Live Pigeon Trap Shooting By C.S. Adams.

Pigeon Trap Shooting - Book Cover-3816-EditHouston’s Cyril Adams is one of the most influential figures in the revival of interest in British guns—particularly hammer guns and those with Damascus barrels—that swept America in the 1980s and ‘90s. During the period he owned London’s Atkin Grant & Lang (1984-1999), Adams resuscitated the once-great maker and aided by the expert tutelage of Ron Solari produced some of the finest sporting shotguns made in Britain during that time. In 1996, along with co-author Robert Braden, Adams published Lock, Stock & Barrel, which remains one of the best single-volume primers on the principles and methods of best quality British gunmaking.

Newly out is his magnum opus: Live Pigeon Trap Shooting, the first book written in the English language on the subject in more than 120 years, and by far the most comprehensive ever published. Clearly written throughout its 275 pages, and complemented with hundreds of rare photographs and illustrations, it is encyclopedic in its detail of the sport past and present.

CA_D91      Pigeon shooting was also popular in America, as shown in this 1891 illustration from Harper’s Weekly.

Today live pigeon trap shooting is arcane and little known but in its heyday in the 19th and early 20th centuries, it was not only enormously popular internationally—drawing large crowds of spectators—but also critically important in the development of modern wingshooting, shotguns, ammunition, and the target-shooting sports such as trap and Helice that are its direct descendants. In 1886, English shooting writer A.J Stuart-Wortley wrote of the sport: “Here every modern improvement in guns, powder, or cartridges has been brought to the test, and there can be no doubt that the practical proofs supplied by pigeon shooting have been of great service to the science of modern gunnery.”

CA-D20Monte Carlo was the epicenter of international pigeon shooting, and its most prestigious venue. This photo likely dates from the early 1920s.

CA-D51  Italians have been many of the sport’s most successful shooters. The stylish Duke of Abruzzi in northern Italy in 1929.

As Adams explains in his overview introduction: “In the pigeon ring, new ideas for improvements to guns and ammunition could be tried against each other under consistent conditions with repeatable results. This is not possible in the field, but useful improvements developed and then proven by pigeon shooters were quickly incorporated into field guns and ammunition.” This was particularly true in the British gun trade, where pigeon shooting remained popular until the end of the 19th Century. Successful pigeon shots were often a gunmaker’s best source of advertising and publicity.

CA-D53     1930 World Championship program.

CA-DES-29AThe action and excitement of a columbarie shoot in south Texas.

CA-G6Westley Richards was just one of many gunmakers that used the success of pigeon shooters to promote its guns.

CA-G30    The Westley Richards “Ovundo” was offered in trap configurations and one was used by Henry Quersin to take several championships in Belgium in the 1920s.

Adams—an engineer by training with a specialty in low-temperature physics—has competed in pigeon and Helice rings around the world for half a century, and is a uniquely qualified author. The book comprises seven chapters: 1) History; 2) Bird and Traps; 3) Guns; 4) Ammunition; 5) Notable Shots; 6) Descendants; 7) How to Do It. A bibliography and an appendix of pigeon and Helice championship results and the rules governing the sport round the work out—and given its quality it is the most important book on wingshooting and fine guns to be published in 2017.

Cyril-Adams-dust-jacketCyril S. Adams, at home, in the ring, with his 34-inch-barreled Stephen Grant hammer gun — aka “Supergun.”

Live Pigeon Trap Shooting is available in the UK and internationally from the publisher, The Sporting Library, an imprint of BPG Media, which publishes Fieldsports: www.thesportinglibrary.co.uk. It is available to Americans purchasers directly from the author: cyriladams38@gmail.com

The Sporting Library, 2017, 275 pp. £80 sterling; $100

Harris Holland’s 4 Bore Live Pigeon Gun

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The early 1800’s gave rise to some of England’s most famed gun makers and their beginnings are nearly all owed to their family’s already established gun making origins. William Westley Richards came from a well-known family of jewellers, silversmiths and gun makers, James Purdey’s father, also called James, was believed to be a blacksmith and gunsmith based near the Tower of London in the late 18th century. Thomas Boss’s father, William was a gun maker for the famous Joseph Manton and was also an apprentice at Thomas Ketland gunmakers in Birmingham. However Holland & Holland’s inception was somewhat different and was born from the vision of an entrepreneur and later perfected by the talents and ingenuity of a skilled gun maker.

