The firm has made a great contribution to the mechanical perfection of the modern shotgun, not least the development of the self-cocking, hammerless ?boxlock? (which its employees, Messrs Anson and Deeley, patented in the early 1870s).
For nearly 200 years Westley Richards has maintained a reputation for mechanical innovation and excellence in both shotguns and rifles. The test shotgun is a hand detachable lock boxlock ? the quintessential ?best? boxlock.
First impressions are good. Indeed, this gun is a wonderful example of the modern gunmaker?s art.
It has bold engraving, chiselled fences and scallops to the rear of the action. On the mechanical front, there is a single-selective trigger (Westley?s own patent), a distinctive hinged Westley top lever and a no less characteristic Westley ?Model C? top extension (a feature for which I have an eccentric preference).
The fore-end latch is of Deeley pattern and the gun also has classic Westley ejector work which utilises tiny, boxed V-springs.
This Westley is heavily decorated but very stylish. It is rather reminiscent of some of the Greener exhibition guns.
The straight-hand stock is well conceived and made from pleasantly figured wood. If I were to make a slight criticism it would be that the finish looks a little dull (which may just be down to the fact that the gun has been used as a demonstration piece and might need re-oiling after much handling).
I liked the stock?s form, though, and especially its straight-hand grip. The inletting and chequering were carried out to the highest standard. The measurements were not really suited to Mr Average ? a point of no particular importance as a Westley will be built to your requirements.
The stock had a length of pull of only 14in with an unusually high comb. Nevertheless, I found the gun comfortable and controllable to mount. Weighing only 6lb 3oz, it was, moreover, unusually light for a modern 12.
It seemed steadier than it should be at that figure, which I can only put down to its sound design. Casting a really critical eye over the gun, I could find nothing but evidence of the most careful workmanship.
Wood-to-metal and metal-to-metal fit were of a standard which one used to expect in best-quality guns but which can no longer be taken for granted.
The fit and finish of the metal parts really shone out. The top lever and the barrel extension were little works of art in themselves. The deep engraving to the action was elaborate, striking and in good taste (and I am not usually one for the gaudy on guns).
The barrels are chopper lump, chambered for 2.3/4in cartridges and proved in Birmingham at the standard pressure of 850BAR.
The barrel wall thicknesses are a little less than the modern norm at 0.028in. The quality is impeccable, with straight tubes and top-quality striking up and internal finish.
Westley Richards developed the boxlock side-by-side as we know it and, in 1897, added the refinement of detachable locks to it.
Rather than have the locks? tumblers pivoting on an axle passing through the body of the action, they are carried on separate plates.
Both compact locks are carried within recesses in the box of the action, which are accessed by means of a hinged floorplate.
The hinged floorplate itself is very neat, and the locks look as if they have been made by a watchmaker (one may order spares at £3,250).
The action body is particularly strong, because there is no need to drill a hole all the way through.
This lightweight showed just how good a best-quality boxlock can be. Ten years ago, I tested a new, 30in, single-trigger Holland Royal sidelock, which still gets my vote as the best handling/shooting side-by-side that I have encountered.
This gun, however, came very close. Why was it so good? The trigger pulls were far above the boxlock average.
Perceived recoil was low in relation to the overall weight. The point of impact and pattern regulation was first class.
This gun really impressed with its engineering, its aesthetics and its function and fitness for purpose.
I would love to be in a position to order a 6lb 10oz or 6lb 12oz version with 30in barrels.
A slightly lighter 20-bore with a flat file cut rib would also appeal. My impression was of a sporting gun made by people devoted to artistry, craft and precision.
It had an extra quality that is not merely a question of price (which starts just under £30,000, excluding VAT).
Contact: Westley Richards, 130 Pritchett Street, Birmingham, B6 4EH
Tel: 0121 333 1900