Special Guns Episode 12 W-R Q&A

Special Guns with Roger Rule

Episode 12 –  Westley Richards Deluxe Detachable Locks Ejector Side-by-Side


PART 1   {Roger and Virginia sitting at table, gun in holders}

VIRGINIA: My name is Virginia Hall and I’m here today to introduce you to Roger Rule, author of The Rifleman’s Rifle, and host of this series of episodes, Special Guns with Roger Rule.

ROGER: Thank you, Virginia, welcome, …and welcome viewers to my 12th Episode of Special Guns with Roger Rule.

VIRGINIA: What do we have today?

ROGER:   In my previous episodes, we covered some of the evolution of the sporting double shotgun, both sidelocks and boxlocks, and both side-by-side and over-and-under guns. Today, I have for us, what most experts consider, an example of the most improved boxlock ever created. It is the very famous Westley Richards detachable lock boxlock, better known in America as the Westley Richards Droplock.

VIRGINIA: If it’s a boxlock and a droplock, that seems confusing to me.

ROGER:  It is considered a boxlock first, but a refined, excuse me, the refined version of a boxlock.  I will explain more about that in a moment, but first just a little about its English maker, the company of Westley Richards.

Westley Richards & Co. is one of the few companies that was actually located for all their gunmaking activities in Birmingham, but had a highly reputable showroom in London located in the heart of the gunmaking district at 170 New Bond Street.  As a consequence, they would often inscribe their guns with that London address, sometimes Birmingham and London and sometimes, just England.

Established in 1812, the year the Americans declared war on Britain, and because of the war, the company supplied double-barreled muzzle-loading pistols to British cavalry officers who fought in that war.  And three years later, they supplied weapons to the Duke of Wellington’s armies when they defeated Napoleon in the Battle of Waterloo.  It was that year, 1815, that they opened their showroom at 170 New Bond Street in London under the management of William Bishop who would become popular in the industry and become known as “The Bishop of Bond Street.”

Exactly when they closed the London showroom has not been easy to find.  I was there in the mid-1990s and I knew then that they had closed the London store, so being close to their old address, I decided to look for it.  What I found at 170 New Bond Street was a woman’s boutique!  … a little disappointing for a gun guy.

But I was glad that I had checked it out because on the frontispiece over the front of the store, in very faint letters, you could still read WESTLEY RICHARDS & CO.  My guess is that it was probably around 1987 when Simon Clode became the managing director and turned the focus of the company back to making only best guns again, but it could have been earlier.

So throughout the 19th Century, Westley Richards had a rich history of innovation and patents and many of them are found on nearly every shotgun today.

Before they invented the droplock, they had several major patents in their name.  We’ve covered some of these in earlier episodes, but these have played such a key role in the development of shotguns that since we are looking at a Westley Richards gun today, we should do a quick review of these famous patents with worldwide influence.

PART 2 {Audio only}

In 1862, Westley Richards & Co. patented the dolls’ head extension which was the first effective top fastener for a breech-action gun.  That innovation, or a derivation of it, can be found on many other makers’ guns, but it is not universal.

In 1872, they patented the forearm Anson push-rod release which is used on nearly half of all shotguns today; and then one year later …

In 1873, they patented the Anson and Deeley finger lever latch as another type of forearm fastener and that invention is now found on nearly all shotguns that do not use the push-rod system.  Together, those two patents are in use in nearly every break-open shotgun worldwide today.

And if that influence isn’t enough…

In 1875 they developed the first successful boxlock action that is found as the basis for nearly every boxlock action today, the Anson & Deeley self-cocking action.

In 1884, Westley Richards developed their automatic ejectors.  These are not used universally by other gunmakers; the Holland & Holland Southgate ejectors seem to have become more popular.

And …in 1895, Westley Richards developed their own single trigger design, two years after John Robertson invented a single trigger for Boss.

We said in the last episode, that these English gunmakers had reached a point in the late 19th Century where all of their boxlock shotguns and all of their sidelock shotguns were looking very much alike, which was at that point when Boss & Co., intending to separate themselves from the pack, came up with a great over-and-under design.  That was in 1909.

But a dozen years earlier, Westley Richards had done something that would separate them from the pack and continues to do so to this day.  In 1897, they came up with the boxlock that had hand-detachable locks, known today as the droplock.

PART 3 {Roger and Virginia sitting at table}

VIRGINIA: Do we know who patented it?

