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.
It’s fair to say that we in the U.S. have a long-held and deep appreciation of the best English gun makers. This explains why their order books are so often filled with the names of American clients. Underlining the point, Westley Richards has enjoyed a tremendous amount of success here and, over the years, gained a loyal, enthusiastic following. As Westley Richards enters its third decade of serving our clients through a dedicated Agency – and after more than two hundred years in business – the firm now stands as the only English gun maker with a flagship store here in the United States. Indeed, at a time when it seems other companies are scaling back their presence in America, Westley Richards is, we are happy to say, growing and expanding.
This fall we opened a newly renovated and fully stocked Agency in a brand-new location in the town of Gulf Breeze – just across the bay from the beautiful city of Pensacola in Florida’s Northwest Panhandle. One of the main reasons for relocating was to make it a lot easier for many of our customers to reach us.
We are now just a day’s drive from Dallas, Houston, New Orleans, Memphis, Nashville, Birmingham and Atlanta – and only one flight away from eleven different international U.S. Airports. Add the wonderful weather, crystal clear waters, pristine beaches, friendly people and sheer positive energy of the place and you can see why moving here was such an easy decision!
The new Agency itself is housed in an old warehouse space that has been tastefully repurposed to our design. While it is impossible to replicate the history, grandeur and ambience of our factory in England, the new showroom has all of the hallmarks that make it still recognizably Westley Richards – an inviting and relaxing atmosphere where you will find a level of service you would expect from one of the world’s most prestigious names in gun making. We also stock the same carefully assembled range of leather goods, shooting accessories and apparel offered in our English showroom and factory. The perfect environment for customers to see, touch and feel the quality for which Westley Richards is famed.
I am proud to say the Westley Richards’ promise, to make “as good a gun as can be made”, is matched by our commitment to ensuring a great all-round customer experience. In today’s world, where most things can be bought online with the click of a button, we believe a ‘bricks and mortar’ store allows us to deliver a truly personal service where customers are given all the time, care and attention they need. With a U.S. Agency run by an expert team that holds to the same exacting standards as those of Westley Richards in England, we look forward to welcoming you to Gulf Breeze and sharing with you our pursuit of excellence.
Above is the portrait of Mr. Charles Boswell (1850-1924) and no doubt his name will be familiar to readers of the Explora. From relatively humble beginnings and a love of shooting his entry into the gun trade, age 14, was through an apprenticeship to Mr. Thomas Gooch and two years at the Royal Small arms factory at Enfield as a sight filer. In 1872 he started his own gun making business, initially carrying out repairs and general gunsmithing. A much admired gun maker, he was popular with the ladies and a talented live pigeon shot, frequenting Hornsey Wood and Westley Richards’ very own Hendon shooting ground, North London, where his skills were noticed by the trap shooters of the time. Boswell would impress and schmooze these shooters, converting them into clients which was common practice for gun makers of the time, James Lang and Harris Holland to name a couple.
The Westley Richards shooting school at Hendon, North London.
Considered to be no great inventor, he preferred to use other makers’ patents under licence but made a of variety guns including large bore fowling pieces, hammer and hammerless actions, muzzleloaders and pistols. Live pigeon guns proved to be Boswell’s specialty and took up a good deal of his production until the prohibition of live pigeon shooting in the UK came about in the early 1920’s. His 126 Strand address in the West End of London is his most famous and the majority of his guns in existence today bear that name.
An active member of the gun trade, in 1906 and 1907 he was elected Chairman of the Gunmakers Association and served it for many years. Around 1914 Boswell changed from having his guns proofed in London and instead moving them to the Birmingham Proof House. One train of thought is he was buying barreled actions in from the Birmingham trade, or another reason is he or his son, who was involved in the business, fell out with the London Proof Master. Hence why it is not uncommon to see his guns with Birmingham proof marks.
One such rifle built by Boswell, which is evidence of his skills as a gun maker, is this fabulous little .303 single shot rifle we currently have at the factory. Completed around 1905, it has the most superb and rare engraving, not commonly found on a rifle such as this. Featuring a selection of African plains game such as Eland, Bluewildebeest and Impala surrounded by intricate scroll work. The name C. Boswell gently rolls around the hinge pin on both sides of the action, the raised panel fences with their bold scroll fold round to the top of the action where I can only guess it to be a 1905 gun engraver’s idea of a Duiker, which stands alert on the top of the tang top lever. The engraving is though, beautifully executed and the three Eland on the right hand side of the action are very accurate and have to be my personal favourite.
