Issuu on Google+

1

Feature: Shooting the Past

|||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||

Shooting The Past Please turn to next page to view article > > >

______________________________________________________________________________________

www.greensnapperphotography.com

April 2012

| Mock Up Magazine


1

Feature: Shooting the Past

|||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||

Shooting The Past

Birmingham was once the 驶City of 1001 trades始. Today its vibrant artisan gun making industry, and rich heritage dating back to 1643, is facing extinction.

______________________________________ Photographs & Text by Jane Baker ______________________________________________________________________________________

www.greensnapperphotography.com

April 2012

| Mock Up Magazine


2

Feature: Shooting the Past

|||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||

It始s like stepping in to a time warp. Squeezing through the doorway behind the large drill in the engineer workshop, then up the low-lit steep, wooden stairs to the gunmaker始s above. At the top it始s not quite Narnia but definitely like something from a different time and place. Up here the room is dark, but sunlight streams in through the south-facing leaded window on to the bench below where Haydn is working. It illuminates hundreds of beautiful old wooden-handled chisels, files and assorted tools. Some stand to attention like soldiers on parade in their respective positions against the low window-sill. Others scattered at ease on the bench, their location known only to their solitary commander. Each tool blackened over the decades, but still proudly retaining the strength and precision it was designed with, for the job. Solid and dependable. Made by the hand of a crafts person that has gone before. Stepping Back in Time: 2012 Jesse Hill (Gunmakers) in Stirchley, South Birmingham, where Haydn Hill works (above). Modernisation: 2012 Young apprentices at Westley Richards, near Birmingham始s Gun Quarter (right). ______________________________________________________________________________________

www.greensnapperphotography.com

April 2012

| Mock Up Magazine


3

Feature: Shooting the Past

|||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||

“ It’s the technical aspect of making something that works that I like. It doesn’t have to be a gun, it’s just what my father did. You get a lot of job satisfaction from it ______________________________________________________________________________________ when you see the finished project, www.greensnapperphotography.com April 2012 | Mock Magazine when it’sUpall working and complete. ”


4

Feature: Shooting the Past

|||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||

The Action Maker Haydn works as we talk, filing and smoothing small metal components by hand at a comparatively oversized steel clamp by the lit window. His apron hints at its former white, bleached brilliance. But now it shows the traces of tired hands, pausing to wipe away the dirt before returning to their manual labour. Familiar, skilled, comforting work even.

Like, many others in the gun trade Haydn began as an apprentice at the age of sixteen, following in the footsteps of his father, and grandfather (Jesse Hill) before. Haydn, aged 48, is the fifth and last generation of Jesse Hill (Gunmakers) which, began in 1921 in the Gun Quarter in central Birmingham. The moved out to Stirchley in 1958. He does not have any children and for health and safety reasons he is unable to take on an apprentice. His business and workshop will close when he retires. “ The old machines were purchased by my grandfather and they were pretty old when he bought them. Most of them are about 100 years old. They all work off the line shaft - flat belt driven, which is a bit of a rarity these days. There are not actually many workshops like this in production I don’t think. But you’ll find them in museums. ”

______________________________________________________________________________________

www.greensnapperphotography.com

April 2012

| Mock Up Magazine


5

Feature: Shooting the Past

|||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||

Gun Making In Birmingham can be dated back to as early as 1643 when the UK government subcontracted out manufacturing of military firearms to the Midlands.

The trade in Birmingham reached its peak in around 1803 during the Napoleonic War, when 14,000 guns were being produced per week. Birmingham also supplied approximately 150,000 lower quality guns per year to the slave trade (1690s to 1807).

With this came the establishment of numerous small workshops for producing different gun components and mechanisms. The same specialised workshop system still proudly remains today.

At its peak there were many thousands of people working in the gun trade in Birmingham, spread across numerous streets (e.g. Bath St, St Mary始s Row, Price St) and workshops in an area which became known as 驶The Gun Quarter始.

