Just arrived in Zambia this last week was this new Westley Richards .500 droplock double rifle built very much to our traditional format. Whilst super high grade work graces our factory on a regular basis these days, it is always nice when one of these ‘originals’ finally leaves for the hunting field. The client made subtle additions, like the carved fences and gold naming, but otherwise left to us the task of building him the perfect hunting rifle.
Perhaps we have become a little too blasé in recent times, as this is the type of rifle that helped build Westley Richards reputation as a dependable and formidable rifle maker over a century ago. In recent years our rifles have hunted all over Africa and accounted for some truly wonderful big game trophies. This rifle is set to continue in that vain and will in the coming decades have many stories of its own to tell. Most importantly a new generation of young clients are the ones embarking on those adventures.
The gunmaking name E.J.Churchill conjures up for the majority of gun enthusiasts the ‘XXV’ (25″) barrel shotguns that the company was so famous for promoting in the pre-war years. The raised rib and short barrels made for quick gun handling and suited a very instinctive style of shooting promoted by family member Robert Churchill. Brand names such as ‘Hercules’, ‘Zenith’ and ‘Premiere’ remain synonymous with the company.
Double rifles by the maker are few and far between so this particular rifle really is a treat. Built as a ‘Hercules’ best quality model fixed lock ejector in the fantastic .470 nitro express calibre and completed circa 1940, everything about the rifle really is ‘best quality’ with wood that even by modern standards is super exhibition quality, complemented with a fabulous fleur dy lis checkering pattern. The engraving is the tight full coverage Churchill house scroll with the rifle retaining nearly all of its original case colour hardening and finish. As fixed lock double rifles go it is probably one of the best you will see.
Established in 1891 by Edwin John Churchill, the company still thrives from its base in West Wycombe, Buckinghamshire, where ironically and very professionally it caters to thousands of shooters every year, a fitting tribute to both Edwin John Churchill and later Robert Churchill who were fanatical shotgun enthusiasts and instructors. For any travelling sportsman coming this season to shoot in the Uk you cannot go wrong paying the shooting grounds a visit and sharpening up your skills.
To all great rifle enthusiasts the name of Daniel Fraser should need no introduction. Established in 1878 in the city of Edinburgh, Fraser would become one of the pre-eminent Scottish gun and rifle makers, with particularly emphasis placed on rifle manufacture. Anyone who owns or has ever handled one of Frasers original rifles can only be impressed by the level of workmanship and quality that went into its manufacture.
Take for example the double rifle illustrated here. Built in .475 3 1/4″ nitro express calibre, the rifle has the distinctive crescent shaped action, carved fences and wonderful fine rose and scroll engraving familiar to all of Frasers best quality double rifles. Interestingly the rifle is fitted with scope mount bases, the scope itself sadly missing from the case. This same scope mount can be found on Frasers wonderful single shot rifles which seems to indicate that he was a great advocate of the riflescope and its aid to accuracy. How the scope performed under the recoil from such a rifle is anyones guess and perhaps explains its absence!
Fraser’s business was relatively short lived, as the cost of producing such high grade rifles, coupled with competition from the vast Birmingham manufacturers, sadly led to his closing of the business in the early 1900’s. Various family members continued in the gun trade, but the name of Daniel Fraser & Co. vanished until the 1980’s when it saw a re-birth and later amalgamation into the Dickson & MacNaughton group, based once again in Edinburgh. Regrettably this year the Edinburgh premises of Dickson & MacNaughton was closed sliding this once great name back into exile.
Webley & Scott is a name with a long pedigree that can trace its proud Birmingham ancestry back to the early 1800’s and the then independent business’s of one William Scott and Philip Webley. Both these individuals ran their respective gun and rifle business’s with various family members up until 1897 when a merger between the two took place. The name subsequently changed in 1906 to Webley & Scott Ltd which is the name this wonderful rifle carries.
Engraved with both Indian and African dangerous game this has to be one of the finest pre-war .600 sidelock double rifles anywhere. The attention to detail in the engraving is really quite outstanding for the period with a level of shading not seen very often, each vignette complemented with detail of flora in both the fore and background. The scroll surrounding the scenes, combined with the relief work on the fences, top lever and action body completes a truly superlative rifle.
