This last week Vincent Crowley payed us a visit to deliver back one of his more recent masterpieces. Vince and I have known each other from our earliest days in the ‘gun trade’ having both started out with Westley Richards. It has been a pleasure working with him for over 20 years now, on some of the finest guns and rifles to leave the Westley Richards factory.
Vince has always been one of those lucky talents and I remember with envy some of the exceptional pieces he created as little more than a kid. Both of us have matured (supposedly!) since those early days and through the kind patronage of some fantastic clients, have been privileged to put together some genuine masterpieces of the gun-maker and engravers art.
Gold feathers add beautiful detail to the lock plates.
The gun shown here is one of our classic hand detachable or ‘droplock’ shotguns in 28 bore. With this particular gun Vince has used a process where raised steel scenes are actually carved onto the main action body and cover plate, rather than being of a relief carved style. This gives the scenes unparalleled dimension and it is almost as though the birds are flying out of the backgrounds and streaming past you. For interests sake, the gun is adorned with Bobwhite Quail, Chukar and Pheasant, with a Black Labrador on the trigger guard bow.
As we have come to expect with Vince, the rest of the gun has a wonderful combination of super fine rose bouquets and scroll, carved fences, pierced lever work and super delicate gold work. All of us are very much looking forward to seeing the finished article, as there are a few other nice touches to complete the final package.
Pheasant adorn the cover plate, whilst a Black Labrador retrieves a bird.
Bobwhite quail stream down the right side of the action.
A few months ago we posted images of this gun fresh back from engraving and now here it finally is all complete and ready to head out to the USA. The transformation from ‘in the white’ parts to a finished gun really is quite distinctive and the gun as a whole becomes an object of both gunmaking art and functionality.
One of the more subtle features of the gun is the actual colouration of the steel after it has been case colour hardened and subsequently brushed. All of our double guns and rifles go through the case colour hardening process as carried out by the St.Ledger brothers here in the old Birmingham gun quarter.
Before CCH the steel has a certain silver quality about it that is in basic terms raw and bright. The actual CCH process creates a surface hardness which allows the steel to flex under stress yet provides a protective outer shell or ‘case’. When the fine surface layer of colour is actually removed the steel maintains a slightly more greyed tone which adds a real subtlety to parts that might otherwise look like a shined coin!
In direct sunlight it is often possible to see the very finest traces of colour which can be used effectively to enhance the engraving of the gun. Some engravers will insist on finishing their own work for this very reason. With Westley Richards, no matter who is finishing the gun or rifle, we always try to leave CCH on the triggers, action flats, action face, forend iron and inside the trigger bow. This always adds a tasteful touch, particularly when the gun is disassembled for travel. It also seems such a waste to remove them all!
The gold flush game scenes must be carefully cleaned and highlighted after the case colour hardening process.
The finished article in its lightweight leather case, complete and ready to go.
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).
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!
I recently had the pleasure of hosting one Tyler Sharp, a journalist and photographer from the USA. I first met Tyler earlier this year at the Safari Club International convention when he casually and rather shyly wandered onto our stand holding a copy of some new publication. My initial thoughts were of some mildly eccentric character, better placed in a Western movie than the floor of the worlds largest hunting show.
Waiting for some lame sales pitch and preparing to savage all that he might say, I took the volume from his hand and began to flick through the pages. First impressions were of a beautifully produced publication, the like of which I had yet to see in the hunting world. This was no throw away magazine, this was something different and as the Texan boy told me his story I knew that this was someone with real passion for what he was doing and that we had a common interest in the future of our sporting heritage.
Since that first meeting I have found Tyler to be a uniquely honest and immensely passionate individual with genuine enthusiasm for the outdoors and the wider hunting world. This month we spent a couple of days here at the Westley Richards factory before heading off on a fabulous hunt for Roe Buck in the heart of the Wiltshire Downs.
I would encourage you, perhaps even urge you to subscribe to this great publication, or at the very least obtain a copy. You’ll be surprised at just how good it is and how the future of the sport we enjoy so much is going to rely on a refreshing new perspective. The world is a fast changing place and we face many new challenges as outdoor sports men and women.