Customers - The Price Street workshop of Malcolm Cruxton (above, right). Today customers tend to come from within the trade. It is rare for gunsmiths to meet the end users, the gun collectors, sport and big game shooters. ______________________________________________________________________________________

www.greensnapperphotography.com

April 2012

| Mock Up Magazine


6

Feature: Shooting the Past

|||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||

The Gun Quarter

Price Street - From the street there is little to indicate that you始ve reached what remains of Birmingham始s once thriving Gun Quarter. Set back from the road are a series of steel doors and buzzer entry systems, behind which a curious array of traditional workshops hide. Behind these doors are some of the finest craftsman in gun-making in the UK, and even internationally, many working with tools, methods and equipment handed down through generations. # # # # Pictured: Bob and Richard St Ledger, Colour Case Hardeners ______________________________________________________________________________________

www.greensnapperphotography.com

April 2012

| Mock Up Magazine


7

Feature: Shooting the Past

|||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||

Today there are only a dozen remaining workshops in the Gun Quarter, mostly concentrated in ʻNew Buildingsʼ, an old warehouse on Price Street which was refurbishment in 1980. A pay and display car park stands opposite on the site where more craft workshops once stood, prior to demolition.

Next to it is a friendly pub, The Bull. It was and still is a meeting place for gunmakers, and where ʻgun gaffersʼ used to give out wages on pay day. At the end of the road, on Loveday Street, is a Welsh Congregational church, the former site of W.W. Greeners Prize Gun Works.

Start of the Process > > >

The ʻ Trades ʼ

(above from L to R): Action making, jointing, stocking. End of the Process > > > (L to R): Engraving, colour case hardening, case making.

The Process of Making a Complete Gun - involves countless stages. Each of the ʻtradesʼ is highly specialised and the skills required take many years to master, offering the individual a lifelong career; hence the phase ʻa gun maker dies at the benchʼ. Pictured above & right: workshops in the Gun Quarter, Stirchley and Westley Richards. ______________________________________________________________________________________

www.greensnapperphotography.com

April 2012

| Mock Up Magazine


8

Feature: Shooting the Past

|||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||

Craftmanship To d a y, B i r m i n g h a m w o r k s h o p s specialize in making exceptionally high quality, bespoke sporting guns and rifles by hand, using traditional methods and tools, passed down over centuries.

Complete guns can take years to produce often fetching a price of around £60,000 per gun. Many of the workshops also deal with gun repair and refurbishment. Handguns and military weapons are no longer produced in the Gun Quarter.

Safety Checks - After the action is completed the gun is sent for ʻproofingʼ at the Birmingham Gun Barrel Proof House. Here the barrel is officially checked so that it is safe to use.

At Westley Richards, a larger firm north of the Gun quarter, they produce the complete gun almost exclusively in-house from start to finish, making on average only fifteen guns a year. In the smaller one man workshops of the Gun Quarter it is rare to see a completed gun, as it is passed on after each stage of the process. ______________________________________________________________________________________

www.greensnapperphotography.com

April 2012

| Mock Up Magazine


9

Feature: Shooting the Past

|||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||

Tried & Tested Alternatives A feather (for cleaning the gun barrels), naked flame (for 驶blacking始 an engraved pattern to cellotape), bread tin (for heating) & ammunition case (as a machine guard).

______________________________________________________________________________________

www.greensnapperphotography.com

April 2012

| Mock Up Magazine


10

Feature: Shooting the Past

|||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||

Westley Richards Westley Richards are proud of their colonial heritage. On display in the spacious visitors foyer is the huge and imposing skull of an elephant, flanked on the left by a hunters shopping paradise; a boutique-esque showroom full of extravagantly hand-made shooting merchandise, clothing and leather goods. The walls are dotted with extraordinary memorabilia: taxidermy trophy animals, framed displays of collector始s shotgun cartridges, and old black and white photographs of British gentry posing, for example, with the majestic carcass of an adult Tiger at their feet, surrounded by Indian attendants. Status symbols. The showroom is aimed at wealthy upperclass landowners, collectors and international big game shooting clients, quite out of the experience of much of the general British public. Simon Clode, Chief Executive

