Issue 27 September 2021

Back to current issue home >

The Gunsmiths of Penrith.

Kirk Lubbes finds clockmakers and silversmiths and gunmakers hand-in-hand.

Read Article v

Guns & Gunmakers|March 2021

When I started this article, it was going to be just about my first hammer gun. I purchased it about 15 years ago at the Southern SxS Championship, in North Carolina. Only recently, I decided to find out who the 'maker'Joseph Homes was. The title of this article reflects what my quest turned out to be.

I have two standard references that I consult when starting my research on any maker: Boothroyd (1) and Brown (2). Boothroyd simply states: Penrith, Gunsmith, 5 Market Square – 1854. Brown is equally brief: 5 Market Sq, Penrith, C’land - c. 1878 – c. 83. Not much information there, and quite a difference in working dates. I will come back to this inconsistency later. First we will take a look at the gun.

The gun weighs in at 6 ¾ lbs, balancing on the hinge pin. The barrels are 30” of very fine Damascus, cylinder and cylinder, marked Joseph Homes, Penrith. The stock is straight-grip, well-figured, with engraved heel and toe plates. The forend is also well-figured using a Deeley forend release. Length-of-pull, 14 1/8”. Drop-at-toe, 1 ¾”. Drop-at-heel, 2 ¼”.

Locks are Stanton, rebounding locks with Birmingham-style hammers, and signed with Joseph Homes’ name. The action design is that of J. Hall, patent # 2396 of 1871 and so marked. The design uses a sliding under-bolt interlocking to the forward lump only. A second bolt is located in the standing breech. It interlocks with a stud-extension on the rear lug of the barrel. Engraving is very-fine scroll, with 100 % coverage. The gun was clearly made be a skilled craftsman.

Joseph Homes’ shop’s address is 5 Market Street, Penrith, Cumberland. Joseph Homes claims to be a watchmaker, jeweller, silversmith, and gunmaker, in that order (3). Talk about diversification! These skill sets generally don’t fit together very well. I was intrigued by how this came about, so I decided I would to try to find out. My search led me to the Matthews family of Penrith. The interrelations of the family are complex. I offer the following chart to provide some structure to these relationships.

In the chart, the left side of center, is the line of gunmakers. The right side is the line of watchmakers, silversmiths, jewelers. Solid lines indicate that I have original source documentation to establish the relationship. See References. Where existing first source documentation is not clear on the relationship, I have used dashed lines. The dashed lines indicate one of two situations: original source documentation that provides an implied relationship, or I am going out on a limb, based on historic presidencies. In the chart discussion below, I have annotated the first situation as SWAG and the second, as WAG. (These abbreviations are not defined.)

The Trade/Apprentice System

An understanding of the trade/apprentice system is important to tracing of the origin of my Joseph Homes gun. Smiths in the 18th and 19th centuries learned their trade, through a system where new entrants were trained by a master craftsman. Young boys, in some instances young girls, began their training, generally at the age of 14, for a period of seven years. They were indentured servants, or sons/daughters of the master, becoming apprentices and later journeyman. At the age of 21, many would leave to start their own businesses, ultimately becoming masters themselves. Others would continue to work for the master as an employee. The sequence would then, start all over again, passing skills from generation to generation. Frequently, this was a means to pass trades (businesses) from father to son (or daughter). This system would have been used to train both gunmakers and watchmakers as well. Note: gunmakers, gunsmiths, and gun manufactures appear to be used interchangeably in early newspapers.

Another tradition was to name their sons and daughters after the parents or close relatives, a tradition that continues to this day. This tradition makes it a challenge to figure the relationships out, but I am going to give it shot (pardon the pun).

Joseph Homes: Jeweller and Gunsmith, Retailer – Penrith.

I would argue that Joseph Homes was not a gunmaker, in the classic sense of having served an apprenticeship, but rather a business man who purchased a jewelry/gunmaking business. I base this opinion on the fact that 5 Market was previously occupied by Joseph Matthews, gunmaker (4), and Ann Matthews; jeweler, watchmaker, and silversmith (5). Homes apparently bought the business lock, stock and barrel (another pun), i.e. workers and all the stock.

Ann Matthews: Jeweller – Penrith.

Ann’s husband, William Matthews, passes away in 1862, she continues her business at 5 Market Square until she passes away by 1871 (6).

Joseph Matthews (jr.): Gunsmith – Penrith.

There are two Joseph Matthews, both gunmakers. The elder Joseph Matthews and his nephew, also Joseph, the son of William and Ann Matthews, the Jeweler (7). I will designate the elder as Joseph Matthews (sr.) and the nephew as Joseph Matthews (jr.). In 1858, Joseph (jr.) is living in the “that old-established gunsmith’s shop” (4). In Joseph Homes’ earliest advertisement (8), his gun-related stock is located at “the old established shop”.

