Remarkable quality in both design and engineering still marks out the British gun trade. Donald Dallas highlights the companies continuing a long tradition
In the 19th century, gunmakers could be found the length and breadth of Great Britain. Today there remains only a small core of British gunmakers, but they are building the highest quality guns with the latest technology, offering some of the market’s finest. Donald Dallas details the companies continuing Britian’s long tradition.
Over-and-under or side-by-side is the age old debate, and it’s no longer a choice between tradition and modernity. Editor Jonathan Young gives his verdict, read over and under or side by side?
MODERN BRITISH GUNMAKERS
In the 19th century there were thousands of gunmakers the length and breadth of Great Britain. By the 21st century, due to a combination of circumstances, this situation had changed drastically to the extent that the number of British makers actually building guns could be counted on the fingers of both hands.
Yet there remains a small core of British gunmakers building guns of the highest quality using the latest technology, the end result being some of the finest guns and rifles on the market today.
It was Nick Holt of Holts Auctioneers who first suggested that these makers deserved to be recognised more widely as part of a British gun trade that is very much alive and flourishing. Most people new to shooting assume that they have to buy an Italian or Belgian shotgun, yet this is certainly not the case. My new book, British gunmakers of the 21st century, is designed to show the superb quality and designs on offer from the British gun trade today.
ATKIN GRANT & LANG
Atkin Grant & Lang is the amalgamation of three famous old established London gunmakers. In 1925, Stephen Grant and Joseph Lang went into partnership and in 1960 they were joined by Henry Atkin to form the present company.
Now based in Hertfordshire, Atkin Grant & Lang offer a round-action, triggerplate, over-and-under gun with pinless sideplates. It has the trademark feature of Grant fluted fences that makes such guns instantly recognisable. The gun is available in 12-, 16- and 20-bore. It has a single trigger and barrel lengths of 28in to 32in are on offer.
Prices: 12-bore from £33,000
Atkin Grant & Lang, Windmill Road, Markyate St Albans, Hertfordshire AL3 8LP.
Tel: 01582 849382;
BOSS & CO
Boss & Co was established as far back as 1812, when Thomas Boss completed his apprenticeship with Joseph Manton. Boss is unique amongst British gunmakers in that the company builds best guns only, hence the subtitle, “builders of best guns only”, is entirely apt. Building best guns only, coupled with a relatively small production, gives Boss & Co an exclusivity over all other gun manufacturers and is the reason why it is held in such high esteem today. Boss & Co is still a privately owned firm and at its factory in Kew, south-west London, it builds what are probably the most exclusive guns in the world. Building exquisite guns and rifles is what Boss does; the company does not sell clothing, shooting accessories and the like. Boss & Co’s gunmakers are, quite simply, the “builders of best guns only”.
Boss is unique amongst British gunmakers today in that it still builds guns by hand, exactly the same way as they were built in the 1920s and 1930s. The actions arrive as big billets of steel and they are all hand filed and shaped, hence each individual gun has a subtle shape of its own. No two guns are alike and every part of the gun is bespoke, from the type of rib required, action shape and so on. The lines of the gun or rifle are paramount to Boss, hence its lack of adoption of CNC machinery, which tends to turn out very similar guns.
Side-by-side guns take two to two-and-a-half years to build, while over-and-unders take three to three-and-a-half years to manufacture. Due to the individual, hand-built nature of each gun, a specific price cannot be quoted. The side-by-side and over-and-under guns are available in 12- to .410 bores. An exciting recent development is the reintroduction of over-and-under rifles in calibres .500, .470 and .375.
Tel: 020 8948 2781;
AA BROWN & SONS
Today, AA Brown builds a best-quality side-by-side shotgun, the Supreme de Luxe. This employs a self-opening system based upon the Holland & Holland design and it also has hand-detachable locks. However, if the mechanism is Holland in origin, the design and lines of the gun are entirely AA Brown. Although a square action can be built, many customers prefer the semi-rounded body with which the firm is associated. The action body is rounded as are the lockplates to create a graceful design. The building of the guns is done at the firm’s premises in Alvechurch in the West Midlands. The Super de Luxe gun is built entirely to the customer’s specification, using chopper-lump barrels, action hand filed from a solid forging and exhibition grade walnut.
