’s gun designs, Winchester remains one of America’s greatest gun makers to this day.
Of all the guns that this historic partnership produced, it is the Model 1886 that I think was the best. The Model ’86 was the second design Winchester contracted from Mr. Browning and, like many of Mr. Browning’s designs, some version of it remains in production today. While the ’86 incorporated design fundamentals from the Henry and the Models 1866 and 1873, the action is heavier and has a modified bolt and the addition of a locking-block bar. Strengthening the lock up and beefing up the action allowed the ‘86 to handle the most powerful black powder centerfire cartridges of the day, such as the .45-70 Gov’t, the .45-90 WCF and the .50-110 Express.
By the late 19thcentury, Winchester rifles were in use around the World by foreign armies as well as by adventurers and explorers such as Henry Morton Stanley. A few British Firms such as Watson Bros. (who imported Stanley’s Winchester rifle) imported Winchesters to serve the small but growing demand for the reliable and powerful repeating rifles. The firm Boss & Co., famous today for its O/U shotguns, also ordered what is believed to be 49 Winchester rifles prior to WWII.
The Winchester Model 1886 pictured here is one of those rifles imported to England by Boss & Co.
On the top of this rifle’s barrel it is engraved between the rear sight and the receiver, “Boss & Co. 73 St. James’s St., London” and under the company’s name and address the number “4541”. The Boss & Co.ledgers shows entry “4541” as a “Winchester Repeating Arms Co. Model 1886 in .45-90 fitted with a half magazine” and shows it was imported in 1897. On the barrel, the bolt and an annealed spot on the color hardened action, the gun is stamped with the period’s London proofs.
The rifle’s original serial number is 110455 and according to Winchester records was shipped from the factory in 1896 and made with a 26” round barrel, a half magazine and a shotgun butt and chambered for the black powder cartridge .45-90 WCF. Most commonly, the standard Model ’86 had an octagon barrel, full magazine and a crescent shaped butt. The standard configuration was heavy though and the crescent butt was quite uncomfortable for shooting such powerful rounds. This Model ‘86 shipped to Boss & Co. was a special order with its round barrel and “button” style magazine that was “half” the length of a standard one. The round barrel and shorter magazine made the rifle a bit lighter and handier than most Model 1886 and the “shotgun” butt is flat making the rifle’s considerable recoil more manageable. All Model 1886 receivers were color case hardened until 1901 and this rifle displays almost all the original case colors. The barrel has a perfect bore and retains probably 98% of its original rust blue finish. The original factory varnish on the stock remains just as strong as the rest of the rifle and even the fragile Nitre blue on the loading gate is still wonderfully bright.
While I am anything but an expert on Winchester firearms, I think anyone can easily recognize this Winchester is one helluvarifle, no matter where it was made.
As I sit and write this latest blog the UK is currently in the grip of a heatwave and the mercury is due to hit 88°F here in Birmingham today, which is hot for England! With weather like this, thoughts of last winter’s sport are a distant memory and it’s hard to image that in just over 6 weeks’ time we will be putting back on our tweeds, dusting off our shooting kit and heading north for the start of the grouse shooting season.
While most people are thinking about the beach rather than the shooting season at this time of year, estates all over the UK have been busy preparing for this coming season’s sport from the moment the final horn blew on the last drive back in February. Relying on purely wild numbers only, moorland keepers are taking stock of what grouse they have on the ground from their spring and summer counts and are planning drives and days accordingly. Lowland keepers are beginning to welcome this year’s birds to the woods and over the next few months will be feeding them into the various drives of the shoot. Equally as important will be the job of pushing back straying birds from the boundaries with their dedicated team of dogs.
We’ve been busy preparing guns for the coming season. We have recently completed an engraving job on a pair of droplocks for an American client who asked us to polish out the old scroll engraving and re-engrave a Cock Pheasant and Hen Pheasant motifs on the cover plates. Beautifully executed by Bradley Tallett, the iris of each bird is gold inlaid along with a gold ring border. The surrounding space is tastefully engraved with scroll work to match the rest of the action. Next step is to case colour harden the plates and brush and ink the motifs.
The client and his team are regular visitors to our shores to hunt driven pheasant and partridge and these guns are now a fitting homage to their chosen quarry.
Wishing all of our American readers a happy Fourth of July!