Joseph Matthews (sr.): Gunsmith – Penrith

The craftsman that made my gun were almost surely trained by Joseph Matthews (sr). We know two of his apprentices managed his shop in Middlegate, Penrith in 1856. Joseph Matthews had no children (7). I am surmising that Joseph Matthews (jr.) either apprenticed under his uncle at Kendal or under one of his uncle’s trained apprentices (now masters) in Joseph (sr.) shop in Penrith (SWAG).

Joseph Matthews (sr.): Gunsmith – Kendal

Joseph Matthews was born in Upperby, near Carlisle in 1800 (7). Joseph Matthews was apparently a successful gunmaker. He has an established shop at Stricklandgate, Kendal, probably as early as 1841 (9). I say probably, because the newspapers of the time only refer to Mr. Matthews, gunmaker. The year, 1856, is the first mention of Joseph Matthews having shops in both Kendal and Penrith. The shop in Penrith is located at Middlegate at that time (10). Thus, the link with Mr. Matthews, gunmaker in Kendal with Joseph Matthews in Penrith.

J & W Matthews: Gun Manufacturer - Penrith

Two advertisements appear in the 09 August 1834 Carlisle Patriot (11). The two adverts are literally one on top of the other. The first is J & W Matthews, Gun Manufacturers – Penrith. The second is for William Matthews, Watch and Clock Maker, Silversmith, and Jeweler.

I believe (WAG) 'W & J' may be William Matthews and Joseph Matthews (sr.), father and son. The basis for this conclusion is as follows.

Joseph Matthews (sr.) had to have served under a master gunmaker as an apprentice to become a gunmaker in his own right. What would be more natural than to serve as an apprentice under his father? Note that the order of the initials, W & J. Joseph is the older of the two brothers, born in 1800. William, the clockmaker, is the younger brother, born in 1806 (7). It is highly unlikely that the younger brother would have his name first in the “partnership.”Joseph sets up his shop in Kendal rather than Penrith. It was standard practice for a new gunsmith to not establish himself in competition with his master.

Joseph (sr.) only returns to Penrith to set up his second shop in 1856. His father, William (if I am right), would have either been in his 80s, and either passed away or retired. William, Joseph’s younger brother, would have also had to serve as an apprentice to become a clock and watchmaker. The apprenticeship of the two brothers would have overlapped. If the W, in W and J Gun Manufacturers, is in fact the younger brother, why would he be advertising as both a gun manufacturer, and clock and watchmaker in the same newspaper, on the same day? Finally, and maybe, most importantly, Boothroyd documents a William Matthews in 1833 at Barrowgate. Penrith in 1833 (12).

The W in W & J, may not be for William, the father of Joseph (sr.) and William, the clockmaker/watchmaker, but it is a good bet, he is a relative. Of course, there is always is always the chance that W & J Gun Manufacturers have nothing to do with the Matthews family that I am tracking. But this is unlikely, since they are all connected to Market Place/Square, Penrith.

W & J Matthews: Gun Manufacturers – Birmingham

The 1834 advertisement (11), states that W & J has a second location at 3 Court Cornhill-Street, Birmingham. Clearly, W & J was well established.

William Matthews: Watch and Clock Maker, Silversmith, and Jeweler – Penrith.

The second advertisement, below the W & J advertisement is for William Matthews Watch and Clock Maker, Silversmith, and Jeweler, located in Market Place, Penrith. It appears that William has been located in Market Place/Square for at least 28 years.

One additional WAG, I would like to conjure that the “old-established gunsmith shop” mentioned in both the 1858 (4), when Joseph Matthews is occupying it, and in Joseph Homes’ first advertisement in 1875 (8), might be the location of the W & J shop in Penrith in 1834 (11). Boothroyd, however, shows William (presumably the father of Joseph (sr.) and William the clockmaker) at Barrowgate (12).

I have listed my sources in at the end of this article, for anyone interested in further study of the Matthews family of gunsmiths. There is more to tell, but I fear, I have exhausted my reader’s patience.

Acknowledgements. I would not have been able to research this article without the help of five historians in Cumberland, England area. I hardy thanks to Chester Forster, Hellen Caldwell, Guy Wilson, Ken Fenwick, and Graham Brooks. They provided me with leads that greatly helped.

Kirk Lubbes can be reached at captrkirk@yahoo.com

Published by Vintage Guns Ltd on

Guns & Gunmakers|March 2021

Vintage Gun Journal category advertiser: HGSS Shipping Services

Vintage Gun Journal category advertiser: Rigby Highland Stalker

Vintage Gun Journal category advertiser: Ormiston coat

Vintage Gun Journal category advertiser: Donald Dallas Books