Here, fresh out of the finishing shop, we have just such a duo. Made to scale but each intended to complement the other, one is a .425 Westley Richards and the other a .318 Westley Richards.
The .425 WR was once one of our most well regarded and popular cartridges. Now, nobody else makes rifles chambered for it. Resurrected after decades of obsolescence, increasing numbers of our customers request a new rifle in this capable and forgiving classic, which is good for all dangerous game and which was created specifically for magazine rifles, when the concept was still quite novel.
The .425 pictured here is serial number 43690. This identity is gold-inlaid into both sides of the bridge, the bolt handle and the trigger guard. Gold is also used to highlight the maker’s name on the barrel, the bridge and the magazine floor plate. It features in the ramp back sight and two leaves and, finally, to pick-up the arrow showing direction of travel for the bolt safety to be pushed on or off.
Gold, however, is not the principal decorative feature of this .425. Apart from the pleasingly figured walnut stock, the clean lines and the distinctive side-panels this model traditionally features, the remarkable impact it makes can be attributed to the full coverage carving, with its dramatic black background, which has been executed so spectacularly by Anja Dammenhayn.
Carved fences on exhibition grade shotguns have long been favoured as a means by which to add drama to a surface otherwise dominated by small scrolls or bouquets. That practice has been employed by numerous gunmakers since the early 1880s.
However, to fully cover a magazine hunting rifle with best, carved scrolls is a bold and, we must admit, beautiful strategy. It somehow looks surprisingly practical. The surfaces of smooth steel cut into bold scrolls are broken up as the light is deflected in different directions. It seems, almost, to provide a form of camouflage. It will be very resistant to wear and will look just as good in decades to come, as it absorbs the patina of time and use.
As a big game rifle, 43690 is equipped with sling eyes for long walks and open sights for shooting at close quarters in limited visibility. The front blade sight is fitted with our distinctive hinged protector and the iron rear sights are regulated for 50, 100 and 150 yards.
This is a short magazine (3 shot) version of the .425, the floor plate of which fits flush to the stock, rather than extend below it, as does the higher capacity model. It has the distinctive (1909 Taylor-patent) spring-loaded guides that ensure the cartridge, with its rebated rim, feeds reliably every time.
Complementing the bright and dark carved steel action is the famous Westley Richards attention to detail. The blued smooth surfaces of the bolt abut the meticulous jewelling of the bolt shaft itself. Further shocks of deep blue gleam from trigger blade and safety limb, while the deep blacking, of the barrels, quarter rib and sights, guides the eye towards the business end.
This aesthetic is one of the most pleasing possible on a rifle, which must be practical yet traffic-stopping in its beauty. It is distinctive from a distance, it is rugged and it stands close inspection. It is hard to imagine how it could be more perfect.
Admire it, as you will, doubtless, be inclined to do. Then remember that what it does is deliver a 410-grain bullet at 2,350 fps with a muzzle energy of 5,010 ft/lbs. That is almost 1000 ft/lbs more than a .375 Holland & Holland Magnum loaded with a 350-grain bullet. Beautiful it is, but this is a seriously powerful, no nonsense, dangerous game stopper.
The companion to the .425 is equally lovely and, due to its slimmer dimensions, it looks and feels a little sleeker.
Like the .425 WR, the .318 WR (also known as the .318 Accelerated Express) was born here, in Birmingham, about a decade before the Great War. It was enormously popular, in Africa especially, until the 1960s. Also, like the .425 WR, only this company currently makes new .318 WR rifles. We also supply our customers with bespoke ammunition, in batches loaded specifically for us.
Bror Blixen famously said, of the .318 WR, that if he could have only one rifle, it would be this. Today, we would consider it a medium game rifle, good for anything smaller than Cape buffalo. However, plenty of our forebears killed elephants in large numbers with their .318s. A 250-grain bullet travels at 2,400 fps and delivers 3,194 ft/lbs of energy.
Like its big brother, number 43689 was engraved by the super-talented Anja Dammenheyn with the same bold foliate scroll carving, which covers every steel surface, including grip-cap, guard-strap, floor-plate and top-strap.
The walnut stocks of both guns are well matched and balance the need for strength in a working rifle with the beauty demanded for something as well finished and engraved as this pair.
The flat side-fillets present on the .425 are distinct to that model so the .318 does not have them, instead, showing a gentle contour from bolt cut-out to magazine floor plate, with a graceful taper from bolt handle to the start of the chequer panel on the grip. These subtle changes require a great deal of skill and experience to get just right. They somehow make the complex look simple and understated.
These rifles will be admired for a century to come but they will also serve with distinction when pressed into service. They are beautiful and bold but they are neither gaudy nor frivolous.
Nothing in terms of embellishment gives an inch to the practicality of either rifle, yet aesthetically they are outstanding.