ROGER: The patent for the detachable locks was No. 17,731, taken out in the names of J. Deeley and L. B. Taylor. From Westley & Richards’ own promotional materials, they describe how this happened:  And I quote:

“The hand-detachable lock action (the droplock) was first introduced, almost by chance in 1897.  It was the result of an instruction to the working foreman to conceal the various pins visible in the Anson & Deeley action (the boxlock). This was achieved by mounting the working parts of the gun lock to internal plates which in turn were kept in position by the action of the floorplate.” (close quote)

The patent describes that the whole lock mechanism can be removed for cleaning and repairs with each lock mounted on a plate and the assembly is then inserted into the bottom of the gun and secured by a screw.

As the patent description asserts, the early floorplates for these removable locks were held in place with a screw.

But, in 1907, Westley Richards improved the design in which the bottom plate is hinged at the rear and simply swings open like a trapdoor by pressing a hidden latch that is accessed when the forearm is removed.

Michael MacIntosh and Bill Headrick explained the mechanics of the new system in their book, Gamefield Classics.  And I quote:

“The virtue lies in sheer simplicity. The lockwork doesn’t need a bridle and requires only two pins, one for the tumbler axle and one for the sear peg.” (close quote)

For a layman, many of these terms may not be familiar.  You can google any of them and find them on YouTube, usually defined very well by Morris Hallowell.

So, we covered more than you probably wanted to know about the history of Westley Richards, and by the way, the business is operating today and thriving again. They have an outlet in Bozeman Montana managed by my good friend and acquaintance for 15 years, Kevin Kilday.

VIRGINIA: Is this one made by Westley Richards, or is it a clone like we had in our last episode?

ROGER: Good point, there have been some clones or near clones made, by James Powell in Birmingham and by Abbiatico & Salvinelli in Gordone, Italy, but this one is a nice example of an original Westley Richards that was shipped over here by Westley Richards from London this last year.  As a model name, it is called a Westley Richards Deluxe Detachable Locks Ejector shotgun.

VIRGINIA:  Is this one in 12 gauge?

ROGER:  It is — 12 gauge with 2 ¾” chambers and has 27” fluid steel barrels choked: left – light modified, and right – skeet.

VIRGINIA:  Is it new?

ROGER:  No, it is pre-owned, but remains in very high condition. It is serial number 7171 built in 1923 and has the hinged bottom plate. There are many examples of earlier guns which were the type with the unhinged floorplate held in place with a screw.

Let me explain how I acquired this gun.  It goes back to when I first met Kevin Kilday, the General Manager of Westley Richads Agency USA contingent in Bozeman Montana.  I purchased my Daniel Fraser rifle made on the Mannlicher Schoenauer action, the subject of our Episode 9 from Kevin.  Westley Richards had imported that rifle and it has an inscription on it of WRA for Westley Richards Agency, just ahead of the forearm on the underside of the barrel, an inscription I failed to mention in that episode.  Anyway, during the course of buying that gun from Kevin, I told him I admired their famous droplock and had always wanted one.  His response was something I wouldn’t easily forget.  He said, “We’ll have to get you one.”

Over the years, I have called Kevin about other guns and he has called me several times for my expertise to ask questions about Winchester pre-64 Model 70s that he had taken in. We have been friends separated by distance for more about 15 years.

Then, just about a year ago, I saw this gun listed on Westley Richards’ British list of guns for sale.  It was in their Birmingham facility.

Looking at the photos, I couldn’t get over that it had everything I wanted in a droplock example: nicely figured wood, full engraving, side-clipped fences, and most of all, the hinged type of detachable lock floorplate.  I called Kevin in Bozeman, to see how we could get it over here.

Curiously enough, the British group was coming to the US for the Southern Side-by-Side show within a couple of weeks.  Kevin said he would see what he could do.  The next phone call came from Kevin, and he said if I didn’t mind that they use this gun for their demonstration of their detachable lock system at the show, they would bring it and after the show, I could buy it.  They would send it up to him, and he would then forward it to me. If we did it this way, he would save me the normal high importation and shipping costs, because they would write off for the show.

And as you can imagine, I jumped at the chance. I just wanted to make sure it was earmarked for me and not sold by accident during the show to someone else who might passionately want it after seeing it there. Kevin assured me that it was mine. He would not take a down payment or collect full payment until he delivered it.

So, I have to say, Kevin made good on his word all those years ago, that he’d have to get me one.

VIRGINIA: What’s up with the pipes in our display today?

ROGER: Those are the favorite pipes of Sherlock Holmes and I bought those at a specialty shop in London the very day I was trying to find the old Westley Richards address at 170 New Bond Street. That’s why I included them here, but I no longer smoke them.