The Supreme de Luxe is offered in 12-, 16-, 20-, 28- and .410 bores and is available in three weights: standard game gun; lightweight game gun; and pigeon gun. Around six to 10 are built each year and delivery time is approximately two years.
AA Brown & Sons has recently added a new best gun to its production, an over-and-under named the Series 8. This is based upon the well-known Woodward design and again it has been given the very personal touch with the Brown trademark rounded-action style. It is this rounded style that gives AA Brown guns their distinctive appearance, both in side-by-side and over-and-under form. A single or double trigger can be fitted and there is the option of fixed or multichokes. The gun is also available in 12-, 16-, 20-, 28- and .410 bores.
Prices: Supreme de Luxe side-by-side, 12-, 16-, 20-bore, from £55,000; 28- and .410, from £60,000; Series 8 over-and-under, price available on application
AA Brown & Sons, 1 Snake Lane, Alvechurch, Birmingham B48 7NT.
Tel: 0121 445 5395;
LW BUTLER GUN & RIFLE MAKERS LTD
LW Butler Gun & Rifle Makers was established in 2007. Lee Butler has more than 30 years’ experience in the gun trade and served his apprenticeship in the Gun Quarter in Birmingham under Westley Richards. In 1998, he joined EJ Churchill and served as foreman for 11 years.
LW Butler builds all types of guns, stalking rifles, large calibre double rifles and shotguns. The firm’s side-by-side sidelock gun is available in 12-, 16-, 20-, 28- and .410 bores. It is a self-opening gun based upon the Baker design. The firm offers an over-and-under sidelock built upon the famous Woodward action. This gun is available in 12-, 16-, 20-, 28- and .410 bores. A triggerplate over-and-under is also on offer.
LW Butler also builds double rifles in both boxlock and sidelock design with bolstered fences. They are available in a great many calibres, from .17 to 4-bore. Bolt-action rifles are offered in most calibres.
Prices: side-by-side shotgun, from £35,000 + VAT; over-and-under sidelock shotgun, from £55,000 + VAT; over-and-under triggerplate shotgun, from £24,000 + VAT; bolt-action rifles, £10,000 to
£28,000 + VAT
LW Butler Gun & Rifle Makers Ltd, West Wycombe Park House, West Wycombe Park, High Wycombe, Buckinghamshire HP14 3AJ.
Tel: 01494 533388
EJ Churchill was established in 1891 by Edwin John Churchill. His nephew, Robert Churchill, took over the business and promoted the short-barrelled 25in gun and Churchill-raised rib that will always be associated with the firm. In 1997, Sir Edward Dashwood purchased the business with the intention of returning it to its former glory.
Today, Churchill is once again a premier concern and is based at West Wycombe Park at High Wycombe in Buckinghamshire, only 30 minutes from London’s Heathrow airport. EJ Churchill has a thriving, in-house gunmaking team and offers two best guns, the Premiere side-by-side and the Premiere over-and-under.
The side-by-side Premiere has pinless locks and is available with a square- or round-bodied action. The gun is entirely bespoke and built to the exact specifications of the customer. It is available in 12-, 16- and 20-bore. The Premiere side-by-side retails from £72,000 plus VAT.
The over-and-under Premiere has pinless locks and is available with a square- or round-bodied action. It has removable trunnions for ease of maintenance and a single trigger is fitted. The gun is bespoke and built to the customer’s requirements. The over-and-under Premiere is available in 12-, 16- and 20-bore and retails from £78,000 excluding VAT. Delivery time is around 18 months.
The Premiere is also available as a double rifle in most calibres.
Prices: the Premiere side-by-side shotgun, from £72,000 + VAT; the Premiere over-and-under shotgun, from £78,000 + VAT.
EJ Churchill, Park Lane, Lane End, High Wycombe, Buckinghamshire HP14 3NS.
Tel: 01494 883227; US representative Chris Batha, +1 866 254 2406;
Don Custerson graduated with an MA in engineering from the University of Cambridge. He worked originally for a high-tech engineering company but with his lifelong interest in guns and rifles he eventually turned this passion into a business, which he opened in 1989.
