James Purdey & Sons, or simply Purdey, is a British gunmaker based in London, England specializing in high-end bespoke sporting shotguns and rifles. Purdey holds three Royal Warrants of appointment as gun and rifle makers to the British and other European royal families.
James Purdey founded James Purdey & Sons in London, England in 1814, locating his business on Princes Street.
Prior to starting out on his own, Purdey worked as head stocker for Joseph Manton, the foremost gunmaker of his time. In 1826 the company moved from the Princes Street location to Manton's former premises in Oxford Street.
The founder's son, James Purdey the Younger, took over the running of the company from his father in 1858. James the Younger saw rapid change in the development and design of guns and rifles during his lifetime, essentially moving from muzzle loading flintlocks in the 1820s to breech loading hammerless ejectors by the 1880s. James the Younger was always at the forefront of advances in the design and building of his guns and rifles, and took out several patents for technical innovations over the years. Many of James the Younger's patents were adopted by other gunmakers.
In 1882 the company moved from Oxford Street to new premises on the corner of South Audley Street and Mount Street, where the company remains to this day. James the younger designed this building to accommodate his showroom, the factory, and later the building provided living quarters for James' family. The City of Westminster unveiled a memorial plaque on the shop at 57-60 South Audley Street on 30 April 1992.
Purdey guns moved briskly from flintlock to percussion cap to hammer centre-fire guns and then to the self-opening hammerless gun of 1880. This hammerless self opening mechanism was designed by Frederick Beesley, a Purdey worker of the time, and used one limb of a V spring to operate the internal hammers and the other to operate the self opening feature. Beesley sold the patent to Purdey in 1880 for £55. This was followed ten years later by the incorporation of ejectors. Apart from continual refinement and the optional single trigger mechanism, very little change has subsequently been made to the design of the side-by-side gun.
In 1900 Athol Purdey took over from his father and ran the business through the prosperous Edwardian years, as well as supervising Purdey's manufacturing of gun parts and other items of ordnance for the War Department during WW1. Athol's sons, James and Tom, both of whom had survived serious injuries whilst fighting in France, joined the firm in the 1920s, and took over from Athol Purdey on his retirement circa 1929.
The Purdey "over & under" gun is a development of the Woodward patent of 1913 which was incorporated into the company on the purchase of J.Woodward & Sons by Purdey in 1949.
Whilst James Purdey & Sons is best known as a maker of shotguns, it also produces rifles, both double-barrelled and bolt-action. The guns are custom-made, largely by hand. They are extremely expensive.
Richard Purdey, the sixth generation of the family from the founder, retired as chairman in February 2007. Nigel Beaumont took over as chairman until his retirement in 2014. James Horne was chairman from 2014 to December 2019. The current Chairman is Dan Jago.
This particular rifle was built in 1872, for a Colonel Hunt. Research indicates a Robert H. Hunt, (1839 – 1908). Hunt fought for the Union Army during theAmerican Civil War and was elected Mayor of Kansas City, Missouri, in 1872.
Hunt was born in County Kerry, Ireland in 1839. His parents emigrated to the United States in 1847, taking their children with them. At the age of eight, Robert began to work as a water boy on the railroad. At seventeen he entered Canandaigua Academy in New York.
In 1859, Hunt headed west and ended up in Kansas City. Anti slavery as he was, he lived on the Kansas side of the state line, where he engaged in farming. That same year, he married Miss Nellie Hoyne. With the outbreak of the Civil War in 1861, Hunt joined the Union Army as a private. He served for four years and eight months, moving up through the ranks, and eventually ending his service as a colonel.
During the war he was involved in many battles. Major Hunt directed the charge at the Battle of Mine Creek when Confederate General John S. Marmaduke was captured and Confederate General Sterling Price was defeated. Additionally, Major Hunt served as Chief of Artillery under General Samuel Curtiss at the Battle of Westport and was wounded by "being hit in the head by a piece of an exploding Confederate shell." For his contributions during this battle, Major Hunt was breveted Lieutenant Colonel.