I’ll now leave it to Tyler to give an insight into his mission and that of the ‘Modern Huntsman’.
Greetings Westley Richards readers, I just wanted to introduce myself, as I’ll likely be contributing some ongoing stories from the field. My name is Tyler Sharp, and I’m a photographer and writer based out of Dallas, Texas. I’ve spent the majority of my career documenting hunts, adventures, and conservation efforts all around the world, which has all led to my recent charge as Editor in Chief of a new publication called Modern Huntsman.
It was this that led me to the Westley Richards team, and we quickly realized commonality in virtue, ethical hunting pursuits, and creative storytelling. I’ve recently returned from a trip to visit the factory in Birmingham, England, which we’ll further detail in a future installment, but for now wanted to give you a bit more background on Modern Huntsman.
For those of you who don’t already know, Modern Huntsman is a biannual publication for like-minded conservationists, creatives, and outdoor enthusiasts. Born out of frustration with the way hunting is often misrepresented today, this publication is told from the perspective of hunting purists and philosophers, unaltered by the skews of mainstream media, corporate interests, or misinformed emotional rants. In short, we’re returning to the root traditions, in hopes of improving the perception of hunting in modern society.
For many of us, hunting is a way of life, a tradition passed down by our grandfathers, fathers, and brave mothers. It’s a way of staying connected to the land, harvesting wild food to sustain our families, our souls, and is a shared passion and pursuit in many countries the world over. Hunting also plays a majority role in conservation, which ensures that expanses of land stay untamed, and that wildlife populations thrive — something we’ll be prominently focusing on as we move forward with the publication.
But this isn’t just for hunters, and while we know that there will be opposition, we believe that through our collective stories, photographs, and films, we’ll be able to educate some folks about overlooked realities, and win the minds and hearts of those who still have them open. Through presenting stories based in virtue, ethics, personal growth, and statistical merit, our aim is to inspire, educate, challenge, and set the record straight in some cases.
We’ve assembled some of the best photographers and writers in the outdoor world, many of which you might already know. These are folks who’ve spent their years living off the land, enduring extreme conditions, and have sometimes risked their lives to ensure that wildlife thrives, and the traditions of hunting survive the modern age.
From the mountains of the American west to the fields of south Texas, the savannahs of East Africa to the governmental councils on regulation, Volume One covers a diverse range of topics, all unified by common ethics. Printed on thick matte stock, and bound into a substantial book of over 200 pages, it is more of an art portfolio than a publication, and a fitting showcase for the breathtaking work everyone has produced. We have no advertisements in the first issue, and as we move forward we’ll begin to integrate select brands and organizations to partner on stories of hunting history, conservation success, and notable characters, outfitters, chefs, and artists in the community. These will be collaborative, integrated stories instead of intrusive and heavy-handed ads, which will help us keep the message pure, and the conversations constructive.
We’ve sold through our first print run of 5,000 copies in three months, and have just re-ordered another 5,000 to continue sharing our mission with both hunters and non-hunters alike. Volume Two is scheduled to release in the fall of 2018, and will be centered around a theme of public lands, which is a hot topic in the United States to be sure. Apart from the political applications, we’ll also be exploring the realities of land access in other parts of the world, and how that affects land use, wildlife management, and hunting access. We’ll also be focusing on how these issues can bring folks together under common cause to protect what’s important, rather than squabble over something potentially insignificant.
This is just the first step in a long, important journey for Modern Huntsman, and we’d be honored to have you join us. To conclude, I’d like to leave you some parting words, which is the epilogue in the last few pages of Modern Huntsman Volume One, as a sort of call to action in what has become such an emotionally charged debate:
For hunters, we ask that you carefully consider the effect that your actions can have on not only your environment, but on the perception of this tradition. Whether through deed, word, or photograph, we feel that care should be taken, and respect given, for how quickly news can be spread in today’s world for good or ill. Therefore, choose your steps wisely, and wherever possible, see that they aim in a direction of positive progress and accurate representation, instead of confrontational detriment and further divisiveness.