Big Game Westley Richards offer clients luxury excursions to shoot the Big Game, from 驶the smallest antelope to the largest buffalo始. ______________________________________________________________________________________

www.greensnapperphotography.com

April 2012

| Mock Up Magazine


“ The chance to hunt in 11 Feature: Shooting the Past one of the world’s last great wildernesses is a ||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||| supreme privilege - one that Westley Richards takes very seriously. ”

______________________________________________________________________________________

www.greensnapperphotography.com

April 2012

| Mock Up Magazine


12

Feature: Shooting the Past

|||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||

Modernisation Westley Richards boasts a three-storey factory with new purpose built workshops, an underground shooting range and an engineering division housed in the adjacent warehouse. The tradesman始s entrance is on the side of the building, away from visitors entrance.

At the top of the stairs is a large open-plan workshop, where youthful apprentices learn the trade during a five year training programme. In adjacent smaller workshops experienced craftsmen hone their lifelong artisan skills, many to high acclaim.

The Engineering Division Although much of the work is still done by hand, at the beginning of the gun making process, Westley Richards use computer-controlled machines to produce the blank components of a gun's mechanism. ______________________________________________________________________________________

www.greensnapperphotography.com

April 2012

| Mock Up Magazine


13

Feature: Shooting the Past

|||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||

Trade Secrets The process of colour case hardening is shrouded in mystery, even referred to by some as a 驶black art始. Even the room in which the process takes place is off limits, except to the very privileged few. Within the traditional gun making trade today secrets handed down over generations are still only preserved in the minds of the fortunate few. In the next thirty years, when the current generation finally shuts up shop for the last time, this knowledge is likely to be lost forever.

______________________________________________________________________________________

www.greensnapperphotography.com

April 2012

| Mock Up Magazine


14

Feature: Shooting the Past

|||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||

Last Generation Brothers Bob & Richard St Ledger (left). The St Ledgers have an international reputation for their craftsmanship. They are one of only four businesses still doing colour case hardening in the UK today.

A Legacy Bill Woodward trained their father Ray at the age of 14 (above. Now aged 79) with the unique skills that Bob and Richard inherited and hold close to their chests today.

Colour Case Hardening - is used to strengthen the steel action of the gun to allow it to absorb shock when the trigger is fired. The process involves placing the steel action in a steel pot and ʻpackingʼ it with animal bonemeal, heating it in a furnace to a critical (trade secret) temperature and time, then quenching the whole pot and contents in water. The result has a carbonizing effect on the steel, causing a hard mottled blue surface to form. To some the appearance is desirable. Other customers prefer a ʻsilver coinʼ finish, by gently revealing the original ʻwhiteʼ metal and engraving underneath. ______________________________________________________________________________________

www.greensnapperphotography.com

April 2012

| Mock Up Magazine


15

Feature: Shooting the Past

|||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||

Only Time Will Tell In 2011 Birmingham City Council proposed changing the name of the Gun Quarter to St Chads and St Georges following a request from local people. Representatives of the gun trade, including the late Tony Treadwell (died April 2012) petitioned against the name change, and received 4500 signatures in support. The name has not been changed.

There are a number of possible reasons given for the heavy decline of Birmingham始s gun trade. These include mechanisation, competition from Europe and North America, reduced demand after the First World War, changes in gun legislation (e.g. following Dunblane) and building of a huge dual carriageway next to the Gun Quarter leading to the demolition of traditional workshops. Many of the remaining workshops contain the last and final generation of gunmakers. Few have apprentices. When they retire their unique skills and knowledge will disappear forever.

______________________________________________________________________________________

www.greensnapperphotography.com

April 2012

| Mock Up Magazine


Shooting The Past