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The grave of Joseph Manton after restoration


A pair of pistols made by Manton


The shop of Evans in St. James

De Greener Crossbolt

James Purdey The Younger

History English shotguns


Below you will find a historical overview of the major Gunmakers. It is intended as a overview of the key facts about the Gunmakers and the history of gun making. With thanks to Jan Roosenburg - Managing Director of the Holland & Holland New York office from 1991 to 2002 - for his great contribution to the text of this historical overview. Jan Roosenburg is co-author of the book "The Best of Holland & Holland, England's Premier gunmaker."


England has a rich history in weapons and making weapons. If we look specifically at the shotguns. From about 1860 we see the emergence of shooting in England, and especially the driven shoots. The book ´The Big Shots´by Jonathan Ruffer gives a good impression of the development of hunting in England at that time. The technical development of shotguns increases after 1880 caused by the discovery of smokeless gunpowder. The larger shootings introduce to shoot with a "pair" with the assistance of a "loader". Therefore gunsmits made guns which had an outstanding balance and technically operate optimally even after hundreds of thousands of shots. This resulted in the "Best London Gun". Gunsmiths as Purdey, Holland & Holland and Boss also belong today to the top of the London gun makers and their guns are in great demand all over the world.


Below you find a brief historical overview of every important Gunmaker. Before we go into the creators of so-called modern hammerless rifles, first a word about Joseph Manton. This was a farmer's son, born in 1766 in Lincolnshire. He probably worked as an apprentice at Edward Newton Grantham, of whom nothing is known except that he teached Joseph Manton and other famous London 'gun makers of that time as John Twigg, Robert Wogdon and Joseph brothers John Manton the art of gun making. Joseph Manton was the "father" of the London gun industry, and has introduced famous makers such as James Purdey, Boss Thomas, William Greener, Charles Lancaster and Joseph Lang. "But for him we should all have been a parcel or blacksmith" stated James Purdey. Joseph Manton died in 1835 in poverty, being in prison because of all debts. His friend Col. Peter Hawker did make his tombstone with the inscription "The greatest artist in firearms that the world ever produced." The tomb is on Kensall Green, across the factory of Holland & Holland. In the nineties, it completely dilapidated tomb was restored at the expense of Holland & Holland, though the company has never had a connection with Joseph Manton.


In the world of guns, Boss, Purdey and Holland & Holland are the top three. The most attractive and new and second hand guns have the highest prices for guns in London. This does not mean that they are much better, it is probably mainly due to the fact that the three survived the troubled times of 1950 to 1970. They continued to make guns and still do. Below however you also will find the history of other gun makers that contributed to the great reputation of London and English gunmakers.


Clicking on the gunmaker below takes you directly to the history of the relevant gunmaker.





HENRY ATKIN

As with so many gun makers, the father of Henry worked in the same profession. He was actioner at James Purdey. In 1848, the young Henry was appointed as an apprentice to his father. This lasted generally five years, after which an exam was taken of, if deemed good enough, the pupil was permanently employed and step-by-step allowed to make guns for customers. In 1875 Henry’s rifles were built under his own name. Two years later he opened a shop. He graved on all its guns "from Purdey's," where his former employer objected to by court. But it was the truth, the process was lost and the Atkin guns always remained graved with ‘from Purdey’s’. The so-called self-opening action which Purdey had purchased from Frederick Beesley was copied as well, but with an improvement in the ejection system, known as the Model 1909 Henry Atkin. In 1960 the company merged with Grant & Lang and continued as Atkin, Grant & Lang.




























         Henry Atkin from Purdey


BOSS & CO.

Thomas Boss was the son of William, a gunsmith who worked first in Birmingham and moved to London where he joined Joseph Manton. In 1812, Thomas went to work for himself. First purely commercially by manufacturing components for other gun makers, but later he settled at 73 St. James Street and started a store with guns under his own name. Thomas died in 1857, and the business was continued by his widow, in the first years with Stephen Grant as manager. It was claimed that these two had more than a business relationship. Later the company was run by John Robertson, which took over in 1891 from the Boss family. Boss claimed that they were "Builders of Best Guns Only", which was often engraved on the guns. It therefore had a relatively small production. Later they sold quite a simple gun under the name Robertson, made in Birmingham. In 1894 Boss came out with their acclaimed single trigger, and in 1909 with the revolutionary Over & Under, which a closing device that now a days can be found on every modern Italian Over & Under. At the beginning of this century  the Robertson family sold the company. The company has had a few different owners and struggled. But now they make a few guns again of very high quality in a small factory outside London.

















