A pair of sympathetically refurbished 1906 Royals get the seal of approval from Michael Yardley, who says there is good reason why Holland & Holland guns are the most copied of all side-by-side sidelocks
There’s good reason why Holland & Holland guns are the most copied of all side-by-side sidelocks, says Michael Yardley. He is impressed by this pair of 1906 Holland & Holland Royal sidelocks. Sympathetically refurbished, they define the best London gun in its golden era.
For more on vintage best guns, read Michael Yardley’s review of a pair of 1930s Purdey side by sides.
HOLLAND & HOLLAND ROYAL SIDELOCKS
This month’s test gun – or rather guns – consists of a pair of sympathetically refurbished 1906 Holland & Holland Royal sidelocks, both weighing 7lb 6oz. I first saw them on a visit to the maker’s flagship shop in Bruton Street last October.
In excellent condition but with an appealing patina from years of well-serviced use, they had classic form and specification. The concave ribbed barrels were 30in, my preference in a 12- or 20-bore side-by-side and the most popular 12-bore barrel length in this era before the craze for shorter and lighter guns struck in the 1920s and ’30s. These Royals had double triggers (mechanical single triggers are also commonly encountered on this carriage trade model), straight diamond section grips, splinter fore-ends and chokes fixed at improved and quarter.
The engraving was beautiful and practical Holland deep scroll. Still standard embellishment today – and known as ‘Royal Scroll’ in house – it has the benefit of both great beauty and wearing well (notably better than the photorealistic ‘bulino’ that has become popular on best guns more recently). Mechanically, the test guns are slightly different to modern Royals. They are not ‘self-opening’, a feature that arrived only in the 1920s on Holland’s bests. Nor do they have hand-detachable locks (introduced in 1908). Nevertheless, displaying a bias for the marque and model, I would judge the test guns as the epitome of the London gun at the pre-First World War zenith of the British trade.
Buying second-hand old guns, however, is a risky business with many potential pitfalls. These may be dispelled when one buys from the maker but one must accept a premium for peace of mind (in this case the bottom line is £48,000). Two things (among many) to be most careful to inspect when buying ‘pre-loved’ guns are barrel wall thickness and hidden stock cracks. Being on the shelf at Holland’s, there are no such concerns here. When buying second-hand on the open market, however, one must bear in mind the great cost of replacing barrels or stocks (or, indeed, all bench work now).
The test Royals, overhauled in the Holland & Holland factory at Kensal Green, have been under the maker’s care for many years. The barrels were renewed in the 1990s by the maker (the No 1 gun in 1995; the No 2 in 1998) and, usefully, proofed for 2¾in (70mm) cartridges. As a matter of interest, I asked for their wall thicknesses to be measured and all four barrels are well over 30 thou with no bore enlargement, which would be unlikely in most vintage guns (where finding guns with both barrels above 20 thou at their thinnest point becomes increasingly difficult).
The well-figured stocks, which may have been replaced by the maker historically, were longer than the average at 155/8in with leather-covered recoil pads. Gold ovals were fitted, showing a heron crest with the legend ‘Ancora Spero’. Grips were Holland diamond section, which provides good purchase and facilitates the use of double triggers (and are to be distinguished from the oval section types often seen). Another interesting feature of the stocks was that they had been ‘swept’ at face – something seen especially on Holland and Churchill guns: it is a means to increase effective cast without kicking the stocks out too much at the shoulder.
These Royals felt exceptional when brought to the face and shoulder, too. The dimensions suited me. I have developed a need for more cast in recent years (as many men do) and the swept Holland stocks accomplish this most elegantly. The balance was outstanding. Quite long to both front and rear, their balance point was just behind the cross-pins. This gave the mid-weight pair a surprisingly lively, dynamic quality in the hands. That said, I rarely encounter a Royal of this era and barrel length that does not appeal: the Holland & Holland Royal is the most copied of all side-by-side sidelock guns with good reason.
Holland & Holland first used the Royal name as a trademark in 1885 and the gun is first illustrated in The Field of that year. Frederick Beesley had stunned the gun trade with his self-opening sidelock design in 1880. It was licensed to, then bought by Purdey. Holland & Holland wanted something as good.
It took a decade to perfect. Early Royals have dipped edge locks rather than the streamlined shape we see now (clearly inspired by the Beesley design). In the early 1890s the gun took on its modern form. It was not radical in actual design, rather an amalgam of all things good and combined with excellent, simple and reliable Southgate ejector work. That’s why it has become so much copied. Gunsmiths will tell you it is an easier gun to regulate than the Beesley-Purdey. ‘Self-opening’ (by means of a coil spring and plunger under the barrels) was added to the specification in 1922. The main mechanical difference, apart from that, is that the Holland cocks on opening and the Purdey on closing.
There are few things I enjoy more than shooting a gun in the company of Holland & Holland’s chief instructor, Chris Bird. We have similar ideas on shooting technique and our conversations combined with actual shooting of great guns – often made by his firm – are always memorable. These Royals attracted my attention initially because they are of a vintage and form I admire. Happily, the one I shot with Chris, the No 2 gun (on a rather grim day weather-wise) was superb. Its 30in barrels made it pointable, a slightly rearwards balance allowed it to remain lively, and there was sufficient weight to maintain momentum in the swing and ensure comfortable felt recoil. Clever and ergonomically efficient stock shapes were part of the most desirable package. It was so impressive that I am now looking for a similar single gun. These test Royals define the best London gun in its golden era.
1906 HOLLAND & HOLLAND ROYAL SIDELOCKS
♦ RRP: £48,000
♦ Holland & Holland, Bruton Street, London W1J 6HH.
♦ 020 7499 4411