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A 'New' 1897 Westley Richards Falling Block Rifle

An original Westley Richards falling block rifle has been used as the basis for this new-build European big game rifle in 7x65R. Re-purposing good examples of vintage actions to create new custom rifles was commonplace in the British gun trade until quite recently.

All the major rifle makers used to rely on original Oberndorf Mauser actions for their magazine rifles, for example. Today, with the availability of new Mauser actions, that is no longer normal practice.

When many once popular cartridges became obsolete in the 1960s, the market was awash with beautiful rifles that could no longer be supplied with commercial ammunition.

Because of this, the 1970s and '80s was a time of conversion, with rifle makers taking anything from a .295 Rook and converting it to .22 rimfire to a .350 Rigby, which could be altered to take the .375 H&H Magnum, thereby, making it more saleable.

At Westley Richards it is now unusual to start with a vintage action and totally rebuild it to create a new best rifle. But that is what we have done in the case of this single shot falling block.

The action is a Westley Richards 1897 pattern falling block, which was an improvement on the 1881 model, better suited to high-pressure cordite cartridges. It is unique among falling block patents, many of which look similar, in that the striker is in-line with the cartridge.

It was available in different sizes to suit different applications, from a .22 rook rifle style up to full-size .500NE big game rifles proofed for 80-grains of Cordite and a 570-grain bullet.

This rifle, originally made as a .303, is a medium-sized action and it is delightfully proportioned.

It is a take-down rifle, made on one of two systems that Westley Richards offered before the First World War.

Barrel removal is simple, with the forend removed, as it would be on a shotgun or double rifle, by means of a Deeley catch. The barrel is then twisted off the action, where it is kept in place by bayonet-type lugs.

With such a beautiful and efficient action on which to start the construction of a new rifle, the customer pondered the ideal cartridge for it.

The old .303 (or '.303 British' as many people outside these shores call it) was a decent cartridge in its day and, being the service rifle of the British Army for the first half of the 20th century, was available everywhere the British were (which was almost everywhere).

Today, there are better choices and the customer chose a continental round for his new rifle: 7x65R. It suits the action, being a rimmed cartridge, like the .303. With  variety of loads available, from 139-grain to 170 grain bullets.

A typical hunting load with a 154 grain bullet moving at 2500 fps, zeroed at 200 yards, will be 2.6" high at 100 yards and 10.8" low at 300 yards. It is considered sufficient for all European big game, including bear and moose.

The manufacturing process involved filing back the action to re-assert the original sharpness to the surfaces and angles. All internal parts were retained, as original, and returned to perfect tolerances where necessary.

A new barrel was carefully designed and fitted to the original breech section. New leaf and ramp sights were made and fitted, along with mounts to receive a quick-detach 'scope.

Original engraving was retained and refreshed where necessary and the new parts were engraved to match. All the steel parts, apart from the barrel and the safety slide, were then case colour hardened.

Stock and forend are crafted from exhibition grade walnut , with pistol hand and cheek piece, finished with hand-rubbed oil, in the manner of all our best guns and rifles.

The end result is a true-to form vintage type rifle retaining its original character and style, while delivering a more powerful hunting cartridge than the original .303 and being capable of use with or without modern optics.

Any temptation to add lavish embellishment and lots of gold has been resisted and the rifle is better for it.

The iconic shape of the 1897 action, the beautifully figured woodwork and the stunning contrast of the case colours are sufficient to make it intrinsically beautiful, yet purposeful.

Magazine rifles had, by around 1910, made these elegant single-shots redundant but there has always been a class of sportsman who considers the one-shot rifle to be the correct way for a gentleman to hunt.

That idea persists and because of it lovely hunting rifles like this can still, occasionally, be found in the field.

Whether for the discerning collector or the avid sportsman, Westley Richards firearms represent the epitome of excellence in the world of bespoke gunmaking. Known for the droplock shotgun, over and under shotgundouble barrel rifle and bolt action rifle, the company has achieved an illustrious 200 year history of innovation, craftmanship and artistry. As part of our best gun build, clients can choose from three levels of gun engraving: the house scroll; signature game scenes; and exhibition grade masterpieces. All Westley Richards sporting arms are built at their factory in Birmingham, England. Discover more about the gunmaking journey at our custom rifles and bespoke guns pages.

4 Comments

  • Neil McVeigh on May 26, 2024 at 1:29 pm

    What a beauty!I admire this guys taste.Not many out there who can make a rifle like this,
    as usual the gunmakers got it perfect.I wonder if I can interest my wife in one for me?

  • Chris Buckingham on May 26, 2024 at 2:07 pm

    The 1897 action is a really nice system, I have ne in 577 NE, and with the cranked loading lever it is a very fast action, mine is chambered for the 650 Gr bullet.

  • Charles A. Huettner on May 27, 2024 at 3:51 pm

    Love the rifle, I have a Ruger No. 1 in 308 win that I wish I could have it in a take down version. Love single shot rifles. Yours is outstanding ! Wishing your client only the best in his hunts and enjoy all that work and love that went into it. Cheers !!

  • Christopher Sarpy on May 27, 2024 at 4:41 pm

    I want one too!

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