Issue 58 April 2024

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Good Books 'Olly'

The Life & Times of the Marquis of Ripon

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People|April 2020

Rupert Godfrey claims to have shot more wood pigeon than the Marquis of Ripon but concedes to having bagged fewer of everything else, including rhinoceros. He is probably right.

What Godfrey can also claim, quite rightly, is to have researched and penned a fascinating portrait of not only the best shot in England during the heyday of driven shooting, but also to have shone a spotlight on a period of history now lost to living memory.

Ripon shooting with a trio of back-action Purdey hammer guns.

I imagine my grandfather as a boy, growing up on a shooting estate in Ireland, may have been regaled with first-hand stories of the ‘shooting set’ (of the Prince of Wales and his regular accomplices) by his father but to us, that lost world of Empire before the Great War is long forgotten.

Godfrey self-published this book (in 2012), entitled; ‘Olly’ (The Life & Times of Frederick Oliver Robinson, 2nd Marquis of Ripon). Self-publishing has become much easier, more cost effective and convenient than it once was. Formerly the preserve of the ‘vanity project’ that could not pass the rigour of a publisher’s scrutiny and make it onto the shelves, it now offers an opportunity for authors to self-market, make more profit on each book sold and publish volumes of niche interest, in numbers that would not make commercial sense to a professional publishing house.

Only 1500 copies of ‘Olly’ exist. Mine is number 1335 and Coch-y-Bondhu books have a few left. I suggest you buy one now...

Only 1500 copies of ‘Ollie’ exist. Mine is number 1335 and Coch-y-Bondhu books have a few left. I suggest you buy one now, as this will become a classic that is impossible to find in future. The pages are slightly lighter-weight than the book deserves but otherwise it is competently constructed and simply laid-out, with historical photographs, drawings and illustrations breaking up the text at regular intervals.

We learn from this book not only about Ripon’s remarkable shooting exploits, his guns and career, but the entire context of the world in which he grew and prospered. Ripon was born in 1852 and died in 1923. His game books indicate his personal tally amounted to over half-a-million head of game. He shot all over the United Kingdom and as far afield as India and Egypt but until now, little has been recorded about his wider personal circumstances and relationships. Rupert Godfrey has remedied that.

The book cracks along at a good pace, seamlessly building a narrative of all the important people, places and events in Ripon’s life. The reader gets to understand Ripon’s marriage and business dealings, his society friendships and sporting passions. This is not a simple shooting memoir, it the story of inter-connected lives and loves and historic events during the zenith of British power.Ripon out-shot an entire generation. This is a game card from Broomhead Moor.

To those shooing men who look back on these days as the pinnacle of sporting behaviour, Godfrey reminds us that not all Ripon’s contemporaries were fans “ They live for shooting and ‘record’ bags on their estates… and in order to secure these bags, they have abandoned most of the old precepts; shooting at everything near and far, taking the best places on their own shooting , being rude to their guests who shoot badly and generally destroying the amenities of what was a pretty sport by turning it into a vulgar and arduous competition.” wrote Edward VII’s biographer, H.E. Wortham.

However, Ripon’s skill as a shot with gun and rifle was legendary and ‘Olly’ covers all of his exploits in detail, with contemporary accounts from personal letters and diary entries from the likes of Lady Randolph Churchill and Sir Ralph Payne-Gallwey. Ripon mixed with royalty and aristocracy, as well as with the political elite of the day and had a more interesting and varied life than he has previously been credited with.

I heartily recommend ‘Olly’ to any sportsman interested in the heyday of driven shooting and the places and people who created its unique place in the history of this country and who supplied the money and enthusiasm necessary to impel our great gunmakers to excel at what they did.

Without the demand for ever-better, more beautiful firearms from the generation that Ripon represents, Britain would probably not have produced the fabulous sporting guns it did between 1860 and 1930.The author had access to all Ripon's game books and records.


Published by Vintage Guns Ltd on (modified )

People|April 2020

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