After the war and through various investments and business relationships, Colonel Hunt became a very wealthy man. In 1872, Colonel Hunt was elected the mayor of Kansas City, Missouri, serving one year. From 1874 to 1878, Colonel Hunt served on the Kansas City School Board. He died in 1908.
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Alex Henry was born in 1818 and by 1841 was listed as ‘journeyman gunmaker’, having been apprenticed to Thomas Mortimer, the Edinburgh gunmaker, in 1830. The apprenticeship lasted seven years and Henry was so well regarded that he became the manager of Mortimer’s business at the age of twenty-two. He left Mortimer’s employ in 1852. That year he invented his three-groove rifling system and trialled it, successfully, at ranges in excess of 800 yards.
Henry began trading under his own name after acquiring the business of Samual Gourlay, in Edinburgh. Henry traded from 1852 until 1894, moving around Edinburgh several times during his lifetime. Today, Henry is best known as a rifle maker and it is rifles that he concentrated on, they were clearly his passion and the focus of most of his energies. As a first-rate rifle shot, Henry competed and his successes acted as great advertisements for his rifles. This was a common practice at the time. Henry did with rifles much as Harris Holland had done with shotguns on the back of his prowess in the pigeon ring.
Henry rifling is perhaps his best known invention. At the start of the mid-19th century, two-groove rifling was in widespread use, Dickson type and Purdey type both effective to 200 yards or so but slow to load and ballistically inefficient. First experimenting with a .577 at ranges of up to 1,600 yards, Henry adjusted the size of bullet to .451 and gave the twist rate of his three-groove rifling a hike. The War Office accepted his rifling and used it in the Enfield Rifle of 1853. Henry, of course, also made use of it in his sporting rifles.
With the advent of breech-loading, Henry’s rifling was preferred to that of his rival Sir Joseph Whitworth. His 1860 patent 2802 ‘Rifled Fire-arms’ fixed the idea of an expanding bullet that was gripped around the entire surface by the lands. This was a departure from notion of mechanically fitting bullets, like the hexagonal Whitworth, or the earlier Dickson and Purdey ‘winged’ types. The most popular application of Henry rifling is a shallow seven-groove pattern. The soft lead bullet expanded into the lands and was gripped securely, thereby producing smooth rotation and resulting in extremely accurate down-range delivery. Slightly harder bullets improved accuracy further, for competition use.
One of Henry’s iconic sporting rifles emerged in 1865 from his own patent in the form of a falling-block design that was much copied by other makers. These rifles were made on actions scaled for small, standard, and large bores and were superb sporting rifles in their day. By small, we can consider .360 BPE, for standard, think .450 BPE ( a deer rifle in the pre-smokeless powder era) and the large frame was for .577. There was even a ‘massive’ frame version, which was built for the 12-bore.
These rifles came in three qualities, the lower quality versions being made-up by Samuel Allport in Birmingham, the best quality rifles being made by Henry. Locks were made by Brazier in Wolverhampton. Versions with a left lock were popular and a take-down version was available.On the success of his business, Henry opened a shop in London, much like Westley Richards of Birmingham, Rigby of Dublin and Greener, also of Birmingham, had done. Henry opened on King William Street in, 1869.
For military application, Henry’s falling block was over-looked in 1871, in favour of the Martini action, but Henry’s rifling was added to it, creating the iconic Martini-Henry . 577/.450. Superb as it was, the Henry falling block was much more expensive to produce than the Martini, which was hammerless, and therefore more robust, as well as being faster to operate. In combination, Martini’s action and Henry’s rifling served the British Empire until it was replaced by the .303 Lee-Metford bolt-action rifle in 1888.
Alongside his developments in rifling and his contribution to military and target rifles, we still see today a fair number of beautifully made double rifles bearing Alex Henry’s name. The best of these were made in Edinburgh, but the lower grades (there were four grades in total) were made in Birmingham, some being finished in Edinburgh. Alex Henry Shotguns were made in Birmingham by firms like W&C Scott, Samuel Allport, Bentley & Playfair and Tipping & Lawden. In turn, Henry supplied best quality double rifles to other gun-makers, like Stephen Grant, Rhodda and Manton & Co.
