Issue 03 September 2019

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Sweetman Strikes Out

Gunmaker Ian Sweetman (from Purdey) establishes business on his own account.

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People|September 2019

Any gunmaker establishing his own business will find his credentials a key part of his early success. History leaves us with plenty of examples in the form of gun case labels:

‘Henry Atkin (from Purdey’s)’, ‘William Evans (from Purdey’s)’; and, just in case you thought trading off your old mentor’s name was something only Purdey craftsmen did, ‘James Purdey (from J. Manton’s)’. These trade labels remind us the practice dates back as early as the establishment of our most famous firm, in 1814.

There is no doubt that informing the public you were taught by the best does no harm to your prospects. I was, therefore, intrigued that the business card of the latest London Gunmaker to strike out on his own omitted the magic words.

The card reads simply ‘I.S. Sweetman, Gun & Rifle Makers Ltd’.

Ian Sweetman has taken the bold step of founding his own company, having left the employ of James Purdey & Sons this month. I caught up with him at the British Side-by-Side Championship at Atkin, Grant & Lang’s shooting ground in Hertfordshire on the last day of August 2019. This is where we met, almost a decade ago.

At the time, I was heading a company trying to buy AGL and while conducting negotiations, I took on the role of Managing Director. Ian was an apprentice there, working under Carl Russell and Alan Bower.

Ultimately, we failed to conclude our deal and AGL later sold to Francis Lovell but that is another story. The point is that young Ian had ambitions to advance in the gun trade and shortly after I left the firm, Ian did too, heading to Birmingham to continue his apprenticeship at Westley Richards.

Westley Richards, at that time, was expanding and rapidly becoming a resurgent powerhouse in the gun trade, after Simon Clode had re-located it from the old factory in Bournebrook, to the new facility in Pritchett Street.

Working with Chris Soyza and Anthony Alborough-Tregear, as well as a host of time-served gunmakers at Westley Richards, Ian learned a lot about new-build rifles in particular.

Next came the move to London and a new firm; James Purdey & Sons, where Ian served out the final months of his apprenticeship and became a finisher. He was tasked with the job of leading the team building Purdey’s new bolt-rifle and took on apprentices of his own.

Now, having served his time in the Hammersmith factory and tired somewhat of the cramped conditions of London life, commuting and maintaining a house outside the capitol, he has followed a number of previous Purdey employees, like David Mitchell, Michael Louca and David Sinnerton, into business on his own account.

Ian is setting-up primarily as an out-worker to the trade, providing restoration, repair and finishing services. He will trade from premises near Reading to begin with, sharing bench space with another ex-London gunmaker. He intends, eventually, to fit-out his own workshops but is, sensibly, taking his time about each step of the company’s expansion.

For now, the gun trade has a welcome addition: Best gun-making services immediately accessible, with a hungry, young gunmaker, trained by the very best in the business and working to establish himself independently.

In my experience, gunmakers going solo are perennially paranoid that they will never attract enough work to pay the bills. It is also my experience that, if they are good at what they do, the work will be steady and they will never want for business.

I’m confident Ian will become established as one of the best independent gunmakers of his generation and in years to come, people will proudly say of their gun ‘this was finished by Ian Sweetman’, just as they now do when talking of barrel work by Bill Blacker, stocking by Stephan Dupille or finishing by David Sinnerton.

The boy has come a long way in ten years. The next decade begins with the founding of his own firm. It is a lesson in deferred gratification, dedication and hard work.

I said to Ian all those years ago that if he headed to the bright lights, grafted for a few years and left with the best skills the best gunmakers in the country could teach him, he would one day be in a position to live where he wanted to, work when he liked and would find people would send him as a much work as he could undertake. That day has arrived.

If it works out as well for Ian as it has for Stephane, I’ll be expecting the roar of a Porsche to announce his arrival in the near future!

Ian Sweetman can be reached by e-mail at:

info@gunmakinguk.com

or by telephone on 07515 504 622

Published by Vintage Guns Ltd on

People|September 2019

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