The grave of Joseph Manton after restoration
A pair of pistols made by Manton
The shop of Evans in St. James
De Greener Crossbolt
James Purdey The Younger
History English shotguns
Below you will find a historical overview of the major Gunmakers. It is intended
as a overview of the key facts about the Gunmakers and the history of gun making.
With thanks to Jan Roosenburg -
England has a rich history in weapons and making weapons. If we look specifically at the shotguns. From about 1860 we see the emergence of shooting in England, and especially the driven shoots. The book ´The Big Shots´by Jonathan Ruffer gives a good impression of the development of hunting in England at that time. The technical development of shotguns increases after 1880 caused by the discovery of smokeless gunpowder. The larger shootings introduce to shoot with a "pair" with the assistance of a "loader". Therefore gunsmits made guns which had an outstanding balance and technically operate optimally even after hundreds of thousands of shots. This resulted in the "Best London Gun". Gunsmiths as Purdey, Holland & Holland and Boss also belong today to the top of the London gun makers and their guns are in great demand all over the world.
Below you find a brief historical overview of every important Gunmaker. Before we
go into the creators of so-
In the world of guns, Boss, Purdey and Holland & Holland are the top three. The most attractive and new and second hand guns have the highest prices for guns in London. This does not mean that they are much better, it is probably mainly due to the fact that the three survived the troubled times of 1950 to 1970. They continued to make guns and still do. Below however you also will find the history of other gun makers that contributed to the great reputation of London and English gunmakers.
Clicking on the gunmaker below takes you directly to the history of the relevant gunmaker.
As with so many gun makers, the father of Henry worked in the same profession. He
was actioner at James Purdey. In 1848, the young Henry was appointed as an apprentice
to his father. This lasted generally five years, after which an exam was taken of,
if deemed good enough, the pupil was permanently employed and step-
Henry Atkin from Purdey
Thomas Boss was the son of William, a gunsmith who worked first in Birmingham and moved to London where he joined Joseph Manton. In 1812, Thomas went to work for himself. First purely commercially by manufacturing components for other gun makers, but later he settled at 73 St. James Street and started a store with guns under his own name. Thomas died in 1857, and the business was continued by his widow, in the first years with Stephen Grant as manager. It was claimed that these two had more than a business relationship. Later the company was run by John Robertson, which took over in 1891 from the Boss family. Boss claimed that they were "Builders of Best Guns Only", which was often engraved on the guns. It therefore had a relatively small production. Later they sold quite a simple gun under the name Robertson, made in Birmingham. In 1894 Boss came out with their acclaimed single trigger, and in 1909 with the revolutionary Over & Under, which a closing device that now a days can be found on every modern Italian Over & Under. At the beginning of this century the Robertson family sold the company. The company has had a few different owners and struggled. But now they make a few guns again of very high quality in a small factory outside London.
Typical Boss Over & Under
Edwin John Churchill began as an apprentice to a provincial gunsmith, after which he moved to London and joined FT Baker. In 1891 he opened his own company, specializing in making guns for shooting pigeons, something he was very good at. His guns were much liked by professional pigeon shooters. After his death in 1910 the company was taken over by his nephew Robert "Bob" Churchill. Bob was also a familiar gunmaker and a good seller. He developed a theory that short barrels were better and came out with the famous Churchill XXV rifle with 25 inch long (short) barrels. He wrote a number of books about this short barrels and explained why these were so good. He opened a shooting school and built the guns in boxlock as well as side lock. It was a huge success in the thirty’s, and other gun makers were forced to come out with shorter barrels as well. In 1964 the company merged with Atking, Grant & Lang. But production was stopped in 1980. In 1996 a consortium bought the name, and are now selling guns again under the name of Churchill. Although good quality, current rifles are made in Spain and Italy, and have no Churchill characteristics.
Churchill XXV inlaid in gold
This is one of the most famous Scottish gun makers. There used to be many Scottish,
such as McNaughton, Alex Martin, Mortimer & Harkom, Daniel Fraser and Alex Henry,
the lattest famous for the military Martini-
John Dickson Round Action MacNaughton Bar in Wood
William Evans learned the profession by James Purdey & and at Holland & Holland.