The rifle features a 28″ octagonal barrel with matted rib, ramp foresight, one fixed 100 yard express sight and six folding leaves regulated to 700 yards with the 126 Strand address engraved at the breech. A 14 1/4″ pistol grip stock with grip cap, cheekpiece, oval and Silvers recoil pad. The rifle weighs 7lbs 5oz and we think it’s a very cool little rifle and a great example of early 1900’s craftsmanship, imagination and flair.
From the 28th to the 30th of July the annual UK Game Fair was held at the prestigious Hatfield House in Hertfordshire. Only 25 miles from central London, the Jacobean house was built in 1611 by Robert Cecil, the first Earl of Salisbury and Chief Minister to King James I. Still in the family, it is now home to Robert Gascoyne-Cecil, the 7th Marquess of Salisbury.
It was the first time for this grand estate, once a favourite of the royals, to hold this event and its proximity to London proved to be convenient and popular. Friday had a real buzz about the place and the isles were busy. How much money people were actually parting with is always hard to tell and you occasionally hear the classic line ‘oh I can get that much cheaper online’, which gets mixed responses! Not many new products being launched this year, rather people catering for the bargain hunters and displaying their sale items trying to shift old stock or odd sizes.
The layout of the show was an improvement on Ragley but it still isn’t up to the same standard as Blenheim, for me that is the only place to have the game fair. The weather was fine and dry on Friday but in true British summer time tradition, the rains came and by Sunday afternoon it was a mud bath. It still remains a good day out with plenty of food and drink stalls, shooting clothing, cars, gun dog displays, horse jumping and pretty much anything else countryside related and it’s important to mention it’s a much needed promotion of fieldsports here in the UK.
You may have found us a bit quieter than usual of late. Well, that is because we have been hard at work on an exciting new project. After considerable time and effort, we at Westley Richards are proud to announce the launch of our brand new website.
Featuring the finest imagery and design, and industry-leading technology, it showcases the world of Westley Richards like never before. Designed and developed especially for those with a passion for fine guns, hunting, bespoke leather goods and the very best shooting clothing and products, the new site is a reflection of what we do here at Westley Richards in our relentless pursuit of perfection. We hope you enjoy it and we look forward to welcoming you all into our world.
Many names spring to mind when one thinks of the most famous, important or influential engravers to have worked in the English gun trade over the years and you could reel off a list as long as your arm, but one name which should always be near the top of that list, if not the top, is Henry ‘Harry’ Kell. He was a pioneer in game scene and animal engraving and pushed the boundaries of artistic, unusual and life like styles of engraving. For three quarters of a century the name Harry Kell, both father and son, was associated with the very best London gun making.
Considered to be possibly the most famous work Harry Kell did was three miniature guns that were presented to George V on his silver jubilee and of course the pair of Purdey guns he engraved for Queen Mary’s Doll House. He engraved for all the best London gun makers but most of his work was unsigned. His work inspired a new generation of engravers, most famously Ken Hunt, who was apprentice to Harry and was taken on by Purdey’s in 1950.
Harry Kell, born Henry Albert Kell in 1880 into a family of engravers served an apprenticeship under his father, Henry John Kell (1860 – 1929), also known as Harry. Henry learnt his trade under Thomas Sanders and worked for his engraving business, Thomas Sanders & Son, which he joined around 1875. Thomas Sanders employed a small team of engravers doing work for much of the London trade and established his engraving workshops, which were based in Soho at 13 Dean Street, in 1862, moving to 6 Greek Street in 1866 and just before the outbreak of the First World War, he moved to 142 Wardour Street where he remained until the business closed in 1919.
In 1919 Henry Kell, who was already a partner in the business, took it over and named it Henry Kell & Son. Henry kept the business at 142 Wardour Street for a few years until moving it to 38a Broad Street in 1921. The business remained there until 1937 when it was moved to 45 Broadwick Street (Broad Street renamed) where it saw out the Second World War and remained until 1957.
Harry Kell was apprenticed to his father around 1894 and took over the company when his father died in 1929. Harry changed the name of the business in 1952 to Henry Kell, but remained at 45 Broadwick Street until 1957 when failing eye sight and health forced him to move into the Purdey factory, he died a year later in 1958.
The latest used gun to pass through our hands is a Purdey 12g sidelock engraved by the great man himself. Completed in 1932 as the No. 2 of a pair it was made as a lightweight gun weighing only 6lbs 3oz, with 28” barrels made for M.M. Johnson Esquire. Beautifully engraved game scenes with pheasants flushing from a wood, surrounded by intricate rose and scroll on the left lock, partridges in a woodland scene, again surrounded by rose and scroll on the right and a retrieving spaniel on the bottom of the action with more rose and scroll. The gun retains some lovely case colour and is a truly superb example of what between the wars engraving had become and what lead the way for future engravers, pioneered by the likes of Harry Kell.
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.