Appreciating Birmingham's Big Boys

Webley & Scott deserve more kudos than they generally get.

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Guns & Gunmakers|March 2020

Two important Birmingham gun makers frequently appear in discussions about fine guns but they mostly arise in passing, often with a slightly disparaging comment such as ‘Well, you know all Holland & Holland hammer guns were made by W&C Scott’, as if that were an indication that there is something wrong with the association.

There is the implication that somehow guns made by anyone other than the man whose name is on the locks is somehow a fraud, or a second rate article. The reality is that most London firms, as well as provincial ones, called on the services of other gunmakers to assist in the production of their wares.

There existed, in London, specialist workshops ‘to the trade’, such as those of John Robertson, Edwin Hodges and Thomas Perkes. These gunmakers produced the guns that made some well-known firms very successful. Stephen Grant’s famous side-lever hammer guns a were made by Robertson and Hodges, acting as ‘outworkers’, for example. Grant required his guns to be made to the very highest standard and that was the quality of work he demanded, paid for and received.

Other firms used the expertise and production capabilities of the big Birmingham firms to deliver their guns, whatever quality they sought. Two of the biggest were P. Webley and W&C Scott. When they merged, in the late 1890s, they became Webley & Scott.

These companies had large factories and the capacity to make every component of a gun or rifle. The wood for stocks was delivered in sawn blanks, the barrel blanks arrived as rough forgings from the steel mill and Webley & Scott did everything else.

They made rifles from the tiny ‘Rook’ calibres, right up to .600 Nitro Express and shotguns from .410 upwards. Each type of shotgun was available in a wide range of qualities, with ‘Grade 10’ being a ‘Plain, sound, gun, neatly bordered or engraved’, while the ‘Imperial Premier’ was ‘made of the best quality materials and finest workmanship, and the shooting is of the highest standard, finely carved with leaf work and the stock of very fine figured walnut’.Webley gunmakers built guns for almost everyone.

In short, Webley and Scott could, and did, make guns of all qualities, from those which equal the best output of the famous London firms to the plainest provincial farmer’s gun. Other gun makers recognised this.

Many London firms made use of Webley & Scott to furnish them with guns in the various grades below ‘Best’. They had to do this, as in many cases they did not have the production capabilities to turn out the numbers of guns necessary to meet demand from their London showrooms.

Holland & Holland sold ‘Grade 2’ and ‘Grade 3’ side-locks, which were made by W&C Scott. Purdey sold gun grades from ‘B’ to ‘E’ for a time. These were also produced by W&C Scott, with whom Purdey had a good working relationship. Webley provided John Rigby & Co with many of their lower grade double rifles and their boxlock shotguns, along with another Birmingham factory, Bentley & Playfair.

Another London firm to use Webley & Scott for the majority of their wares was William Evans. The makers were able to provide any of their models to order in any desired quality with the name of the London retailer on the action and rib.

W&C Scott, being a ‘maker to the trade’ in Britain, was perhaps more recognised abroad as a brand in its own right. In The USA and Australia, Scott guns were widely sold under their own name and were popular with successful competitors. Scott pigeon guns won hundreds of prizes in live pigeon shooting competitions from Milan to Monte Carlo, Messina to Melbourne, between 1873 and 1913.

These were ’big money’ events and the popularity of Scott guns confirms their effectiveness and reliability. For example, in 1890 Charles Mac Alester beat Dr Knapp for the ‘New York Waterloo’ with stakes of $8,000 dollars a side, which represents $220,000 today. MacAlester said ‘I have fired over 80,000 shots with my old gun (a Scott) and never lost a match with her’.

Not only makers of sporting guns, Webley & Scott turned to revolver manufacture during World War One, producing 310,000 revolvers and 187,000 other pistols.A Jeffery gun built on a Webley action.

Webley & Scott are now perhaps best known for their ‘Proprietary’ boxlocks. These were intended to provide reliable, good quality shotguns at a lower price. They featured the 1884 Webley & Brain patent ‘screw grip’ as a third grip, alongside the Purdey bolt and formed the backbone of Webley & Scott’s sporting shotgun range for the 20th century. In various qualities, these models were supplied to most of the UK gun trade and appear carrying the names of almost every Birmingham and provincial, and many London, maker and retailer.

The Webley & Rogers’ side-lock was popular as an inexpensive side-lock model to the trade and is also found with the names of scores of other retailers on the locks.

Webley & Scott should be remembered for delivering untold thousands of sporting guns to the British gun trade. They were home to numerous patents which were pivotal in the progress of the sporting gun, like the ‘Scott Spindle’ and the ‘intercepting block safety’.

Some of the finest guns you will handle were made by Scott, whether they bear that name someone else’s. In today’s market, the Webley Model 700 remains one of the best bargains available. If Birmingham was the locomotive that pulled the British gun trade to world dominance during the 19th century, then Webley and Scott were surely its engine and gearbox.As well as building double rifles and shotguns, Webley sold cheap bolt-action .410s, like this.

Published by Vintage Guns Ltd on (modified )

Guns & Gunmakers|March 2020

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