For non-hunters, we appreciate your open-mindedness, and willingness to hear what we feel is a different, yet very important side of the hunting narrative. While we can’t speak for everyone, it is our aim to give voice to the overwhelming amount of like-minded hunters and conservationists who often lead quiet lives, in hopes of connecting with more folks like yourself, and finding common ground. We’d ask that as situations arise, you recall the beauty and honesty on these pages, as compared to the message that the mainstream media presents, and let respectful passion and conservation statistics win out over the often skewed biases and violent emotions.
And while some of you may never pick up a bow or a shotgun to harvest your own food, know that should the day come when you decide to, this community would jump at the opportunity to show you the ropes. Where you may have once felt opposition, you’d now find comradery, and a sense of belonging in one of the oldest traditions known to humankind. In short, we’d love to take you hunting.
Whether in the field, or in metaphor,
For more information, to order a copy, or subscribe to Modern Huntsman, you can visit one of the links below.
As another busy week draws to a close and we head into the bank holiday weekend, below is a small selection of shots from the factory floor. Although this is technically deemed as the quieter time of the year, there’s certainly no let-up in the work load and we’re as busy as ever!
An interesting find this last week was this ‘Spicer’s Stalking Records’ of 1914, detailing Red Stag trophies from the 1913 season. The reason we say interesting is that a close link existed between Westley Richards and the famed taxidermist Peter Spicer of Leamington Spa, which until now we have never seen published in anything other than Westley Richards ‘Centenary’ catalogue of 1912.
Peter Spicer was born in 1839 and died in 1935, aged 96. He was one of the pre-eminent taxidermists of the day and was renowned for the quality of his cased birds, fish and Red Stag mounts. His studio operated primarily from Leamington Spa with an offices based in Inverness, Scotland, that handled many of the trophies hunted in the north.
Peter Spicer 1839-1935
The opening page of ‘Spicer’s Stalking Records’ giving the two retail address’s used by Westley Richards at the time.
Individually ‘tipped in’ photos of some of the better stags shot during the 1913 season.
‘Spicer’s Stalking Records’ is a very nice publication that detailed many of the great deer forests, along with the best trophy Red Stags shot on those estates. Many of the better stags have tipped in images along with a short story about the trophy. The would unquestionably have been fierce competition amongst estates to produce the best trophies!
Westley Richards clearly had strong links with Peter Spicer and although no records exist today of how this relationship came about, it is probably safe to assume that it was of mutual benefit between the two great companies. If clients shot game with Westley Richards guns and rifles then clearly they needed a good taxidermist to prepare the varying trophies. It is worth remembering that Westley Richards also offered fishing rods, reels and accessories at the time and so all forms of taxidermy were a requirement for the sporting elite of the day.
Interestingly, Spicer’s Inverness office offered for sale Westley Richards guns and rifles, clearly acting as an agent in the north for the company, something we were until now unaware of.
The First World War would soon consume everyones attention and it would be somewhat sobering if time permitted, to see how many of the names listed in this 1914 Stalking Records actually survived the war.
An advert for Westley Richards Deer Stalking rifles.
In February 2018 the British Shooting Show celebrates its 10th Anniversary. The show has come a long way since its inception, and under the guidance of John Allison and Anne Bertrand has grown from being almost a local show into the pre-eminent gun, rifle and shooting show in the UK.
This coming year the show moves to the National Exhibition Centre in Birmingham, Westley Richards very own home town. The show promises to be the biggest of its kind in the UK, with prominent manufacturers from the traditional hand built gun market, including Holland and Holland, Boss & Co., Watson Brothers and John Rigby, through to the highly respected Browning, Perazzi, Beretta, Blaser, Mauser and Ceasar Guerini to name but a few.
Access to the show could not be easier with direct links by road, rail and air. Re-locating to the NEC certainly brings a more international accessibility and the show is sure to continue to go from strength to strength. We look forward to seeing you there.
