James Purdey the Founder
James Purdey was just 14 when he was apprenticed to the gunmaker Thomas Keck Hutchinson, who was married to James’s sister. The guns of the day were flintlocks, and the young James was passionate about learning every aspect of making them. He forged Damascus barrels out of nails from old horseshoes, heated up, hammered into strips and then beaten around rods. Horseshoes were believed to make the toughest of steels, having been hardened by trampling hooves.
James completed his apprenticeship in 1805. In seven years he had flourished, earning a place with Joseph Manton of Oxford Street - England’s greatest gunmaker. Manton had transformed the sporting gun into a thing of exquisite beauty. James Purdey was later to say: ‘but for him we should all have been a parcel of blacksmiths’.
Within three years, James had risen to Head Stocker at Manton’s. Talented and ambitious in 1808, after learning all that he could, James left to join another famous gunmaker, Forsyth at 10, Piccadilly. Dr Forsyth had invented a new kind of lock, which worked by detonation. James was to spend the next four years there, as stocker and lock-filer.
In 1814 having mastered his skills, Purdey set out on his own. He opened for business at 4 Princes Street, in a modest shop off Leicester Square, building single and double flintlock guns, duelling pistols, and rifles.