The customer wanted three rifles in three calibers, each one engraved to match. All are double-square-bridge Mauser actions, chambered for dangerous game cartridges and fitted with open sights but without provision for a ‘scope. One might say ‘old school’.
The cartridges, for which these detachable-barrel, magazine rifles were built, are made by Kynoch in .425 Westley Richards, .416 Rigby and .450 Rigby. We can say with a good degree of certainty that nothing the like of this set has yet been built.
Fortunately, we had the foresight to buy a fabulous trio of walnut rifle-stock blanks when the opportunity presented itself some years ago. Not until this order was taken were we able to utilize them. However, without us having procured them, the order could not have been completed to this level of perfection.
The order form outlines ‘A set of three exhibition rifles’. That being the case, the wood and the engraving had to be exquisite and perfectly matched from one rifle to the next. With the wood selected at the start, the engraving patterns had to follow.
Full coverage engraving is fashionable today but the customer wanted something more traditional applied with the highest degree of execution. A fine scroll style was specified, with Allan Portsmouth engaged to undertake the project.
His engraving combines fine scrolls in panels, with subtle gold edging to bring a touch of luxury to the traditional look. Further gold highlights are visible on the sights and the lettering, extending to the serial numbers on the guard. These are subtle and do not really challenge the refined and decidedly un-flashy aesthetic the customer envisaged.
For inspiration, he provided some images from vintage catalogues of high-grade rifles made for the luminaries of pre-war American society.
Fine scroll work may not be unusual on British shotguns but these rifles are exemplary in the way each panel is so beautifully replicated from rifle to rifle, panel to panel, with just one or two discreet differences, such as the cartouche on the barrel denoting the cartridge.
The overall specifications of this trio are almost identical. They really were intended to sit side-by-side-by side in harmony. The one obvious difference is the use of a Standard double-square-bridge Mauser action for the .425 WR and Magnum actions for the other two.
All three cartridges are designed for use on dangerous game. The oldest is the .425 Westley Richards, with its 410-grain bullet travelling at 2,350 fps and delivering a muzzle energy of 5,010ft/lbs. It was created in 1908, right here in Birmingham and became a firm favourite with game wardens and other African professionals.
The .416 Rigby is next in chronological order, sending a 400-grain bullet down-range at 2,300fps and delivering 4,698 ft/lbs. This was developed by Rigby in 1912 to take advantage of the, then novel, Cordite propellant and also gained a great reputation, which has endured to this day.
The newest of the cartridges is the .450 Rigby, developed under the stewardship of Paul Roberts in 1995. It propels a 480-grain bullet at 2,400fps, developing a hefty 6,288 ft/lbs muzzle energy. It is a fearsome, uncompromising round and ranks right at the top of the pile of powerful magazine-rifle cartridges.
All the rifles here feature a three-position side safety and our Westley Richards combination foresight, with rear leaf-sights regulated to 50, 100 and 200 yards, and a further peep sight.
To achieve greater symmetry with the other two rifles, the .425 Westley Richards here has a flush-fitting magazine (rather than the more usual extended type). The action differs in that it has the sprung side-clips we use on these rifles to guide the cartridge, when feeding.
All three have a strap-over-comb, which provides greater strength to the hand, as does the extended guard tang, effectively bracing the wood between two steel bars at its weakest point.
These rifles have all been proof tested and the proof marks are visible on the barrel. Even these are now neatly etched, rather than crudely stamped, as was once the practice.
With Westley Richards, the devil is in the detail, we go further than anyone, we believe, in getting every nook and cranny, every hinge, every surface, every edge (seen or unseen) shaped and polished and developed to the very highest level.
Whether they become a prized exhibit in a gun collection, or one day get to feel the heat of the African sun, they will leave us as superlative hunting rifles, ready for action.
Some of the features on these rifles mark the latest developments of Westley Richards style. The catch that releases the take-down mechanism, so that it may be unscrewed, resembles the shape and operation of the Deeley & Edge forend catch on our double guns and rifles., the fore-sight cover is our perfected version of the snap-down protector. Note the tiny cross hatch engraving at the front of the cover, providing a sure grip to eth thumb and finger operating it.
This project has been extremely satisfying to undertake. We think these rifles now set a new benchmark for this style and grade of big game magazine rifle.
They get the equation exactly right between quality and utility. They have old-school grace and aesthetic balance. Not until every element came together did we fully appreciate just how successful this project has turned out.
To us they represent the nearest manifestation of perfection we could have hoped for in this concept of rifle-making.
Our business is to examine everything we make assiduously, always seeking to find some small part of every finished rifle that we could improve on the next one. With this trio, we have to put up our hands and admit they are faultless.