Established in 1812 by William Westley Richards, Westley Richards (W.R. & Co.) is one of the oldest surviving gun and rifle makers in England. Following an exciting new collaboration between our two companies, we at Denman and Goddard were recently invited to their home town of 200 years, Birmingham, for a tour of their purpose-built gun factory.
Before its recent conversion, the building that the company calls home used to be an enamel factory.
W.R. & Co. Founder, William Westley Richards.
After successfully making it through the cast iron gates upon arrival, our tour began in the main showroom. Artefacts from the company’s rich history fill the space, surrounded by exposed brickwork that gives a pleasant nod to Birmingham’s industrial past. As we ventured through into the workshops we were truly aware of the founders’ philosophy of being able ‘to build as good a gun as can be made’.
At the very beginning of their apprenticeships the craftsmen start their careers by making all of their own tools, to learn and develop an unrivalled knowledge of the materials that they will master. As every component of the guns and rifles are hand made, it is essential that the highest level of precision is learned and maintained, both for safety and aesthetics.
We first visited the Stocking (woodworking) department, where the stocks of the guns are created to each individual’s measurements. Wood is chosen from the root of the Turkish Walnut tree to ensure high density and strength when being fired. This also means that once oil finished, the most beautiful depth of colour and natural pattern within the wood can be seen. At this stage the stock goes through a process called ‘chequering’. Small diamond shapes are intricately hand engraved to provide an area of grip for the user, at the same time adding a stunning example of craftsmanship. Every Westley Richards stock is varnished a minimum of twice a day for a month and a half, allowing the natural oils used to soak well into the wood and prevent it from becoming brittle. This also creates a natural waterproofing – essential when in the field on a shoot.
Master craftsmen at work in the Stocking Department.
We then went on to the Actioning and Barrelling departments. The barrels are ‘smoke black fitted’ to the action to create a gas tight seal before being submitted to the Birmingham Proof House for safety testing. The company has ‘made a great contribution to the modern shotgun and is famed for its self-cocking, hammerless ‘Boxlock’ actions [firing mechanisms], patented by employees Messrs. Anson and Deeley in the early 1870s. For over 200 years W.R. & Co. have maintained a worldwide reputation for mechanical innovation and excellence in both shotguns and rifles’, and it is never more evident than when in the company of their master craftsmen and their apprentices.
Master craftsmen at work in the Actioning and Barrelling Departments.
Original concept sketches for the Aston and Deeley patented Fixed Lock, 1875.
The outer casings of the guns also display a remarkable level of detail in the form of hand engraving. Perfect recreations of hunting scenes and/or wildlife are an amazing display of true craftsmanship and as we walked through the workshop, I soon found myself simply staring at the work- in awe of the artistry and skills of those who created it.
‘By combining proven age-old design with modern craftsmanship and embellishment, we believe that the modern era is producing some of the finest guns and rifles that have ever carried the ‘Westley Richards’ name. We are privileged today to work with and commission some of the finest engravers in the world, many of them exclusively.’
‘The variation in execution is such that we can offer everything from the great traditions of the house scroll, all the way through to game scene carving, relief scroll, gold inlays and the setting of precious stones. Few other gunmakers in the world can deliver such diversity to such a consistently high standard. As with the whole gunmaking process, we actively encourage our clients to participate in the creation of their individual masterpiece. Every gun, to our eye, should be a truly unique piece.’
The company also has its own team of highly skilled leather craftsmen. In this department, ‘gun slips, cases and bags are made to exacting standards, just along the corridor from their iconic firearms’. Customers can choose from a wide range of skins and colours, before conceptual sketches are turned into bespoke creations. What better way to look after your very own piece of gun-making history?
A finished gun in its bespoke case, all hand-crafted from the finest materials.
The W.R. and Co. shooting suit.
As well as other country clothing and accessories, Westley Richards stock traditional shooting suits- the product of the new and exciting collaboration between our two companies. We at Denman and Goddard have been able to help produce a collection of hand-made shooting jackets, plus 2′s and breeks in the company’s exclusive house tweed and moleskin. They are available in a range of sizes and can be purchased online, or at the W.R. & Co. store – where they can be tried on and complete the full shooting experience.