For those eager gun enthusiasts among you the name Donald Dallas should need no introduction. He has almost single handedly written the history of many of the great names in British gun and rifle making including that of Holland & Holland, James Purdey & Sons, Boss & Co., David McKay Brown, John Dickson & Son and now with his latest publication, Alexander Henry.
Alexander Henry was unquestionably one of Scotlands finest rifle makers, posts on this blog testifying to the outstanding quality of the rifles built by him. What makes this book so special is the access Donald had to family archive via the great great grandson of Alexander Henry himself, one Richard Brown. Between the two of them they have put together the most complete history on the maker which is long overdue.
In Donald’s own words:
“It isn’t often that a gun or rifle maker is known to the general public, but Alexander Henry is with the Martini-Henry rifle. Although Henry was in business for a short time between 1852 until his death in 1894, he became a very well-known rifle maker not only in Great Britain but throughout the world. Henry was of a clever, inventive mind with his 1860 rifling and drop block action of 1865 and in addition, he was also astute in promoting this riflemaking ability. He attended all the major competitions, gave his rifles as prizes and was an early enthusiastic founder of the burgeoning Volunteer Movement.
By the 1860s Alexander Henry was the most well-known and pre-eminent rifle maker in Great Britain and the Empire. Orders flowed in from all parts of the world, with the customers in his Dimensions Books reading like a veritable Who’s Who of the period. He received Royal Warrants, unusual for a gunmaker outside London, and was on personal terms with the Prince of Wales.
Such were Henry’s achievements and fame that he featured regularly in The Scotsman and The Times newspapers in their records of shooting competitions, new inventions and military development. This contemporary documentary evidence is quite unusual for a gunmaker and was a great benefit in writing this book. He was a very public figure with not just self-interest driving his ambition, he was very patriotic and was keen to strive towards the greater good for his country.
One fortunate element in writing the Alexander Henry history is the existence of his complete records in the form of two Dimensions Books dating from 1852–1950. These books belong to John Dickson & Son and record in great detail every single firearm he constructed, making it possible to build up a very accurate account of his production.
Yet, for all his undoubted success in business and his contribution to rifle development, his personal life was marred by immense sadness and disappointment. However, he seemed to rise above this despondence and right to the end of his days strove constantly for perfection in all his works. The history of Alexander Henry is one of the most interesting histories of a gunmaker that I have encountered, an amalgam of worldwide success, yet tinged with disappointment and tragedy.”
The book contains around 200 full colour photographs, including the trade labels, patent drawings, photos of Henry’s personal shooting medals, with all 8000 guns and rifles listed by serial number. No gun library should be without a copy!
To purchase Donald’s latest book and for information on his previous publications, please visit http://donalddallas.com/
A name we don’t see too often these days is that of E.M.Reilly & Co, of London, another of those semi forgotten names from the golden age of British gun and rifle manufacture. It is therefore a pleasant surprise when something special by the maker passes through our factory and reminds us once again that the gun industry has a long tradition of producing magnificent guns and rifles.
This fabulous combination 12 bore rifle and shotgun was built for King Alfonso XII of Spain (1857 – 1885) and displays all the fine qualities in a firearm built for a king. True to the time, the late 1800’s, the gun focuses more on wood to metal fit, graceful lines and functionality, than it does to fancy embellishment. Surprisingly it has a piece of wood that by modern standards would be considered ‘exhibition’ grade, something uncommon at the time. Engraving wise the royal coat of arms sits nicely in gold on the action tang, whereas E.M.Reillys own business name seems to dominate the rest of the gun!
The magnificent case was manufactured and fitted out in the French style with no lack of imagination where tooling was concerned! All of the handles are made from ivory with many of the pieces engraved by hand for that extra unique finish. The interior lining is in a striking blue velvet that has been gold leaf embossed with the makers name and address. Interestingly the exterior has a fantastic brass frame, fully engraved, with the central crown of the King sitting above his monogram.
Taken as a whole, this is a package in every way fit for a King……………..
Gold inlaid coat of arms for King Alfonso XII.
Presentation case in the French style fitted with full tools and accessories.
Brass framed case exterior, unusual for a British cased gun.