Typical Boss Over & Under


E.J. CHURCHILL

Edwin John Churchill began as an apprentice to a provincial gunsmith, after which he moved to London and joined FT Baker. In 1891 he opened his own company, specializing in making guns for shooting pigeons, something he was very good at. His guns were much liked by professional pigeon shooters. After his death in 1910 the company was taken over by his nephew Robert "Bob" Churchill. Bob was also a familiar gunmaker and a good seller. He developed a theory that short barrels were better and came out with the famous Churchill XXV rifle with 25 inch long (short) barrels. He wrote a number of books about this short barrels and explained why these were so good. He opened a shooting school and built the guns in boxlock as well as side lock. It was a huge success in the thirty’s, and other gun makers were forced to come out with shorter barrels as well. In 1964 the company merged with Atking, Grant & Lang. But production was stopped in 1980. In 1996 a consortium bought the name, and are now selling guns again under the name of Churchill. Although good quality, current rifles are made in Spain and Italy, and have no Churchill characteristics.



























Churchill XXV inlaid in gold


JOHN DICKSON & SON

This is one of the most famous Scottish gun makers. There used to be many Scottish, such as McNaughton, Alex Martin, Mortimer & Harkom, Daniel Fraser and Alex Henry, the lattest famous for the military Martini-Henry rifle. Right now David McKay Brown makes rifles in Scotland, as well as Dickson. In 1840 John Dickson opened his shop on Princes Street in Edinburgh, by James Wallace after having learned the trade. In 1880 Dickson applied for a patent for the so-called Round Action, which has built the trigger group on the trigger plate. This design still got three more patents and was developed from around 1890 and the company builds these guns still. Dickson loved experimenting and made some guns with three barrels side by side, and in 1888 an Over & Under that opens sideways, a forerunner of the Belgian Britte. The last Dickson owner died in 1923 and the firm regularly passed into other hands, until in 1999 the American owners of MacNaughton bought the company. It is still located at 21 Frederick Street in Edeinburgh and makes small number Round Action rifles and the MacNaughten round action with a very elegant bar-in-wood design. Dickson had many famous clients, including the well-known poet and writer Lord Byron who made a pair dueleer pistols by Dickson, John Buchan, who was later popularized as "John MacNab" had a few round action rifles, while Queen Victoria her London's gun makers who held the Royal Warrant in the lurch and a rifle bullet for her beloved Scottish then to John Brown ordered by Dickson. The most famous customer was, however, a certain Charles Gordon, who bought more than 300 guns in Dickson between 1875 and 1906. The vast majority were fashioned front loaders and never fired. Unfortunately, Gordon went bankrupt in this hobby, which was a considerable loss for Dickson.




John Dickson Round Action                                          MacNaughton Bar in Wood



WILLIAM EVANS

William Evans learned the profession by James Purdey & and at Holland & Holland. In 1883 he decided that he learned enough and started his own company, first in Pimlico but already in 1888 he moved to Mayfair, ultimately at the address 63 Pall Mall. He specialized in supplying guns to officers, especially the Guards regiments, which was extremely popular before they left for the colonies. It also helped that his store was around the corner of the well-known clubs such as White's and Boodle's and across from The Atheneum. In the Second World War in 1944 a bomb fell on Pall Mall, which the store damaged badly. Fortunately, the staff managed to save the order books of the factory and the customers, and they are still used for the history of their built rifles. There was a move to 67 St. James's Street, where the company is still located. There are still a small number of new rifles made, and there is a good Gunroom with used guns in the basement and a large selection of clothing and related matters on the ground floor.


