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 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.
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).
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!
Monday saw the exciting opening of the World English Sporting Championships once again hosted by E.J. Churchill at their incredible 5,000 acre shooting grounds, situated in beautiful West Wycombe. A mere 30 miles outside of London, which is great news for all international entrants that will be flying in throughout the week.
Churchill’s have promised this to be one of the most memorable events for shooters ever, thanks to the creation of very challenging targets some of which overseen by the 26-time world champion George Digweed.
The championships consist of CPSA World English Sporting, World Sporttrap, a Prelim English Sporting and FITASC Sporting. As well as the Blaser Intercontinental Trophy and various other exciting events for visitors from all over the world to enjoy.
However, it’s not just the shooters that get all the fun because those who join them in support can partake in the many stalls of the retail village, food venders and drinks venders, but most importantly soak up the rare British sunshine that the ‘festival of shooting’ has been blessed with in one of the many designated watching spots in the deckchairs and sun loungers.
Good luck to all those competing throughout the week!
Charlie Monaghan TEAGUE sponsored shooter.
Rob Fenwick managing director of E.J. Churchill briefing the shooters.
Once again the team of craftsman here at the Westley Richards factory have completed yet another stunning droplock double rifle, in this instance in the tried and tested .470 3 1⁄4” nitro express.
Whilst it might take upwards of three years to build a rifle of this quality, we appear on the surface to be one of the few British gun and rifle makers consistently delivering new double rifles to a worldwide clientele. Our current order book has 7 x 57R, .375 H&H Belted Magnum, .375 Flanged Magnum, .450/.400 3″, .470, .500, .577 and .600 nitro express double rifles in production with the orders for such remaining strong. It would appear that the double rifle is the pinnacle of gunmaking excellence and regardless of whether a client is actually ever going to hunt with one, they certainly feel the need to own one!
The wood on this particular rifle, even by our standards has finished beautifully, merely enhancing the quality of craftsmanship carried out here in Birmingham. Long may the traditions of building the double rifle continue to thrive.
Buffalo game scene cameo on cover plate.
Vivid case colour hardening executed by the St.Ledger brothers.
Stunning exhibition grade walnut finished by hand to a high gloss sheen.
One of my personal favourites in the magazine rifle calibre realm is the tried and tested Holland & Holland .30 Super or .300 H & H Belted Magnum cartridge as it is also known. A forerunner to the later .300 Winchester Magnum and .300 Weatherby Magnum, the original was a devastatingly effective rifle for long range shooting and more than capable of taking medium to large soft skinned game.
Introduced in 1925, various bullet loadings were available from 150 grain through to 220 grain. Most settled for the 180 grain load as the most generally effective, but the heavier loads were very good for tackling heavier African plains and North American big game where deeper penetration was required.
The cartridge came to fame in the USA when it won the 1000 yard Wimbledon cup in 1935. It was a great favourite with famous American gun writer Elmer Keith who shot some super North American sheep and other big game with it pre World War II. His book ‘Keith’s Rifles For Large Game’ is a great reference on the calibre in the USA and is an otherwise interesting read on big game rifles and calibre’s in general.
Whilst often overlooked today, I can vouch for its outstanding abilities having used one in both Africa and Alaska over the years. My rifles have always been slightly beat up examples like the one shown here which tend to show the rifle has been put to good use rather than consigned to a gun cabinet. In today’s world of stainless steel and synthetic stocks there is a real pleasure to be derived from using one of these vintage rifles. If ever you get a chance to hunt with one take it, you’ll be surprised by how much fun it is whilst safely reassured that it still packs a deadly punch.
The Holland & Holland quick detachable scope mount system.
Completed in 1934 this rifle has been back to Holland and Holland for upgrades over the years, adding to the character and history of the rifle.
Westley Richards is noted for the diversity of engraving that regularly graces the pages of this blog and it is always fun to note peoples reactions to the individual projects we undertake.
The pair of guns shown here would appear at first glance to be a pair of sidelock shotguns, but are in fact a pair of our side plated droplock shotguns in 20 bore, fitted with all the usual Westley Richards features, including our single selective trigger. As an alternative to the traditional sidelock shotgun they make for a great gun and are without question unique to Westley Richards.
As you begin to scroll down through the images you’ll begin to notice just how different the engraving is! The client in this instance lives both in the UK and South Africa these guns being a reflection on his various passions. In the UK he has a wonderful Aston Martin DB5 and regular fly’s around in his Squirrel helicopter. Down in South Africa he keeps a vintage Willy’s Jeep from World War II and lives within view of Table Mountain one of the most easily recognisable landmarks. The Giraffe is a favourite animal of the family and we had to be very carefully in the selection of the correct sub species as the various giraffe found throughout Africa have quite distinct markings.
The guns are wrapped in a tight rose and fine scroll pattern with the usual 1 and 2 numbering replaced with a single pheasant flying and a pair of pheasant flying. Complemented with a buffalo skin case the guns carry forward the Africa theme and should certainly make for an interesting conversation piece come the shooting season!
Aston Martin DB5 And The Southern Giraffe In View Of Table Mountain.
The Family Crest Adorns The Underside Of The Actions.
Vintage World War II Willy’s Jeep And Squirrel Helicopter.