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Harris Holland’s (1806-1896) family had no gun making connections and were involved in the music trade and were skilled makers of variety of musical instruments. Initially continuing his family trade and deemed to be a talented musician, around 1831, Harris quit music and entered the retail tobacco trade and set up shop at 5 Kings Street Holborn later moving to a bigger premises at 9 Kings Street. In the mid 1840’s he saw a profitable future in guns and combined selling tobacco with guns. He initially had guns made for him under his name and by 1850 become a gun maker in his own right. It wasn’t until 1860 that Henry Holland, nephew to Harris joined the firmed and was apprenticed to his uncle. He became a partner in 1876 and ran the business after the death of Harris in 1896 until his own death in 1930. Henry’s skill, knowledge and inventiveness coupled with strong business acumen powered Holland & Holland to become a world famous brand.

Harris was a sportsman, keen shot and a successful live pigeon shooter, the sport which had become well established in England by the 1940’s. Frequenting such gun clubs as Hornsey Wood Tavern, Notting Hill and Hurlingham in Fulham, these clubs had wealthy members and Harris made good connections and supplied shooters with their live pigeon guns and accessories. One gun to pass under the lens of our camera is this H. Holland 4 bore live pigeon gun believed to be made for Harris himself. Gun No. 575 is a double barrel percussion 4 bore with 28” Damascus barrels, a 14 1/2” length of pull to a steel butt plate, horn forend tip, pineapple finial on the trigger plate, the rib engraved ‘H. Holland 9 Kings Street Holborn London’, the action and hammers are engraved with best foliate scroll. The gun was built with no rod and only weighs 7lbs 13oz. Completed around 1856 it is recorded as being built for ‘Mr. Holland’. An interesting gun built for a by gone sport, made at the start of one London’s best known makers.                                

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William Ford 32 Bore Trigger Guard Opening Hammer Gun

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A leisurely 5 minute stroll from the Westley factory, towards the city centre, leads you into the heart of the historic and once thriving, Birmingham Gun Quarter. Based around St Mary’s Chapel the surrounding streets of Loveday, Shadwell, Weaman, Steelhouse Lane and St Mary’s Row housed some of Birmingham’s best known gunmakers, the likes of W.W. Greener, Webley & Scott and Isaac Hollis & Sons to name but a few.

One such maker to call the Gun Quarter home was William Ford. Respected gun fitter, famous for barrel boring and supplying award winning barrels to the likes of W.W. Greener, Lincoln Jeffries and many others in the trade, he made some quite superb guns under his own name. Initially occupying No. 23 Loveday street, he moved to 15 St Mary’s Row in 1899 and stayed there till 1948 when the company made a brief move round the corner to Price Street, a street which still accommodates self-employed stockers, barrel blackers, colour hardeners and general repair gunsmiths and is really the only active gunmaking street left in the Quarter today. After a short spell on Price Street, William Ford moved back to St Mary’s Row at No. 10-11 and in 1953 amalgamated with James Carr & Sons, another Birmingham gunmaker.

One such gun made by William Ford, which we were lucky enough to have at our factory, is this diminutive and beautifully made 32 bore triggerguard opening hammer gun. Featuring a rebounding lock, treble bite, double trigger action, c-scroll hammers with hare’s-ear spurs engraved with stunning ornate scroll, 22” etched Damascus barrels with a sunken game rib, snap forend with a horn tip and a handsome straight hand stock measuring 14 ¼”. The gun weighs 3lbs ½oz and fits neatly into its oak and leather case with brass corners. The dainty gun, in an almost forgotten calibre, is a joy to handle and a pleasure to view. The triggerguard opening system is operated with ease with just a small amount of pressure applied with the trigger and middle finger on the front of guard, it slides it back and draws all three bites to release the barrels. It is a truly exquisite example of skill, craftsmanship and ingenuity from a fine Birmingham gunmaker.