                        A nice restored William Evans gun


STEPHEN GRANT

Grant was born in Ireland and began his career at William Cavanagh in Dublin. He moved to London, where he was hired by Charles Lancaster and later by Thomas Boss. After his death, he was for 10 years the Manager at Boss for the widow of Thomas, which he also seemed to have a romantic bond. After ten years, however, he gave it up and started his own business. Already at Boss he built weapons with a so-called side liver. His guns were later known for it and the special shaped bascule as well. Grant made particularly elegant guns of the highest quality. He received the Royal Warrant from the Prince of Wales, Kingin Victoria, the Czar of Russia and the Sultan of Turkey. In 1925 the company merged with Joseph Lang & Sons and was Grant & Lang. In the 30´s were among others Harrison & Hussey, Watson Bros., Frederick Beesley and Charles Lancaster took over. There were some cal. 12 guns built by the name of Stephen Grant, based on the 12/20 basically designed by Lancaster. Later Henry Atkin joined and the company was named Atkin, Grant & Lang. In 1964 EJ Churchill merged and the name became Churchill, Atkin, Grant & Lang. Most of the names acquired have been sold again and the company is now Atkin, Grant & Lang again. It´s located outside London. There are some new guns built every year by various gunssmits but refurbishing old Grant's and Atkins is the main business.


























         Stephen Grant with side lever and special bascule


W.W. GREENER

William Greener began his career as a gunsmith apprenticed to John Gardner in Newcastle-upon-Tyne, in the far north of England. After his period as a student he went to work in London with Joseph Manton. In 1829 William returned to Newcastle and started his own company. However, he had difficulty getting the right materials supplied in 1844 and moved to the center of gun making in England, the city of Birmingham, where the company is still active. William was also a great inventor and developed a large number of patents for diverse inventions such as a lifeboat which rolled itself up again, a new lamp for use in underground mines, an upgraded railway crossing, etc. But in his heart he was a gunsmith and high quality of his rifles earned him well-known clients such as Queen Victoria and her husband Albert. William also wrote several books about guns.



After his death in 1869 the company was taken over by his second son, WW Greener. He improved the choke system as we know it now and developed the crossbar, called Greener cross bolt, which is still used in many guns. With this, he had an extremely reliable and sturdy rifle, which was used by many famous archers in the field and at competitions. Around 1900 Greener had about 450 men in service and was the greatest gunsmith in England. His book, The Gun and it's development in 1881 is still a classical. Slowly production was less and the company was sold in 1965 by the family. In 1985, however, the grandson of W.W. bought Greener holding back, along with several partners, including the gun makers Dryhurst David and Richard Tandy. The Greener name is again synonymous with the highest quality guns, although the production numbers are small.





































New Greener, the St. George

                  

HOLLAND & HOLLAND

Harris Holland was an organ builder in London and added later also a wholesale of tobacco. He had a grouse moor in Yorkshire where he drove with his friends and was also a known gun in pigeon competitions around the capital. He was persuaded to go to make guns and the first came out in 1835. It is virtually unique in the world of gun makers that a new business successfully set up by someone who has not learned the trade under another. Harris did not have its own factory to around 1850 and built the guns to his design commercially. The company wast made as H. Holland and the store was located at 9 King Street in London. In 1860 comes his nephew Henry Holland in doctrine and moved the shop at 98 Bond Street, where it will remain for more than 120 years. In 1867 Henry Holland is full gunsmith and absorbed by his uncle as a partner, although it will take until 1894 before he procuration gets to draw a check, notwithstanding that Uncle Harris is officially retired in 1876 and the name was changed to Holland & Holland. During Henry Holland a period many important patents follows, including for the self-tensioning, ejectors, improved safety, assisted opening, open sidelocks and many bullet calibers, including .375 H & H, .300 H & H, .500 / 450, .500 / 465 and .240 H & H. H & H in 1885 bought the patent from Col. Fossbery to insert gun barrel grooves at the end of a barrel to shoot bullets, that created the famous model Paradox. 1883 was an important year, when all firearms competitions, organized by the magazine The Field, were won by Holland & Holland, despite the participation of all other major gun makers. The boss in the factory, Mr. Froome, was clearly a very skilled shooter! In 1896 Harris died and his shares passed to cousin Henry. In 1898 the factory building in the Harrow Road near Paddington Station in London commissioned, where the factory is still located. In 1913 the first school shooting was opened, some others such as Boss and Churchill imitation followed. In 1930, 40 ha. land purchased in Northwood, where the shooting school was opened, which is still very active. To meet the competition of the Churchill XXV, H & H came in 1928 with the model "Brevis" with 26.5 inch running. This is the Latin word for short. Later the Brevis Room built in the shop where the collection will be exhibited. This is an amusing pun on the famous Long Room Purdey. Henry Holland retired in 1930 and his son. Col. Jack Holland took over the lead. In the early Sixties, the company merged with Westley Richards (Agency) and the management was conducted by Malcolm Lyell. This is in very difficult times kept the company going well in India and Africa to purchase large collections of Maharajah's and Ministers and these guns in the UK and the USA to make the man. Malcolm was also the mastermind behind a series of special guns, called Products of Excellence, which came into vogue special engravings, still of great importance for the financial health of gun makers.
The company still thrives and is now based in Bruton Street in Mayfair and owned by Mr. Wertheimer. It is the only gunsmith that makes all parts of each gun in house and makes more shotguns than any other London gunsmith, while the production of double-barreled rifles probably is bigger than all competitors combined





















