A weapon for all seasons – or a wide variety of quarry, at least – Michael Yardley finds this rifle-cum-shotgun a wonderful thing, performing well on both the rifle range and clays
Intended for both shot and special bullets, the Holland & Holland Paradox can bring home peafowl for the pot and shoot a leopard attacking cattle. Michael Yardley finds himself impressed by the rifle-cum-shotgun.
For best London guns from the golden era, read about a pair of Holland & Holland Royal sidelocks from 1906.
HOLLAND & HOLLAND PARADOX
This gun is not just different but rather wonderful. It is a Holland & Holland Paradox 12-bore intended for both shot and special bullets, allowing its user to bag birds for the pot and deal with soft-skinned big game as well. If you had a need – as people once did – to bring home peafowl for supper and shoot a leopard killing villagers’ cattle, this is the gun for you. It is built on a round action, back-action, sidelock (there is also a square bar Royal model) and weighs in at a comparatively light 7lb 7oz with 28in barrels. It carries a substantial price tag of £108,000, including VAT, and the Royal version is £138,000 with the Treasury’s slice added.
The Paradox test gun is built on the 1885 patent 7564 of Colonel George Vincent Fosbery VC, who also invented an intriguing recoil operated ‘automatic’ revolver. Both, though slightly eccentric, achieved significant commercial success. Holland & Holland (H&H) bought a licence for the manufacture of the Paradox for £1,000 and produced them from 1886-99 (Webley made his automatic revolver from 1901-24). The Paradox was first built in a variety of bore sizes, initially as a hammer gun, later as a back action hammerless design. They were also made by Westley Richards in the new century (and marketed as the Explora). H&H continued to make Paradox guns until 1931, their manufacture recommenced in the early 2000s after a redesign and development exercise led by H&H technical director Russel Wilkin.
The test gun is deceptively traditional in appearance and finely finished with a colour case hardened action and fairly sparse scroll engraving. ‘Holland & Holland’ is neatly inlaid in gold on the forward part of the action, the gold lettering and colour hardening creating a pleasant contrast. The rounded form of the action, also notable for its short lock plates, works well aesthetically (the locks themselves are full seven-pin back-action sidelocks). Long, rounded triggers please the eye, too. The well-figured and neatly hand chequered stock (made to measure on any new order) has a 14½in length of pull and a conventional but excellent straight-hand form. The fore-end is surprisingly slim and has an Anson release button. Both butt and fore-end are oil finished to high standard.
Examine the gun, which at first glance looks like a conventional side-by-side, and you discover a neat, quite shallow, back-sight block with two elegant V-form leaves on the rib of the chopperlump barrels. There is a slightly raised gold foresight at the muzzles and rifling (the distinguishing characteristic of a Paradox where typically the final couple of inches are shallow rifled). 2¾in (70mm) chambers and .736in diameter bores are intended to shoot both shot cartridges and the mid-velocity 740 grain Fosbery bullet.
Few designs have a more colourful history. The inventor, Fosbery, was an Eton educated, British Indian Army officer. Acting as a volunteer at 31, he won a VC on the North West Frontier in an action that would have done Harry Flashman or Richard Sharpe credit. He retired from the Army in 1877 as a Lieutenant Colonel and turned his not inconsiderable energies to creating two of the most idiosyncratic firearms of the Golden Era.
Sir Samuel Baker – legendary hunter, big character and contemporary of Fosbery – noted of the gun: “The Paradox, invented by Colonel Fosbery and manufactured by Messrs Holland and Holland of Bond Street is a most useful weapon, as it combines the shotgun with a rifle that is wonderfully accurate within a range of 100 yards… Although the powder charge is not sufficient to produce a high express velocity, the penetration and shock are most formidable, as the bullet is of hardened metal, and it retains its figure even after striking a tough hide and bones.”
The Paradox saw most service in the jungles of Imperial India, but in World War One Paradox guns found a new purpose as potential Zeppelin busters. A dozen were bought by the newly formed Royal Naval Air Service, and H&H developed the Holland Buckingham .707in Incendiary shell to ignite the enemy airships’ hydrogen. Definitely a rippin’ yarn to be written there.
This Paradox is built on the Holland & Holland Round Action, as noted. It is a back-action gun, meaning the main springs lie rearwards, which necessitates less material being taken from the action bar. Back-action locks are commonly used in rifles and sidelock over-and-unders. The modern H&H Round Action, which has a significant amount of high-tech machine work used to create it, is a descendent of the H&H Dominion (although the latter is outwardly distinguished by its leg-of-mutton locks). These were guns that were intended for use abroad and developed a reputation for sturdiness (not that the conventional H&H sidelock is in any way lacking in this department). In the modern era, an updated back-action gun in round bar form was reintroduced as the ‘Field Model’ and renamed the ‘Round Action’ quite recently. The Paradox, meantime, was redeveloped by H&H’s technical director Russell Wilkin and manufactured from 2004.
I shot the Paradox with Chris Bird, H&H’s chief instructor, at the firm’s recently refurbished Northwood ground. We started on the rifle range. I have shot the Paradox before and knew that it did not have quite the bite of a big Nitro Express rifle. Shooting standing, unsupported at 30yd – the range the gun is best suited for – I had no difficulty in putting three shots into a golf ball cluster. The recoil was noticeable but not fierce, a comparative pussycat compared to a .458 or .500. Moving to clays, the Paradox, which is muzzle heavy by its nature, shot much better than expected. Nothing was missed by either of us at modest range and when a challenging crosser was put out, the sort of bird you might think needed a bit of lead and choke, the Paradox dealt with it efficiently (Chris shot the lot, I missed a couple). Overall, it was more practically accurate as a short-range rifle than expected and far better as a shotgun. In a modern context it would be ideal for boar.
HOLLAND & HOLLAND PARADOX 12-BORE
♦ RRP: £108,000
♦ Holland & Holland, 33 Bruton Street, London W1J 6HH.
♦ 020 7499 4411
The writer would like to thank Chris Bird and Allan Utermark of H&H for their help with this article.