Lock, Stock and (sawn-off) Barrel

03 Aug 2018

Lock, Stock and (sawn-off) Barrel

Reconstructing Tom Purdey’s Measuring Gun, pt. 1

Requests for gun records from Audley House are reasonably common, comparing serial numbers against the extensive company records to confirm both provenance and originality. Normally these enquiries do not reveal anything particularly unusual, although occasionally there is an interesting name or something out of the ordinary. However, one email that we received at the end of 2017 will take some beating. The message came from Charles Bassett, of New England Ballistic Services Inc., in Hopedale, Massachusetts, asking for information on Tom Purdey’s Dummy Measuring Gun. The story that unravelled started with our former owner, Richard Beaumont, some thirty years ago, and led to the return of a gun we had long assumed was lost forever. Measuring guns are a peculiarity of the gunmaker’s trade, being the predecessors of the try-guns still used for determining the stock measurements of shooters to this day. The oldest surviving Purdey example currently resides in the Long Room at Audley House, with a silver plaque inset into the left side of the stock engraved James Purdey’s Patent Measuring Gun, No. 2, 1873. Although the patent is unknown, it appears to be an example of James the Younger’s extraordinary inventive flare. His design incorporates all of the adjustments for length, bend, and cast that we continue to make today, as well as an adjustable comb and toe. What sets them apart from try-guns is how the gun is set for cast, which we believe is unique to Purdey. On a conventional try-gun, cast is set at the wrist, or hand, of the stock. However, the cast on a Purdey gun starts behind the fences, to ensure a more gradual angle to the stock. To achieve this, James’s design had the breech-ends formed in a ‘U’-shape, to allow the barrels to pivot from side-to-side, thus gaining a more accurate measurement. Despite Purdey having had its own shooting grounds as early as the 1850s, it was on guns like these that our clients were measured well into the 1960s. This design also has one important by-product – due to the issue of aligning the firing pins to the primers, they cannot be made to fire. The Oval on Tom Purdeys Dummy Gun After World War One there was a move to utilise our experiences with illuminated sights, gained whilst designing and producing night-sights for the Royal Flying Corps in World War One. These resulted in both the Spotter Cartridge, and what has become known as the Purdey ‘Light Guns’. Both achieved the same result – pulling the trigger sent a beam of light out of the barrel, showing the point of aim in much the same way as a laser bore-sighter does today. Sold as both toys and for training purposes, perhaps the most famous example is that made for King George V during his illness in 1931, also in the Long Room. Built to his exact measurements, it incorporates dummy hammers in keeping with His Majesty’s preference for hammer guns, and was the basis for the King’s final pair of light-weight hammer guns. At least two light guns were built for use in fitting clients, who aimed at the image of a pheasant pasted onto a small whiteboard, which still sits on the wall at the back of the Long Room. By repute, the best of these measuring guns was that constructed for Tom Purdey, the fourth generation of the family, to use on his post-war journeys to America to take measurements along with orders. It continued to fulfil this role after Tom’s retirement in 1956, travelling with both Harry Lawrence and Richard Beaumont on subsequent sales trips to the US. That is, until 1983. On a visit to Boston, Richard Beaumont handed over his luggage to a man posing as an airport porter, who disappeared with the guns, including the measuring gun. Although the majority of the guns were recovered, the measuring gun had never resurfaced. Until last December, and Charles’ email. The conversation that followed revealed that the gun had been recovered by a police department in suburban Boston after being used in a robbery, and had been sent to New England Ballistic Services for destruction. The staff there had realised that it was not a real firearm, and had been intrigued enough to reach out to Purdey for further information. The photographs Charles sent showed a sorry survivor, rather the worse for wear after its years in less respectful hands than those that created it. The stock was cracked and badly dented, the majority of the setting screws were missing, along with the trigger guard, and the barrels shortened to just 10 inches.  However, the features that most obviously identified its origins had survived. The barrels, converted from an original set of Whitworth Steel barrels, have Tom Purdey, 57 South Audley St., London / Dummy Measuring Gun engraved on them. A white metal oval, inset into the stock, bears a similar inscription. As the gun had been stolen from Purdey, it was agreed that the gun would be returned to Audley House, Its current appearance presented some issues with the authorities, and it was only after some patient explanations that it eventually arrived at the end of June 2018. Engraving on Tom Purdey's measuring gun Inspection of the gun upon arrival at Purdey did not improve our opinion of its current condition, and the barrels have had the electrical apparatus removed from the right barrel. However, our Craft Manager, Tom Nicholls, has bravely volunteered to take on the task of restoring the gun to at least something of its former glory. We hope that, when complete, the gun will be displayed at The Royal Berkshire Shooting School – a fitting resting place for a retired measuring gun, and a link between the gun fitters of old and those of today.