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Armstrong & Co were established in about 1890 at 10 Neville Street, Newcastle-upon-Tyne. In about 1890 they moved to 5 Collingwood Street, and in about 1900 to 115 & 117 Northumberland Street. It is not known who established this firm. Armstrong is a common name in the north-east of England but no trace of an Armstrong gun maker has been found. For what it may be worth and just in case Sir W G Armstrong of armaments and ship building fame was involved, on 15 April 1905 E H Clive and Sir W G Armstrong Whitworth & Co, registered patent No. 8079 for an improved machine gun mechanism.
From about 1905 the firm occupied 115 Northumberland Street only; they appear to have closed in about 1918 but may have traded for a few years longer. The firm described themselves as gun, rifle and breech-loader manufacturers with an appointment to the Prince of Wales. From about the turn of the century if not earlier, they sold fishing tackle and other sporting goods but had a large "Sporting Gun Depot".
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Edwinson (in his early years known as Edwin) Charles Green was born in 1839 in Oldbury, Tewkesbury, Gloucestershire. He was the son of John Green, a cooper, and Charlotte Green. He had two brothers, George (b.1831) and William (b.1837), and one sister, Elizabeth (b.1835). It would seem that Charlotte died or left with the two girls, because by 1851 John Green and the two sons were living as lodgers with Mary Morris, a shopkeeper (almost certainly a hat maker), in High Street, Oldbury. Like his father, William Green became a cooper. At the age of 11 Edwin had left school, and worked for Mary Morris as a pin (hatpin?) straightener (the entry in the 1851 census record is difficult to read). Possibly on the advice of William V Green (his uncle?) who later traded as a gun maker in Gloucester, Edwin moved to Birmingham. He seems to have been apprenticed there, but to whom is unknown. In the 1861 census he was recorded as Edwin Green, a gun finisher lodging with William Cork, a blacksmith. In 1865 he established his own business trading as a gun and rifle maker at 282 Great Lister Street, Birmingham. In 1866 he entered guns in the Field Gun Trials and took the two first prizes (he later took first, second and third prizes in the New York Gun Trials, and won the President's Diamond Badge in Chicago). In 1867 he married Elizabeth (b.1838 in Liverpool) and moved to Cheltenham where he opened a shop at 87 High Street. The business in Birmingham continued. Edwin and Elizabeth had a daughter, Charlotte Elizabeth in 1868 and a son, Charles Frederick Green in 1870. They had three other children, Amy C (b.1873), Frederick H (b.1874) and Alfred E (b.1876).
In about 1874, Edwinson took over his uncle's firm in Gloucester and moved it to 4 Northgate Street. On 8 April 1871 he took out his first patent, it was No. 929 for a drop-down barrel action incorporating transverse bolts locking the lumps. On 23 September 1871 he also patented an alternative triple bolting mechanism (No. 2522). Between 1875 and 1879 the Birmingham workshop moved to 16 1/2 St Mary's Row, and between 1879 and 1886 it moved to 12 Weaman Street. On 28 November 1885 Edwinson patented a drop-down barrel action with transversely dovetailed barrel lumps, locking bolts and trigger plate lock and a safety catch (No. 14626). On 18 December 1889 Edwinson patented a stirrup type revolver with a lightweight barrel, gas ports and dust covers (No. 20321). He had always sold revolvers many of them made by Thomas Thacker of Birmingham.
It appears that the workshop in Birmingham was not recorded after 1890, but it is apparent that the firm, were still involved in making guns and there is a report that it moved to 16 Vesey Street. The same report states that in the Cheltenham shop alone (which had a short testing range) between 32 and 36 men were employed. In the 1891 census Charlotte and Amy C both worked as a shop assistants (but not necessarily for Edwinson). Charles Frederick (aged 21) was employed by his father as a gun maker, and Frederick H (aged 17) was employed as an assistant in the shop. Alfred E (aged 15) was employed as an ironmonger's assistant. In 1894, the firm was re-named Edwinson Charles Green & Son, and the shop in Gloucester was moved to 16 Northgate Street. This was the first of a sucession of moves, in about 1905 it was recorded back at 4 Northgate Street, in about 1909 it was recorded at The Cross, in 1913 it was recorded back at 4 Northgate Street and from 1922 to about 1928 it was at 6 Northgate Street. The shop appears to closed in about 1928. In 1897 Edwinson Green and Frederick H Green patented an adjustable single trigger mechanism (Patent No. 14877). On 9 July 1902 Edwinson Green patented a single trigger for a three barrel gun (No. 15307) which was made in 16 and 12 bore versions. Westley Richards thought so highly of the design that they obtained permission to make a gun to that design for the Turin Exhibition in 1911 and won a gold medal with it (see also Child, Dickson and Boss). At about this time Green made round action shotguns using John Dickson's patent.