             A .700 rifle. This is the largest caliber sporting rifle in the world.
























            An example of the famous Royal, copied all over the world.


CHARLES LANCASTER

Also a product of the highly productive kitchen of Joseph Manton, that became independent in 1826 at 151 New Bond Street, in central London. He stood in his time known as the best barrel maker, and he did this for a number of colleagues, including James Purdey. In 1847, after his death, the company was taken over by his two sons, Charles and Henry. The latter, however, should not have a lot of building guns and left the company a few years later to deal with something completely different. In 1868 Charles Ellen Thorne, whose younger brother Henry married in 1870 started working as an apprentice. Charles died suddenly of a stroke in 1878, and Henry Thorne took over the lead but the name remained unchanged. Both Charles Lancaster, but especially Henry Thorne, developed many new ideas. One of the best known of these was a bullet course which was slightly oval rather than round. This allows the projectile left running the course, with no grooves had to be made. Charles built a cannon on this principle and proved to the English army that actually worked. It was later developed by Henry Thorne, and marketed under the name "The ColIndian Gun", especially sales to travelers to exotic destinations in India and Africa. Thorn also developed a four-barreled pistol that was extremely popular among officers, and four barrel shotgun. The last famous invention was the so-called twelve / twenty model shotgun. This is a 12-bore, which by reducing the weight in the slots so far back as possible, the feel of a jig 20, but still has the weight of a 12 and thereby normal recoil. Among the clients of Charles Lancaster heard the Czar of Russia and the Prince of Wales, as well as Annie Oakley had a few Lancasters, which they hunted grouse with in England and were very skillfull.





























         A Lancaster with four barrels


JOSEPH LANG

Joseph Lang began as an independent gunmaker in 1821, after also having been apprenticed to Manton. At first he sold guns which he took from his contemporary and friend from the Manton years, James Purdey. He was very inventive, and took out a patent on the manufacture of patterns for front loaders, which meant a great improvement for the hunters. When he was in 1851 at the Great Exhibition in London saw the rifle of the French maker Lefaucheaux, which was built with so-called pinfire patterns that the gun could be loaded in the action, he was convinced that this was the future. Joseph Lang is undoubtedly the English gunsmith who has done the most work to develop and popularize in England the type of breaking gun. Lang is also well known for the caliber .470 Nitro Express, which is still widely used for big game hunting in Africa. The company was later merged with Stephen Grant, and is currently known as Atkin, Grant & Lang.


















         Een singel barrel firegun by Joseph Lang for the Indian Market.






















         A pair Joseph Lang


JAMES PURDEY & SONS

The most famous of the English gun makers probably Purdey, a big name in the world of luxury products. The famile is originally from the east of Scotland. The first was a blacksmith James not far from the Tower of London. Probably he made barrels. In 1784 the next James was born who was apprenticed to his older brother Thomas Hutchinson, gunsmith in London. After teaching for seven years, he joined the famed Joseph Manton, where he already reached the position in three years by head butts maker.

