Purdey is made by its people – the artisans and sporting experts that have kept us at the top of the shooting world into our third century. This week, we meet 23-year-old Macie Gray, one of our ascendent gun factory apprentices.
“Before I started training at Purdey, I was a gamekeeper, and my dad was a gamekeeper before me. I actually wanted to be an F1 engineer – so quite the opposite – but I went to Sparsholt College and did their Game and Wildlife course just to upset my mum! After that I worked on the Holkham estate in Norfolk, before moving to a little shoot just outside Bicester in Oxfordshire.
“Gamekeeping is a great job, but you have to be built for it, and I wasn't built for it. I found my job at Purdey through an Instagram advert; at the time they were looking to fill a position in the Bolt Action department and I applied on a bit of a whim. I did a skills test, came in for a week and eventually started my apprenticeship in September of 2018.
“Starting out, I was still living in Bicester as a gamekeeper. I'd do a pheasant pen, come to work, go home. Once I had to do a half day when we had a shoot, so I worked in the morning, came in, got into my tweed and my breeks, and all the boys were like, 'What are you wearing?! You look like a countryside clown!'
“The apprenticeship has changed a little bit since I've been in the company, but the initial premise is that it’s five years in your specific designated skill. And at the end of it, you submit a piece to the certification panel, who ask you questions about what you've done and give you a nice bit of paper that says that you're qualified to be a gunmaker.
“I’m a finisher. I get a gun once all the other parts have been built by other people: the barrels, action, stock, etc. And I do all the internal regulation like the safety work and the trigger pulls, so that when you shoot it, it feels nice and goes off when you want it to go off. And then I make it pretty, basically. I do all the woodwork; polish the metal; anything that's got to be blue, I make blue.
“With finishing, you have to have a little bit of understanding what everyone else does. If I get a gun back from the stocker and it's got wood bearings, then all those parts have to be free moving. Sometimes they catch, and I have to be able to look for that. It’s the same if something’s not working within the action, I have to figure out what it is. There’s a variety of different challenges; a lot of thinking and trying to figure out what’s going on. I think that the way that things work is really interesting – being able to take something apart and put it back together is a real skill. I've grown up around guns and I like pretty guns – but I’m also fascinated as to what happens on the inside.
“Every day on the shop floor is different. Yesterday, I built a pair of locks for a Side-by-Side. Today, I've got oil finishing to do. I can be regulating safety work, I can be shaping stuff. I can be polishing. I can be test shooting. I could be doing bits of rifles. I've worked on every model of gun in the past, but at the moment it's more Sidelocks, PTPs and Sporters. We're working to what's in demand.
“Gunmaking is an industry that’s invariably filled with men. When I first started, it was very difficult, because there was definitely a preconceived idea that a gunmaker is an old man who works out of his shed – I’ve met people who have told me my apron belongs in the kitchen, or asked me what my real job is.
“But at Purdey I'm really lucky because I work with some of the nicest people in the world. Nobody is judgemental; there's no preconceived ideas around me because I’m a woman. In this industry, it’s just what we need. Someone's going to do it – I've been doing it for five years and now my face is out there whether I want it to be or not!
“Hopefully, I’ll qualify from my apprenticeship next year. That is the goal. It's like revising for exams at school – no matter how many times you read over it, you've got to put it into action. This next year is going to be a big one, with a lot of stepping out of my comfort zone. Standing at my bench and doing my job is completely different to when you put a gun on the inspection table, where a bright white light goes across it and you can see everything, all the tiny details. But I’m really cautious about what I do. I’d say I’m 90% ready.”
As told to Tom Howells