In 1875 Westley Richards, perhaps Birmingham, England’s most famous gunmaking firm, unveiled a newfangled hammerless double in which the fall of the barrels cocked the gun’s locks. Much of the fangling was orchestrated by a 45-year-old “gun sight maker” named William Anson, though Westley’s Managing Director, John Deeley, took half the credit. Prior to this, shotguns with internal tumblers were lever-cocked.
The problem of a hammerless, self-cocking design attracted the problem solvers of the era. But Anson enjoyed an advantage; he was familiar with an earlier development credited to Westley Richards for a falling-block rifle that he then adapted to a double. Fiendishly simple and awesomely strong, the Anson & Deeley action changed the course of gunmaking.
One descendant’s account says both William Anson and his son Edwin went to their graves embittered that the family was inadequately compensated for what they saw as William’s brainchild. And it’s true that John Deeley retired in comfort to Rhyl, then a ritzy resort, while Anson washed up in digs above a shop. Now a new book by John Campbell, The Birth of the Boxlock Shotgun, sifts through the evidence and provides the most comprehensive telling yet of this fascinating story. In this engagingly written, sumptuously illustrated volume, Campbell presents eight years of research while leaving readers space to draw their own conclusions.
The birthing of the new gun may have been a collective effort, but it took Westley Richards to make it appealing to the sporting public. The Birth of The Boxlock Shotgun reflects this and displays exhaustive quantities of erudition. It is a must for any scholar of fine shotguns.
The Birth of the Boxlock Shotgun is available for $30 from gunandswordcollector.com.