In 1912 the firm was re-named Edwinson Green & Sons. The name change may have been in recognition of the fact that on 4 April 1912 E C and F H Green patented their Over / Under action with a selective ejector (No. 8225). Later that year the patent was improved by patent No. 14951 by E C and F H Green for a locking lug. This was the famous O/U for which Atholl Purdey purchased manufacturing rights in 1922. On 3 November 1913 patent No. 24983 by E C and F H Green was for an electro-magnetic safety operated by a plate in the butt. Edwinson Green died in 1930, and presumably Charles F Green and Frederick H Green took over the business.
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“NO CHARGE CAN HURT THIS GUN”
Such was J. D. Dougall’s confidence in his patented design. May 1860.
There were six gunmakers in the Dougall family. They were: John Dougall; J. D. Dougall Sr.; and J.D. Dougall’s sons; John Dougall, J. D. Dougall Jr., and Norman Dougall. J. D. Sr. being the inventor of the Lockfast.
James Dalziel (J. D.) Dougall Sr. was born in 1819. His gun making business has its roots in his father’s fishing tackle business. While J. D. Dougall used the 1760 establishment date in his advertising, Boothroyd states that John Dougall (J. D.’s father) started his business in1808 as a fishing and fowling maker, later to specialize in needles and fishing hooks. By March 24, 1845, the Glasgow Herald, Dougall announces that he has “engaged a first-rate Gunmaker and is prepared to execute all orders in that department…”
Dougall was an early proponent of the pinfire. We know that he was selling both pinfires and central fire Lockfasts in 1866. He introduces his Lockfast action in London in 1862 and wins a gold medal. By 1863, Dougall’s business was apparently successful enough to open a second location at 59 James’s Street, London (which remains open until 1883), after which he traded as J.D. Dougall and Sons at 8 Bennet Street, St. James’s until 1893. For those unfamiliar with the Lockfast action, a quick tutorial. Dougall had studied the weaknesses in the Lefaucheux action. He designed a slide and drop action in which a side-lever slides the barrels forward on a concentric cam and allows them to drop, rotating on the hinge pin to correct these weaknesses. The locking mechanism consists of a boss (a steel disk) attached to the standing breech, aligned with each barrel; and a barrel under-lug. The breech-end of the barrels slide over the bosses and the barrel lug engages the action. The action closes by pulling the lever back, which forces the two round bosses into the chamber, sealing it, and locks the single barrel lug over the action frame. The action completely encases the cartridge in steel, eliminating the weakness at the interface between the barrels and the standing breech. It is an extremely strong action design, made during the transition years from percussion to centrefire.
Lockfast’s were built in at least the following gauges: 4, 8, 12, 16 and 20 bores. The 4-bore was a single barrel punt gun with a forend being an oarlock. The others were double guns. He also built Lockfast double rifles in a wide number of calibers including gauge rifles and howdah pistols. Apparently most Dougall Lockfasts were high quality guns. Lockfasts were expensive guns.
In 1870, Dougall was appointed Gun and Rifle Maker to HRH Prince of Wales. As with this gun, most Lockfast guns afterwards, have engraved on the rib, “J. D. Dougall Gun and Rifle Manufacturer to HRM The Prince of Wales, 59 St. James St. London” and the top tang is engraved with the three Price-of-Wales feathers.
