English gunmaking: Alive and well in Shrewsbury

We visit Boxall & Edmiston for a lesson in gunmaking – and a demo of their rather special sporter…

There’s something special about English gunmaking. It is an institution to be revered and respected. Or is it really? Consider the brand owner, who was having guns made for clients by putting out the various parts of the process to skilled craftsmen, resulting in each particular piece being ‘man-made’, and the final fitting together being done by hand. A client orders a gun from him, and specifies that he wants a Schnabel forend for his over-and-under. Presented with the order sheet, the craftsman, who makes forends among other walnutty joys to behold, agrees to produce a piece as specified.

After much waiting, then chasing and chasing some more, the piece is finished. The craftsman presents the forend for the finished gun – and it’s a beavertail rather than a Schnabel. Despite much fawning and grovelling to his client, the brand owner gets on the phone to the craftsman. “No problem, mate,” he says in a somewhat blasé manner. “If you want another forend doing as a Schnabel, I’ll do it, but it’ll take six weeks and I’m busy, so if you want me to drop everything, I’ll need paying again.”

This couldn’t happen in real life – could it? I’m sorry to say that this scarcely believable story is true. The client eventually got his gun, though what should have been a positive experience was tinged with delay, frustration and annoyance. And that’s not to mention the brand owner forking out a second time for a mistake that was no fault of his. It’s a shameful tale, and while the artisanal aspect of the gun trade isn’t quite unionised, there are certain quarters that are aware of the limited supply of skills in the trade and leverage that position, throwing ethics into the bin.

The specialised nature of gunmaking means bespoke, handmade guns have to cope with a low common denominator: jobbing gunsmiths and stockers. Brand owners, and buyers, are at their mercy.

But things are changing, and if gunmaking is to survive in England, it needs to shape up. A perfect example of moving with the times can be found near Shrewsbury, with gunmaker Boxall & Edmiston, which, over the past four years, has taken a customer-led approach to English shotguns starting at around £20,000. Not exactly pocket change, but still dipping into affordable territory considering what you could pay for a best English gun. It’s a sign of how technology overtakes tradition. A few years ago, English guns came with a simple premium because they were exactly that: English. While gunmaking is very much a skill-based business, technology is bringing production costs down in real terms for those prepared to invest in the necessary machinery. 

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