Just what does the right name on a gun get you? Alex Flint investigates.
The name William Powell has been involved in gunmaking in Britain since 1802. The firm passed through the hands of many generations of Powells before the rise of European makers finally caught up with them and the business was sold to Mark and Christine Osborne in 2008, moving to a new site near Banbury. Today, one might be more familiar with William Powell as a retailer of all things country sports, rather than as a gunmaker. Indeed, upon viewing the Powell website there is an extensive range of clothing and accessories from various high-end manufacturers.
William Powell was among the first British gunmakers to spot the writing on the wall and outsource manufacturing to the continent, contracting Italian firm Abbiatico & Salvinelli to produce its heritage line of guns in 1984. This trend continues today with its Continental range: over-under guns made by Italian firm Battista Rizzini & Co., and side-by-sides, such as the Monarch on test here, made by Arrieta of Spain.
William Powell does continue to make a small number of handmade No.1 guns; however, even the likes of Purdey produces its Sporter in partnership with Perugini & Visini, so the idea of a gunmaker selling a gun produced abroad but badged with a more appealing, historic name is certainly not new or unusual. But one has to wonder just what one is paying for. Like buying an Audi when under the skin it’s nigh on identical to a Skoda, is the buyer simply paying a premium for a badge?
While the idea of a ‘badged’ English gun may seem a little harsh, one must not forget there is a reason the continental gunmakers became so successful: they took established classic London designs and sold them at a fraction of the price. The quality of Spanish guns in particular has increased exponentially in recent years – one need only pick up a recent AYA to realise just how far we have come in a short span of years.
The Monarch is the best-selling of Powells’ Continental range, a fine copy of a five-pin London-style sidelock ejector built on a square action with double triggers. First impressions are very good indeed thanks to the smart canvas and leather case the gun is supplied in as standard. They only improve when you open the case to reveal a beautiful stock with a lovely oil finish, complete with carved teardrops and a lovely straighthand grip. The gun is further enhanced by the attractive colour
case hardened finish – a style I am particularly partial to. One could have the gun with a polished ‘bright’ finish, but for me the colour case hardening really adds to the Monarch’s classic appeal.
The test Monarch came with 28” barrels and while the lines of the gun are generally good, it is difficult to look beyond just how large the action body is. For a 20 bore gun it is certainly bigger than a comparable AYA. The colour hardened finish, while attractive from a distance, does somewhat mask the traditional Purdey-style rose and scroll engraving. And with the engraving one feels better use could have been made of the space afforded by the sidelocks. Wood to metal fit is extremely neat and the likes of a long trigger guard tang and push-button splinter fore-end are welcome additions.
The chequering is extremely good – as tends to be the case on Spanish guns – though why the manufacturer chose to not fully chequer the butt plate is something of a mystery, as we are left with an unusual design that does not appear to have much grip. In the field the Powell is quite fun to shoot, as you would hope with any small bore shotgun.
William Powell Monarch in the field
As a 20 bore, one would expect the gun to mount and move well, and this was the case, as myself and instructor Bruce Marks discovered at Grange Farm Shooting Ground. At a little over 6lbs 3oz it is certainly a good weight, although interestingly it probably feels a little heavy in the hands, with much of the weight felt in the front hand – surprising given the fixed choke 28” barrels. In spite of it being a light side-by-side, we found it actually handled recoil very well indeed, with minimal noticeable muzzle flip.
The Monarch is a good length out of the box, though as mentioned in the main body of the review, I would have liked more grip from the butt of the stock. There is a good rolled edge to the trigger guard that provides protection for fingers, but I found the edge of the front trigger was quite sharp and caught me on more than one occasion. But the rear trigger had a nicely rounded profile and was very comfortable.
View from the gun shop. By Bill Elderkin
This is a Spanish-made copy of the classic London five-pin sidelock gun, and William Powell makes no secret of it, with “Especially made for William Powell in Spain” engraved on the underside. It’s difficult to compare it directly with an Arrieta as the price of its guns seems to be a closely guarded secret – probably because William Powell is one of two authorised UK Arrieta dealers, along with E.J. Churchill. You might compare it with the slightly more expensive AYA No.2 at around £6,270.
This Monarch in 20 bore form has quite a large action – noticeably larger than the AYA – and almost looks like a 16 bore. Though the engraving is underwhelming, the wood used in the stock is striking and has been well finished.
The stock is quite slim thanks to the classic straight-hand grip. Though the weight is not bad for a 20 bore, the balance is very much in the front hand, which makes it clear this is a gun made for serious shooting rather than something you might buy for a youngster.
Of course, this may be exactly what some sportsmen and women are looking for: a quickhandling 20 bore with the ability to handle larger cartridges and the resultant recoil.
It does have a few rough edges – it feels like it just needed a little more attention and polish to make the gun a little smoother to operate. That said, it is reassuringly solid and feels well built with no play in the triggers or the action, and no rattles or squeaks.
It is quite well placed within the range, feeling appropriately more special than the Marquis at £3,750 but with a noticeable step between this gun and the round-bodied Eclipse at £6,500.