Let’s defer to the sideboard and examine this gun, first in its components.

PART 4 {Gun in case disassembled, Roger talking off camera}

Here we are with our Westley Richards droplock disassembled into its three main components in its fitted case.  The case appears worse for wear more so than the gun.  Remember it was made in 1923 and the leather straps are now over 90 years old and show their age.  A close look at the case shows there has been a little restoration to it.  The label looks original and its inscription matches the gun: Westley Richards, England.   Included is a nickel oil bottle and two wooden cleaning rods with brass connections.

{take stock and action out of case}

                        Let’s look at the stock and action.  First I want to demonstrate these detachable locks that we have been making all the noise about.  The gun must be in the cocked position to remove the locks.  So, first, I press the latch that is normally hidden under the forearm, and pull the bottom plate, which opens at its hinge.

{Open floorplate}

I can now look inside at the locks and I see they are cocked.  If they were not cocked, I can either re-assemble the gun and use the barrels to cock it, or I can use a flat screwdriver and press the foot of the cocking dog down on both locks until I hear a click and know they’re cocked.  But, in this case, I see both locks and they are cocked.

Since they are cocked, I can now just pull the locks free, one at a time.

{Remove the locks}

And then, I can reverse the process.  They can’t be inserted wrong as they will only fit the right way.

{Re-insert the locks}

Once the locks are back in, I can shut the bottom plate hearing its catch click, and then we will examine the parts before I assemble the gun.

Looking at the watertable, we see the serial number, 7171, with the first two digits double struck. We see the proof marks, a crown with BV under it, indicating the Birmingham proof mark after 1904. We also see a second set of proof marks, a crown with BNP, indicating Birmingham after 1954.  So we don’t know the history of this gun, but apparently, the manufacturer had reason to check the proof again, perhaps after a repair. There’s also an inscription that reads Patent No. 155 and under it a date range that’s hard to make out but ends in 1909.  It appears to be 1899 -1909.

There are a couple of things more to mention about the action other than finish, which we will address later for the gun as a whole. The first feature is the notch in the top of the receiver.  This is the “dolls head” lock-up that Westley Richards designed in 1862. When I move the top lever, we can see the locking bolt move at the two locations where they lock into the Purdey style chopper lumps on the barrels, and we can see that its movement also locks the dolls head extension on the barrels that mates to this cut-out on the receiver here.

Another thing to point out about the action, besides its finish, are two parts of the fences that stick out and will surround edges of the barrels when the barrels are inserted.  These parts are called sideclips or sometimes just referred to as clipped fences, and are not common on all Westley Richards guns.

{Set the stock and action down, pick up the barrels}

Looking at the barrels flat, we see the Birmingham proof marks for 1904 and 1954.  We see WRA Bozeman MT for Kevin’s help in bringing in the gun from London.  We see 2 ¾” MAG 3 ½ Tons marked on both barrels so that gun can shoot 1 ¼ oz. loads.  The typical proof stamping for 2 ¾” is 3 ¼ Tons.  Called MAG because this was in the day when 2 ½” 1 oz. loads were the common order, and that would have read 2 ½ “ 3 Tons. Both barrel bores were measured at .729” at proofing.  There are diamond shapes with 12 in them meaning 12 gauge.  Another thing to notice on the barrel flats are the two Purdey chopper lumps with the curved bite for the hinge pin and the two rectangular bites for the locking underbolt.  Finally, at the chamber we see the inletted ejectors. These are automatic ejectors, and are Westley Richards design patented in 1884.

Looking further down the barrels, a couple of inches from the watertable, we see the gun’s serial number engraved on both barrels, 7171.  And then there’s the familiar locking lug on the underside of the rib that catches to the Anson & Deeley finger lever latch on the forearm.

{Set barrels down, pick up the forearm}

Looking at the forearm, we see no markings. But from the underside, we see the nicely sculptured horn tip and how it is cleverly joined with the walnut. Note the forearm iron is engraved and in the coin finish which will contrast as a silver band in front of the blued floor plate when we examine the finish of the gun as a whole.

PART 5 Audio-only

                        Now, we will examine the whole of the exterior finish.

First, the metal:  The action has full coverage arabesque engraving, probably one of the most popular choices of the conservative English tastes. This is on the sides of the action, the balls or fences, the bottom plate, the top, and all the attached parts, the trigger guard and lower tang, the upper tang, the enlarged top lever, the dolls head extension on the barrels, and the forearm iron. The engraving also covers the A&D finger lever latch and its escutcheon for removing the forearm.

