Sporting Classics Digital

July/August 2012

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Page 131 of 263

I T F n the year that Westley Richards, the Birmingham-based gunmakers celebrate the 200 years since they were founded, southern Africa professional hunter, Johan Calitz, describes his faith in his Westley Richards' .500 Nitro Express: "You can really trust your life to a Westley Richards' double rifle; I have used it time and time again against charging lions, elephants and leopards and it has never failed me . . . The Westley Richards rifle is built to suit your personal requirements – to suit you personally – so when you bring that gun up to your shoulder, you become one with it and together you can face any dangerous situation." When that rifle is brought into Calitz' shoulder, he is also holding in his hands a piece of history. The essence of the Westley Richards story is innovation. This process has embraced the sporting gun, rifles and shotguns of all kinds, and – in the 19th and early 20th century – the evolution of the military rifle. In the ledger books of Westley-Richards, still stored in the offices of its current Birmingham factory, are many of the great names of shooting, from Colonel Peter Hawker to Frederick Selous to royal princes, dukes, earls and viscounts – The shah of Iran, the crown prince of Japan and numerous maharajas appear here too. The engravings and photographs of shooting parties around the factory offices make the visitor vividly aware of these connections with the past. he firm's founder, William Westley Richards (1789-1865), was a member of a Birmingham family that had long associations with the metal industries and trades for which that city has long been famous – silversmiths and cutlers. He set up in 1812 on High Street, and initially drew on the skilled lockmakers, stockers and finishers who worked in their own right; but part of Westley Richards' success was how he brought the gun manufacturing process under his own control. William Westley Richards was an enthusiastic shot himself, and knew from experience what made a good sporting gun. In 1815 he appointed William Bishop as his London agent, based in Mayfair. Richards became a dominating figure of the Regency London sporting scene, and never seen without his top hat, he was nothing short of a legend. Known simply as "The Bishop," he served the firm for more than 50 years. He helped make Westley Richards one of the best-known gunmakers of the day. Such was the reputation of the Westley Richards' gun that in 1840, the same year as his marriage to Queen Victoria, Prince Albert granted the firm his royal warrant. William Westley Richards' son, Westley Richards (1814-1897), played a critical role in the evolution from the muzzle-loading arms to breech-loading especially in the field of the monkey tail, carbine and rifle, which while not adopted as a mainstream military weapon for the British army, nonetheless were popular arms with yeomanry regiments and police forces around the globe. The Monkey Tail was especially favored by the Boer farmers and used to great effect at the Battle of Majuba Hill in 1881. The Boers' reputation for marksmanship was formidable: the coming of age trail for a young Boer boy was to prove that he could hit a chicken's egg sitting on a mole hill at 100 yards. From the mid-19th century on, the company's innovations in the field of the sporting gun included not only the characteristic doll' s head extension, a new rom top: This Model de Luxe sidelock double rifle in .55/465 was made in 1927 for Manton & Co., Calcutta. • Rare example of an 8-gauge, hand-detachable lock shotgun fitted with 34-inch barrels and weighing 14 pounds, 14 ounces. The gun was built in 1913. • Opposite: The only example of a triple-barrelled 12-gauge sidelock shotgun made by Westley Richards, for the Turin Exhibition in 1911. The page is from the firm's Centennary catalogue of 1912 showing various departments at the Grange Road factory. • Preceding pages: Portrait of William Westley Richards, then age 70. SPOR TIN G CL ASSICS 124

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