Custerson became a sought-after outworker, working for several best London gunmakers carrying out stocking work and doing repairs. Many commissions for new guns and rifles followed, both from other gunmakers and from private clients who wanted guns built under his own name. Today, he builds entirely new guns from machined parts, actioning, stocking, finishing and regulating them himself.
Don Custerson became a registered gunmaker with the Gun Trade Association and was admitted to the Worshipful Company Of Gunmakers in 1996.
Using modern, computer-aided design and manufacturing techniques, he created the brand new over-and-under gun that Stephen Grant is currently making. Individual commissions include a series of very large calibre falling block rifles and shotguns, both under his own name and for Giles Whittome. He made the 2-bore Millennium Gun for the Royal Armouries – a centrefire, breech-loading sporting rifle – and the shotgun commemorating the Ryder Cup in 2010.
Don Custerson, Over, Cambridge CB4 5NH.
Tel: 01954 230109;
Jean-Pierre Daeschler started his career in 1988, aged 16, at a small, provincial gunmakers in Scotland where he specialised in stock making and finishing. During his time there, Daeschler developed an enthusiasm for fine Scottish guns and became a specialist in the guns and rifles made by John Dickson & Son of Edinburgh.
He left Scotland in 1997 and began his own business in South-East England, repairing and renovating guns for the trade, acquiring many customers both at home and abroad. By 2016, the business had evolved to the extent that Daeschler began to build best guns to his own design. Demand for these best guns continued to grow and in 2018 four such guns were manufactured, two 12-bore Anson & Deeley guns with 30in barrels and two 20-bore triggerplate over-and-under guns with 30in barrels. In addition, he built a Mauser 98 bolt-action rifle in 7x57mm calibre.
This year is already showing significant promise, with a classic Holland & Holland-type sidelock ejector being built and a number of over-and-unders constructed for the American market.
J-P Daeschler Gunmakers is based in Sevenoaks in Kent. The firm builds best side-by-side and over-and-under guns, which are designed and hand built in Great Britain.
J-P Daeschler Gunmakers, Hodsoll Street, Sevenoaks, Kent TN15 7LE.
Tel: 07740 544183;
JOHN DICKSON & SON
Since the closure of its Edinburgh premises in the spring of 2017, John Dickson & Son conducts its business from the workshops where it manufactures guns in Dunkeld, Perthshire, a charming, small town on the banks of the River Tay about 12 miles north of Perth and easily accessible from the A9.
The round action is a beautiful, elegant gun with all the mechanism contained on the triggerplate. Since there are few components contained within the action bar, the action can be well rounded to create a true round-action gun. In addition to this it is an immensely strong gun as hardly any metal has had to be cut away in the action body, as it is in most other hammerless guns. The balance is excellent, too, since the triggerplate is right in the centre of the gun.
The Dickson round action is available in three bore sizes, 12-, 16- and 20-bore. A 28-bore is in the process of being designed.
John Dickson & Son took over James MacNaughton & Sons in 1947 and has continued building the classic MacNaughton round-action gun. James MacNaughton patented this gun in 1879, one year earlier than the Dickson patent. The MacNaughton round-action internals are similar to the Dickson but the big difference is that James MacNaughton favoured the bar-in-wood style, whereby the woodwork covers much of the action body. In Scotland, this style is not termed bar-in-wood, it is called a ‘skeleton action’. It created an extraordinary beautiful gun. The MacNaughton bar-in-wood round action is available in 12-, 16-, 20- and 28-bore.
Prices: Dickson round action, £45,000 + VAT; MacNaughton bar-in-wood round action, £48,000 + VAT
John Dickson & Son, The Steading, Dunkeld House Farm, Dunkeld, Perthshire PH8 0HX.
Tel: 01350 728763;
The Greener business was acquired in 1985 by Graham Greener, the great-great-grandson of William Greener, and two gunmakers of wide repute, David Dryhurst and Richard Tandy. They decided that they would build best guns only. Best sidelocks were built along with Facile Princeps boxlocks and hammer ejectors. To promote the return to best gunmaking, a new ‘St George’ 12-bore sidelock ejector was built with special chiselled relief carving and engraving pertaining to the saint.