Another feature of the engraver’s art is the double-bead design around the fences that continue in a tapered bead along the bottom of the barrels.  I’m not sure if the actioner does this or the engraver; but it’s my guess is that it is the actioner.

There are some inscriptions: On both sides of the action, there is a banner with Westley Richards & Co.  Above the automatic tang safety, is the word SAFE, gold filled on the top tang.  The rib is inscribed, Westley Richards & Co., ENGLAND.  The serial number is inscribed on the lower tang 7171 which is attached with two screws that are engraved and indexed. The whole of the action except the bottom plate is coin finished. The triggers are bright.

All the other metal parts are rust blued, including the barrels with their smooth concave rib. This two-tone effect gives a nice contrast with the blued bottom plate inlayed into the coin finished action, especially where it meets the coin finished forearm iron as I pointed out earlier.

Examining the wood: the shape of the stock has the classic comb and English straight-hand grip. Behind the action, the stock is shaped with side panels and teardrops.  The forearm is the small splinter type. The wood is English walnut, very dark in color with fiddleback grain showing on both sides.  The forearm is matching and could easily have been cut from the same blank. The stock has an inlaid gold oval, which is actually gold, ready for the owner’s initials but is vacant.  The forearm is adorned with an inlaid horn tip that is shaped with curves and comes to a point in the wood, very nicely done.

The wood to metal fit of all the inlays is perfect: the shaped pointed lower tang, the upper tang, and the Anson & Deeley finger lever latch. The same is true for the wood to metal where the stock joins the action and where the forearm joins the forearm iron.

The point pattern checkering is fine, about 24 lines per inch, and is interrupted by the upper tang on top, but wraps around at the toe line, with a pleasing spacing around the metal of the lower tang. The same is true for the point pattern checkering on the forearm, and the way it fully wraps around with a pleasant spacing surrounding the forearm release inlay. The checkering borders are a tasteful combination of double and single cuts.

The butt is checkered with a point pattern and matches the other work.   All the diamonds are still sharp to the touch.

The length of pull is 14 ½” to its checkered wood butt, and the gun weighs 7 lb. 4 oz. Cast off is ¼” for the right hand user.

PART 6 {Roger and Virginia sitting at table, gun in holders}

ROGER: Kevin at Westley Richards told me that the minimum wall thicknesses are .035” for both barrels, which would make this 1923 gun, nearly a new gun.  After completely examining it, I would come to the same conclusion about the rest of the gun.  This is a very nice example of a Westley Richards Deluxe Detachable Lock 12 gauge.

VIRGINIA: It is a beautiful gun and I find those detachable locks are really different and interesting!

ROGER: As I wind up this episode for the Westley Richards droplock, I would like to share the opinions of two experts who were familiar with most of the shotguns out there, and yet gave these pertinent testimonies.

Major Sir Gerald Burrard, in his trilogy on sporting guns, The Modern Shotgun, explained that the detachable lock system, besides being nifty, is an extremely strong gun frame since there is no reason to drill a hole through the action bar for the tumbler peg, allowing the need to mill only narrow slots in the bar to accommodate the locks which leaves more steel in the frame than that of the conventional boxlock.  He wrote and I quote:

“Westley Richards guns are undoubtedly the strongest, weight for weight, of all the boxlock actions.” (close quote)

Geoffrey Boothroyd in his fine book, Sidelocks and Boxlocks, writes and I quote:

“The detachable lock has a number of benefits. There is the utter simplicity of the lock, four moving parts, and the ease of removal and replacement. We are of course, fortunate, that Westley Richards are very much still in business and that they also still build guns…I don’t have a Westley Richards with detachable locks…Indeed, the locks, when detached, are a delight to behold and, if I were fortunate enough to own a Westley Richards gun of this type, I think I would keep these jeweled masterpieces separate from the gun and have them mounted in a suitable display case so that I could enjoy looking at them when not in use.” (close quote)

So, while Geoffrey Boothroyd recognized the locks alone as “jeweled masterpieces,” this shotgun takes its place at the top of the ladder of all the other boxlocks made round the world. While its locks may be jeweled masterpieces, it is the entire shotgun as a whole that is the gunmaker’s crowning glory and is truly a masterpiece of artistic innovation that sets it apart from and above all other boxlock designs.

That’s it for today, thank you Virginia, and thank you viewers for watching, and if you enjoyed this episode, I invite you to subscribe to my YouTube channel and share with others.  And, I hope you join us next week for another episode of Special Guns with Roger Rule.  We will be returning to a very grand rifle.