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W. R. & Co. Scotch Bag

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It was back in June 2014 on the Explora that we were singing the merits of fine vintage bags and how they influence the leather goods we develop here in our leather shop. Our latest reproduction of a vintage bag is a classic game bag which previously featured in our 1912 catalogue.

By examining the details on the vintage bag, our leather department has been able to recreate a new version of the bag with the same look, feel and function. Faithful to the original bag, the materials used are our house waxed cotton, our classic brass fittings; and hand-woven hemp netting from the fishing town of Bridport in Dorset.

A classic and versatile bag, which would be at home on a variety of different hunts. May many a pheasant, grouse, quail or bottle of whiskey grace its pocket. This is now available to purchase on our website here.

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Vinatge Westley Richards .318 Accelerated Express

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There are certain things that Westley Richards is famous for, such as the drop lock action, the .425 or the snap lever work, but the .318 Accelerated Express cartridge is about as Westley as it gets and one that provokes great emotion, not only with collectors but the ‘gun nuts’ here at the factory. This .318 that we recently acquired has been round all the gun makers, each one, in turn, taking his time to admire the shape, feel and form of a classic Westley rifle, hand crafted by their predecessors 104 years ago. They cannot but appreciate the skills they possessed, feel a sense of pride that this is ‘one of our own’ and then try and work out how they are going to acquire it for themselves! It’s really quite special to have this rifle back in our possession and a rarity to say the least.

The .318 is a thing of legend and its credentials needs no questioning. Formidable for its size and a firm favourite for many a hunter, with its 250 grain bullet, it’s conquered the largest of game and has been used around the world. Even after the release and rise in popularity of the .375 H&H Magnum it was still a hugely popular calibre and other gun makers built bolt action rifles in this calibre, proving the success and demand for this round.

This rifle, which is a really super example in characterful condition was completed in 1913, features a 22″ barrel with our combination foresight, raised express sight with one standing 100 yard and four folding leaves regulated to 500 yards. The action is engraved with bold scroll, chequered bolt grip, has a flag safety and a hinged magazine plate with release latch. The full pistol grip stock measures 14 1/2″ to the centre of the steel plated butt and has a grip cap with trap, side panels with points, horn forend tip, cheek piece and a neat peep sight fitted into the nose of the comb. The rifle weighs 7lbs 14oz, has been tested on our range and shoots a 1.5″ group at 50 yards. It will be on our used gun site soon!

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Vintage Westley Richards .303 Fixed Lock Double Rifle

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The British .303 cartridge was at one time a favourite choice for the small bore double rifles being built by the great rifle makers of the pre First World War years. Its great benefit was that it was the service round of the British Army which with its vast Empire meant ammunition of some description was always available. The majority of double rifles were regulated for the 31 grain cordite cartridge firing a 215 grain soft point bullet. This was a very effective load on small to medium game, solid nickel bullets were even capable of taking large and dangerous game in the right hands.

All the British makers initially offered the .303, but as each developed their own calibres to feed an imaginative market so the .318, .350, .375 2 1/2″ and others started to take a share of the market in small bores. Another theory is the ban on .450 calibre rifles by the British Government in 1907, may have worried makers about the adoption of anything too military based and so the .303 fell out of favour.

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The rifle here is a lovely Westley Richards fixed lock ejector that was completed in 1900 and sold via our London, Bond Street address. Often the giveaway of these pre 1900 rifles is the lovely swamped ribs which have a short raised island holding the express sight as opposed to the later adoption of a full quarter rib. This particular rifle has all the hallmarks of the period, including fine house scroll engraving, checkered side panels and the distinctive Westley Richards kidney cheek piece. The ‘bolted’ safety is another of those lovely features that existed on many pre-war double rifles built by Westley Richards, H & H and J.Rigby.

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In unmolested condition, complete in its oak and leather case the rifle is another of those classic time capsules that we all like to stumble across from time to time.

