As James Purdey & Sons open the doors of their brand new factory, Michael Yardley meets Purdey's craftsmen, who are responsible for upholding the gunmaker's international reputation
Purdey’s craftsmen have an international reputation for impeccability, and they uphold this as part of one of the most renowned bespoke gunmaking firms in the world. The Field meets the men behind Purdey’s famous guns.
PHILIP BUTCHER, ACTIONER
Started at Purdey aged 16 on 4 September, 1972. Apprenticed to Jack Aldous for five years as a barrelmaker, he completed his apprenticeship and worked for three years as a qualified barrelmaker. Then, in 1980, he retrained as an action maker under the tutelage of Ben Delay and he still actions to this day. At the same time, Butcher, who is also an over-and-under ejector man, is heavily involved in new designs and R&D work.
Favourite jobs: after 44 years’ service as one of Purdey’s craftsmen, too numerous to mention.
ANTHONY (TONY) SMITH, BARRELMAKER
Started as one of Purdey’s craftsmen, aged 16, on 17 August. 1972 as an apprentice barrelmaker and was apprenticed under Brian Frost, who tragically died young. He finished his apprenticeship under Ted Comben. Smith completed his apprenticeship aged 21 and then undertook specialist training in double-rifle barrelmaking under Alf Harvey.
The most interesting job he has undertaken as one of Purdey’s craftsmen is a recent one: a .22 octagonal, single-barrel rifle the build of which tested his filing skills as keeping all eight sides square and concentric to the bore was a satisfying task. Although everybody knows him as Tony all of his barrels are stamped with his given initials, AS.
KEVIN MURPHY, GUNMAKER LEADER
Joined Purdey as a finishing apprentice on 11 October, 1976 and was apprenticed under David Mitchell to become one of Purdey’s craftsmen.
Completed apprenticeship aged 21 in December, 1980. He undertook extra training as a side-by-side ejector man under David Smith from October 1983 to March 1985. He was promoted to side-by-side ejector shop and repair shop manager in 1995 and is currently GML (gunmaker leader) stage 1. He supervises all barrel, action, lock, and trigger and ejector production in the workshop and works with the proof house to see the guns through proof.
He has no particular favourite gun as all Purdeys are special but found the designing and reintroduction of a Purdey hammergun a satisfying project to be involved in.
RICHARD BAYLEY, STOCKER
Joined Purdey, aged 16, on 7 January, 1974 and was apprenticed under Kip O’Brien. He has only worked as a stocker and came into the trade as he had a love of shooting and guns. He completed his apprenticeship in July 1978. He currently has three apprentices who are working to become Purdey’s craftsmen.
His favourite ever gun was a single-barrelled trap gun but he has always taken great pleasure in making larger rifles, especially the .600 double-barrelled rifles.
TONY MAIDMENT, ENGRAVER
Maidment started his career engraving at the New Malden-based engravers and printers, Bradbury Wilkinson & Co, when he was 16. His father worked the banknote cutting machines and when Maidment showed an early talent for drawing, he persuaded his son to apply for an engraving apprenticeship at the firm. He beat 300 applicants to obtain the post as one of Purdey’s craftsmen.
He engraved his first Purdey 20 years ago and moved into gun engraving as banknotes were no longer being done on steel. He found that gunmaking offered both the freedom of design and high level of craftsmanship that he cherished. While now he uses a microscope he started with an eyeglass and the traditional tools. His favourite work is a rifle currently in production, which has the scale and scope to allow for the ideal proportions of the classic rose-and-scroll engraving.
LAURIE BAYLISS, PRODUCTION DIRECTOR
Bayliss is a Chartered Mechanical Engineer by qualification and has spent his working life in engineering and production, developing skills for “continuous improvement”.
In his first role, working for IMI in Birmingham, he visited the Eley cartridge production facility and saw its first robot pallet loader.
Since joining Purdey in February 2012, he has set about nurturing and developing the workshop and machine shop, supporting Purdey’s craftsmen to ensure a long and successful future for the famous gun- and riflemaker. A strong emphasis on recruiting apprentices coupled with the new factory and process development is set to ensure a bright future.
Favourite guns: while always impressed by the traditional side-by-side with rose-and-scroll engraving and colour-case finish, he is fascinated by the unusual guns Purdey is asked to make with the 10-bore rifled choke being one of several that stood out in the past few years. These offer great opportunities for Purdey’s craftsmen to test their skills and continue their lifelong learning.