Today, the guns and rifles are built by Dryhurst and Tandy. Greener is unique amongst British gunmakers at present in that the firm builds presentation guns only to the highest standards possible. On account of this, they cannot give individual prices for guns or rifles and must be contacted for an estimate. The guns and rifles are built to exhibition standards and engraving and embellishment are commensurate with this. They are more refined than standard best guns and have little eccentricities added to make them unique, such as little inlays, bolsters and shoulders – all time consuming but the result is a one-off gun that is a work of art and engineering.
The firm builds sidelock ejectors in probably the most extensive series of bore sizes offered by the British gun trade today: 10-, 12-, 16-, 20-, 24-, 28-, 32- and .410. It also builds its well-known Facile Princeps gun, first patented by WW Greener in 1880. This employed an entirely new mechanism for cocking that was different to the ubiquitous Anson & Deeley. The great merit of this design is that it allows the action to be partially rounded to create a handsome and distinctive gun. The Facile Princeps is available as a 20-bore shotgun and a .375 double rifle. Over-and-unders are also made in 20-bore.
WW Greener, The Mews, Hagley Hall, Hagley, Stourbridge DY9 9LG
Tel: 01666 510351;
HOLLAND & HOLLAND
Today, top of the range is the Royal sidelock ejector. The Royal is available in 12-, 16-, 20-, 28- and .410, with one or two triggers and with chopper-lump barrels from 25in to 32in. In 1992, Holland & Holland introduced the Royal over-and-under gun as a best gun. It is available in 12-, 16-, 20-, 28- and .410 with 25in to 32in barrels. It comes with either a game or ventilated top rib and 2¾in or 3in chambers.
In the 1990s, demand arose for a modern over-and-under gun for both clay and game shooting. To meet this demand, Holland & Holland introduced the Sporting over-and-under gun. The heart of the new gun is a fully detachable triggerplate lock, incorporating all the mechanism, that can be easily removed for cleaning. It is available in 12-, 20- and 28-bore with selective single trigger.
In 2002, the Round Action was introduced as a traditional quality gun of robust simplicity. The elegant, rounded-bar action is machined from a billet of steel with back-action locks to allow the action bar to be well rounded. It is available in 12- and 20-bore with chopper-lump barrels from 25in to 30in long with 2¾in chambers.
Holland & Holland specialises in rifle manufacture and heading the list is the Royal sidelock double rifle, built to the very best standards. It is available in most rimless, flanged or belted rimless calibres from 7mm to .700. The double rifle is also available as a Round Action rifle similar to the Round Action shotgun. It is chambered in flanged calibres only from 7mm to .500.
Bolt-action rifles are constructed upon the modified Mauser ’98 action and are available in calibres from .240 to .500, the most noted calibre being the well-respected .375 Holland & Holland Magnum.
An interesting development of late has been the reintroduction of the Paradox. In a Paradox the last few inches of the bore is rifled, making it suitable for use as both a shotgun and rifle. The Paradox fell into disuse after World War Two but of late interest has developed in the concept and Holland & Holland is building it once more in 12-bore.
Prices: the Royal side-by-side from £85,000 + VAT; The Royal over-and-under from £97,500 + VAT; The Sporting over-and-under from £55,000 + VAT; Round Action side-by-side from £60,000 + VAT; the Royal double rifle £124,000 + VAT; Round Action double rifle from £77,000 + VAT; Bolt-action rifle, all calibres, £30,500 + VAT; the Royal Paradox from £95,000 + VAT; the Round Action Paradox from £73,500 + VAT
Holland & Holland, 33 Bruton Street, London, W1J 6HH
Tel. 020 7499 4411
Longthorne Gunmakers is a husband and wife team, Jim and Elaine Longthorne Stewart. They originally operated in precision-engineering companies both in Australia and England.
Right from the start, Jim and his team were intent on manufacturing a new British gun that was both innovative and advanced. This was evident in their approach to barrel technology. The majority of barrels are constructed from two barrel tubes soldered together. At Longthorne, however, they take a single piece of steel weighing some 27kg and machine a single pair of barrels out of it, the finished pair weighing 1.3kg. So the resulting barrels are not only very strong but light, too.
Another feature of the advanced design is that there is little recoil, even with heavy loads, due to the barrel design, the guns’ low profile and its general rigidity.
Longthorne offers five models of over-and-under sidelock guns designed for both game or sporting shooting, all available in 12-, 16-, 20- and 28-bores.
