This month’s test concerns a best side-by-side made by William & Son of MountStreet in Mayfair. Founded by William Asprey, who is also the company chairman, William & Son specialises in luxury bespoke products including sporting guns. The test gun, a beautiful, Peter Cusack-engraved, side-by-side 20-bore, has a bottom line of £41,000 excluding VAT. Guns with standard engraving start at £39,500 – about £10,000 less than most of the top-flight opposition.
The test 20 is an assisted-opening sidelock ejector. It weighs 5lb 10oz and has 30in chopper lump barrels with a traditional game rib. First impressions are very good. The acanthus engraving on the brush-polished action is bold but beautiful. The quality of finish and form of the gun are clearly London best. Apart from the engraving, the specification presents no great surprises. The action is of essentially Holland type but with certain subtle modifications. The barrels are impeccably struck up and blacked. Double triggers are combined with a straighthand stock of quite svelte form.
Although the gun is light, it is precise and pointable when mounted, thanks to
the 30in barrels.
William & Son’s gunmaker, Paul West, is a 40-year veteran of the gun trade. He was at Asprey’s with William Asprey before William & Son was developed as a brand. “We try and make a classic British game-gun but of distinct house style,” he says.
“We like to make them slim, hence we have reduced the breech rings and depth of the action table. They are especially attractive – recognisable
as ours – without being over ornate. We prefer the square-bar style of action – we have not made a round-bar gun yet – and our stocks are slimmer than many.
It’s all about classic elegance,” he continues.
William & Son makes about eight to 10 guns a year and has completed about 40 to date. Most are sidelock side-by-sides and all bore sizes are on offer. Recent production has included a pair of Celtic-engraved 12s. A single trigger 20-bore is on the shelf, a .410 is in the white waiting to be engraved and finished as required, and a 16-bore is being stocked as well.
Returning to the test gun. Its chokes are fixed at half- and three-quarters. If I were fortunate enough to own the gun, I might have the right barrel opened to quarter. I would leave the left alone – my liking is for choke in the second barrel because it allows one to pick some shots and increases confidence at range. As for barrel length, I think 30in tubes are a distinct advantage in a 20, especially in a lighter one. They steady the gun down, allowing the delightful combination of fast handling and control.
The stock and fore-end (made by Stephan Dupille, a French craftsman now working in England) are as elegant as the rest of the gun – finished in oil with well-cut, quite fine chequering. The grip is of oval pattern and has no ridge running down its middle. The splinter-style fore-end was not too shallow and is equipped with an Anson button release. Stock measurements – fairly academic as you can have what you want – were 15in for length (from middle of trigger to middle of butt sole), there is a bit of cast for a right-hander, and drop was very standard at 11⁄2in and 21⁄8in.
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