W.B. Barratt and William Powell

Catholics Collaborating?

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Guns & Gunmakers|October 2022

 I picked up an old and unrestored hammer gun in a local gun shop recently I could tell from ten paces that it was a William Powell. But I was wrong.

Not a William Powell?

Well, not entirely wrong. The locks bear the name 'Barratt & Son' and the rib states 'Barratt & Son, Burton on Trent' but is was unmistakably made by William Powell of Birmingham and it utilises perhaps Powell's most famous ,though now defunct, action.

 Two 12-bores by W.B. Barratt, a boxlock and a hammer gun, both made by William Powell and utilising Powell's patent top lever.

The action in question is a lift-up top lever, which pulls back a simple single, rotating bolt in the breech face. When it snaps back into place, it blocks a projection on the rear lump from rising, thereby locking the gun closed. It is a simple idea and it works. The top-lever is sprung, so it works as a snap action. 

The top-levers lift up to disengage the bolt.

Now, I have a William Powell lift-lever hammer gun and my initial reaction when I saw Barrat's name on the locks was mild disappointment. However, that was quickly replaced by interest as I recalled I have a gun in storage by W.B. Barratt with the same lever work- but that is an early Anson & Deeley boxlock. So, here you can see them both, William Powell patent top-lever and single bolt snap action guns by Barratt & Son of Burton on Trent.

The patent concerned is No.1163 of 1864. In the photograph below the number '3133' is a use number, not a patent number.

The serial numbers of the guns are: 5892 for the hammer gun and 5121 for teh box-lock, couner intuitively indication the boxlock is the older of the two.The boxlock has 'ANSON & DEELEY's PATENT' and the use number 1167 stamped on the flats.

The flats have Powell's patent inscription and the use number 3133.

Burton-on-Trent (properly Burton-upon-Trent) is a market town in north Staffordshire best known for its brewing history. It is thirty miles from Birmingham and in the late Victorian era was well supported by railways and canals. If readers enjoy drinking IPA, then raise a glass to Burton, for that is where India Pale Ale originated and from where it was shipped all over the Empire.

The lift-lever proved quite enduring.

William Butler Barratt is listed at 48 High Street, Burton on Trent from 1849 until 1854. He then traded as William Butlet Barratt & Son from 1857 until 1870 and changed the style again to Barratt & Son from 1890 to 1090, when the company appears to have stopped trading.

Several Barratts, including a  Willaim Barratt are listed as gun makers in Birmingham from the 1830s well into the late 1870s and as the spelling is exactly the same, they are likely related and it may be that a  Birmingham Barratt translocated to Burton on Trent to start the business.

The boxlock is styled W.B. Barratt and the hammer gun 'Barrett & Son'. that would also suggest the boxlock is the earlier of the two. Proof marks indicat both were proof tested in Birmingham between 1887 and 1896. Confusingly, one barrel on the boxlock is stamped 'not for ball' (pre 1887) and the other 'Choke' (post 1887)!

The hammer gun has an Anson patent pushrod forend and the boxlock a Deeley patent catch.

It has been used on hammer guns, boxlocks and side-locks.

One colleague suggested the connection between William Powell and W.B. Barratt was known in the Birmingham Gun Trade to be sweetened by the fact that both were Roman Catholics and that they suppoerted one another's businesses out of religious solidarity.

Stylistically, the guns are both clearly William Powell''s output, with thier distinctive fance shape and long slim drop-points on the stocks. Putting the Barratt hammer gun alongside a contemporary Powell version and the two almost twin.

W.S Reilly version.

Barrett was not the only other retailler to sell these Powell patent guns. I once had a W.S. Reilly hammer gun very like the one photographed here.

I have used them for simulated game and game shooting and when perfectly jointed and correctly set-up they are pleasant and trouble free. If, however, anything is mis-alligned or tight, they can bind-up in use.

William Powell version in action.



Published by Vintage Guns Ltd on

Guns & Gunmakers|October 2022

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