Last year, the company designed a new side-by-side gun, built using its advanced barrel technology. It is a sidelock ejector with triple-bite action and barrels available from 28in to 32in, chambered for 3in cartridges and proofed for steel. This gun was launched in March 2018 at the IWA Nuremburg.
Another new gun that is being developed by the company this year is a side-by-side sidelock. Again this will feature all the valued Longthorne specifications.
Prices (including VAT): Nouveau, £29,950; Celtic, £19,941; Hesketh Deluxe, £18,142; Rose & Scroll, £15,625; Hesketh, £14,500; side-by-side sidelock ejector £23,000; side-by-side boxlock ejector £10,000-£12,000
Longthorne Gunmakers, Longthorne House, 1 Millbrook Close, Northampton
Tel: 01772 811215;
DAVID MCKAY BROWN
David McKay Brown offers two types of gun. The side-by-side is a round action to the Dickson design with triggerplate action. It is an elegant gun with a true round body and since the mechanism is contained upon the triggerplate, the action is incredibly strong. Since hardly any parts are contained within the action, the action bar can be well rounded to create the classic round body shape. With the triggerplate central in the gun, excellent balance is one of the great attributes of the round-action model.
The round-action side-by-side is available in all bore sizes, 12-, 16-, 20-, 28- and .410. For high birds it can be made heavier with longer barrels and raised top rib.
In the early 1990s, McKay Brown began to think about building an over-and-under gun as this was the type of gun that was becoming increasingly popular with those who shot game. The first such shotgun was completed in 1992, its design protected by a British Design Registration. So successful was the new over-and-under that it soon accounted for the majority of McKay Brown sales. It is an ideal gun for game shooting and can be fitted with either a single or double trigger.
Round action rifles are also built. The round action body, on account of its strength is particularly suitable for double rifles. The rifles are available in .375 H&H Magnum and .470 NE although other calibres can be built.
Prices: side-by-sides from £51,000 + VAT; over-and-under 12-, 16-, 20-, 28-bore, from £55,000 + VAT
David McKay Brown,
32 Hamilton Road,
Bothwell, Glasgow G71 8NA.
Tel: 01698 853727.
JAMES PURDEY & SONS
This side-by-side Purdey self-opening sidelock ejector is a best gun available in 12-, 16-, 20-, 28- and .410 bore with 2¾in or 3in chambers. The action can either be square bar, round bar or ultra round bar.
In 2004, due to a revival of interest in hammer guns, Purdey reintroduced its classic, late-19th-century hammer ejector gun as favoured by the famous shots of the period, such as Lord Ripon, Lord Walsingham and King George V. The gun has bar action locks, ejectors and a safety is fitted to bring it up to date. The hammer ejector is available in 12- and 20-bore.
Purdey also offers a best over-and-under shotgun. It is available in 12-, 16-, 20-, 28- and .410 bore with 2¾in or 3in chambers. The action bar can be square bar, rounded bar or ultra round bar.
In 2008, an entirely new Purdey shotgun was introduced, the Purdey over-and-under Sporter, designed using the latest technology. It is available in 12- and 20-bore with the option of interchangeable 28-bore barrels on the 20-bore.
The side-by-side double rifles are built like the side-by-side gun on the Beesley self-opening action. These rifles are available in a large variety of calibres from 5.6x52R to .600NE. Purdey also offers bolt-action rifles based upon the Mauser Square Bridge action, widely regarded as the finest bolt action in the world. They are available in any calibre including .375 H&H, .416 Rigby, .500 Jeffrey and .505 Gibbs.
Purdey has just introduced a new bolt-action rifle that brings a new standard of accuracy to rifles. At the heart of this innovative rifle is, ‘The Purdey Chassis System’. Made from titanium, the chassis, running from the pistol grip to the fore-end, is embedded into the walnut stock. Unseen when the rifle is assembled, the action is built directly into the titanium chassis rather than into the wood, as it is in traditional rifles. The result is an exceptionally stable bedding platform as the stock is prevented from moving when moisture levels change.
