As a new generation grew into adulthood, somewhat filling the void left by the millions killed in Flanders, Gallipoli and elsewhere during four years of war, society looked forward to peaceful normalization and a strengthening and continuation of the rules-based order that the Great Powers imposed on geopolitics in the years that followed. Al Jolson was the most famous entertainer in the world and the Jazz Age was in full-swing.
At home, society was changing, with cinema, radio and air-transportation in their infancy but rapidly gaining influence.
In the shires of England and the remote moors of Scotland, life must have appeared to go on as it had since the beginning of Victoria’s reign. Lords, ladies and gentlemen headed out of London in the first week of August, with an eye on some sport; trains or motor-cars laden with every necessity for a house-party based around a week of grouse shooting.
Of course, the cars would have been beauties like the Bentley Speed Six or the Roll’s Royce Twenty, and trains, like the Caledonian Sleeper, would have been steam-powered. However, the guns, like these sold by Westley Richards, would be very little removed from the ones the company sells today.
In fact, on that very day, April 5th 1927, Mr. A. Norman Dugdale walked into Westley Richards’ showroom and ordered a pair of best grouse guns (Nos. 18135 & 18136) with hand detachable locks.
That may not, of itself, be remarkable but the fact that the guns were brought to us by his descendent, in 2023, in beautiful condition, showing light use and no sign of alteration or even a hint of invasive gun-smithing, is very unusual.
We call guns like these ‘sleepers’, for they have been resting peacefully within the bosom of the first family to own them their entire lives, neither abused nor neglected, gathering the honest patina of fair use and good care.
Considering they are ninety-six years old, they are incredibly well-preserved. Apart from a few minor dents and scratches to the lovely dark, figured, walnut woodwork and a surface finish that is somewhat dirty, they remain as they left us, on July 11th 1927.
Between the order and delivery dates of these guns, Charles Lindbergh had flown solo across the Atlantic in the Spirit of St. Louis and the British had signed the Treaty of Jeddah with Ibn Saud, paving the way for the founding of modern Saudi Arabia.
These are classic 12-bore grouse guns of the day. The 28” steel barrels are choked Improved Cylinder all-round. The stocks have what Westley Richards termed ‘’half pistol hands’, which are of a shape peculiar to the company, not quite like those seen on numerous trade guns and those by other makers.
The guns both weigh 6lbs 8 3/4oz with a 14” length of pull from non-selective single-trigger to the centre of the slim, horn butt-plate. The gold ovals still bear ‘A.N.D’ from the original owner.
The actions retain most of their original case colour hardening and the original blacking is mostly in good order. Chequer is un-touched and lightly worn, while the dolls-heads fit into their slots as if they were jointed yesterday.
The trigger selected was the ‘one trigger’ without the ‘optional trigger slide’ to select either right or left barrel, which is entirely sensible given that all barrels are choked the same.
This hand-detachable lock, one-trigger, steel barreled, 12-bore ejector had been the ‘modern’ Westley Richards since the beginning of the twentieth century and in 1927 it was the obvious choice, with all its up-to-date features.
The ‘fancy-back’ to the action and the engraving style of scrolls with the maker’s name in a scrolling banner, are identical to the illustrated catalogue entry for this model, priced at sixty-five pounds each, or one hundred and thirty pounds the pair.
The ejector system is the Deeley, or as styled by the company; ‘The Westley Richards Celebrated Sear Ejector Mechanism’, which they then claimed superior and ‘less susceptible to wear than the so called two limb ejector’ (Southgate type). The trigger guard is designed to allow for the wearing of gloves.
Guns from this period have subtle differences to their modern equivalents; the actions, individually filed from forgings, bear the imprint of the actioner who made them, expressed in the subtle shapes and lines that invoke their time and cannot be entirely re-created. The slightly swept top-lever blade, the shorter top strap, the sweep of the comb; all embody their decade.
The guns arrived in their original case, which would have cost another three pounds and the accessories within would add an extra one pound, two shillings.
These guns represent the final, polished, best version of the various mechanisms that had been influencing Westley Richards design over the previous seventy years.
By 1927, every one of these was time-proven as reliable, attractive, practical and efficient. The Westley Richards game gun of the twenties was as distinctive as the models offered by Purdey or Holland & Holland, John Dickson or W.W. Greener. Each had, in their own way, found different ways to achieve perfection.
The proof of that theory lies in the fact that today, Westley Richards builds the same gun, with the same mechanisms and design features, virtually unchanged since this pair first encountered the mists of the moors and Mr. Dugdale engaged with August grouse, just as Mrs. Castro was giving birth to baby Fidel, in faraway Cuba, and 80,000 Nazis assembled for the first mass rally at Nuremburg; a portent of the coming storm.
A pair of guns of this specification can still be ordered today, from Westley Richards. They would cost around a hundred and sixty thousand pounds, plus VAT, which will buy you an entire Bentley Continental GT, while back in 1927, a hundred and thirty pounds would have bought less than a tenth of a Rolls Royce Twenty!