London guns are becoming very expensive.
You can expect to pay upwards of £40,000 for a side-by-side and upwards of £50,000 for an over-and-under.
Even the seriously well-heeled can find such prices hard to bear.
There are, of course, alternatives. One can go to auction, where £10,000 will still go a long way (but one must take a bit of a risk). One can buy a foreign gun (firms such as AyA, Arrieta, Perazzi and Bosis have made great inroads into the British market). And now, thanks to Atkin, Grant & Lang in Hertfordshire, one can buy a completely ‘re-manufactured’ English gun.
The gun trade has been doing up old guns for years. Some firms offer high-quality restoration work as well. The likes of Purdey and Holland & Holland, for example, restore many of their older guns to the highest possible standard.
But what Atkin, Grant & Lang is doing under the direction of owner Ken Duglan, is a little different. Its re-manufacturing scheme is undertaken to a predetermined plan (alongside the manufacture of new guns). Most of the work is done on spec before an order is received (though the same service is available on any best-quality gun).
Duglan searches out an old gun of classic pattern (usually bearing one of his firm’s famous names). The action must relatively modern (not a transitional design), the ejector work must be of a proven pattern (such as the Southgate system preferred by most gunmakers). The action body engraving must be crisp. The state of the barrels and stock is irrelevant, however, as these will be replaced to best London standard.
Barrelwork is usually undertaken by former Holland & Holland man, Bill Blacker, one of the most respected names in the trade. Restocking is usually done by Stephane Dupille, a French artisan who works on the premises at Atkin, Grant & Lang and who is producing some of the finest stockwork that I have ever seen. Finishing is by Carl Russell and Alan Bower who also work on the Atkin, Grant & Lang premises and have long experience of the London trade.
Initially the action of the chosen gun will be stripped and cleaned. The pins, springs (main, top lever and sear) and swivels will be replaced. The action body will be annealed (a softening process) and re-coloured and re-hardened by the acknowledged master of the British craft Ray St Ledger. With new barrels and stock fitted and best London finish, the client ends up with what to all intents and purposes is a new gun. The bottom line is a comparatively modest £15,000 for a single gun in a best-quality English case (made by Ian Tomlin) with all accessories.
Considering the quality of what is on offer (and I have examined and shot a number of these guns) the five year guarantee that goes with every re-manufactured gun, and the fun of having a hundred-year-old shotgun that performs and looks like a new one, this seems to be a very good deal. All of which brings us to our test gun or, to be more precise, guns – a pair of Joseph Langs made originally in 1906 and re-manufactured last year (the re-manufacturing process usually takes about 12 months).
The test guns are classic bar-action sidelocks with intercepting sears, Southgate ejectors (which are the most desirable because of their simplicity and reliability) and Chilton locks (by the best maker of the era). The new, 2.3/4in (70mm) chambered barrels are 30in long, choked quarter and half and fitted with a conventional concave game rib.
First impressions are truly splendid – judge for yourself from the photograph, the guns appear new. Their engraving is crisp, the colours on the actions excellent, all the detailing is right and to best London standard.
The Langs bear serial numbers 76498 and 76499. The chopper lump barrels are impeccably presented with not a rivel or imperfection in sight inside or out (one expects nothing less from Blacker). They have 2.3/4in chambers, as noted, and have been proofed at 850BAR in London (chambering the guns for the modern 2.3/4in cartridge does not necessitate an increase in proof pressure).
The guns have plain action faces without disc-set strikers (if the latter had been fitted, they would be replaced routinely, just as the strikers are in all guns). The form of the actions is classical – iconic best London game gun circa 1900 – with well-shaped fences and standard lock shapes. Engraving is also traditional (and very pleasing) rose and scroll. The Langs weigh in at 7lb 3oz – quite heavy by some standards, but the sensible trend is back to guns with a little more heft.
The stocks are especially well done (indeed as good as any that I have recently handled) and made from very well-figured wood. The shape of the straight-hand grips is excellent. They are not too thin, and promote good muzzle control. The comb profiles are excellent too. (The guns do not look as if they have been restocked; the work has evidently been undertaken with the greatest care to replicate the original form.)
The stocks have been finished long at 15.3/8in with an 1/8in more at heel and 3/8in at toe. Drop is a classic 1.1/2in at comb and 2.1/8in at heel, and the cast is very slight. These dimensions are academic; anyone ordering a gun from Atkin, Grant & Lang would have it fitted by Duglan and the stock would be made to the required dimensions. However, these dimensions suited me well. I am fond of longish stops without too much drop or cast.
I took the No.1 gun out to shoot on Broomhill’s excellent simulated game layouts – part of the Atkin, Grant & Lang operation. It shot extremely well and did not disappoint in any way.
I liked the balance and weight. It was effortless to shoot, with very low felt recoil. It pointed very well and I was able to despatch some long, tricky, quartering birds with ease. It also swung well on the close, fast. Not much caught me out.
Meanwhile, both guns stand as testament to Ken Duglan’s skill as a gunmaker well as that of the craftsmen who undertake work for him. They bear a price tag £30,000 (there is no supplement for pairs) and are presented in a quality English case. They offer excellent value. At £15,000, the single guns are some of the best buys on the market. There are no extras, they are all included, and the customer gets exactly what he wants.
After undertaking this test, I had long discussions with Ken Duglan in his gunroom. His enthusiasm and philosophy became evident as we considered in detail the criteria for the guns that might be selected for remanufacture.
He told me: “We have to visualise what the gun will look like when completed. We don’t want early ejector mechanisms – they are unreliable, nor do we go for dip-edged locks (the leg-of-mutton type), the aesthetics are not good.
“Nor do we want an action with protruding shoulders; we want to stock the gun to the fences. The engraving must be in good condition, too. We do not mind re-engraving the trigger guard if it is worn, but we won’t re-engrave actions. The engraving on the action must be original. If the action has been rubbed it is no good, and it must be structurally sound.”
Once the action has been selected, the first job undertaken is the fitting of the new barrels. Proof will follow. Once the gun has passed, the stocking and action work begins. Both butt and fore-end timber are replaced routinely. The action is stripped down and many parts, including the mainsprings, replaced. The colour case-hardening is often undertaken in two stages. First the action body is sent to Ray St Ledger for annealing. Then, assuming the maker’s name will be picked out in gold, it is returned to Ken, who passes it to an engraver. The action then goes back to St Ledger for final hardening. The new barrels go to John Gibbs for blacking.
The stock finish is applied over 12 weeks. “The finished gun must look and perform exactly like a new gun though it is less than half the price,” says Duglan. “There is always something nice about having a hundred-year-old gun that performs like a new one. We are very proud of what we do here. There are seven guns going through at the moment; we also have four clients waiting for specific types. We offer a very personal service.”
Contact the firm on www.atkingrantandlang.co.uk or call 01582 842280.