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My Early Years at Audley House
It was 12th February 1990 when I joined the Purdey family in South Audley Street, having previously had 4 years of experience at William Evans, St James’s Street, which was preceded by 12 years as a musician in the Regimental Band of the Scots Guards. My “interview” was more like a gentlemen’s chat with the owner, The Hon Richard Beaumont and Nigel Beaumont who at that time managed the factory. It took place in the famous Long Room, which gave me a lasting impression of the kind of company I was about to be a part of. I think my Regimental tie and shiny shoes gave me a forward step! So what can I tell you about life at Audley House at that time… Let me begin: First, you wouldn’t be reading this on a computer! The shop as it is today was then the main Gun Shop and opened between 09.00–17.00 and Saturdays during the season. There were no window displays like today, as the windows were blackened. Inside, one could see all the Dimension Books containing the history of each gun. Robin Nathan, the Manager, in his pin-stripe suit and half lens spectacles would sit at his antique desk in the corner to add the details of the new orders into the current book in his distinctive style of writing using his fountain pen. At around 4pm he would contact his customers in America by phone to update them on their orders. I was employed in the Gun Department with Robin Nathan and David Maynard and was to initially work and learn alongside Maurice Kay. All three had been with the company for many years. My role was mostly looking after the cartridges and helping with the customers. I will never forget the strong lingering smell in the shop of cigars left behind by some customers together with the smell of the gun oil used to clean the guns before going into storage. David Maynard and David Emanuel in the early 2000s The Accessory shop, started by Lavinia Beaumont was situated at the rear of the shop accessed directly from Mount Street. She dealt directly with all the suppliers for the stock as well as greeting customers on the shop floor. The Accessory shop Each morning Mr. and Mrs. Beaumont, who lived above the shop, would come down the stairs from their flat and greet all members of staff individually, Mrs. Beaumont would then go to her office, next door to the Long Room, where she was assisted by her PA, Karen Hendry. Mr. Beaumont would go to his office, the Long Room, to open all his mail and then he dictated the replies to John Graham who typed the letters downstairs on his typewriter, presenting them for signature on the table in the Long Room at 4pm. Once signed and sealed I would have my daily trip to the Post Office in Mount Street (now no longer there), sometimes with a trolley full of parcels too, particularly at Christmas! No collections in those days! On one occasion, in my haste to return to the shop, I left the trolley outside the Post Office and only realised on my journey home. The following morning, to my amazement, the trolley had been returned and was waiting outside the entrance to the Accessory shop – I was saved! John Graham shared the office with Tony Sinnett, who was the beating heart of Purdey’s. He was an all-rounder and was well known to many customers. Also in that office was Christine Dabek, in Accounts, who has now achieved almost 45 years of service. The Long Room was much the same as today, housing some of the guns from the Purdey collection, also, a display of Royal memorabilia china and photographs. Both Robin Nathan and David Maynard would take their customers in there to take gun fitting measurements on the Try gun. Robin Nathan, who was an excellent photographer, would take photographs of a selection of stock blanks that were numbered to send to the customer if they had not already chosen at the time of ordering. I would then take the film to the chemist requesting two sets of photos so that both parties had a reference to it. When Robin took photos of the engraving I would hold the gun and move around the shop until he was happy with the light. It always happened that just at the crucial time of him taking the picture, I would get an itch! Every December Mr. and Mrs. Beaumont would invite the directors of the company together with guests for a Christmas Luncheon in the Long Room. On one particular occasion, there were two particularly notable guests, who today would have caused much excitement. As it was the staff obviously knew and the shop carried on as normal but any customers were totally unaware of what was going on behind those famous doors! At that time there was a private corridor running outside the Long Room, for staff only, which meant that customers could not venture inside unless invited. There was a table in the corridor that each day would house a side by side and over and under shotgun. These were to show customers if they asked to see one as guns were only made to order. After a while, once I had settled in, I was asked to go to the factory for three months to see the process of making a gun and worked with Marcus Harvey, the Gun estimator to learn how to strip down and identify any problems when guns came in for repair and how to estimate. I really enjoyed seeing the expert craftsman at work. During my time at the factory, I would occasionally go to the West London Shooting School with Nigel Beaumont to shoot guns at the metal plate that was whitewashed so we could count the pellets for patterning of the chokes. I built up friendships with many of the craftsmen that aided me years later when dealing with gun repairs. Once I returned to Audley House I became more involved but established customers would always wait to see Robin Nathan or David Maynard, whom they had known for many years. I would assist by taking their guns and cartridges out to their waiting cars and often delivered guns to nearby hotels. When Ray Smith, Mr. Beaumont’s driver, was on holiday I covered for him. I would drive Mr. Beaumont to the factory where he would meet Nigel Beaumont and Lawrence Salter, MD, and also spend time with some of the craftsmen. Another day I would drive him to the Shooting School where he would shoot and test every new Purdey gun when ready, as would Nigel and the MD. On the return to Mayfair, Mr. Beaumont sometimes asked me to drop him at his Club for lunch. Whilst driving part of my responsibility was to keep the car spotless inside and out ready for Ray’s watchful eye upon return. Luckily there were no dents or scratches to be seen! I vividly remember the day I took my first gun order which truly made me feel part of Purdey’s and even today I have a customer that I have known for 30 years who calls in to buy his cartridges and we sit and have a little chat in the Long Room before I hail him a taxi – well, he is an ex-Guards Officer and always remarks about my shiny shoes! I have been privileged to work in an establishment such as this.