I grew up in a home where shotguns hung from beams and were always in use. My father and uncles were all good shots. I knew the rules never to point, always to break when carrying and I was allowed to help in their cleaning. Sadly guns were handed on in the male line and as a mere female I did not get one. So I handled them carefully, fondly and as I grew older dreamed of a Purdey that would rest perfectly in my shoulder…
My preference is for a Side-by-Side and so that will be my focus when exemplars are required.
The Purdey Pedigree
For almost two hundred years Purdey have been making guns for royalty and nobility and those who appreciate the quality and craftsmanship of their guns and rifles.
The factory is now established in Hammersmith. It has always been based in London, although at different addresses. The relocation means that all Purdey gun parts are made in house with consequent quality control facilitated. Absolute accuracy and consistency are assured.
In 1946 the Purdey family sold the business but in 1995, Richard Purdey, a direct descendent of the founder, James Purdey, was invited to become Chairman re-establishing the name link. Today the company is owned by the Richemont group to whom it was sold by Richard Beaumont in 1994. His cousin, Nigel, is now Chairman. Ties and tradition are important with Purdey and impart a solidarity that enhances faith in the company.
The Purdey Assurance
As you might anticipate the tradition of gunmaking has been passed down, with revision and refinement, from generation to generation of skilled craftsmen who have served apprenticeships of at least five years and then continued to hone their skills. The craftsmen’s initials may then be stamped on the part which he has made, for as with a bespoke suit, some are skilled on one part of the making some another. Each craftsman focuses on his part of the whole whether barrel or stock, the action, lock and trigger, the ejector or engraving and finishing. That specialisation produces a gun which is special.
Because each gun is the product of different craftsmen, care is taken that there is an empathy between the craftsman, who must have a feel for the whole gun, whilst focussing on their role, and a respect for the work of others so that the finished product is an exemplar of excellence, tailored for the client. No two guns are alike unless they are part of a matched set.
Materials are carefully sourced to be of highest quality as would be expected. Walnut with a beautiful grain for the stocks comes from Turkey. Attention is given to the forging of the metals used so that they are without blemish and all load bearing parts are made from certified forgings. This is of paramount importance because of safety. The barrel tubes are made with a wall thickness exceeding that required by law.
Tradition, Craftsmanship and Technology
With their long tradition and dedication to the inherited skills of craftsmanship Purdey has not eschewed progress in technology which could enhance their product. The guns are still bespoke, hand finished, tailored for the individual but making full use of the latest CAD/CAM and CNC technology but allow for added value for their customers in terms of hand finish and fit.
Just as the Savile Row tailor measures and makes a suit that is in accordance with the client’s wishes and his preferences and fits perfectly so that the client is comfortable and at ease when wearing it, so Purdey craft a gun which matches the client’s requirements exactly. Like the bespoke tailor they will offer help and advice. Like the tailor they will fit the gun. The customer will be offered the opportunity to shoot with the try gun so that measurements are taken which not only address his build but movement and stance, so that the gun sits properly and becomes an extension of shoulder and arm. This is the fitting.
Each part of the gun is carefully made; attention to every detail, before the whole is assembled.
All Purdey barrels are of chopper lump construction, a method of joining two separate of a set of barrels. It is the best method, strongest in relation to weight and affords the barrels to be mounted closest to each other at the breech as a consequence of which accuracy of aim is achieved. Purdey joints the tubes at the breech with silver solder after each has been hand filed and then “struck up” using striking files. This is vital in achieving the correct profile.
Chokes are also hand finished and Purdey will advise on thickness of wall. The choke must control the spread of steel shot when fired so it is vital that the wall thickness is enhanced at the nose end.
With regard to ribs, the raised sighting plane affixed to the top of the barrel, there is a choice of concave, flat top or Churchill. Here is client choice. Pine resin is used as a flux in the soldering, affording extra protection against water intrusion.
The side by side action still current was patented in 1880 and was designed by Frederick Beesley. With the exception of hammer guns, this action, with very minor changes, has been in use ever since.
Again the action blocks are from certified forgings and fitted so as to achieve a perfect union with the barrel. The actioner, responsible for this stage of the operation, a discrete role, fits the fore-pat, locks, strikers and undertakes the safety work before finally detonating the action. The latter requiring the final shaping, filing , polishing takes place.
The ejector for the side by side stems from the original 1880 design having undergone only one major change in the interim years when the cross bar on the knuckle of the acton was removed and a central lifting arm replaced it.
The stock is, as already said of walnut, of the highest quality and selected for the beauty of the grain and the variations of colour and pattern which that wood affords. The customer can make his selection from a wide array. When the carving of the final shape takes place to achieve the classic Purdey stock shape modifications can be made to adapt to the customers dimensions and attain the perfect fit.
The grain of the wood is then raised before being finely smoothed. The butt may be chequered or leather covered after being bored to optimise balance.
The finishing touches
The traditional engraving is standard fine rose and scroll with colour hardened or bright finish. There are other choices but that is the most common and again it has a long popularity, dating from the 1881s.
Completed, the gun must be regulated, tested thoroughly and the precision of the choke pattern and aim checked and regulated.
Next the gun is polished. Pins blued against rusting. Burnishing, buffering, lacquering ensure that a resplendent sheen is achieved in all parts before the very last element of cosseting. This is the process of Slakum finishing the stock. For up to six weeks slakum, an oil finish, is applied on a daily basis to the stock and then rubbed off until a durable hard weather resistant high gloss is achieved which brings out the beauty of the wood.
I still dream
What you are presented with when all that is complete is a gun, perfect in proportions, testament to the gunsmith’s art which will give long and faithful service….and pleasure.