By Silvio Calabi
High-end gunrooms don’t open every day—in Great Britain or the US—so the debut of Carl Russell & Co. Gunmakers is news. When the firm’s principals have gold-plated gunmaking credentials, and the venture includes not just a sales room but also a full-service workshop, it becomes all the more significant. Carl Russell, 37, apprenticed at Ladbrook & Langton and then joined Atkin Grant & Lang, at Broomhills Shooting Ground, just north of London. There he worked on the bench and eventually led the gunmaking team, which at the time included barrelmaker Bill Blacker, actioner Gary Hibbert and stocker Stephane Dupille, all stars of the British trade.
As those who have attended the Vintage Cup, Southern Side by Side Championship, CLA Game Fair and/or SCI Convention (or who read SSM) likely know, Atkin Grant & Lang and Broomhills both belonged to Ken Duglan for many years. In addition to repair work and building guns, AG&L made a name for itself by meticulously rebarreling, re-stocking and rebuilding tired old Atkins, Grants and Langs to crisp, as-new condition and selling them at reasonable prices. (Reasonable for London guns, that is—$50,000, say, for a matched pair of pedigreed sidelock ejector game guns that would sell for triple that if built from scratch.)
In the fall of 2005, as retirement began to loom, Duglan got an offer he couldn’t refuse for AG&L, one that also included taking over the clays shooting at Broomhills. But when the buyer/tenant fell behind on payments, a lengthy struggle ensued. Years on, when the would-be buyer had been ousted, the bank had been made semi-whole and Duglan had been restored, Ken was able to sell AG&L and Broomhills again, this time to Francis Lovel, a respected sporting-gun dealer in Oxford. It was a fairy-tale ending to what had been a bleak tale.
As it happened, by the time the gun company and the shooting ground had gone to Lovel, Carl Russell and Sian Duglan—Ken’s younger daughter—had set up house together. And before too much longer, what had been a highly collegial working relationship became a family enterprise. Carl gave up his position with Lovel—he’d been “sold” as part of AG&L—and the three of them are now partners in Carl Russell & Company Gunmakers, and Ken’s retirement has been pushed back again.
The new store is stocked with shooting gear, gifts and country clothing, and one long wall is lined with everything from Beretta boxlock over/unders to pairs of sidelocks from Boss, Henry Atkin and others. (When I visited in November there were also unusual pieces such as a Joseph Lang over/under .470 Nitro Express, several fine flintlock shotguns and pistols, a couple of ca. 1800 blunderbusses and a rack of replica Brown Bess muskets.) Behind the cash register is a doorway to the workshop, where Carl carries on gunsmithing while the Duglans, father and daughter, serve the showroom, maintain the website and Facebook pages, and brew tea for visiting writers from America. They also book driven-bird shooting in the Cotswolds and elsewhere.
If the business continues to grow as it has since the doors opened, in April 2014, there soon may be another craftsman at the bench and the retail space will expand.
The company’s home is as fortuitous as its provenance. Carl Russell & Co. is at Hatfield House (www.hatfield-house.co.uk), a spectacular estate just 45 minutes north of London. Henry VIII’s children grew up there; the tree under which his and Anne Boleyn’s daughter was sitting when the news arrived that she’d been made Elizabeth I (in 1558) reportedly still stands. Lord and Lady Salisbury, the seventh generation of the Cecil family to own Hatfield House, welcomed the new gunroom with open arms. It is in the Stableyard, a collection of 17th Century brick buildings gathered around a fountain. Carl Russell & Company’s neighbors include a jeweler with a royal warrant, a toy and book shop, an art gallery, a fine-foods store, a bridal boutique and a bistro. If those aren’t enough to occupy your spouse while you explore the gunshop, tours of the palace, main house, park and gardens are available.
For more information, contact Carl Russell & Co. Gunmakers, 01144-1707-709372; www.carlrussellandco.com.