J. D. Dougall, Sr. died on 28 February 1891. The firm of J. D. Dougall & Sons, Gun, Fishing Rod and Tackle Makers was officially dissolved on 21 February 1905, ending the Dougall family’s participation in J. D. Dougall and Sons. Charles Ingram Annan was to continue doing business under the same name and at the same address.
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There are reports that the firm of Alexander Martin was established in 1778. There were three cutlers and / or gun makers named Alexander Martin, this date appears to refer to the grandfather of the man who made the name of Alexander Martin famous around the world.
Alexander (I) was a cutler and possibly also a gunmaker, a burgess and guild brother in Paisley, about 7 miles from the centre of Glasgow. In 1742 he was recorded as a journeyman with John Hyndman. He married Mary Telpher on 15 September 1773.
His son, Alexander (II), was born in 1791 in Paisley, and almost certainly worked for his father. He appears to have married in about 1814, and was later recorded living in Paisley with his wife (known only as W Martin, born in 1796), their elder son, Allen (b.1815) who does not appear to have entered into the gun trade, Alexander (III) (b.1816), and Elizabeth (b.1826).
Alexander (II) and Alexander (III) became hammermen, burgesses and guild brothers on 22 July 1835, aged 35 and 19 respectively, this must have been almost immediately after Alexander (I) died. They were admitted to the Incorporation on 28 August that year and both their "essays" were gun main springs.
It appears that Alexander (II) established his business in 1835 at 153 Trongate, Glasgow. He and Alexander (III) traded as gunmakers, fishing rod and tackle manufacturers. It also appears that they left Glasgow to return to Paisley in 1837. Alexander (II) was recorded in the 1841 census living at 28 Oakshaw Road, Paisley, but he was not recorded in any census after that date. Alexander (III) returned to Glasgow in 1837 to establish the famous firm Alexander Martin gunmaking firm at 179 Argyll Street. In 1842 he moved to 181 Argyll Street, and in 1844 to 18 Exchange Square. In 1848 the firm took additional premises next door at 20 Exchange Square (later re-named Royal Exchange Square).
In the 1851 census Alexander (III) lived at 96 North Hanover Street, Glasgow with his wife Isabella (b.1826 in Glasgow), no children were recorded.
In 1852 the firm's address was given as 20 Exchange Square, but they may also have occupied number 18.
In 1854 Alexander Martin described himself as a gunmaker and cast steel rifle barrel manufacturer.
In 1856 the firm moved to 28 Exchange Square, and in 1861 to 22 Exchange Square.
In the 1861 census Alexander was recorded living at 3 Rose Street, a gunmaker employing 5 men and one boy. Nobody else was living in the house.
In 1862 the firm was recorded at 20 Royal Exchange Square.
In 1863 he described himself as a gun and rifle maker.
Between 1886 and 1890 the firm's address was given as 22 Royal Exchange Square, but it would seem that they continued to occupy 20 Royal Exchange Square. Their address in about 1893 was 20 Royal Exchange Square.
In about 1897 the firm described themselves as gun makers and makers of pistols, sportsmen's implements, fishing rods and tackle, they were also taxidermists. it was in about 1897 that a branch was established at 128 Union Street, Aberdeen.
In about 1901 the firm's address in Glasgow was 20 & 22 Royal Exchange Square.
In 1902 the firm amalgamated with Alexander Henry & Co of 18 Frederick Street, Edinburgh; both firms continued trading under their own names from the same shops with the exception of the Edinburgh shop which moved to 22 Frederick Street and traded under both names.
In about 1934 a branch was opened under the name of Alex Martin at 2 Friars Street, Stirling, and in about 1938 their Aberdeen shop moved to 25 Bridge Street.
It is unlikely that the firm made any guns themselves after 1939, during the 1950s and early 1960s most of their guns were made by A A Brown & Sons of Birmingham.
In about 1950 the company were armourers to the Scottish Rifle Association and a small shop was opened at Bisley in Surrey, possibly in the Scottish Rifle Association's clubhouse. It was in about 1950 that the Stirling shop and the Edinburgh shop closed.
The firm was latterly run by Sandy Martin, but in 1965 it was sold to John Dickson & Son Ltd.
