Occasionally we have the chance to test something that stands far apart from the mass; the Longthorne Hesketh is such a gun. It is a new English sidelock over-and-under. The retail price is £12,766 (including VAT). First impressions are generally good. It has a highly polished, lightly engraved action, 30in barrels, and a semi-pistol stock with open radius grip. It weighs slightly less than 7lb – light for a modern over-and-under 12-bore.
The gun is extraordinary in a number of ways. Its price is set below that of any other home-grown sidelock. Most intriguingly, the barrels are made from a single piece of alloy steel by an entirely new process. The method of action engraving is also hi-tech based.
First handling impressions are positive, too. The Hesketh is lively and the stock shapes are ergonomically efficient. Aesthetically, the front of the fore-end could be improved. The fore-end has an Anson-style button release catch which is appropriate but it might have looked better with a metal cap. The shape of the stock comb is basically sound. The fluting under the comb’s nose might be refined stylistically. These are minor points and will be quickly dealt with. I say this because Jim Longthorne Stewart, the man behind the gun, is not the sort to rest on his laurels.
He began the project in 2006, having owned a major engineering concern in Australia. With his wife, Elaine, he made the decision to return home to the UK, develop a new business and with it a new English gun. He wants it to be right and he moves quickly. The gun tested here, let me make clear, is not really a prototype, but one of the first production guns. It has been shot extensively with the heaviest loads to make sure that it can stand up to the punishment of continued field use. It does. Orders are now being taken.
I was impressed with the Hesketh. I liked the general form as well as the mechanical spec (which owes something to Boss, Beretta and Perazzi). For the price, it astounded.
It shows just what can be done – in England – using multi-axis CNC technology. Machines that run in Gardonne 24/7, can just as easily run here. New technology and rising wages have eroded any price advantage that Europe once enjoyed.
When I first handled the Hesketh at a gun show, I noted that the standard stock dimensions on the demonstrator might be improved. The comb had a slight offset to the toe and the drop dimensions were a little off the mark. A few days later Jim had applied my suggested measurements to the stock (13⁄8in at the front of the comb, 21⁄8in to rear, with a little right-hand cast) and said that he was shooting his own gun far better. That positive, listening attitude combined with rapid action based upon it was notable.
The gun is influenced by both English and Italian over-and-under design. It is not novel with regard to the mechanics, but the action is made from steel with a core hardness greater than average (and which may be hardened and polished or colour case-hardened if preferred). The hinging is Woodward with replaceable stud pins near the knuckle. The locking is Boss with draws and wedges smaller than the original and which actually do something – they make contact. The locks are driven by leaf springs. There are double intersecting safety sears. A low action profile is made possible by rod-like cocking rods either side of the action body. Kickers protruding from the fore-end iron both cock the ejectors and activate them.
The barrels are made from a single piece of steel. They are well presented and notable not just because of their revolutionary manufacturing method but because they have a single joining rib. The sighting rib is solid and tapered (8mm-4.5mm). As tested, it has a slight dip in the middle, which distracts the eye. Bores are an excellent size for diameter at 18.6mm, forcing cones are tight (and might usefully be lengthened). The gun is fleur de lys proofed for 3in (76mm) steel cartridges.
I had the chance to shoot the Longthorne only briefly. But, it was soon apparent that it shot well.
I noted no functional problems at all. Even with less than ideal stock dimensions, it pointed easily and was quick yet controllable. The barrels seemed shorter than their 30in because of the thin rib. Trigger pulls were good, perceived recoil was less than average. All the important boxes were ticked. The Hesketh has a bright future and, as noted, it is English.
My preference would be for a slightly more radiused grip and a colour case-hardened or coin rather than bright-polish action. But I might order one. At this price it is a bargain.
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