If Britannia is, as Napoleon quipped, a nation of shopkeepers, then William Asprey is surely her Emperor. Since 1781 (the year Cornwallis surrendered at Yorktown), succeeding generations of Aspreys have reigned over London’s retail. The current line is represented by William Asprey, whose company, William & Son, has been a purveyor of fine shotguns since 1999. Now William & Son has decamped from Mount Street, near Purdey’s, to larger premises on Bruton Street next to Holland & Holland.
William & Son is named for William Asprey, a seventh-generation member of the luxury-goods family whose New Bond Street emporium served England’s great and good between 1781 and 1995, when the name, premises and goodwill were sold to Prince Jefri Bolkiah of Brunei. Shortly after the Prince’s acquisition of Asprey, the gun department closed. Undaunted, William Asprey founded his own brand, which has been a proponent of handcrafted luxury since opening on Mount Street in 1999.
William & Son soon doubled its premises, having started as one store at 10 Mount Street and later adding number 14. At No. 14 gunmaker Paul West, formerly of Holland & Holland, presided over a department that created shotguns of superb quality. Pre-owned guns were available for those unable or unwilling to wait the 18 months required to complete a bespoke gun.
William & Son’s Bruton Street store opened in June, with the move necessitated by not only the need for more room but also the desire to consolidate two shops into one and to return to the proximity of New Bond Street. Just a seven-minute walk from the previous stores on Mount Street, William & Son is now located just a couple of stretch-limo length’s from New Bond Street. According to Founder and Chairman William Asprey: “We had been looking for more space for quite some time, as we were unable to showcase the entire and magnificently varied inventory that we have in a manner that is fitting for high-quality luxury goods and in order to have my whole team working seamlessly together under one roof. William & Son’s relocation to one large flagship store in the heart of Mayfair and London’s luxury quarter will considerably raise the profile of the business and bring us into contact with new customers who are looking for that truly British luxury experience—where the emphasis is on quality and service.”
Spreading across three contiguous addresses, the William & Son premises are contained within a new steel-framed, four-story building cleverly hidden behind the original façades of 34 Bruton Street, 36 Bruton Street and 13 Bruton Place. The new building, with 8,600 square feet of retail space, will bring William & Son’s eclectic offering of watches, jewelry, silver, outdoor clothing and shotguns all under one roof. The east-facing, Bruton Place aspect of the building features panels designed by engraver Peter Cusack and inspired by the house-style scrollwork on William & Son shotguns.
I asked gunroom manager Ian Andrews what would change and what would stay the same. “Paul West and his dedicated team of six craftsmen are still committed to building the finest London guns and rifles for us. We have a number of these available on display for short delivery should any potential client require this.
“As an intermediate between completed pieces and bespoke guns, we also have a number of guns ‘in the white’ where we have brought them to stocked stage. By trusting our choice of exhibition-grade wood and barrel length, lead times are reduced. The customers, of course, may still personalize the guns through their engraving choice.
“Finally, we are always pleased to walk customers through the ultimate journey of a fully bespoke gun or rifle to suit their exacting requirements. In this process, working with myself on the sales team and Paul as production manager, we ensure that the customer is presented with a gun that is truly personal and will hopefully become a family piece for many generations.”
“We also offer a number of pre-owned guns for sale, ranging from the fine London guns through to good trustworthy guns from other makers. All the guns we offer for sale have been personally inspected by Paul, to ensure every gun will provide the new owner a lifetime of enjoyment in the field.”
Much has been written about the death of retail, but William Asprey of William & Son has been quoted as saying that there will always be a future for stores that treat customers as “individuals.” Let’s hope this move is not his Waterloo.
For more information, contact William & Son, 01144-20-7493-8385; www.williamandson.com. —Douglas Tate