A number of historical items were put into the "Martin Collection" at the Glasgow museum.
In 1971 John Dickson moved the Aberdeen shop to 35 Belmont Street where it continued to trade as Alexander Martin until it closed in 1985. The Glasgow shop closed in 1988.
The firm made its name through success at target shooting. They made Lee-Metford and Lee-Enfield target rifles, breech-loading .256 calibre match rifles, and target rifle sights. The firm's trade mark was a thistle surrounded by two leaves.
They developed a lightweight "ribless" shotgun (three short sections of rib at the muzzle, centre and breech) but because of increased recoil due to the light weight, it did not prove popular.
The records of the firm date only from 1904, previous records have ben lost. Internet Gun Club has details of serial numbers and dates, further information is available from John Dickson & Son Ltd (Dickson & MacNaughton) at 21 Frederick Street, Edinburgh EH2 2NE; Tel: 0131 2254218.
According to many of these books they were best known as riflemakers but made fine shotguns many which were produced by AA Brown & Sons and finished by Martin.
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Somewhere around 1905, Franklin Hiram Walker, son of Hiram Walker, founder of Walkertown and Walker distilleries, contracted Holland and Holland to build him a double rifle for an upcoming Chamois hunt in Italy. The rifle pictured was the result, the rifle was built on a very rare miniature frame. The story goes that Mr. Walker went to Italy shot his Chamois and put the rifle away, never to be used again. Apparently, 6 shots were fired. The rifle was bequeathed to Mr. Walker's house manager, which then passed it along to his son, from whom the rifle was purchased. The provenance is solid, the condition is impeccable, the rarity of caliber is undeniable 295/300 rook, the grade is of the highest quality, for the double rifle collector this is the holy grail.
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This is the most beautiful double rifle I have ever held in my hands, just a show stopper. There is barely a 1/4 inch of un-engraved metal on this rifle, except for the barrel of course, even the butt plate is completely engraved. Bores are beautiful, can't wait to shoot it. Flip up, Ivory bead front sight, beautiful english walnut stocks, nicely fitted pistol grip. Who says box locks cannot be best guns. I am still researching this rifle, if anyone can supply additional information it would be appreciated.
The British gun making concern known as Webley & Scott Ltd. started with a young gunmaker's apprentice, Philip Webley. He, along with most other future managers of his company, started their careers the hard way, making, fitting and filing on gunparts and building guns by hand. He joined his brother, James, in 1835 to start a gun implement and tool business in Birmingham, home to so many other gun making companies. By 1840 Philip was already supplying the Government Board of Ordnance and the East India Company with gun parts and tools.
In 1845, Philip bought out the bullet mould and gun accessory business of William Davis, whose daughter, Caroline, he married in 1838. William Davis was a respected gun parts maker in Birmingham, and was even present at the Battle of Waterloo. Philip Webley set up shop at 84 Weaman Street, in Birmingham, which eventually grows and occupies most of the surrounding area. Philip's sons, Thomas and Henry, eventually join and inherit the business.
By 1853, Philip and his brother were making percussion revolvers, but competing with Colt was tough, who had a factory in London making revolvers using mass production techniques. The Webleys could see the writing on the wall. Building guns by hand just wouldn't do any longer. There wasn't a problem with quality, as Webley's guns could be compared to the best, they just couldn't make them fast enough by hand. There was also the problem of interchangeable parts, a new concept that was quickly taking root. The good thing was that the solution took care of both problems, making guns by machine using mass production techniques enabled making all parts identical. Doing it without machines had been done, but couldn't realize the output needed for success. Trying to modernize their machinery like Enfield and Mauser had done using American machinery didn't work out, and Philip and his son T.W. made a gutsy move having the machinery locally made, which turned out well for them and for Birmingham. By 1887, Webley's guns were cranked out by machine and soon the British Government adopted Webley's revolvers as the handgun of the British Empire.
In 1888 Philip Webley died, and his sons took over the Webley concern. Soon, the company put the Webley name on all their revolvers, as some lesser competitors were passing their guns off as Webleys, leading to consumer complaints. By 1893 the company was expanding, with an exhibit at the Chicago Worlds Fair, and addresses in the London area.
