When the 2nd Marquis of Ripon’s shooting career is considered in terms of numbers alone, it is clear that Olly was a remarkably gifted marksman.
While the Edwardian British Army had Jesse Wallingford as its byword for skill with a service rifle, Olly, as Earl de Grey, became a benchmark for his contemporaries that many hoped to equal, but very few attained. The only common link between the two men was that their respective shooting careers both started when they were nine years old. By the time Olly’s earliest surviving game book opens in 1865 it is clear that he is already a highly competent game shot.
The first annual bag recorded on his published game card, shot two years later at the age of fifteen, was 4013, a figure that he did not drop below for the next fifty-six years. These early years appear to have been shot with either his pair of Thomas Horsley guns, purchased in 1866, or a pair of guns by ‘Clark’. Olly does not appear to have used any of his father’s Purdeys, and it was not until July 1870 that he received his first trio; Nos. 8192/3/4.
Whether it was intentional or not, the gift of this trio coincided with Olly’s eighteenth birthday earlier in the year. They are listed in the Dimension Books as being completed for ‘Lord Goderich’, Olly’s courtesy title until his father was raised from Lord de Grey to the Marquisate of Ripon and de Grey the following year, passing Olly the courtesy title of Earl de Grey. George paid £189 for the trio, which were relatively early centrefire hammer guns with W.M. Scott patent toplevers, rather than Purdey’s own thumb-hole underlever.
The stocker’s book entry notes that they were built ‘to match (Clark)’, a pair of which were worked on for George by Purdey about the same time that Nos. 8192/3/4 were completed. It is unclear from the records as to whether they were built with rebounding locks, but based upon his later guns there is a strong chance that they were built as non-rebounders. They were also most likely completed without choke in the barrels, as although the pattern book entry for the trio does not appear to have survived, there is no evidence of Purdey fitting choke barrels to any gun prior to 1875.
they appear to have been Olly’s favourite guns, remaining in use until at least 1893
These guns are worthy of slightly more detailed examination as they appear to have been Olly’s favourite guns, remaining in use until at least 1893 and being used as reference points for his next two trios. Like his father’s guns, they were shot hard and serviced regularly – they were all rejointed in August 1872, and were regularly having bruises removed from their barrels and the trigger pull weights regulated.
In October 1875, a new set of choked barrels were fitted to No. 8193, followed in August 1876 with a new set of ‘plain bore’ barrels for each of the three guns and another set of ‘choke bore’ barrels for No. 8193, although these were exchanged that December for another set at no charge. All five sets were additional barrels rather than replacements, a fact which is confirmed by an entry in May 1877 when Olly was invoiced for cleaning the trio and ‘5 pairs extra barrels’.
This means that Nos. 8192 and 8194 each had two sets of barrels, and No. 8193 had four! In November 1880 this was added to with a set of choked barrels for No. 8192, bringing the total number of barrels for the trio to nine, but it would appear that No. 8194 was only ever used with unchoked barrels.
Olly’s next four purchases are, to some extent, interlinked. Each was exchanged for full credit towards the next gun, and although of disparate calibres they were all intended for a specific quarry, rather than being general game guns. The first, No. 8835, was an 8-bore ‘Duck Gun’, purchased in January 1876 for £70.
Olly may have had it on approval, as although it appears in his account his name is not referenced in the Dimension Book entry for the gun. It was exchanged in December that year for No. 9743, another ‘Duck Gun’, this time in 10-bore. Once again, his name does not appear alongside the Dimension Book entry, but he kept it a little longer, returning it in November 1877 for No. 9858.
This was not a duck gun like its predecessors, but a 20-bore Bar-in-Wood toplever hammer gun with choked 31¾in. barrels. This appears to have been used for competitive pigeon shooting, as from June 1877 a 20-bore gun is referenced in the entries relating to guns and ammunition used at the Hurlingham Club.
It seems likely that he was using No. 9858 ‘in the black’, as Olly owned no other 20-bores, and was only loaned a pair of 20-bore guns (Nos. 9988/9) between 16 August and 20 September that year. In either case, this gun is not specifically mentioned again in his accounts until July 1879, when it was exchanged for the full price of £68 1s against No. 10,395.
This was very similar externally to No. 9858, having choked 33⅜in. barrels, but had a self-cocking action, operated by a Daw-type snap-action underlever. Olly appears to have been happy with this, as it remained in his possession and was serviced annually until 1883, although his last competitive pigeon season appears to have been 1882 so far as Purdey’s records were concerned.
In between his purchases of Nos. 9858 and 10,395, Olly had purchased his second trio in November 1878: Nos. 10,236/7/8. These cost £212 4s, and are described as ‘Triple Grip’, so may have used James the Younger’s concealed third bite, which had only been patented in June that same year. They also had steel barrels, which had only recently started to be used in place of Damascus.
The final note says ‘Exact Particulars,’ and it was here that Olly appears to have had issues. According to the recorded measurements, these new guns had very slightly different measurements to his original trio, with ⅛in. less bend and about 1/16in. more cast. This is extremely minor, but it was apparently enough for Olly to notice.
In December 1879 the cast-off was reduced by 1/10in., but even this was not enough. It led him to send a letter to James the Younger at the end of January 1880, which is referenced in Beaumont’s history of the company. However, Beaumont abbreviated it, and in doing so gave it a sterner tone than the full letter carries:
My dear Mr. Purdey
I have been out today & given the 3 guns a fair trial – the result I am sorry to say does not satisfy me. It may be my fault, but the guns do not suit me & never have.
Under the circumstances I think you will agree with me that it is no use my having 3 guns which will be of little service to me & will only tend to spoil my shooting.
I shall be ready to pay you (of course) for the damage done by shooting them, but I think you will find they are not much injured.
I am ready (if you be willing) to have 3 new guns but I do not think that I am bound to have 3 guns which do not suit me.
For the last 4 weeks I have shot with my old ones, & never in my life shot better or killed longer shots. As far as killing goes they are as good as they ever were, & I certainly shall not give up shooting with them so long as they do as well as they have this year.
James the Younger clearly agreed with what now appears a much more reasonable request, particularly from such a prolific customer as Olly. The guns were credited at £203 19s in November 1880, suggesting the total work of refurbishing them came to £8 5s.
His replacement guns were not yet ready, and so on the same day his account was credited he was also loaned No. 10,236. It is not entirely clear when it was returned, but it would explain why the No. 1 gun was resold as a single gun and Nos. 10,237/8 were sold as a pair, rather than the other way around.
Dr. Nicholas Harlow is Gunroom Manager at James Purdey & Sons, London.
The story of Olly's guns continues next month in the Vintage Gun Journal.
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