Westley Richards is celebrating its 200th birthday. The firm invented the hammerless boxlock gun in the 1870s. The test gun – one of a pair of best-quality 16-bore side-by-sides – represents the ultimate development of that action type – a hinged floor-plate droplock with single selective trigger perfected early in the 20th century. It is the non plus ultra of boxlocks. The one under our microscope weighs just 5lb 121⁄2oz, has 27in barrels and is distinguished by game-scene engraving.
First impressions on handling are positive. Balanced on the hinge pin, this Westley is lively but not whippy, which one might expect considering its lightness and comparatively short barrels. The sighting rib is of classic concave pattern that does not distract the eye. The brass bead is well matched – not large but big enough to be visible in dim light. Straight grip, tapered comb and splinter, horn-capped fore-end all feel comfortable and provide purchase and/or support where required.
The gun is exceptionally well finished, as might be expected. Blacking is first class, the wood is not only attractively figured but hand- oiled and hand-chequered to a high standard. The action is well presented in all departments with bone-meal colour-case hardening. This does, however, have the effect of camouflaging the finely cut game scenes on the action walls. The surrounding tight scrollwork is exceptionally executed and extends on to the barrels just forward of the breech. The barrels bear the Westley Richards name and “England” in gold. The name may also be seen in beautifully formed plain letters on either side of the action.
You can have exactly what you want with bespoke gunmaking, not just with regard to bore, stock measurements, barrel length and choke but embellishment as well. Game scenes do, however, add to the bottom line. The base price is a comparatively reasonable £32,500 plus VAT. The single trigger adds another £3,850 plus VAT and the game engraving about £5,000. It is notable, nevertheless, that a new, bespoke Westley droplock – which many might consider the equal of any gun both aesthetically and functionally – costs about the same as a second-hand London sidelock of the first quality.
The standard of workmanship on the test gun is equal to any made in England today, reflecting the ethos of a gunmaker that has done all it can to foster traditional skills as well as develop new technology. The hand-filing and hand-chiselling of the beads and fences create a distinct and streamlined look (and demonstrate the subtlety of which only human hands are capable). The patent top lever and the Model C doll’s-head extension impress with superb metal-to-metal fit, elegant shapes and wonderfully idiosyncratic but efficient mechanical design.
If you look at the wood-to-metal fit at the back of the scalloped action or on either side of the top strap, everything is right. Old-world standards are maintained. Westley Richards uses hi-tech machining but does comparatively more handwork than many makers. Files and smoke lamps are still much in evidence in its extensive workshops above its rather ritzy shop in Birmingham.
The barrels, choked quarter and half, are, of course, chopper lump. They are straight when inspected and further distinguished by the unusual top extension. Extensions – of all forms – have fallen out of fashion but they may prevent action flexure and ensure a strong lock-up when well conceived. The gun has the distinctive Westley top lever. The hinged floor-plate droplock design
is not only a masterly expression of best British gunmaking but allows for access to and easy removal of the locks. Unlike most modern British shotguns, this design does not use Southgate ejector work; instead, Westley’s own system is employed utilising tiny V springs in boxes. The fore-end fastener is of Deeley pattern with a lifting latch. The Dickson round action is often described as the equal of the best sidelock. The Westley, with its many unique features, must surely qualify for the same accolade.
The gun did not weigh much but the recoil was surprisingly mild with the standard 7⁄8oz load (1oz and 11⁄16oz payloads are also available for 16s). This lack of recoil may be put down to tight chambering, good rimming (reduced head space) and efficient stock shapes. The 27in barrels moved quickly. I had no problem controlling them. Nor had I any problem connecting with artificial birds at the EJ Churchill shooting ground when putting the gun through its paces with Anthony Alborough-Tregear (“Trigger”) of Westley Richards. It was sweet to shoot as well as fast.
Alborough-Tregear and I had an informal competition to see just how quickly we could shoot some birds (a draw was declared). Even under the duelling pressure, the single trigger function was faultless. Anything left to say? If I were to order a 16 – and it is a gun that can do nearly everything a 12-bore can – it would probably be one with 29in or 30in barrels. You buy them at a cost of about an ounce per inch. A 30in, 6lb 16-bore is, therefore, easily achievable.
Price from £39,000
From Westley Richards & Co, 130 Pritchett Street, Birmingham B6 4EH
Tel 0121 333 1900