The Webley concern went public in 1897, joining with W & C Scott and Sons and Richard Ellis & Sons to form The Webley & Scott Revolver & Arms Co. Ltd. of Birmingham and 78 Shaftsbury Ave. London. W & C Scott & Sons was started in 1834 by William Scott on Weaman Street, and eventually moved to Lancaster Street in Birmingham where they had built the Premier Gun Works, in which they manufactured upper end shotguns. Philip Webley's son Henry retired after the deal was done.
In 1901, Webley's push into the asian market was stopped cold by the Boxer Rebellion. After five years of development, the Webley-Fosbery Automatic Revolver was introduced. There was a flap concerning the Royal Irish Constabulary revolvers in 1902, as a pair of arresting officers had their guns fail to fire, but it was found later that the guns and the ammunition was at least 30 years old. Mr. Thomas W Webley died in 1904. He was apprenticed by the age of eleven, and manager at Webley by the time he was 20 years old. He was 65 when he died, and had remarked at one time that the gun business had made him an old man before his time. By 1905 the gun business went sour, the Boer War had ended, and Webley was scrambling to sell guns.
By 1906, the company changed its name and made more guns than any other English gun making concern. Guns start to sell again by 1909 and all the Webley factories now specialize in their own guns. Revolvers are made at Weaman Street, shotguns are made at Scott's factory, the Premier Works in Lancaster Street. and shotguns at the Ellis concern. During this time, up to the Great War, Webley revolvers were taking honors at the shooting matches in England, specifically the NRA matches at Bisley. The company had developed automatic pistols, and after the Sydney Street Outrage a .32 model was adopted by the London Police departments among others.
During WW1, the Navy and Royal Flying Corps accepted the Webley .455 automatic pistol, and the Army took every revolver Webley could make. They had an open contract for 2500 revolvers a week, and before the war was over, Webley had sold 310,000 revolvers. They made other things as well, among which were almost 200,000 Very Signal Pistols. Henry Webley, retired and in poor health, came back to the company to help out the war effort, his service to the company being invaluable, and he died by 1920. Also during the war, the founder of W & C Scott & Sons died at 81 years, and his factory turned to war production instead of shotguns.
After the war, Webley's fortunes with the British Government started their long decline. The Government still wanted Mk. VI revolvers, they just didn't want to pay much for them. Webley was forced to take less, and it appears that the Government just had Enfield build the Mk. VI without permission. The 1920 Firearms Act in Britain dealt another blow to the firm's bottom line by taking away the right for citizens to own arms, and making it a privilege. In 1922, the War Office wanted a .38 caliber revolver to replace the Mk VI, and had the company work up a new design. In another blow to the company, the British Government had Enfield build it. Webley kept their design common with Enfield's until 1929, but departed slightly thereafter when the War Office lost interest. By 1939, the War Office was interested again and they took all the .38 revolvers Webley could make, even though there wasn't much parts commonality between their revolver and Enfield's. After all, there was a war on.
Webley ran out of room at Weaman Street to ramp up for war production and they had to expand into other factories in the surrounding area, which was also a benefit in the event of air raids. Factories were built at Stourbridge, Selly Oak, Great Barr and the offices moved to Rednal.
In 1957, the War Office decided that it's time for a self loading handgun for the military, and Webley submits their design, but the Government quickly adopts the 9mm Browning as the standard sidearm. It is the end of Webley's involvement with the British Government.