In 1810 he left Manton however, to work for four years as a stock maker at Dr. Forsyth, a famous gunmaker located at Piccadily.  In 1814 he took a big step and opened his own small shop at No. 4 Princes Street, where he made rifles and pistols and hammerguns. Unfortunately, the books of the first four years were lost, but since 1818 can be found all books by Purdey, with notes written on bad payers the name. Not only is he sold his own, best quality, rifles and pistols, as well as accessories, gunpowder and accessories, swords, daggers, razors and fine cigars. For fans were even living sparrows sold, probably to practice on! A kind of supermarket for hunters. He was soon discovered by the highest class of London and had his success looking for larger premises. He moved in 1826 to 314 ½ Oxford Street, where he had worked previously been for Joseph Manton. Except aristocrats and princes he also supplied to other celebrities. Charles Darwin departed with a pair of Purdey guns for his voyage on the Beagle. In 1838, he also Queen Victoria under his patronage count after ordering a pair of pistols as gifts to the Sultan of Muscat. In 1868 Purdey the Royal Warrant from the Prince of Wales and ten years later followed acquired the appointment as purveyor of Queen Victoria. Purdey may be the only gunsmith boast that they always from that date an appointment as purveyor of the reigning monarch have received. James the elder stopped working in 1868 and was succeeded by the next James. In 1880 the company moved to the corner of Audley Street and Mount Street in Mayfair, to a building that was constructed for this special. Purdey is still located here. Was originally part of the plant below the store, but soon the production went to another place because James Purdey wanted no noise in his store, while the family lived above the shop. The succession in the Purdey family continued to go well, Athol son took over the company in 1900 from James and his sons Tom and Jim followed him in 1929. However, there was already a fairly large package of shares changed hands, and in 1946 it is whole company owned by the Seeley family, particularly Lord Sherwood. His nephew Richard Beaumont began working at Purdey and became Chairman in 1971. Under his leadership, the company was also selling clothes and accessories. In 1994 the company was acquired by the Richemont group, a big name in luxury items. Returning to the old Purdey who had early recognized the benefits of the "breech loader" and took an active part in the development. In 1880 they bought the patent of Frederick Beesley, who had worked for Purdey, the self-opening mechanism, which is still applied. It works fine, but it makes closing the gun serious, because unlike with the Holland & Holland, the Purdey is stretched at closing. The most important acquisition in the long existence of Purdey's probably buying James Woodward in 1949 for 444 Pound. Thus they got the design of the highly successful Over & Under, vital in the US market.

































     A Purdey with typical Rose&Scroll graving


WESTLEY RICHARDS

Westley Richards was founded independently in 1812 in Birmingham, making it the oldest extant gunsmith in Great Britanie. He made excellent quality rifles and pistols, but the key to his success was the decision to appoint an agent in London. This was William Bishop, which had a shop at 170 New Bond Street, and generally enjoyed fame as "the Bishop of Bond Street".

Richards rifles were widely wanted and was used by Prince Albert, but also by the Shah Persie. A particularly important contribution was made in the development of double-barreled rifles by two employees of Westley Richards, William John Anson and Deeley. This built an ejector system for boxlock rifles still used by almost everyone, the Anson & Deeley system. In 1897 the so-called "drop lock" was introduced. This was in fact accidentally, because one of the workers in the factory was annoyed at all the pins that were visible in the boxlock action. He developed a system in which the working parts of the lock have been constructed on two steel sheets that are held in place by a hatch. Upon opening of this are the locks towards the bottom. Westley Richards still makes guns with this system and also makes excellent double-barreled rifles. They have recently been to a new building in Birmingham moved wherever an impressive range of clothing being offered.


De Bishop of Bond Street                                



JAMES WOODWARD

James Woodward started as an apprentice at Charles Moore, probably around 1827. A dozen years later, he moved up to head finisher, and in 1844 he became a full partner of Moore. The company moved to 64 St. James's Street under the name Moore & Woodward. Around 1851 only remained Woodward over and in 1872, the two sons of James Woodward in the management and the name was changed to James Woodward & Sons. In 1900 died the younger James and the firm was continued by a nephew, Charles Woodward. In 1937 they moved again, this time to 37 Bury Street, which however suffered heavy bomb damage in World War II and Woodward found temporary shelter at Atkin, Grant & Lang until the necessary repairs were carried out. Woodward is best known for his design of Over & Under, which together with the Boss design to the top of this type of shotgun is counted. Woodward did not have a big factory and had to make his actions by the company Hills, and also the running and locks were purchased from outside, but had to meet very strict requirements. Woodward gave only first quality shotguns and bascule has a very recognizable shape. The company was sold to Purdey in 1948 when threatened bankruptcy.

















        A Woodward Over&Under from the ‘30





























        A typiscal Woodward design


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