Thomas Horsley Gunmaker, was originally founded in 1832 in Doncaster, England moving within only a couple of years to the City of York where the rifle shown here was manufactured circa 1840. This particular .450 percussion rifle retains much of its original finish and patina, but is particularly interesting in that a damascus telescopic sight has been added at some stage, presumably by the maker. This is the only muzzleloading double rifle that we have seen fitted with a quick detachable telescopic sight and there certainly cannot be too many around as it would undoubtedly have been a very new invention for the time.
Going back to the business, Thomas Horsley the elder passed the company onto his son Thomas who continued the operation from Coney Street, York. On his death, circa 1915, the business passed on once again to his son, another Thomas (!) who ran it with his brothers from Blossom Street, York and later Micklegate, York, which was to be the company’s last address when it ceased trading in the late 1950’s.
Another interesting feature of this rifle is its compact size. Whilst we cannot confirm it, we have always rather romantically referred to this rifle as a ‘Howdah Rifle’ as its compact nature befits the tight space likely encountered from the howdah on the back of an Indian elephant. It would certainly be very handy to use and the telescopic sight might just help pick an animal out from amongst the tall grass. The wonderfully naive engraving on the lock plates of tiger and deer adds greatly to this hypothesis!
It is always nice to see another ‘beast’ completed here at the factory and this .577 droplock proves that we continue to lead the way with the production of big bore double rifles. Based very much on the Sutherland .577 double rifle that we have here at the factory this rifle has been built very much to be used and its new owner is itching to get the rifle into the field and hunt some dangerous game.
This rifle is the full blown magnum version of the .577 firing the 750 grain bullet, however the rifle only weighs in at 12lb 8ozs and so it is a little lively on the range! Before anyone asks, this is how the client wanted it built and so true to form we built the rifle. Lets be honest, in the face of a full on charge a handy .577 will be of less concern than a touch of recoil!
Just off to case colour hardening is this .577 3″ nitro express droplock double rifle which combines bold scroll and classic game scenes of the ‘Big 5′. Whilst talk of late has centred around the decline of big game hunting in certain African countries, we have to say from our own point of view that double rifles continue to be a mainstay in our production, so guys are undoubtedly getting out there in the field.
This particular rifle is going to the next generation of hunter who has already built up a strong affair with the great safari tradition of Africa and is very much determined to continue the pursuit. Truth be told Africa has always been volatile and unpredictable which is probably one of the attractions. To still have the privilege to hunt in some of these great countries is something that no-one should take for granted and all keen hunters should be encouraged to undertake in a fair and sporting manner.
Africa is one of the last great wilderness’s on earth and the ultimate destination for a big bore double rifle such as this. Long may the tradition continue.
While there are many factors that come into play when evaluating a gun for purchase, one of the main criteria I look for is that the gun is in a configuration that is relevant and desirable to today’s shooter. These same features also usually measure up for the collector and when present on a gun make it that much more desirable. Guns and rifles made by the best and most well-known makers with features that are hallmarks of that maker, are often times the most appealing types to me.
Currently for sale at the Westley Richards U.S. Agency is a J. Purdey & Sons Beesley Patent Self Opening Sidelock Ejector Double Rifle chambered in .375 H&H Rimless Magnum. Completed in the early 2000’s, this relatively rare London Best double rifle is in both a practical configuration for a hunter as well as having all the hallmark Purdey features collectors look for.
The Beesley Patent Self Opener is the heart and soul of Purdey’s side by side shotguns and double rifles. The closing of the barrels compresses a set of “lifters” that protrude from the action’s water table, thus compressing the main springs of the actions and cocking the tumblers. Upon opening, the pressure from the main springs pushes on the barrel flats and the barrels spring open. My personal experience is that the heavy, large bore rifles such as .500 NE or the .577 NE can be quite cumbersome to close on the self-opening design. However, this .375 caliber rifle closes effortlessly, yet opens smoothly with very positive ejection and quicker reload; the same benefits to a big game hunter as it is a for a wing shooter in a shotgun. This rifle handles more like a small bore shotgun than a heavy express rifle, yet the 10 lbs. 9 oz. weight handles recoil well when the rifle is shot from shooting sticks or a rest.