Soon after the Webley & Scott factory on Weaman Street was demolished for the Birmingham Ring Road, and they moved to the suburbs in Handsworth outside of Birmingham. The historic Weaman Street area was the home of the giants of the Birmingham gun trade over the last couple of hundred years, but progress marches on. During the 19th century, Webley had built revolvers and automatic pistols in almost every conceivable combination. They copied other designs also, most likely under license or after the patent's had expired, but tried everything looking for the perfect revolver, which they arguably did build, the hinged frame Mk VI. Webley is not the revolver powerhouse it once was, but the company is still at it doing what it does best, which is making guns. They have quite a line of quality made shotguns and airguns
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Thomas Woodward was born in Birmingham in 1855. Little is known of his early life, but he is probably the same man recorded as a gunmaker from 1868 through to about 1890. He was recruited by Henry Holland in 1892, moving to London to set up Holland's first factory at 527-33 Harrow Road and later supervising the move to its current address in 1898. This involved not only equipping it, but also recruiting gunmakers to staff it, and he is seen as having a large role in the company's transition after 1893 from being a primarily retail business to manufacturing its own firearms. He was also an innovative man, listed as co-patentee with Henry Holland on nineteen patents including this falling-block action, along with designs for the single-trigger (eleven in total), hand-detachable locks plates and both the Paradox and Velopex bullets. By 1904 he had been made a director of the company, a position which he was to hold until ill health forced him to resign in 1914.
Although Holland & Holland had been selling falling-block rifles since 1890, the Holland-Woodward action was the first design by the makers, and the first example was completed as a .303 in 1895 (no. 19557). Total production is believed to have been in the order of only 140 rifles, the bulk being sold between 1899 and 1901 and the last in 1926. Winfer's book separates the actions into three types, of which this rifle exhibits the "action plate base for the...internal safety arm" characteristic of the No. 2 action.
Winfer's book states that famed African hunter Frederick Courteney Selous ordered three Holland-Woodward actions from Holland & Holland, Selous was a true fan of the Woodward action.
This example is as close to a twin of one of the Selous famed holland Woodward action rifles sold at Bonhoms in 2010. This rifle is in extremely fine condition, exhibiting a very high percentage of original finish, vibrant case colours and deep rich blue. Bore is as new and wood shows much the same. An extremely rare rifle from one of the finest makers in the world. The action using H.W. Holland & T. Woodward patent no. 17,578 of 15 September 1894, the sides of the action-body with the makers name engraved surrounded by best bold foliate-scrollwork, the underside engraved with the patent number, virtually full hardening-colour, the bright cocking-lever engraved en suite, the top-tang with shotgun-style safety, finely figured stock, with pistol grip, engraved pistol grip-cap with trap containing additional bead-foresights, cheek-piece and horn butt-plate, horn-capped fore end, sling-eyes, with a circular barrel, engraved Holland & Holland, 98 New Bond Street, London Winner Of All The "Field" Rifle Trials, London and ramp-mounted ivory bead-foresight.
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Thanks to the Double gun Journal, participants and experts, the final deduction is, these guns were built for J. Graham by Lancaster, Lancaster sourced all their over under guns from Germany, in the white and anglicized them back home in Britain.
"According to Geoffrey & Susan Boothroyd in their book “The British Over-And-Under Shotgun” (Chapter 16), H.A.A. Thorn, the then owner of Charles Lancaster, took out a patent (No. 12,057 of May 14, 1910) for "providing double-barrelled guns, of the kind having superposed barrels, with ejector mechanism". Expanding on the fact that the patent is for ejectors only, a letter published in "The Field" magazine on June 30, 1910 is mentioned that confirms the guns were purchased ‘in the white’ from Germany and were finished and fitted with ejectors by Lancaster in London."
On page 157 of Don Masters book, Atkin Grant and Lang, you can see the Lancaster detachable lock and the unmistakable phallic front of the lock, which can also be seen on the guns pictured here. As well, Diggory Hadoke has an article in the Vintage Gun Journal about the phallic Lancaster locks.
J. Graham was established in 1857 and still remains to this day on Castle Street in Inverness (The capital of the Highlands) and can be found opposite Inverness Castle. Today they carry a large stock of quality guns and accessories, Grahams services large sporting estates throughout the Highlands as well as catering to the needs of individuals. Visitors are assured of receiving the best advice regarding shooting availability throughout the seasons whether their interests are in stalking for red or roe deer, grouse or pheasant shooting or rough shooting. Their own experienced gunsmith conducts firearms repairs on the premises. Large quantities of all types of ammunition are always kept in stock. In the late 1960's all of J. Graham's records were lost in a fire. The Black Isle of Scotland had guns made in Edinburgh, Glasgow, and Inverness.
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