William & Son Sidelock
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- Last updated: 16/12/2016
Occasionally we enjoy testing something really special in these pages, and this month with the game scene upon us, I thought we might look at what some might think the ultimate grouse gun, a full sidelock 16 bore William & Son – a best London gun par excellence. William and Son are one of my favourite makers. I just love their guns which always look great and seem to handle like magic wands. Mind you they should be good with starting prices from £48,500 excluding the dreaded Chancellors cut. Well, we can all dream. This superb example of British gun making, meantime, hits the scales at about 6 pounds 3 ounces with 28” barrels. First impressions, as will already be very evident, are great.
A classic Sidelock
This is a beautifully finished, classic London, side by side, sidelock assisted opening game gun. It is jaw droppingly beautiful in fact with deep scroll engraving by Peter Cusack and wonderfully struck up barrels and superb Turkish wood. Mechanically, there is little novel but one may also note that it is a near perfect design which has been around 100 plus years since Messrs. Purdey and Holland set the pace circa 1880/90 (with the self-opening system seen here being perfected in the 1920s). This gun is ‘carriage trade’ in all departments. The basic concepts are old enough, but this gun has some subtle improvements incorporated – not least the William & Son style (in my opinion, the firm’s products have a special grace and lightness of form as well as their wonderful attention to detail).
The action is made from billet steel – no shortcuts. To be precise, it is a bar action sidelock; back actions are used in rifles and some shotguns, the difference is the springs in the bar action are to the front and in the back action to the rear, the bar action, though not quite as strong theoretically, puts less strain on the operating parts and is supremely elegant. The safety is automatic as one expects in a game gun. There are well shaped double triggers (although a single mechanical single trigger may be ordered too). There are no disc set strikers, the lines of the svelte action are very clean (the centres of the action of the William & Son are a little closer than many, making the gun more petite). “We go for as light as you reasonably can without sacrificing strength or durability” notes Paul West (William & Son head of gunmaking).
The ejector work is of Southgate pattern working on the over-centre cam principle. It is undoubtedly the favourite of the British and modern Continental gun trade because of its simplicity, reliability and ease of regulation.
The woodwork is of very classic British form too. There is a straight hand grip, a splinter forend, and both have been shaped not only so they look great but so they are ergonomically efficient (the comb and grip are particularly good). The standard of chequering – 22 lines to the inch – is impeccable and the hand rubbed oil which takes several weeks to apply is what we would all want could we afford it.
The attention to quality and detail in all departments is exemplary. I know many of the men who make this gun, not least, William & Son’s chief of gunmaking, the inimitable, Paul West, a chum of mine who learnt his trade at Holland & Holland and who has taken enormous pride in developing the William & Son gun as something distinct. Paul tends to use the same team of specialists to put his ‘babies’ together – Mick Kelly is the barrel man, Mike Sullivan and John Craven the actioners, and Stephan Dupuille the master stocker. Colin Orchard is responsible for finishing – the thing that sets a London gun apart from all others.
Everything is done the old fashioned way and the bottom line, price-wise, is not quite as extreme as some, a best London gun with deluxe finish like this will usually cost you 60K plus elsewhere in the West End. William & Son in Mount Street, have a few guns, including this one, which are available off the shelf for those who cannot wait to have one built. But, it goes without saying that fully bespoke service is available and there is no extra cost for this. For delivery times get in touch with Mr West on 0207 493 8385.
I especially like the fact that Paul, and William & Son, are quite happy to admit the input of all the skilled artisans into their finished product. They acknowledge these great artisans by name. It should have always been so. The gun trade has been poor at admitting the involvement of its members, most of the credit had traditionally gone just to the name on the rib. Well so much of it should in this case, but it is nice to see a firm giving credit where it is due as well. William and Son only make about 10 guns a year, it might be added, the test gun is not the most expensive of all, but certainly one of the most exclusive.
Well, I am a 16 bore fan, and in years past, won the 16 bore event in the British side by side championships half a dozen times with my old Holland. I have never in truth used a 16 much for my game shooting though, but it has a dedicated band of enthusiasts. This gun, which had standard stock measurements, shot very well and, like all the William & Son guns I have used had certain distinct qualities. It had life between the hands. It was effortless to use. The trigger pulls were beautifully crisp, and recoil was less than you might have been expected for the weight.
This is a beautiful gun in all senses. Grouse or partridge shooting with a pair would be a delight. It would be ideal for walking up too. Expensive? Not by modern standards for the quality. But, whether you can afford one or not, isn’t it great that someone still makes this sort of stuff? Long may it last. My thanks to Paul West. GM