Our first port of call was John Rigby & Co. Gunmakers Limited, founded way back in 1775. We were welcomed by the manager Marc Newton, who not only presented several exquisite weapons, but also let us take a look at the workshop.
Here, the company stays faithful to its 239-year tradition of crafting its guns by hand, which goes some way to explaining why there is such a small number of machines found on the floor. Insiders from the world of weaponry will know that the traditional English company now belongs to the prestigious L&O group owned by Michael Lüke and Thomas Ortmeier, a corporation that also numbers Blaser, SIG Sauer, Sauer & Sohn, Mauser, SAN Swiss Arms and German Sport Guns (GSG). A bespoke double-barrelled gun or bolt-action rifle, fashioned by Rigby with the perfectly honed skills of a master craftsman using only the most exquisite materials and with faultless finishing can easily set a customer back €70,000. Rigby repeaters based on a Mauser M 98 Magnum system with a barrel fashioned by the German manufacturer Mauser Jagdwaffen from Isny in the Allgäu region are available from the comparatively modest price of around €9700. But needless to say, these items are equally distinguished by exquisite finishing, heritage and craftsmanship (see also: www.johnrigbyandco.com).
British understatement: precious hunting weapons by Holland & Holland
The next stage on our itinerary took us to Holland & Holland, where we were greeted by technical director Patrick Murphy.
Founded in 1835, this company is equally dedicated to the perfect art of gunmaking, a fact that impressed itself on us during our visit in each of the large number of guns shown to us.
System tolerances, the wood selected for stocks, surface finishing – only the best is good enough, so it is fitting that the rifles by Holland & Holland, fashioned entirely to meet customer specifications, are at home in the same price classes as the guns by Rigby.
The rich detail found in the typically British engravings, which despite gold inlay never appear overloaded or garish, is truly impressive.
One of the guns that Patrick Murphy showed us was a side-by-side shotgun with extremely variable stock, crafted at the end of the 18th century.
This kind of weapon is used as a ‘trial fitting with live shells’ to identify – and tailor precisely – the anatomically perfect, bespoke stock for each customer.
It would be hard to find this kind of individuality and craftsmanship anywhere else, so it comes at a price.
The order books are kept scrupulously to ensure that even after a century or more, the customer wishes or the perfectly harmonised combinations of weapons and ammunition can be traced (see also: www.hollandandholland.com).
Of luxury and loupes: James Purdey & Sons
Our final stop was the gunmaking dynasty of global repute, James Purdey & Sons, founded 1814, which, like Rigby and H&H, only stocks handcrafted, sophisticated weapons way beyond the reach of people on a normal salary. For instance, a handwritten price notice dangling from a classic side-by-side shotgun in calibre 20/70 blithely stated a price of £97,800. If you can afford it! We also looked at a particularly impressive demonstration of craftsmanship: a fully functional break-action weapon with external hammer and breath-taking details in miniature format, barely larger than a match. Like the other experts in their fields, Purdey also manufactures a broad range of rifles and shotguns based on a variety of engineering/systems (see also: www.purdey.com).
A veritable treasure trove: Holts Auctioneers
Last but not least, we paid a visit to the well-known House of Holts Auctioneers, founded 1993, where we came across a mouth-watering abundance of rare collectors’ pieces, choice items of technical weaponry and curiosities.
It might take a little luck, but anyone who finds a bespoke new rifle fashioned by hand in the houses of Holland & Holland, Purdey and Rigby simply too expensive, may come across a similarly magnificent, second-hand item in an auction at a more affordable price (see also: www.holtsauctioneers.com).
An interesting supporting programme with a visit to the 800th Lord Mayor’s Show Parade and subsequent fireworks above the Thames added the perfect finishing touch to our short trip to London.