In 1883 he decided that he learned enough and started his own company, first in Pimlico
but already in 1888 he moved to Mayfair, ultimately at the address 63 Pall Mall.
He specialized in supplying guns to officers, especially the Guards regiments, which
was extremely popular before they left for the colonies. It also helped that his
store was around the corner of the well-
A nice restored William Evans gun
Grant was born in Ireland and began his career at William Cavanagh in Dublin. He
moved to London, where he was hired by Charles Lancaster and later by Thomas Boss.
After his death, he was for 10 years the Manager at Boss for the widow of Thomas,
which he also seemed to have a romantic bond. After ten years, however, he gave it
up and started his own business. Already at Boss he built weapons with a so-
Stephen Grant with side lever and special bascule
William Greener began his career as a gunsmith apprenticed to John Gardner in Newcastle-
After his death in 1869 the company was taken over by his second son, WW Greener. He improved the choke system as we know it now and developed the crossbar, called Greener cross bolt, which is still used in many guns. With this, he had an extremely reliable and sturdy rifle, which was used by many famous archers in the field and at competitions. Around 1900 Greener had about 450 men in service and was the greatest gunsmith in England. His book, The Gun and it's development in 1881 is still a classical. Slowly production was less and the company was sold in 1965 by the family. In 1985, however, the grandson of W.W. bought Greener holding back, along with several partners, including the gun makers Dryhurst David and Richard Tandy. The Greener name is again synonymous with the highest quality guns, although the production numbers are small.
New Greener, the St. George
Harris Holland was an organ builder in London and added later also a wholesale of
tobacco. He had a grouse moor in Yorkshire where he drove with his friends and was
also a known gun in pigeon competitions around the capital. He was persuaded to go
to make guns and the first came out in 1835. It is virtually unique in the world
of gun makers that a new business successfully set up by someone who has not learned
the trade under another. Harris did not have its own factory to around 1850 and built
the guns to his design commercially. The company wast made as H. Holland and the
store was located at 9 King Street in London. In 1860 comes his nephew Henry Holland
in doctrine and moved the shop at 98 Bond Street, where it will remain for more than
120 years. In 1867 Henry Holland is full gunsmith and absorbed by his uncle as a
partner, although it will take until 1894 before he procuration gets to draw a check,
notwithstanding that Uncle Harris is officially retired in 1876 and the name was
changed to Holland & Holland. During Henry Holland a period many important patents
follows, including for the self-
The company still thrives and is now based in Bruton Street in Mayfair and owned by Mr. Wertheimer. It is the only gunsmith that makes all parts of each gun in house and makes more shotguns than any other London gunsmith, while the production of double-
A .700 rifle. This is the largest caliber sporting rifle in the world.
An example of the famous Royal, copied all over the world.
Also a product of the highly productive kitchen of Joseph Manton, that became independent
in 1826 at 151 New Bond Street, in central London. He stood in his time known as
the best barrel maker, and he did this for a number of colleagues, including James
Purdey. In 1847, after his death, the company was taken over by his two sons, Charles
and Henry. The latter, however, should not have a lot of building guns and left the
company a few years later to deal with something completely different. In 1868 Charles
Ellen Thorne, whose younger brother Henry married in 1870 started working as an apprentice.
Charles died suddenly of a stroke in 1878, and Henry Thorne took over the lead but
the name remained unchanged. Both Charles Lancaster, but especially Henry Thorne,
developed many new ideas. One of the best known of these was a bullet course which
was slightly oval rather than round. This allows the projectile left running the
course, with no grooves had to be made. Charles built a cannon on this principle
and proved to the English army that actually worked. It was later developed by Henry
Thorne, and marketed under the name "The ColIndian Gun", especially sales to travelers
to exotic destinations in India and Africa. Thorn also developed a four-
A Lancaster with four barrels
Joseph Lang began as an independent gunmaker in 1821, after also having been apprenticed
to Manton. At first he sold guns which he took from his contemporary and friend from
the Manton years, James Purdey. He was very inventive, and took out a patent on the
manufacture of patterns for front loaders, which meant a great improvement for the
hunters. When he was in 1851 at the Great Exhibition in London saw the rifle of the
French maker Lefaucheaux, which was built with so-
Een singel barrel firegun by Joseph Lang for the Indian Market.
