Simon passed away December 21, 2016, after a courageous scrap with cancer. His passing is an enormous loss to the world of “best” English gunmaking and to his many friends and customers who will miss his dry sense of humor and interrogating nature.
Brought up in Worcestershire, England, Simon trained in California as a commercial diver in the oil industry and spent time risking his neck in Africa, Saudi Arabia and the Caribbean. At the time Westley Richards was owned by his father, Walter Clode, who in 1987 turned 60 and began eyeing retirement. As Simon recalled in the book Westley Richards—In Pursuit of the Best Gun: “[Walter] unexpectedly asked us if we would like to join the company; so I did.
“I was then being paid very well in the oil industry, but diving is a young man’s job and quite dangerous. I had a young family, and these jobs could take you away for months at a time. The oil business taught me how to work hard, and I was ready for a new challenge.”
Simon soon realized that if Westley Richards was to remain a going concern, he had to arrest the loss of skills across the best-gunmaking industry and begin rebuilding momentum. “My father had kept the company going via his dealings with India,” Simon said, “and one cannot underestimate how difficult the 1960s, ’70s and early ’80s were for gunmaking in Britain with inflation and other factors. The market for the antique guns from India had been very important for us, but I knew it couldn’t go on forever.”
The way forward seemed obvious: Westley Richards would again focus on making the very best guns and rifles not only by using the skills of its in-house gunmaking team but also by harnessing resources from sister company Westley Engineering. (The latter specialized in precision components for the automotive and aerospace industries.)
Beginning with a dozen .410 detachable-lock shotguns—the design that made Westley’s name—Simon discovered that the appetite for new sporting guns was as strong as ever. The company introduced other bores to the lineup followed by more of the models through which Westley’s had built its reputation. In 1995, for example, the company reintroduced an Anson & Deeley double rifle, and in 2004 the famous Ovundo over/under shotgun was brought back. Today Westley Richards can claim to have the widest portfolio of sporting guns and rifles of any bespoke maker.
But Simon didn’t just rebuild the firm’s gunmaking side; he completely made over the company’s brand. In 2007-’08 the Westley Richards premises in Birmingham was sold to make way for the redevelopment of part of the city, and Simon used the opportunity to build a stunning factory and retail space in unused industrial buildings on the outskirts of the city. He then housed Westley Engineering on the adjoining site, bringing integration to the business model.
To complement the retail shop, Simon built a thriving online store and brought in-house a leather workshop to produce cases, slips, magazines and luggage. He also created The Explora blog, which he used to speak frankly about the gun trade as well as showcase stunning guns—of Westley’s make and others—brought into focus by wonderful images taken with his beloved Leica cameras.
So why was Simon such a force of regeneration in an industry that could have disappeared without trace, its products dismissed as relics of a bygone age? It’s simple: He lived the sport and adventure with the same fierce passion as his customers. He knew the safari guides and the same sun-bleached bush and veldt that they did. He relished the history of sport shooting and understood its conservation benefits.
Simon once said: “I am fortunate to live the sport. I love the practical side of it and where the gun leads to—safari is one of the most interesting ways to travel. I enjoy sharing my love of the sport with clients from all around the world.”
Simon leaves four daughters: Karena, Natasha, Sophie and Francesca. His wife, Lucy, predeceased him in 2005. —John Ian Gregson