If your father was Joseph Lang and your grandfather James Purdey, then gun making would be an intimidating trade in which to try and establish an independent reputation.
Charlie Sheen, Sofia Coppola and Frank Lampard Jr may have made it, but Jason Connery, Victoria Sellers, Joey Travolta and others, about whom we just never got to hear, never realised the success of their famous relatives in the same business. Many sons succeeded their fathers in victorian gun making firms but few made it independently. Edward Lang tried.
On 10th June 1841, Edward Lang was born at 19 Tollington Park, Hornsey Road, Islington; just a few hundred yards from my own residence, so we would have been neighbours. His father, Joseph Lang, had been established as a ‘name’ in the London gun trade since 1821 and his mother was Eliza Purdey, second daughter of James Purdey the elder, who needed no more introduction then than he does now.
Edward, like his brother James Lang, became a gunmaker and by the late 1870s had his own business; first at 88, then 89 Wigmore Street in London’s West End. He lived in Surrey and later in Newbury but died relatively young, of bowel cancer, in 1905, aged sixty-four. His brother, James Lang also attempted independence but returned to the family firm after a few years running his own business.
We know that Edward Lang was selling guns in London from the late 1870s until 1905 but for a maker who was likely productive for over thirty years, few of his guns appear on the market. Therefore, when one arrived a few weeks ago I was interested to study it. When I examined the mechanism, I was further intrigued, as it was rather unusual and really quite interesting.
The gun arrived following a telephone conversation. The owner enquired about the cost of de-activating an old shotgun his father had used in the Home Guard, during preparations for German invasion, in the dark days of World War Two. The gentleman concerned was giving up his licences but was reluctant to lose the heirloom. I arranged for the gun to be collected so I could inspect it and advise him.
A quick search of Holt’s excellent archive revealed… exactly nothing when I typed in ‘Edward Lang’. Not a single gun, case nor label had turned up since Holt’s began trading. Don Masters, in his book Atkin, Grant & Lang, notes that Edward Lang’s guns were made in Birmingham by Charles Osborne. The only reference to his guns in Nigel Brown’s brilliant British Gunmakers is the existence of gun number 1440, made between 1881 and 1887.
Since the literature provides no further information, examination of the gun itself is the next step. The flats on the bar bear the serial number 1411 and the stamp ‘E L PATENT 1266.’ Frustratingly, I can find no reference to any Edward Lang patent, nor to any patent 1266 related to gun making.
The locks are basic three-pin bridle, back action side-locks with dipped-edge lock plates. The action is shouldered in the manner of many 1880s and 1890s hammerless guns. It has a top-lever, operating conventional-looking Purdey under-bolts and the exterior is fully engraved in carved scrolls of good quality. It was made a well-finished gun built on an odd, but not especially high-quality, internal mechanism.
Projecting from the action face, below the rear section of the Purdey bolt, is a limb. At first it appears to be a cocking rod of some type but its inner workings show it to be mounted on a transverse pin with a cam. When the limb is pushed down by the lump upon closing the barrels, the cam puts a spring under tension in the right hand side of the bar, where the main-spring would be housed in a bar-action side-lock. This puts pressure on the broad underside of the rear lump and acts to force the gun open when the top-lever is operated to draw back the bolts. Therefore, the patent must refer to this unusual assisted-opening mechanism. A little more detective work was required so I called David Baker but he had not come across the system before either.
Unfortunately, the barrels let the gun down. Much as it’s unusual nature makes it an interesting piece, it has very pitted barrels with a wall thickness down to 15 thou’. Restoration costs would not be justified, as this will never again be a ‘shooter’ without sleeving the damascus tubes. Nevertheless, destruction by deactivation seems a shame for what we sentimentally consider to be a child of the Atkin, Grant & Lang family. I had to talk to the owner about his chosen course of action. In the past a ‘certificate of unprovability’ could be had from the proof house but these appear to have fallen from the options offered nowadays.
So, gun number 1411, bearing references to unfound patents and carrying the name of Joseph Lang and James Purdey’s little known gun making relative, hangs in the balance. Its fate is as yet undecided but it sheds a little light on yet another surprising victorian mechanism and reminds me that there are still many surprised lurking in the internals of old guns yet to be discovered.