The Classicist: Brit 'Big Shot' Westley Richards
Birmingham gunmaker Westley Richards was established in 1812 - three years before the battle of Waterloo - by founder William Westley Richards. In less than 30 years he secured a royal appointment to Queen Victoria's consort Prince Albert, and a "continuous stream of technical innovations" put the Westley Richards name firmly on the map. In addition to beautiful craftsmanship, the company introduced notable improvements in breech loading, military gunmaking and ammunition, and a Westley detachable lock is still the trade standard for many modern shotguns.
Today the firm is thriving, having just moved into new $9 million headquarters in Birmingham's old Gun Quarter to house a revamped retail operation and an ever-expanding team of in-house craftsmen. The 21,000-sq.-ft. site, converted from 19th century brick warehouse buildings, is dedicated to all aspects of the gunmaker's craft. State-of-the-art workshops, a full tannery, engraving studios and an underground shooting range are complemented by an opulent new retail showroom, stocking sporting clothes and accessories, including bespoke leathergoods, books, art and ephemera. It's designed to be the "perfect blend of expert outfitters and enthusiasts den."
A new Westley Richards gun may take anywhere upwards of 600 hours to complete – 800 for a double rifle, "unbeaten in its ability to place two shots in rapid succession precisely on target" - depending on the level of engraving required. The gunroom creates an average of 30 pieces per year, with finished rifles and shotguns dispatched internationally. From consultation to delivery, a Westley Richards handmade double rifle or shotgun will be in production for up to two years; hence the maxim "Passion and patience go hand in hand for a Westley fan." They also stock a selection of second hand guns.
Gallery: Westley Richards
The basic Westley Richards hunting rifle starts at £30,000, or about $45,000, depending on the lock requirement and engraving specification. A full spec double rifle with exhibition engraving, exotic leather case and exhibition grade wood may cost upwards of £80,000, or about $120,000. A Westley Richards bespoke gun "blends aesthetic preference with technical requirement." Every aspect of a gun specification can be chosen to match a customer's need, including the lock, bore, barrel length, trigger mechanism and more.
The selections are then matched with a stock of carefully chosen walnut which is shaped precisely to fit the user. Engraving allows for a truly distinct and personal finish. Customers can specify a style, review a proposed design and inspect progress as a creation takes shape. The fitting of a Westley Richards gun is "paramount to a truly bespoke finish". Once the gun itself is completed, a final choice is made regarding the case: saddle leather, alligator, crocodile, elephant, or buffalo skin are among the many options.