Westley’s New Over/Under

Westley richards

A best British over/under built to work under pressure

While many sportsmen continue to appreciate and use side-by-side shotguns, the majority of guns seen on British shoots these days are over/unders. This trend has its roots in the 1909 Boss over/under patent of John Robertson & Bob Henderson. The Boss is still made in London by the company that launched it and has been copied by numerous makers in the ensuing decades.

The other notable over/under design to have survived is the one patented in 1913 by Charles Woodward, William Evershed and Charles Hill and introduced as a new model by James Woodward & Sons. Woodward was bought by Purdey in 1949, and the Woodward over/under effectively became the Purdey over/under.

Woodward’s patent (actually two patents: one for the action and another for the ejectorwork) has also been adopted by numerous other makers. Patent protection for both the Boss and Woodward designs lapsed well before the Second World War.

In the first quarter of the 20th Century there were numerous attempts to perfect over/under guns, and Westley Richards was among several British firms to offer designs of their own patent.

The first Westley Richards over/under model was called the Ovundo, and it was created by the same team—headed by Managing Director Leslie B. Taylor—that launched the hand-detachable lock.

In concept it was an over/under boxlock with hand-detachable locks that was reconfigured to suit barrels stacked one above the other. It was a logical move by the company—true to the direction Westley Richards gun design had traveled during the preceding 30 years.

The Ovundo had a higher-profile action than the Woodward and Boss designs, largely because it retained a lump under the barrel on which it hinged—unlike its rivals, with their split lumps on either side of the lower barrel. This height differential was mitigated by the production of smaller-bore guns, such as 20 bore, which is probably that best suited to the Ovundo platform.

This first period of Ovundo production essentially lasted from 1919 to 1938. Although the advent of Hitler’s War dealt the coup de grâce to the Ovundo, production had already tailed off during the 1930s. The vast majority of the approximately 200 Ovundos made during this period left the bench in the 1920s. 

Westley Richards did not produce another over/under gun until 2008, when Managing Director Simon Clode revived the Ovundo in response to customer demand. Clode directed a team of his gunmakers to create 13 new Ovundos in 20 and 16 bore on scaled actions.

The new Ovundos were faithful copies of the original hand-detachable-lock, single-trigger ejector models in all but one or two minor details. With all 13 “Second Period” Ovundos sold, the model was once again mothballed. 

Searching today’s Westley Richards catalog for an over/under will prove fruitless. However, that will not be the case for long. The company, now under the direction of Anthony (“Trigger”) Alborough-Tregear, has revisited the idea of an over/under for the future. But it will not be an Ovundo.

The new over/unders have a beautifully rounded forend and perfectly angled pistol grip.

The Ovundo was “a thing of beauty,” according to Trigger, but although the guns looked lovely and were mechanically brilliant and intriguing, they were delicate and complex to build. A hard-used Ovundo is time consuming to re-joint once it has shot loose, and in the modern context the design has disadvantages that make it less than the ideal platform for a modern sporting gun.

The new Westley Richards over/under—which does not have a model name, as it is the only over/under the firm intends to build—is a Woodward type with minor modifications to the geometry, and it will be built only in best quality.

Trigger explained that his rationale was straightforward. “Why try to reinvent the wheel?” he said. “The Woodward-patent action is proven, aesthetically pleasing, reliable and easy to scale up or down for different bore sizes as well as for magnum frames or live-pigeon-type guns.”

Many of the shotgun designs introduced in the past 20 years have not been without issues. To really understand what a new gun’s fundamental strengths and weaknesses are, you need five years of regular field testing. That can prove very expensive, if customers are bringing back guns built on new, untested systems and demanding repairs or alterations to make them reliable.

A common complaint heard among hard-shooting high rollers is “British over/unders are pretty, but they don’t work when put under pressure.” Perhaps we see a tacit admission of this in the trade, with London makers leaning increasingly toward “modern” triggerplate designs that are simpler and cheaper to make in a 21st Century factory. 

Rather than aim to compete with these “budget” models, Westley Richards is aiming squarely at the very top of the market, because the company believes it has the workforce, clientele and capabilities to build as good an over/under gun as is being built in the country today. To put it bluntly: The team has looked at the best guns currently coming out of London and thought, We can do as well, if not better.

The recipe is simple to set out but harder to deliver: Get the right design, simplify everything that can be simplified and then build the gun to the highest standards without compromise, not down to a price.

The aesthetics of the Westley Richards gun are quite traditional, as Trigger is not an admirer of so-called round-body over/unders. However, some details make it distinctive. A fuller grip shape than on most London guns is being used—which Trigger believes gives the gun a more harmonious look and feel—along with a fuller, rounder forend.

