By Silvio Calabi
Last November Carl Russell reached two major milestones: the age of 40 and his first new gun. No, he did not get a gun for his birthday; he completed one and delivered it to a client. New gunmakers do not spring up every day, and a man can build his own first gun—a gun with his name on it—only once, and this was it: Carl Russell & Co. No. 001, a 12-bore “best” over/under on a Woodward-type action. For a man in his 23rd year in the gun trade, this was an achievement indeed.
Carl Russell & Co. is in the Stableyard at Hatfield House, Hertfordshire, across from Prince Charles’s cufflink-maker and next to a toy and bookshop. Hatfield is the estate of Lord and Lady Salisbury and was the home of the young Elizabeth before she became Queen in 1558. (See May/June 2015, “Carl Russell & Co. Gunmakers.”) Carl, meanwhile, is the son-in-law of Ken Duglan, who had Atkin Grant & Lang Gunmakers and Broomhills Shooting Ground, where Russell was a “Saturday boy” when he was in school. As a teenager, Russell apprenticed at gunsmiths Ladbrook & Langton and then, in 2002, he re-joined Duglan and AG&L. There he rose to the exalted position of finisher before hanging out his own shingle (still with Duglan) at Hatfield in 2014. A finisher oversees the build of a new gun and makes sure that everything ticks and clicks, gleams and glistens before it goes out the door. Ordinarily the name on the lockplates is that of the employer, but since “Carl Russell” is on the sign outside, it’s on this gun as well.
No. 001’s barrels are by Peter Higgins. The gun was stocked by Stephane Dupille and cased by Ian Tomlin. Wes Tallett (brother of Brad and son of Dave, the talented Talletts) cut the engraving, which includes a cameo of Finn, the client’s Labrador retriever. The gun cost £65,000 and took 13 months to complete. For his willingness to be the first, the client also received a gift: a bespoke knife by Geoff Hague, with bolsters from the same stock blank and engraved and cased to match by Tallett and Tomlin.
“Getting the first one out there is a great feeling,” Russell said, “that someone put such faith in me. I’ve wanted to do new guns but didn’t think it would come so quickly, as the business is still young.” Now, on the considerable strengths of No. 001, clients are inquiring about Nos. 002 and onward. For over/unders, Russell will stick to the labor-intensive Woodward action. Side-by-sides will be built on the proven Holland & Holland pattern, but “if someone specifically wanted a Beesley self-opener, I am sure we could accommodate.”