Buying vintage shotguns can be a risky business, however, Michael Yardley finds this pair from the Golden Era ticks all the important boxes

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Pair of 1930s Purdey side by sides


There are many pitfalls to avoid when looking to buy vintage shotguns, but Michael Yardley is impressed by this pair of 1930s Purdey side by sides.

Fantastic, classic guns can be bought on the second-hand market for a fraction of the price of their modern counterparts. Read vintage Purdey side by sides for more of Michael Yardley’s advice.


This month, keeping the spirit of this special issue, we are looking at a pair of Golden Era Purdey guns. I set out to find the best pair I could for the occasion and came up with a lovely brace of 1930s guns, serial numbers 25,459 and 25,460, built for a Major JC Walker. They are owned by a North Essex sporting friend, who has a passion for the marque and a considerable collection of splendid Purdey and Woodward guns. They are up for sale with Chapman Guns of Marks Tey near Colchester. The bottom line is £40,000. This is a substantial capital sum but a single new Purdey gun is now £117,000 plus VAT, and these guns are far better than the average “pre-loved” Purdey in terms of overall condition and wear. They are also presented in a lovely Purdey oak and leather double case, restored by Ian Tomlin.

First impressions are good: classic Purdeys, well cared for and still showing some original colour on the actions. Engraving is standard (and beautiful) Purdey rose and scroll. These guns are not flashy in any way (if you want bling, look elsewhere). Their specification is near ideal, however. The barrels are 29in long with concave ribs. Regulated originally for 34 grains of EC powder and 11/16oz of shot, and 2½in chambered (not reproofed), both sets are sensibly choked improved cylinder and three-quarters (close to my own preference for double 12-bore game guns). The stocks are straight-hand with a Purdey full splinter. The guns both weigh just under 6lb 8oz, which is near ideal, too, for this style of gun.

Pair of 1930s Purdey side by sides

The elegance of the Purdey/Beesley design is timeless and the mechanics a work of genius.

Buying second-hand guns presents several potential pitfalls, and buying second-hand Purdey’s requires particular caution. Purdeys are complex to work on. They require someone who has been trained to best London standards for any gunsmithing (preferably someone with long experience of the marque). As well as that one must bear in mind the costs of repair and replacement with a Purdey. For example, a new pair of barrels from the makers is now £23,250; a new stock, £18,000 (with both prices subject to VAT, too). So, caveat emptor, especially if buying at auction. One might potentially need to spend far more than the purchase price to repair a gun with thin barrels or a broken stock. I don’t want to put potential purchasers off but I do suggest proceeding with due caution. Do your homework and consider expert appraisal before buying.

From my inspection, this pair, happily, tick all the boxes. I did not measure the barrels but the owner, who is expert himself, tells me that they are in the mid 20 thousandths for wall thickness (which is where one wants them to be). The guns had no signs of being interfered with by the unskilled (they have been recently serviced, however, by gunsmithing master, and ex-Purdey finisher, David Sinnerton). They were on the face, all the springs seemed sound, the barrels rang well when tapped (suggesting no issues with the ribs) with no significant dents or pitting, the bores looked well maintained. The barrels showed no signs of distortion, either, as sometimes happens if the ribs are relaid. And, importantly, the butt and fore-ends showed no signs of cracks (though a definitive test would require removing the locks, which I did not do). Overall, they are in excellent condition from my quick inspection with honourable, but not excessive, signs of use.

The Purdey record tells us the actions were made by Ben Delay and Harry Mallett. They were finished by Charlie Lane and Jack Warlow. And both guns have their original stocks by Arthur Dean of Purdey. The shapes are pleasing, as one might expect.

Examining the Purdey records reveals that the guns were made with longer stocks originally. They were shortened in 1961 to 15½in but now measure 15in with ⅛in more to “bump” (just below the heel) and ½in more to toe. The drop was (and is) quite low – 1¾in at the nose of the comb and just over 2½in at heel.


The Purdey sidelock, designed by Frederick Beesley in 1880, is perhaps the most famous side-by-side of them all. Unlike a Holland Royal, the Purdey cocks on closing – one limb of the V-spring is used to power the hammer and the other the self-opening mechanism. It is a work of genius but it was not an ejector originally. Ejectors came in during the 1880s. The first Purdey ejector patent of which I am aware is 1883, granted to William Nobbs (it included an interrupter mechanism with a pop-up pin that prevented the unfired cartridge being ejected). It was used only briefly.

The “WEM” system used in most modern Purdeys arrived in 1888. It operates on the over centre cam principle (like the Southgate pattern). A pair of thin slides is connected through the action body to the lock tumbler with the main ejector mechanism contained in the fore-end, as in most English guns today. Harry Lawrence refined the system in the 1930s, removing the bow-shaped crossbar on the knuckle in front of the kickers; that improved system is seen here.


I tested the Purdeys with their owner at the Fennes Shooting School. They exceeded expectations, shooting as well as any side-by-side game gun that we have shot to date for The Field. On the skeet layout, nothing was missed. We stepped back to make the birds more challenging and both guns still kept breaking birds. They did not fit me but seemed to connect with targets effortlessly. I mismounted on one occasion and still broke the target. One thing that surprised, considering the relatively light weight, was the lack of felt recoil (did this relate to boring, head-space or stock shape?) Trigger pulls were crisp. This is the second Purdey pair tested in recent years. They maintain the firm’s reputation. In conclusion, if you are looking for Golden Era Purdeys, consider condition above all else. Meanwhile, you would have to travel far to find a crisper, more original pair than this.


♦ RRP: £40,000
♦ Chapman Guns, Unit 5, 121 London Road, Marks Tey, Colchester, Essex CO6 1EB.
♦ 01206 863537