By Chris Batha
My January/February column (“Best Wingshooting Reads”), on books that helped me improve my shooting, stirred up memories of guns and gunning. Like the time when, out of curiosity, I took apart my prized Webley air rifle only to find that putting it back together was another matter altogether. So, clutching the box of parts, I trudged dejectedly to the nearby gunshop, where Mr. Lewis, the gunsmith, found much merriment in my amateur skills while he reassembled the rifle in several minutes.
Almost everyone has “light bulb moments” in his or her life, and this was one of mine. Though I did not realize it at the time, when Mr. Lewis put my air rifle back together with such ease, my fascination with guns, gunsmithing and gunmaking was born.
And so, with my interest piqued, I went to my default font of knowledge: the reference room at the local library, with the ever-helpful and very patient librarian.
It did not take long to realize that I did not have the patience to become a gunsmith. It takes a special person to disassemble and reassemble the intricate moving parts in the lockwork of a shotgun multiple times in repairing old guns and making new ones.
I since have mastered some skills that complement my gunfitting work, including the hot-oil bending of stocks and the installation of both rubber and leather-covered pads, but there I draw the line. The metalwork I leave to the craftsmen who have served the long seven-year apprenticeships and who have the gift to make shotguns “click and tick,” as it’s known in the trade.
Through the years there have been many gunsmithing books written, and I have gleaned my limited knowledge from these books as well as from friends and acquaintances in the trade. In no order of preference, following are some of the most notable authors and the contributions they have made to gunmaking and gunsmithing knowledge.
Good friend and fellow member of the Worshipful Company of Gunmakers Nigel Brown has written what I consider to be the definitive history of British gunmakers. Covering early shooting grounds, workshops and retail-shop addresses, he has put together an invaluable series of reference works that includes many of the gun companies’ serial numbers. British Gunmakers, Volume One covers London gunmakers; British Gunmakers, Volume Two covers establishments in Birmingham, Scotland and the other regions; and British Gunmakers, Volume Three is a comprehensive work, with an index, appendices and additional records of London, Birmingham, Scottish and regional records.
The late Ian Crudgington, gun and riflemaker, former owner of George Gibbs and a member of the Worshipful Company of Gunmakers, needs little introduction. In conjunction with David Baker, author of numerous articles and books, including The Royal Gun Room at Sandringham, he created another “must have” three-volume set of gunmaking books. The British Shotgun, Volume 1: 1850-1870 walks the reader through the evolution of early shotguns in Great Britain. The British Shotgun, Volume 2: 1871-1890 follows on from Volume 1 with the history and innovation of 60 Birmingham, Scottish and regional gunmakers. The British Shotgun Volume 3: 1891-2011 completes the triumvirate, covering the innovation and craftmanship of the British gun trade extending to the introduction of the over/under and single trigger.
My old mucker Diggory Hadoke has penned an excellent book on the oft-overlooked British boxlock and perhaps the best books for hammergun enthusiasts ever written. The British Boxlock Gun & Rifle focuses on the Anson & Deeley boxlock, and it is exactingly researched as well as easy to read and understand. The two books for hammergun shooters are Vintage Guns for the Modern Shot (which covers more than hammerguns) and Hammer Guns: In Theory and Practice. Together these books give a deep understanding of the history, makers and innovations of the sporting hammergun.
Shotgun Technicana, by Michael McIntosh and David Trevallion, is one of the easiest to read technical shotgun books, with superb photography and clear and easily understood explanations of locks, stocks and barrels.
Terry Wieland’s Vintage British Shotguns is another gold mine of information on British boxlocks, offering a “for and against” of individual makers.
David Grant’s and Vic Venters’ The Best of British: A Celebration of British Gunmaking should be on every fine-gun connoisseur’s coffee table. The photographs of some of the finest sporting guns ever made are spectacular, and the expert and passionate descriptions of makers, craftsmen and history are invaluable.
Cyril Adams’ and Robert S. Braden’s Lock, Stock and Barrel makes my “pick list” every time. Not only does it offer straightforward advice on shooting, but it also has one of the best descriptions of how a “best” shotgun is made.
There are just so many great books on guns and gunmaking that there is too little space to cover them all. However, the following are of equal merit and deserve their places in any fine-gun enthusiast’s library:
• Published in 1881, W.W. Greener’s The Gun and Its Development is a fascinating history of weapons from the slingshot to the modern shotgun.
• Geoffrey Boothroyd’s The Shotgun: History & Development starts in the 17th Century and is a fascinating journey for any gun collector. Likewise, Boothroyd on British Shotguns will answer many questions about gunmaking.
• G.T. Garwood (aka Gough Thomas), a former editor of Shooting Times and Country Magazine, wrote Gough Thomas’s Gun Book and Gough Thomas’s Second Gun Book, in which he offers “shotgun lore for the sportsman” in easily digested prose.
• Gun Craft, by Shooting Sportsman’s Senior Editor, Vic Venters, deserves its place alongside the tomes of all the shotgun luminaries. The extensive research, passion and attention to detail that went into this book make it required reading for shotgunners.
I only wish that all of these books had been available to me 50 years ago, as my learning path would have been much smoother and quicker. I can honestly say, though, that each has helped fill in gaps and that I have learned something valuable from every one.