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Magnificent John Dickson & Son 8 Bore Percussion Gun

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The name Charles Gordon (1853-1918) will be very familiar to those of you with a genuine passion for vintage sporting arms of the hammer gun variety.  Born in Peebles, Scotland, he was the product of a privileged if somewhat sad upbringing.  By the age of 14 his mother and both adoptive parents had died leaving him with a large fortune and considerable property in Edinburgh.  His great passions had always been shooting and fishing, but with the inheritance of such great wealth he decided to indulge himself in collecting, amongst other things new pistols, guns and rifles from various noted gun and rifle makers. His favourite would be John Dickson & Son of Edinburgh where from 1868 when he placed his first new order to 1906 when he was practically bankrupt and made his last purchase he had acquired no less than 229 pistols, guns and rifles!

What really stood this eccentric, often mad Scottish gentleman out from all the rest was his insatiable appetite for ordering new weapons built on old designs, over 50% of the pistols, guns and rifles being muzzleloaders at a time when the hammerless breech loader was unquestionably at the fore.

To pick any one of the magnificent guns that he had built is always going to be tricky, but illustrated here is one of the five 8 bore double percussion shotguns that he had built.  This particular example was ordered on 25th October 1883 and is still in unfired condition complete in its case with all the accessories.  The quality of work is simply outstanding and pays tribute to the skill of the gunmakers at the time.  You need to put in perspective that in 1875 Westley Richards had patented the first hammerless breechloading gun, yet here 8 years later John Dicksons were building a hammer percussion 8 bore with detachable hammer noses!  The proportions of this gun are wonderful and even from a modern gunmaking point of view the whole cased package is inspiring.

Charles Gordon would end his days in lonely seclusion, mentally unsound in 1918.  Whilst his extravagant spending and at times illogical purchasing almost bankrupted the man, he left one of the greatest legacies in fine gunmaking that has ever been seen. The guns he commissioned still bring huge enjoyment to a diverse group of collectors today and the fact that so many are in pristine unfired condition only adds to the desire to own one.

For the complete history of John Dickson & Son see Donald Dallas book ‘John Dickson & Son – The Round Action Gunmaker’

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Henry ‘Harry’ Albert Kell 1880 – 1958

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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.

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The 4 Bore ‘Model de Luxe’ Bicentennial Complete

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Finally this week we completed the 4 bore ‘Model de Luxe’ that completes the set of seven already delivered to celebrate our bicentenary back in 2012.  We suppose in  gunmaking terms 5 years after the event for such a one off beast cannot be too bad!  In truth it was ordered after the original set were delivered, as up until then we had not designed let alone built a 4 bore double shotgun in hand detachable lock format.

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The final result with full case colour hardening by the St.Ledger brothers is a seriously nice job and we have to give credit to all those involved in the building of this magnificent gun.  The 4 bore really is in a league of its own and for those of you who have never handled one they truly are a gargantuan gun!

The ‘Swan’ carved game scenes really do complement this gun very well, especially when combined with the carved fences, traditional scroll and gold borders.  All of us here at Westley Richards would like to thank the very patient owner whose commission made this gun and the earlier set of seven guns a reality.  They are a unique and very special set of guns in the history of Westley Richards.

WR 4bore droplock shotgun5WR 4bore droplock shotgun6WR 4bore #20118-1616-Edit-Edit     The 4 bore next to a dimunutive 28 bore!

Westley Richards ‘Roe Buck’ Hand Detachable Lock Double Rifle

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Here in the UK the season for hunting Roe Bucks opens tomorrow, April 1st.  This diminutive little deer is revered throughout Europe and the stalking and taking of a mature 6 point trophy is considered by many one of the finest hunts you can partake in.

As a tribute to the Roe deer we were commissioned a few years ago to build this beautifully scaled hand detachable lock double rifle in 9.3 x 62 calibre.  Weighing a mere 6lb 14ozs the rifle is fitted with Westley Richards patent single selective trigger, a slim semi beavertail forend and open sights regulated at 100 yards for relatively close range hunting.

In this calibre the rifle is primarily intended for the great Spanish ‘Monterias’ where you might also encounter big Red Stags, Fallow Bucks and huge Wild Boar.  Nevertheless, it makes a super compact and quick handling woodland rifle and would certainly be great fun to use during the Roe Buck rut in late July/early August when the deer can be called to within yards of the hunter!

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