Towards the end of the 19th century, the age-old damascus barrels were replaced by steel barrels. The damascus barrels had been universally admired for their beauty, so Purdey reintroduced a modern damascus metal for use in either its side-by-sides or over-and-under guns. Instead of the barrels just being damascus, the entire gun is built using the material from an alloy forged in Sweden. Each piece has more than 100 layers to give the metal exceptional strength and purity. There is no need to engrave these Damascus guns as each has its own unique pattern and beauty.
Prices (all excluding VAT): best quality side-by-side game gun, from £122,000; best quality over-and-under game gun, from £139,500; best quality side-by-side hammer ejector game gun, from £129,500; best quality Damascus game side-by-side game guns, from £154,500; triggerplate over-and-under, from £59,500; Sporter over-and under, from £39,500; double rifles, £154,500; bolt action rifles, from £29,500
James Purdey & Sons, Audley House, 57-58 South Audley Street, London W1K 6ED.
Tel. 020 7499 1801;
RAY WARD GUNMAKERS
Ray Ward was an expert shot, winning many national titles in disciplines such as Olympic skeet and Olympic trap; he was also chairman, then president, of the Clay Pigeon Shooting Association. When he retired in 1981, his son, John, took over the business. In 1994, R Ward Gunmakers opened a London showroom at prestigious Cadogan Place in Knightsbridge. In 2010, this Knightsbridge store was completely refurbished and in 2011 the first finest-quality guns bearing the name Ray Ward were completed.
Ray Ward guns are designed and created by the best gunmakers and engravers, with each gun built to the exact specification demanded by the customer. As John Ward said, “I want to see Ray Ward guns being recognised as one of the best English guns ever made.” Every part of the Ray Ward gun is British made or crafted and a team of craftsmen were put together with the intention of building guns to the highest standards.
Ray Ward offers best side-by-side shotguns in 12-, 20-, 28- and .410 bores, all built to the customer’s requirements. The company also offers an over-and-under in 12- and 20-bore.
Prices: side-by-side shotgun in 12-, 20-, 28- and .410 bores, £70,000; over-and-under in 12- and 20-bore, £100,000
To enquire about Ray Ward guns, call John Ward on 07771 777500.
JOHN RIGBY & CO
John Rigby & Co is an old, established gunmaker dating back to 1775, when John Rigby opened his business in Dublin. Today, John Rigby & Co builds rifles and shotguns. In 2015, the company reintroduced the rising bite on its best double rifles after an absence of 80 years, the rising bite having been discontinued due to the expense of its manufacture.
The Rigby double rifle is a side-by-side sidelock ejector with classic Rigby dipped edge lockplates and Rigby full pattern scroll engraving. The double rifles are available in all calibres, from .416 Rigby to .600 Nitro Express, all built from top-quality steel using state-of-the-art technology.
Rigby is also world famous for its bolt-action rifles. From 1897, Mauser made barrelled bolt actions and shipped them to London and with the new company today (John Rigby & Co was bought by the L&O group, which also owns Blaser, Sauer and Mauser, in January 2013), this arrangement has resumed. At its plant in Isny, Mauser builds the original Magnum bolt actions (first introduced in 1900), which are delivered to London to be assembled into superb, hand-finished rifles.
The London Best is the top-of-the-range, bolt-action rifle, built in much the same way it was 100 years ago, in London using Mauser actions. It is available in two models, London Best and the London Best Vintage, and three classic Rigby calibres. The Big Game bolt action rifle comes in the Big Game PH, Big Game and Big Game Vintage.
A brand-new development by Rigby was the launch of its Highland Stalker bolt-action rifle at IWA in Germany in March 2017. It is a traditional, deerstalking rifle inspired by the smaller calibres Rigby built at the turn of the century.
Prices (including VAT): Rising Bite sidelock ejector double rifle, from £118,200; London Best bolt action rifle, from £23,400; Big Game bolt action rifle, from £7,695; Highland Stalker bolt action rifle, from £7,695
John Rigby & Co (Gunmakers) Ltd, 13-19 Pensbury Place, London SW8 4TP.
Tel. 020 7720 0757;
CARL RUSSELL & CO
The company was established in 2014 on the picturesque Hatfield Park Estate in Hertfordshire. Carl Russell spent six years as an apprentice gunmaker and in 2005 joined Atkin, Grant & Lang as a jobber/finisher. The first Carl Russell gun was completed in 2017, to great acclaim.
