English gunmaking: Alive and well in Shrewsbury



Name game: Peter Boxall (left) and James Edmiston (right) are the titular two behind the company

Name game: Peter Boxall (left) and James Edmiston (right) are the titular two behind the company

We arrive, we find the doorbell doesn’t work, so we knock. No one answers. Gingerly pushing our way in, we’re greeted by an efficient-looking South African chap who disappears to fetch Drew Boxall – a young, friendly bloke who has more than a whiff of computer whizz about him. He immediately sits us down behind his desk and begins to explain how the firm designs and produces its guns, showing us various CAD drawings on his computer. No one had answered the door because they are all busy at the workbench finishing guns for customers – guns first, PR second. I like that. Perhaps not surprising, seeing as Drew estimates the firm to be the fourth biggest maker in the UK behind Boss, Purdey and Holland & Holland – and when they’re not making their own guns, they engineer parts for other makers.

Any thoughts of Drew being a computer whizz are soon superseded by thoughts of him being a gunmaking whizz as well – quite a skillset. We engage in a discussion about various bits and pieces of the gunmaker’s art, with technical, esoteric language dominating the conversation, punctuated by occasional words I recognise. He shows us how he plans the machining of components, and confesses to having learned the hard way about computer-aided manufacture (CAM) – apparently loud bangs when you get one of the co-ordinates wrong can be frightening, but Drew has avoided a serious mistake and his knowledge is the richer for it.

Drew clearly lives and breathes gun-making, a characteristic he has inherited from his father Peter, the Boxall in the Boxall & Edmiston name, who greets us cheerfully enough but is clearly itching to get back to work. Peter Boxall did his apprenticeship at Jaguar in Coventry, then moved to WC Scott and then to Holland & Holland, where he was key in moving gunmaking into the 21st century. In his time, he moved the craft from artisanal through to computer-aided design (CAD) and computer-aided manufacture (CAM).

The latter half of the eponymous maker’s name is James Edmiston, a businessman with years of experience in the gun trade – and not all of them rosy. In the early 1980s, when he owned Sterling, he was wrongly charged with illegal arms dealing to Iraq. He lost his business, reputation, and his world collapsed, amid the miserable experiences of divorce and bankruptcy.

All the while he professed his innocence – because he was completely innocent. Years later, and amid massive embarrassment to Whitehall, it was demonstrated beyond doubt that officials had nobbled witnesses and conspired in one of the biggest cover-ups ever seen by government. After a 25-year battle, James Edmiston cleared his name and received a seven-figure sum in compensation.

Though it must have been a painful experience for Mr Edmiston, his spirit remains undiminished, and he has a twinkle in his eye. That twinkle may be something to do with the fact that his reputation is without blemish, and the compensation package that has enabled him to launch Boxall & Edmiston as a serious English gunmaker.

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