Proofed in 2002, and coincidentally featured in Donald Dallas’ “Purdey Gun & Rifle Makers The Definitive History” (2000 Quiller & Sons Ltd.) this rifle includes Purdey’s easily recognizable bolstered frame, incorporates Purdey’s third grip rib extension and has sideclips, all classic reinforcements found on Purdey rifles. In addition, one finds all the features to be expected on a Best quality gun such as a bolted safety and gold lined cocking indicators, rolled trigger guard and hinged front trigger, a trap grip cap, an extended bottom tang and a strap over the comb. The stock has a right hand cheekpiece, full pistol grip, and is finished in a leather pad and the forend, Purdey’s very distinctly shaped beavertail, has a push rod forend latch. Finally, the action is brushed and the clean finish showcases the house Rose & Scroll engraving nicely.
The 23” chopper lump barrels have a quarter rib with two folding leaf sights regulated for 100 yds and 200 yds respectively and factory installed claw mounts and a Schmidt & Bender scope which is complemented with a ramp front sight with a flip up moon bead and Purdey’s unmistakable “clam shell” front sight protector.
Complete in the maker’s leather case, this rifle is in the classic Purdey double rifle configuration and combines a quick release scope and the versatile .375 H&H with the added benefits and attributes of a double rifle. A rifle that incorporates all the hallmarks of this great maker in a gun that is relevant and desirable to today’s hunter.
When picking a dangerous game rifle, there is the ever present discussion of bolt action versus double rifle. While I think I can make a strong argument in favour of either platform, at the end of the day, it comes down to which style you as a hunter are most comfortable with. Safari season is in full swing and as our friends and clients are in pursuit of some of the World’s largest and most dangerous game, two rifles in our inventory come to mind.
The bolt action is chambered in Rigby’s venerable .416 Bore and built using an original, near mythical, Rigby pre-war magnum length single square bridge Mauser action. These actions were made by Mauser to Rigby specs and represent some of the finest bolt action receivers to ever be manufactured. The gun had a new stock and barrel by Rigby around the early 1990’s (1994 London Proofs). While the .416 Rigby won its popularity from Ruark’s writing as much as anything, the cartridge certainly had the performance to back up that popularity, which it still enjoys today among dangerous game hunters as well as collectors. Besides being in what I would argue was Rigby’s most famous cartridge, there are a few reasons I like this particular rifle; being based on an original single square bridge action but being stocked and barrelled to new is a great combination. It has also always been my experience that guns made under Paul Robert’s tenure at Rigby, as this rifle was, always function with great reliability and shoot equally as well, this rifle keeps with that tradition.
The double rifle I have in mind is another classic from Rigby’s; a best quality sidelock ejector in .470 3 ¼” NE. This rifle was made circa 1911 and incorporates Rigby’s patented third grip or club head rib extension. Interestingly, production of this rib extension overlapped with that of the much talked about Bissell Rising bite. Certainly one cannot argue with the strength of a screw grip type action and Rigby must have thought the same. Additionally, the rifle is chambered in .470 NE. John Rigby was a noted expert on firearms and ballistics of the day and this is the cartridge we see many of these best quality rifles chambered for. Additional classic features of this Rigby best quality rifle are the dipped-edge locks, the carved fences and the original and near perfect 28” barrels.
As I said before, I think I could argue just as convincingly for one type of rifle as the other. A double rifle’s near instant second shot versus 4 rounds in a bolt action that, with some practice, can shoot two shots as fast as a gun with a second barrel. It’s an age-old argument that will rage around fires in hunting camps for many more hunting seasons. No doubt the best way to solve the debate it is to simply have one of each!
Game scene rifles of the pre war era have always seemed thin on the ground and outside of the great Mahrajah’s and the occasional ostentatious aristocrat, the majority of double rifles tended to be of the traditional house scroll engraved format. An Englishman was far more reserved and refined in his tastes!
This pretty little Rigby in .256 rimmed is one of those exceptional little rifles that you would like to own just because the engraving takes you back to the golden age of big game hunting when the continents of India and Africa competed for the attentions of the avid big game hunter. Beautifully engraved with game scenes of Indian big game including tiger, leopard, black buck, sambar and cheetal deer, all credit must be paid to the engraver who most likely had never viewed any of these game animals live and most certainly not from some download off the internet.
The small calibre of the rifle, single trigger and stepped breach only add to the delicate nature of both the rifle and game scenes. Completed in 1907 for H.H Maharana of Udaipur it has obviously been well used without being over-abused and surely if it could speak would have many an exciting story to tell!
The Bissell or Rigby ‘rising bite’ third fastener.
Wonderfully detailed Indian big game scenes throughout.
Stepped breach, dipped edge lock plate and single trigger.