Carl Russell & Co offers best shotguns that are hand built in the traditional manner by time-served gunmakers assisted by the latest CNC technology. Each gun is built to the highest quality with great attention paid to detail and craftsmanship. Both over-and-under and side-by-side guns are built.
The over-and-under is built upon the Woodward design, which is regarded as being one of the finest over-and-unders ever built, lightweight and elegant yet robust. The action is available in three styles, square, round or ultra round bar. They are offered with a choice of either straight or pistol-grip stock. Traditional fine rose and scroll engraving with colour hardening or bright finish is available, with additional extra finish engraving options available on request. The over-and-under is available in all popular bore sizes.
The side-by-side is built to the ingenious self-opening mechanism patented by Frederick Beesley in 1880. It is a true self-opening gun and is available in all standard bore sizes.
Each new gun is presented in a best oak and leather case complete with canvas outer and a full complement of accessories.
Prices: side-by-side, from £53,000 + VAT; over-and-under, from £65,000 + VAT
Carl Russell & Co Gunmakers Ltd, Stable Yard, Hatfield Park, Hatfield, Hertfordshire AL9 5NQ.
Tel: 01707 709372;
SMITH AND TOROK
Alex Torok and the late Mike Smith joined James Purdey & Sons in 1975 as 16-year-olds, Torok as an apprentice action filer and Smith as a barrel maker. When they finished their apprenticeships, Torok stayed on, working for Purdey for more than 30 years and earning a reputation as a perfectionist. He then set up on his own in 2004, becoming a freelance gunmaker for the trade.
From 2006, Torok and Smith decided to enter into partnership and spent years searching for an established name, but to no avail. However, on receiving a commission from an influential collector for a set of 28-bores, the customer persuaded Mike Smith and Alex Torok to put their own names on the guns. Smith & Torok Ltd was born.
Smith & Torok build best English guns specialising in unusual calibres, 10-, 20-, 24-, 28- and 32-bores, all of which have been manufactured or are on the bench. The firm is particularly proud of its Dual Gun, which is similar to the Holland & Holland Paradox. This magnificent gun/rifle has no less than six pairs of barrels.
Smith & Torok guns start at £60,000 and, unlike with the old established companies where the customer deals with a salesman, as gunmakers the team deal directly with the customer, dispensing technical advice and explaining how long it will take to build a gun to an individual’s requirements. This personal touch allows a close relationship with customers to develop.
Smith & Torok is based in West London.
Tel: 07886 531569;
In 1989, Watson Bros was purchased by Michael Louca, a former Purdey gunmaker whose intention was to build best-quality guns under the company’s name. Watson Bros premises of workshops and showroom are at 41 Tower Bridge Road, London, where the new guns are manufactured using the latest technology.
Louca developed a new, round-bodied design of side-by-side sidelock ejector with a distinct coffin-shaped taper to the back of the action. This round-bodied design was the first to appear in many decades and the new Watson Bros gun achieved so much acclaim that soon other makers began to build versions of their own. The round bodied guns are self-openers and are available in 12-, 16-, 20-, 28- and .410 bores.
Watson Bros is unique in that the firm manufactures double 4-bore side-by-side sidelock ejectors. These guns are built to the highest best-gun standards and weigh only 16lb to 22lb, depending upon the client’s preferred barrel length, which can range from 36in to 42in. A recent development is the introduction of a double sidelock ejector in 8-bore, built to the same standards as the 4-bores.
Before long, customers were asking if a similar round-bodied over-and-under was available – not a simple proposition where the round-body design was concerned, and Louca had to design and make a new ejector system featuring all the key elements of the best London gun. The design was unique, so Watson Bros protected it with a British Design Registration.
The company also builds best side-by-side sidelock ejector double rifles. These are offered in a variety of calibres and have side bolsters and third grip for extra strength.
Another exciting new development is the recent introduction of a self-cocking hammer ejector gun. When the barrels drop, the hammers are automatically rotated to full cock. Some guns like this were built in the 19th century but not as ejectors, and the new Watson Bros gun is a brand new, redesigned version of this gun built using state-of-the-art technology.
