It has style, history, and all the inventiveness of the British gun trade, enthuses Lewis Potter
The 19th century was a period of amazing change, especially in the development of firearms. At the start of that century the flintlock was still in use; by the end the centrefire breechloader reigned. But it is easy to ignore those first years of the 20th century leading up to World War I, when inventions and improvements continued apace. One of these was the single trigger, something we very much take for granted today.
The Westley Richards boxlock single-trigger ejector gun is fairly typical of this period, though the detail is Westley’s own work. It is worth remembering, for instance, that the boxlock — or body lock as it was also once known — was the invention of two of Westley Richards’ employees, William Anson and John Deeley.
The ejector system used on this gun was also Westley Richards’ own, the springs and kickers being contained in a “box” fitted to the underside of the long bar on the fore-end, known as the stale in Birmingham or the steel in London. This ejector system provided a relatively easy method of conversion from non-ejector to ejector, and it is not unusual to find other makes of boxlock fitted with this type of ejector.
The lock work
The top-lever is a distinctive feature of this maker’s guns. On pushing the lever over, it pivots on the right side — not the centre as with most others — to pull back the locking bolts. Early guns only had a single locking bolt immediately behind the top lever and engaging with the doll’s-head extension on the barrels, but nonetheless it was a remarkably efficient method of locking.
This gun has the ultimate, with not only the top lock but also a bolt in the action body that engages with bites in the lumps below the barrels. This triple-lock system is perhaps the best of all, though from a gunsmithing point of view it is interesting to note that the top bolt is usually engaged a little tighter than the double bolting below.
More to come
If this plethora of Brummagem inventiveness were not enough, there is the Deeley-Edge fore-end catch, a design that still finds favour on modern over-and-unders. Also on this model is a hinged floor (or bottom) plate, which was normal on the hand-detachable lock guns (what the Americans call drop-locks), but an optional extra for the standard Anson & Deeley when this gun was built in 1912. Then there is the single-trigger with this patent dating from 1907, though an earlier version was patented as early as 1897, and John Deeley’s name is mentioned again alongside L. B. Taylor.
This single-trigger is of the selective type operated via a small button, not unlike a miniature safety button, fitted on the trigger-plate to the right-hand side of the trigger. Pushed forward, the right barrel is selected; pulled back, the higherchoked left barrel is selected to fire first. Game guns with non-selective single triggers were usually arranged to fire the choke barrel first on the basis that, with driven birds, the first shot was farthest away. The selective trigger gave greater flexibility of use.
The Westley Richards boxlock single-trigger ejector gun with its scroll-back action body, roach belly fore-end and straight-hand stock is a true classic. It has style, it has history and it epitomises the inventiveness that was once the hallmark of the British gun trade. The common assumption is that the finest shotgun is the sidelock, yet a Westley Richards boxlock, especially the model with hand-detachable locks, is the equal of most sidelocks.
What to look for when buying a secondhand Westley Richards
Barrels: Westley Richards barrels are usually very slim; check for dents and pitting.
Action: Little to go wrong with the basic action, the single-trigger is usually trouble-free, ejector springs may fail after extensive use.
Value: In original condition (this gun has been sleeved and has a stock extension) circa £5,000, though second-hand prices vary.