The Oscars of Gunmaking: Celebrating Our Master Craftsmen

The Oscars of Gunmaking: Celebrating Our Master Craftsmen

It was a ceremony the likes of which will likely never be seen again. Fourteen master gunmakers, each with more than 25 years in the trade, presented with certificates by the Worshipful Company of Gunmakers acknowledging their dedication and contribution to the craft. The combined experience of all of those receiving awards represented over 800 years of best British gunmaking practice. And, what was particularly striking is that more than half of those present started their careers with Purdey.

“This year’s event was like no other,” says Daryl Greatrex, a member of the court of the Livery of the Worshipful Company of Gunmakers, and on the certification panel for the event which took place in March. “It’s a celebration of the craft, acknowledging that there’s a group of people out there that have been working away for such a long time. It shows the quality of their training and the potential for longevity within the industry – and the fact that Purdey has been such a significant player in bringing on these masters.”

It’s a legal obligation for every gun made to be proof tested by an independent authority to ensure its safety. This process is conducted, in the case of Purdey, by the London Proof House and the Worshipful Company of Gunmakers, which has been responsible for promoting and regulating gunmaking since 1637, a role it still fulfils today. The certification panel assesses the full spectrum, from apprentices to master craftsmen. To qualify as a master requires working on the bench for a minimum of 20 years (plus their own five years as an apprentice), time which has likely seen them lead teams, train juniors and specialise in a particular area of the craft. 

Those most recently celebrated as master craftsmen who started with Purdey include: Kevin Murphy, David Sinnerton, Alex Torok, Phillip Butcher, Richard Bayley, Peter Nelson and Richard Barnes. Previous awards have also been made to the following Purdey craftsmen, who each received both the Lifetime Achievement award and master gunmaker certificate: Ken Hunt, Peter Delay, David Josey and David Mitchell.

The panel themselves include a wealth of expertise, all have been involved in the gunmaking business for a similar length of time as the master craftsmen, covering the range of specialities needed to make a fair assessment and judge good quality. Each applicant presents a portfolio including examples of their most recent work. It’s a small business, where reputations precede the best of the best, so most likely someone on the panel will know of, have worked with or heard about the applicant and seen their work before. 

“Honouring the masters is also a motivation for new apprentices,” Greatrex continues. “It’s all about keeping tradition alive, keeping the craft alive. These experienced guys who are passing on the knowledge to the younger generation are like the ‘grandfathers’ of the industry.”

The Livery also grants bursaries to trainees, supporting promising young people to progress. “Purdey has an excellent and relatively young team, with an active apprenticeship programme that’s recognised as the biggest in the UK with the most trainees,” Greatrex adds. The junior gunmakers develop their skills at Purdey over a five-year period, in which they specialise meticulously in one part of the craft before being judged by the exacting panel and receiving their professional papers at the culmination. 

Both the Livery’s charity and certification is set up to hopefully encourage more people into the trade and honour those who have stayed the course. “It’s all about trying to raise the profile of gunmaking, keeping it on the radar of those who are interested, ensuring that the UK stays recognised at the forefront of the industry and for making the absolute best British guns.”