We tested a pair of Ward?s own 20-bore guns recently. The day I shot those, I was fortunate enough to shoot this best brace of Purdeys, too.
Ward has commissioned no fewer than 10 guns from Purdey in the past few years: four pairs and two singles.
As well as the side-by-sides tested, it has had built a pair of 12-bore over-unders, two pairs in 20-bore and a single 12-bore and 20-bore.
This warrants some explanation.
John Ward notes: “We admire the Purdey product greatly. I have preferences with regard to specification. So, we have asked Purdey to create these special guns, also allowing us to have them available for immediate delivery. The stock dimensions have been carefully chosen so that they can be easily altered for 90% of customers at short notice.”
Purdey itself makes some guns “for the shelf” (normal bespoke delivery is 18-24 months).
And there is some precedent for Purdey supplying other firms with guns in quantity.
Abercrombie & Fitch, in the US, for example, has had dozens of Purdeys made to its specification in years past.
The test guns carry an eye-watering, £220,000 price tag, but they are aesthetically magnificent.
The deep-scroll engraving ? accentuated by coin-finished, cyanide-hardened actions rather than traditional colour-case hardening ? is combined with depictions of gamebirds and other beautifully formed creatures.
It is the masterly work of Stephen Kelly and has singular artistic merit.
Reynard adorns the belly of one of the round-bar actions, and there is an especially well done rabbit on one beaded-edge trigger guard.
The decoration is classical, beautifully executed and characterful, too. The detailing is great, the animals are wonderful, but look carefully, for example, at the protruding rod/button of the Anson-style fore-end release, and you will see a tiny rose.
The chequering to the button itself is superbly consistent (as one would expect from a Purdey).
The stocks are of straight-hand pattern with the usual Purdey deeper-than-average splinter as well as a hand that is not too slim.
I have always loved these Purdey shapes.
The wood is well figured and superbly finished with impeccably cut chequering and the famous Purdey Slakum hand-rubbed oil which, taking months to apply, is durable and attractive.
Dimensions were longer than average at 15.1⁄4in for length of pull (allowing for reduction), with cast of 1⁄8in at face and 1⁄4in at heel. Drop was 1.1⁄2in at the front of the comb and 2in to the rear.
“The purpose of the exercise,” John Ward elaborated, “was to have guns you could pick up and immediately feel would do the job. I know they are beautiful to look at, but you must be able to shoot them. I feel English guns sometimes have too much drop. Many modern manufactured guns have measurements that are the same as they were in the 1890s.”
“I like higher combs and fairly light triggers, 3.1⁄4lb to 3.1⁄2lb ideally. Overall gun weight is not a big issue to me. It?s all about balance.”
The test guns are based on the iconic Purdey Beesley hammerless sidelock action patented by Frederick Beesley in 1880 and made by Purdey ever since.
One limb of the V-spring powers the tumbler (hammer) of each lock, and the other the self-opening feature.
Many would argue that this invention has never been bettered.
Ejectors were added in the early 1880s and a single trigger in various forms has been an option for many years.
The modern mechanism has a bob weight to prevent involuntary discharge but does not require recoil for dry firing.
The guns are what might be called ?ultra round bar? in that they have rounded lockplates as well as a rounded action bar. The firm offers round-bar guns with flatter locks, and classic square-bar guns as well.
The 28in barrels are chopper lump. They are superbly struck up and fitted with a traditional concave rib. Chambers are 2.3⁄4in, bearing London proof marks.
The guns are of near identical weight, balance is a whisker forward of the hinge pin. In one I noted the barrels, minus the fore-end, weigh 2lb 14oz (in a 6lb 8oz gun).
I have been lucky enough to shoot a number of new Purdey guns at the West London Shooting School in recent years: hammerless side-by-sides (similar to the test guns), over-unders, and the extraordinary (and great-shooting) Purdey hammer ejector.
The test guns did everything they were meant to do.
I missed one fast bird on the grouse butt but had no problems whatsoever connecting on routine stuff.
These Purdeys felt stable and their single triggers did not miss a beat.
Of course, these ought to be a great-shooting guns at £200,000-plus.
They are more than that, though. They represent the hunting shotgun as an art form in itself ? classic but subtly modern, too.
If you need to consider the cost, you can?t afford them; if you don?t ? what better way to spend your money?