A pair Joseph Lang
The most famous of the English gun makers probably Purdey, a big name in the world of luxury products. The famile is originally from the east of Scotland. The first was a blacksmith James not far from the Tower of London. Probably he made barrels. In 1784 the next James was born who was apprenticed to his older brother Thomas Hutchinson, gunsmith in London. After teaching for seven years, he joined the famed Joseph Manton, where he already reached the position in three years by head butts maker.
In 1810 he left Manton however, to work for four years as a stock maker at Dr. Forsyth,
a famous gunmaker located at Piccadily. In 1814 he took a big step and opened his
own small shop at No. 4 Princes Street, where he made rifles and pistols and hammerguns.
Unfortunately, the books of the first four years were lost, but since 1818 can be
found all books by Purdey, with notes written on bad payers the name. Not only is
he sold his own, best quality, rifles and pistols, as well as accessories, gunpowder
and accessories, swords, daggers, razors and fine cigars. For fans were even living
sparrows sold, probably to practice on! A kind of supermarket for hunters. He was
soon discovered by the highest class of London and had his success looking for larger
premises. He moved in 1826 to 314 ½ Oxford Street, where he had worked previously
been for Joseph Manton. Except aristocrats and princes he also supplied to other
celebrities. Charles Darwin departed with a pair of Purdey guns for his voyage on
the Beagle. In 1838, he also Queen Victoria under his patronage count after ordering
a pair of pistols as gifts to the Sultan of Muscat. In 1868 Purdey the Royal Warrant
from the Prince of Wales and ten years later followed acquired the appointment as
purveyor of Queen Victoria. Purdey may be the only gunsmith boast that they always
from that date an appointment as purveyor of the reigning monarch have received.
James the elder stopped working in 1868 and was succeeded by the next James. In 1880
the company moved to the corner of Audley Street and Mount Street in Mayfair, to
a building that was constructed for this special. Purdey is still located here. Was
originally part of the plant below the store, but soon the production went to another
place because James Purdey wanted no noise in his store, while the family lived above
the shop. The succession in the Purdey family continued to go well, Athol son took
over the company in 1900 from James and his sons Tom and Jim followed him in 1929.
However, there was already a fairly large package of shares changed hands, and in
1946 it is whole company owned by the Seeley family, particularly Lord Sherwood.
His nephew Richard Beaumont began working at Purdey and became Chairman in 1971.
Under his leadership, the company was also selling clothes and accessories. In 1994
the company was acquired by the Richemont group, a big name in luxury items. Returning
to the old Purdey who had early recognized the benefits of the "breech loader" and
took an active part in the development. In 1880 they bought the patent of Frederick
Beesley, who had worked for Purdey, the self-
A Purdey with typical Rose&Scroll graving
Westley Richards was founded independently in 1812 in Birmingham, making it the oldest extant gunsmith in Great Britanie. He made excellent quality rifles and pistols, but the key to his success was the decision to appoint an agent in London. This was William Bishop, which had a shop at 170 New Bond Street, and generally enjoyed fame as "the Bishop of Bond Street".
Richards rifles were widely wanted and was used by Prince Albert, but also by the
Shah Persie. A particularly important contribution was made in the development of
De Bishop of Bond Street
James Woodward started as an apprentice at Charles Moore, probably around 1827. A dozen years later, he moved up to head finisher, and in 1844 he became a full partner of Moore. The company moved to 64 St. James's Street under the name Moore & Woodward. Around 1851 only remained Woodward over and in 1872, the two sons of James Woodward in the management and the name was changed to James Woodward & Sons. In 1900 died the younger James and the firm was continued by a nephew, Charles Woodward. In 1937 they moved again, this time to 37 Bury Street, which however suffered heavy bomb damage in World War II and Woodward found temporary shelter at Atkin, Grant & Lang until the necessary repairs were carried out. Woodward is best known for his design of Over & Under, which together with the Boss design to the top of this type of shotgun is counted. Woodward did not have a big factory and had to make his actions by the company Hills, and also the running and locks were purchased from outside, but had to meet very strict requirements. Woodward gave only first quality shotguns and bascule has a very recognizable shape. The company was sold to Purdey in 1948 when threatened bankruptcy.
A Woodward Over&Under from the ‘30
A typiscal Woodward design