By Bill Elderkin
Monday, 26 November 2012
English shotguns: Buying a Best English shotgun for a budget of up to £5,000 is a very interesting proposition - and could be quite controversial.
I find that most game shooters wish to purchase a sidelock for this sort of price, and I can see the appeal; pride of ownership and shooting pleasure are certain.
However, you would have to be very, very careful when considering purchasing a sidelock for this price.
This goes against the consensus of opinion, but I believe that the very best London or Birmingham boxlock ejectors are worth a look at this price.
These English shotguns would happily give you a lifetime’s use.
In boxlocks, the London firms of William Evans, Holland & Holland, Robertson (made by Boss) and Atkin, Grant and Lang are the best-known English shotgun makers.
The best-known Birmingham makers are Westley Richards and the underrated William Powell.
Guns in perfect condition could be bought from these makers for under £5,000.
They will be relatively modern as well, though in the last 30 years there have been very few English boxlock shotguns made.
Value for money
The Webley boxlock is probably one of the best guns for value for money. How many times have you heard “it’s only a Webley”?
I totally disagree with that sentiment; the Webley action is one of the most popular in the gun trade, being used by William Evans, Holland and Holland and Westley Richards to name but a few.
These guns are easily spotted by their horseshoe lever, where the top lever sits in a horse shoe spindle at the top of the action.
The stigma that Webleys have usually relates to the fact they have a solid body pin.
In years gone by the re-jointing of these guns proved to be quite difficult, often entailing the archaic practice of a dovetail being fitted into the front lump of the action.
These days, with modern spray welding techniques, this is not an issue.
There are, however sidelocks that can be bought for under £5,000 that will prove to be reliable and give good service.
These English shotguns would come from makers such as William Evans and other lesser-known London names such as Cogswell & Harrison and Thomas Bland & Sons.
There are other makes which I feel are worth considering, including a lot of the lesser known post-war provincial gun makers.
For example, recently we sold a Midland nine pin sidelock ejector gun that was engraved with a game scene and which was priced at £8,500.
It had perfect bores, and although the name didn’t inspire it was a perfectly balanced and reliable gun with best Southgate ejectors.
A good example of a gun from a Birmingham maker is the Westley Richards Heronshaw.
Built circa 1942, this gun has its original 28” barrels and could be used for all types of shooting. At £5,000 it represents excellent value for money.
The other way of acquiring a good sidelock in this price bracket would be to look for a better name English shotgun, but with new barrels by another, or for a gun that has been sleeved.
MIDLAND SIDELOCK £3,500
This gun from Midland is a full 9 pin sidelock. It has its original 30” barrels with 1⁄2” chambers, perfect bores and Southgate ejectors.
The length of the barrels does make this gun slightly heavy, though I find this is an advantage when going for the longer shot. The ease with which one can build momentum with a slightly heavier gun makes it ideal for high pheasants, the traditional use for a gun of this type.
In spite of its extra weight it still feels lively and pointable in the hands, where foreign guns of a similar weight might be unwieldy.
This gun was manufactured in the mid-1920s and has what my grandfather used to call pin and pheasant engraving, a Birmingham trademark where the gun is scroll engraved before the game scenes are added.
It is stocked to the fences, meaning the wood carries all the way through to the curve of the top strap, unlike the older, cheaper sidelocks which go only to the square at the back of the strap.
Its straight hand walnut stock is well figured. I think this gun represents very good value for a best English sidelock compared to foreign sidelocks on the market at a similar price.
DICKSON BOXLOCK £2,500
This boxlock ejector has its original 28” barrels with 1⁄2” chambers. Built circa 1930, it has a well-figured straight hand walnut stock and matching pushrod fore-end with best Scott spindle lever.
It has Southgate ejectors, the action is finely scroll engraved throughout and it retains some colour.
This gun is well priced and has the benefit of being made by one of the best Scottish makers. The trend for guns built during the 1930s was for guns to be as light as possible.
Given these demands, the gun weighs a remarkable 6.1⁄4lbs, making it very quick to handle. The ease with which one can mount the gun and its smooth and effortless handling would make it ideal for snap shooting.
Its light weight obviously also makes it an excellent choice for a day’s walked up shooting.
Those intending to shoot higher birds with it should be careful, as your swing will need to be extremely deliberate if it is to be smooth and therefore successful.
Again, it is at a very affordable price compared with the price of new foreign boxlock ejectors.
CHARLES HELLIS BEST SIDELOCK £5,000
Built in the 1920s, this best London sidelock has a new set of best-quality 28” barrels and a long walnut stock with a straight hand grip.
The gun is of the much sought-after nine-pin Holland & Holland-style design and has Southgate ejectors. It is an extremely attractive gun with highly-figured walnut throughout and excellent game scene engraving.
The barrels and stock are quite long, meaning that it is a slightly heavier gun.
As such it would be absolutely ideal for shooting modern cartridges.
This is a great example of the quality of gun one may purchase if one looks beyond the obvious as you are getting a best English sidelock in good condition with a brand new set of barrels.
In spite of its new barrels the gun still has the balance and individuality of a best London sidelock, and yet comes in at the price of a brand new AYA No2.
It is a gun with good character and reliability, and represents an excellent, affordable way of shooting with a best-quality English gun.
Bill Elderkin is the managing director of Elderkin & Son (Gunmakers) Ltd. of Spalding in Lincolnshire.
Tel: 01775 722919. (All prices are recommended retail price at time of publication).
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