Prices (including VAT): side-by-side shotgun, from £54,000; side-by-side double rifle, from £95,000 ; side-by-side 4-bore shotgun, from £95,000; side-by-side hammer ejector shotgun, from £75,000; over-and-under shotgun, from £72,000
Watson Bros, 41 Tower Bridge Road, London SE1 4TL.
Tel: 020 7378 9700;
WESTLEY RICHARDS & CO LTD
Today, Westley Richards has its factory and showroom at 130 Pritchett Street, Birmingham, having relocated to these purpose-built premises in 2008. Here, the company builds all the classic Westley Richards guns and rifles, which it has become famous for.
Westley Richards has invested in the most advanced CNC technology but has chosen to use it in a manner that assists manufacture, rather than allowing it to rule. The company has also invested in an extensive, in-house leather workshop to create its own distinctive oak and leather cases and associated leather goods.
The guns and rifles built are all particular to Westley Richards. The team build the classic 1897 patent hand-detachable droplock, which is fitted to both rifles and shotguns. These hand-detachable locks dropping from the base of the action are one of Westley Richards’ unique designs. Beautifully made, the locks can be removed quickly for cleaning and are works of art in their own right, always eliciting much interest.
The detachable droplock is also available on double rifles. These side-by-side double rifles are available in all calibres up to .700 Nitro Express.
Westley Richards also offers a conventional side-by-side sidelock ejector shotgun. This is a bar action sidelock with assisted opening and a true round-bodied action.
In 2005, Westley Richards revised and reintroduced its side-by-side sidelock ejector double rifle. This incorporates the signature doll’s-head extension and wide top lever and the Deeley fore-end catch. The result is a robust yet beautiful double rifle that is immediately recognisable as a Westley Richards model.
As an alternative to the sidelock and droplock, double rifles are available built to the classic Westley Richards Anson & Deeley boxlock action of 1875. This simple, elegant and rugged design has stood the test of time and today the boxlock ejector double rifle is offered in .470 NE, .500 NE and .577 NE.
Westley Richards also offers a bolt-action rifle based upon one of four appropriately scaled Mauser ’98 actions: Short, Intermediate, Standard and Magnum. They are available in most calibres up to .505 Gibbs.
Prices (excluding VAT): hand-detachable droplock side-by side shotgun, from £59,500; hand-detachable droplock side-by-side double rifle, from £74,500; side-by-side sidelock ejector shotgun, from £74,500; side-by-side sidelock ejector double rifle, from £99,500; side-by-side boxlock ejector double rifle, from £59,500; bolt-action rifle up to .505 Gibbs, from £30,500
Westley Richards & Co Ltd, 130 Pritchett Street, Birmingham B6 4EH.
Tel: 0121 333 1900;
WILLIAM & SON
William & Son was set up by William Asprey – a seventh generation member of the family that runs the luxury goods firm – in 1999. The shop, in Bruton Street, London W1, sells all manner of luxury products, including best guns built by William & Son. The gun department is headed by Paul West, a former Holland & Holland gunmaker who oversees production. Eight gunmakers build the guns to customers’ bespoke specifications.
William & Son offers various types of gun and rifle, all built to best London standards. The company’s side-by-side hammerless ejector is a self-opener and is available in 12-, 16-, 20-, 28- and .410 bore, with 25in to 30in barrels. The over-and-under gun is a sidelock ejector and is available in 12-, 16-, 20-, 28- and .410 bore.
A new development is the introduction of the over-and-under Sporter. This is a triggerplate design built in the UK. It is offered in 12- and 20-bore with 25in to 32in barrels. Side-by-side sidelock ejector double rifles are also built. The double rifles are available in calibres .240 to .700. William & Son also makes bolt-action rifles based upon the Mauser ’98 action. They are available in all calibres, with appropriate telescopic sights.
Prices (all + VAT): self-opening side-by-side sidelock ejector, from £76,500; over-and-under sidelock ejector, from £89,000; over-and-under Sporter, from £46,500; side-by-side sidelock ejector double rifle, from £115,000; bolt-action rifle, from £23,500
William & Son, 34-36 Bruton Street, London W1J 6QX. Tel: 020 7493 8385;
This is an edited extract from Donald Dallas’ British Gunmakers of the 21st Century. Field readers can buy it at the special price of £30 via donalddallas.com