The shotguns are not overly ornate, the gentleman in question is an Anglophile with a reputation for understanding and participating in the British sporting scene with the greatest enthusiasm.
Westley’s, meanwhile, are most famous for their drop-lock boxlocks – they invented the boxlock as we know it. In recent years, however, they have made a number of sidelocks as well.
Their favourite pattern, as used in the test gun, is the Boss round bar, combined in this case, with a modified Greener type single trigger and Holland & Holland style assisted opening.
This gun is a 20-bore with 27″ barrels and weighs in at just 5lbs 8oz. This is a little light for my own taste, which favours heavier small bores with longer barrels.
This dainty, streamlined, sidelock is delightful, nevertheless, showing just how good Westley Richards’ current production is.
The firm is maintaining a tradition which began in 1812, when the firm was first established in Birmingham by William Westley Richards.
I have seen a few Westley’ of recent manufacture and they have all impressed with their good looks and attention to detail, the thing that sets a best gun apart more than anything else.
I hesitate to say that it is of London quality because so many ‘London’ guns have been made in Birmingham. Those with knowledge of the gun trade have always recognised the merits of a good Birmingham gun.
Westley Richards, it might be mentioned, have always maintained strong ties to the London trade. Indeed, two years after hanging out his shingle as an independent maker in Birmingham, William Westley Richards opened a shop in Bond Street in 1814 under the management of William Bishop, better known as the ‘Bishop of Bond Street’ by his many friends in the sporting world.
The Bishop was famous for his expertise on dogs as well as guns and was a significant player in the British gun trade for half a century.
Returning to the test gun, it pleases on both aesthetic and functional fronts. It is an eight pin sidelock of Boss form with tight scroll engraving, colour case hardened action and gold-line cocking indicators.
The top lever – like most Westley sidelock shotguns – has a conventional Scott spindle.
The barrels are chopper lump and incorporate micro-finish tubes of superior quality. They are equipped with traditional concave game ribs.
The chambers are 2.3⁄4″ and the gun is proofed at 950 Bar in Birmingham. The chokes are fixed. The right barrel shows a constriction of eight thou and the left is choked at 16 points which is the equivalent of quarter and half choke in a 20-bore.
The barrels are well presented and have consistent wall thicknesses – not to be assumed – around the 30 thou mark as is the modern British norm.
The action is of Boss round bar style, as noted with Holland assisted opening. The latter mechanism, brilliantly simple, involves a plunger and coil spring rather than using a limb of the mainspring.
Westley’s have not built a vast number of sidelock guns, but they appear to have done their best to combine the best features of the most famous. Holland did this more than a century ago when they developed their Royal, which is not especially innovative of itself but rather a synthesis of all things good.
One thing that one does notice is that the assisted opening mechanism ensures very positive ejection compared to a standard gun.
The stock of the test Westley is well matched to the scale of the action with a straight hand and splinter fore-end. The wood is of excellent quality and the oil finish and chequering exemplary.
I have seen some so-called best guns recently where the chequering has not been quite up to standard. This is most definitely not the case here.
US buyers are particularly demanding when it comes to chequering and they will find nothing here to disappoint. The quality of diamonds and border lines really is exceptional.
The proportions of grip and comb are good as well (and notably not so thin as to be impractical).
I liked the distinct bump at heel and noted that the toe dimension was not extreme either. This is a beautiful gun, and it comes from a firm which produces only 30 or 35 guns a year (and benefit from an engineering expertise as well as a traditional artisan skill base).
Their products are not the most expensive. They are, however, built with care, professionalism and pride.
Best Birmingham has always been as good as anything available, and better value. If you would like something similar, expect to wait two years.
It is always fun to shoot new best quality guns. Sometimes, regardless of the bottom line, one can be disappointed in the way they perform.
Price is no guarantee that a gun shoots though well. Rather too many modern guns of stated ‘best’ quality are not regulated with sufficient care.
Some, I regret to say, do not even see a pattern plate before they leave the factory. That is not the case with the test gun.
Indeed, it is clear that Westley Richards still have a rather old world view of putting a gun together and ensuring it is ideally suited to the client.
The gun shot the way it should. Trigger pulls were crisp, the handling fast. The 27” barrels are not my preference but this gun shot well nevertheless.
My only critical comment concerns the overall weight – lovely to handle dry, and super for walking-up, but a little light for sustained use on driven birds.