Returning to the idea of “British guns don’t work,” Trigger contends: “They do, if they are built properly.” To that end, he is dedicating certain members of his gunmaking team to the production of the new model exclusively, following an old gun-trade contention that specialists in each area doing one job repeatedly get very good at it. With a relatively complex gun that is required to stand up to hard use, this is essential.

The first pair of 12-bores has been thoroughly tested in field conditions by the customer, and the guns have performed without issue, even under sustained, hard use.

With a highly skilled workforce of traditionally trained gunmakers already in place, Westley Richards is ideally suited to set the standard for best over/under shotgun production for years to come. That said, given the attention to detail required to build them, the over/unders will never be produced in large volumes.

At press time there were 12 guns in production—all commissions from long-established customers. Three were 12-bores, two were 20s, one was a 28. An additional three pairs of 20-bores completed the run.

While the mechanics of the guns are familiar, the file-up is all Westley Richards and distinctively so. With a beautifully rounded, grippable forend, a perfectly angled pistol-grip stock and carefully scaled actions for every gauge, the 20-bore I examined felt perfect in the hand and was beautifully set up for grouse shooting.

With a solid rib, a traditional square bar and slightly bolstered radius, the gun was elegant and perfectly proportioned, with a very highly figured walnut stock. All barrels are Teague-choked but not proof-tested for steel shot. On this matter Westley Richards stands squarely behind the product as a specialist tool, not a jack-of-all-trades and master of none. The compromises required to make the ideal game gun into a 3" steel-shot-firing behemoth are counterproductive.

According to Trigger: “Why, if you can afford to buy a gun costing well over £100,000 and you spend upward of £4,000 a day on your grouse or pheasant shooting, would you need—or want—to shoot inferior ammunition in a compromised gun? Bismuth is the closest projectile to lead we have; it performs nearly as well and requires no adjustment to the way the gun is built.”

Westley richards
Guns are being built to stand up to hard use by Westley gunmakers specializing in each task.

The concept, therefore, is to have the best gun built and buy the best ammunition to shoot through it. If customers are not willing to compromise on the quality of their guns, why would they compromise on the quality of their ammunition?

Another influence is the strong weighting in favor of smallbores in orders for Westley Richards shotguns. Most of those built are either 20- or 28-bores, and steel shot is even less effective in those smaller loads than it is in a 12. The proposed lead-shot ban in the UK is also a local issue, affecting only British sportsmen, while a high proportion of Westley Richards orders are from the US or elsewhere.

The majority of the new guns will feature highest-quality rose & scroll engraving in the traditional manner that best suits these classic actions and a bead that is subtly distinctive in contour.

The single trigger is a modern bob-weight type, for reliability. Ejectors are modified with V springs. A huge amount of time, money and energy have gone into ensuring that every facet of production is utterly precise.

While modern English over/unders do not universally share the reputation for grace under pressure, Westley Richards is emphatic in its intent to deliver beautiful-yet-robust-and-reliable, best-quality over/unders for sportsmen to use. Take, for example, chambering. If chambers are cut even a fraction out of true or over-size, ejection problems will result. Westley Richards has taken steps to guarantee absolute precision, using one tool for only three or four chamber cuts before discarding it. That way chambers will be precise, exact in dimension and truly in line with the bore. Forcing cones are graduated, leading into relatively tight bores, and choke cones are likewise long and tapered, producing excellent patterns and managing stresses as the shot moves from chamber to muzzle.

Modern practices have been adopted where beneficial. For example, hardening is now done according to the practices of the Formula 1 and aerospace industries, using precise temperature-controlled ovens rather than more-archaic methods. High-chromium steel is used where corrosion resistance is most crucial, such as in the striker disks.

These guns are intended to deliver on style and quality as well as performance and functionality. Westley Richards is a Birmingham firm taking on London’s finest in a sector of the market hitherto unexplored.

Armchair critics might contend that imitation is the greatest form of flattery, although Westley Richards can point to the fact that the Woodward-patent gun was largely designed by the least well-known of the three named patentees: Charles Hill, from the Hill dynasty of gunmakers, whose roots in the Birmingham trade stretch from 1807 to today.

The gun also is operated by a toplever, is cocked by the fall of the barrels, and the forend is removed by means of an Anson pushrod. All of these features found their way onto best guns from every modern maker via the bench of a Westley Richards craftsman. The fact is that every breechloading shotgun made today borrows from the designs of the great innovators of the past.

The new Westley Richards over/unders are pitched firmly at the premium end of the market and appeal to sporting customers who appreciate the best and can pay for it. They were inspired by customer demand. “Existing customers kept asking us to build them a sidelock over/under” Trigger said. “They know the standards we work to and the quality we produce and wanted to place orders, so we worked out the best plan to enable us to satisfy that demand.” 

Westley Richards aims to build between four and six over/unders each year. Every one will be bespoke, and prices will be discussed on an individual basis. For more information, visit westleyrichards.com.

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