After a break of more than 100 years, this intriguing shotgun has been resurrected. Michael Yardley discovers why – and puts it through its paces
The new Rigby Rising Bite shotgun is the first made with the ‘rising bite’ sidelock action for more than 100 years. Michael Yardley discovers why this intriguing system is being re-introduced, as he puts the new gun through its paces.
For more London best guns, read Michael Yardley’s review of the Holland & Holland Royal sidelocks.
RIGBY RISING BITE SHOTGUN
This month’s test looks at a pair of new, bespoke, 12-bore Rigby dipped-edge sidelocks made on the firm’s ‘rising bite’ sidelock action. These are the first Rigby shotguns built using this intriguing system for more than 100 years (although a number of rifles have been made since it was re-introduced in 2013, when Rigby was relaunched in London). First impressions of the guns, which as singles would cost £79,000 plus VAT, are excellent.
Although the capital costs are high they are not as expensive as some carriage-trade rivals. The Rigbys are classic London game guns finished to best standards, with colour case hardened, carved leaf fenced actions, excellent wood and an impeccable finish throughout. The engraving – Rigby scroll with vignettes of game birds – is by Steve Kelly and in-house master Geoffrey Lignon.
Our brace of new Rigbys have 28in chopper-lump barrels (made by Peter Higgins), the firm’s own pattern game rib (concave but wider than the norm) and Rigby rifle style fore-end lever release latches (secure and easy to unfasten). Teague interchangeable chokes are the only concession to modernity (and by no means mandatory on any future orders). The guns weigh in at 6lb 8oz and thus conform to the post-1914 London ideal.
Although light, the guns do not feel wild or ‘whippy’. Their balance point is about ¼in forward of the hinge pin. The wider than average rib and the unusual and partly visible action bolting add to an impression of substance and strength. Without the scales, I would have guessed that they were a little heavier than 6lb 8oz. They feel comfortable in the hands and are steady and pointable when mounted – qualities enhanced by good stock shapes, which are both aesthetically pleasing and ergonomically efficient.
A little of this grand old firm’s history is in order. Rigby is our oldest gunmaker. It was founded in Ireland by John Rigby in 1775 (some reports suggest earlier). The firm was famous for duelling pistols and, later, match rifles but from 1879 also made shotguns to the Bissell patent, about 1,000 guns and rifles being completed before the First World War. In the 1890s, Rigby’s Dublin office closed and the operation moved to London (where a satellite branch had opened in 1865).
Rigby stayed in London for a century at various addresses, including Pall Mall, Covent Garden and Great Suffolk Street, then had a brief spate of US ownership. Rigby was repatriated to London in 2013 under the curation of Marc Newton, one of the most dynamic figures in the British gun trade and a former assistant to Paul Roberts, the previous part-owner and chairman of Rigby London. The present factory and showroom is at Pensbury Place, Wandsworth. It operates as an independent entity but is part of the Blaser group that also owns Mauser, with which Rigby has been associated since Victorian times.
The firm has supplied guns to great hunters such as Jim Corbett and WDM Bell (Rigby Mauser .275s, among other things). And Winston Churchill bought two Rigby Mauser semi-automatic pistols in 1898. Using one at the battle of Omdurman in the Sudan the same year, writing to his mama Jennie: “I am sorry to say I shot five men for certain and two doubtful. The pistol was the best thing in the world.”
Returning to the test guns, I asked Marc Newton why he made the Rising Bite and what were the plans for future Rigby shotguns: “Since we brought back the company we have discovered that our clients want classic guns made from modern materials to our famous, field-proven designs rather than reinterpretations. New bores and calibres in the case of both rifles and shotguns are fine. With that ethos in place, we are now making 28-, .410 and 32-bore versions of the Rising Bite sidelock. We will also consider a 20-bore in due course.”
The Bissell patent 1141 of March 1879 is intriguing. The groundwork for the modern breechloading action – the Purdey bolting system and Scott spindle – had been created in the previous decade. Greener had his cross-bolt concept at least by 1865 and incorporated it into his ‘Treble Wedge Fast’ action in 1873 (introducing choke-boring the following year). Anson and Deeley of Westley Richards registered their seminal boxlock design in 1875 (predated by their doll’s-head model C extended bolt of 1862). The Beesely sidelock patent, used by Purdey as its standard, would come the following year. The Rigby Bissell system was, like the Westley and Greener, for a third bite action. It was quite different, however. Commonly called a ‘rising bite’, it is actually a rising hoop form bolt. It was applied to shotguns and rifles and has the effect, in spite of its complexity, of increasing action security and reducing action flex on firing. It is rarely copied because, like Woodward’s tongue-and-groove over-and-under supplementary bolting, it is hard and expensive to make. Beautifully executed in the test guns it is combined with traditional leaf-sprung Rigby ejector work.
The stock measurements were a little long for me at 155/8in but the No 1 that I used was still comfortable to mount. Moving round the stands at the West London Shooting Grounds, it performed reassuringly well (as well as any side-by-side game gun that I have tested recently). The first trigger pull (since regulated) was a little heavy. Once I adapted using my first joint crease instead of pad, I connected with just about everything launched, including all the birds from medium and high towers. I was impressed. The Rigby had that excellent quality of shooting instinctively well. It was a beautiful, too, truly a tribute to modern British gun-making. If that sounds over the top, no matter. Let it stand. It is wonderful that magnificent guns like this are still made in London.
RIGBY RISING BITE 12-BORE
♦ RRP: £79,000 + VAT (single gun)
♦ John Rigby & Co. (Gunmakers) Ltd, 13-19 Pensbury Place, London SW8 4TP
♦ 020 7720 0757