This month we have an intriguing pair of guns on test – hammer ejector 20-bores which carry the J Roberts name but which were inspired by a pair of guns built for George V by Purdey in 1929. First impressions are good. They are visually most attractive – the svelte hammer actions are presented with fine rose-and-scroll engraving and traditional colour case-hardening (the latter work carried out for Roberts by Ray St Ledger, the acknowledged master of this arcane craft).
So there is no question of the guns “flying under false colours”, it should be stated that, although modelled on a pair of Purdeys and finished in England by Roberts, they were assembled from partially finished guns obtained in the white from Italy. A great deal of work went into them on these shores, however – far beyond the norm on imported guns, even those brought in in a pre-finished state. Furthermore, they have been precisely matched in all details to create a true pair. This involves more work than one might imagine.
Mark Remnant, the craftsman at J Roberts responsible for stocking and finishing, notes: “We did significant work to create something special. Some of the engraving was scrubbed out and re-cut after smoke tracing to make sure of a near-perfect visual match on both guns. There was a lot of setting and filing up and getting things just so. The hammers had to be reset to get them at precisely the right angles. The guns had been made by different people, which is not the norm for a pair. The stocks were quite heavy so they were bored out and rebalanced. The comb shapes and grips were altered. We re-regulated the ejectors and trigger pulls, reducing drag. New strikers were made from scratch.”
The beauty of a best gun has always been in its finish. London makers gained their great reputation primarily because of the quality of their finish. This is not just skin deep; it affects the whole operation of the gun, making it more reliable and functional as well as aesthetically more pleasing. J Roberts, based in splendidly eccentric premises in Vauxhall, London, has made something of a speciality out of modifying imports (although it has the capacity to make the very best rifles and shotguns from scratch and continues to do so).
Barrel blacking and wood finish are to London best standard, the former by Johnsons, the latter completed in house. The back action locks – set as islands in the stock – have side clips, which are visually attractive and may add some strength. There are double triggers (with the front articulated), the hammers are relatively small but well formed and the top lever is slim.
Bringing either of the guns to the shoulder, one is immediately aware
of their good balance (about 1⁄16in forward of the centre of the cross-pins). The butts are well formed, too, with grips that might be best described as of flattened oval form – the separate back action locks dictating the shape to a degree. Stock measurements are very standard (save for a reduced toe). The length of pull is 145⁄8in with 1⁄8in extra at heel and only 1⁄4in extra at toe. Drop is 13⁄8in at the nose of the comb and 21⁄16in at heel. There is 1⁄2in of
cast at heel.
Chequering is to a particularly high standard (the work of Alan Wey) and the fore-end is longer than the average and slightly rounded as well.