We always strive for objectivity in our gun tests but occasionally a gun comes along that panders to our prejudices. The Holland & Holland (H&H) Royal 12-bore tested this month is such a gun. I have always thought the H&H Royal to be the ultimate side-by-side. The action was not novel when it was introduced in its cosmetically improved form circa 1892, but it combined all the best features that had been developed by English gunmakers of the Golden Age. The Royal has since gained a reputation for mechanical perfection and elegance that is matched only by the equally famous Purdey sidelock.
Royals are made today in much the same way as they have always been, predominantly on the bench. Computer-controlled machining is used for shaping out some parts initially, but there is still plenty of traditional file- and smoke-lamp craftsmanship (not least in the way the barrels are put together and regulated). The gun is a bespoke product usually made to the customer’s exact specification. The test gun, however, had been made for stock by H&H, as happens occasionally, so that the firm can offer a gun with reduced delivery time for those requiring one quickly.
Barrels are 28in long, fixed choke and fitted with a concave rib. The stock, made from Turkish walnut, has a straight-hand grip of H&H’s diamond pattern (notable for a subtle central ridge running laterally down both sides). The fore-end is of the splinter type and deep enough to be useful. Chequering is well cut. The stock finish is hand-rubbed oil.
The bar action – familiar because so many have copied it – is equipped with double triggers (mechanical and inertia single triggers are options). The locks, which have intercepting safety sears, are quick-detachable. The action body and lock plates are colour-case hardened and engraved with a traditional H&H scroll pattern – more open than the fine rose and scroll of a Purdey. There are gold-line cocking indicators and a button-style thumb-piece on the automatic safety.
Other features of the action include, strikers which may be removed easily by a small retaining screw visible when the locks are removed, and, in common with most good-quality side-by-sides, a replaceable hinge-pin.
The chopper lump barrels are exceptionally well presented. The striking up and blacking externally are of the highest order. Internally they are impeccably finished and – most notably – perfectly straight.
H&H is one of the few firms left still to be really obsessive in this area. It regulates all its guns for point of impact most carefully. Side-by-side barrels tend to shoot apart: if the tubes were merely parallel, the right barrel would shoot to the right and the left to the left. So, during manufacture, the tubes are brought together slightly (usually, in a 12-bore, by means of slight flats at the muzzles).
Expert adjustment is required by a barrel maker to ensure that any set of tubes shoots as it should. Classically, this is a process involving trial at the pattern plates. H&H may be the only firm left that employs a full-time regulator at its shooting ground, Steve Cranston, whose job is to make sure all its guns shoot straight.
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