Analysing the English Collections at the Pitt Rivers Museum

London gun makers represented in the Pitt Rivers Museum collections

Peter Rivière

The aim of this brief survey is to provide an overview of London gun makers whose products are represented in the Pitt Rivers Museum. Much, but by no means all, of the information it contains is to be found in the on-line catalogue or the accompanying Related Documents File (RDF)[1] held by the Museum, but it is hoped that by bringing all the material together in a single essay it will make it more accessible and readable, and thus of greater interest to the general reader. The decision to look at guns was to a large extent dictated by the fact that their makers are known in a very high proportion of cases. Indeed gun makers, for commercial and legal reasons, inscribed their names on their products, together with other information.

The Pitt Rivers Museum database for ethnographic objects contains 108 records if the search term ‘Firearm’ is entered under ‘Keyword’ in the on-line catalogue. Of these 37 are guns of some sort and the remainder accessories, ranging from cartridges to gun cases to a child’s drawing of people holding guns. It is only the weapons as such that is the present concern although in some cases the accession number includes the other objects. It should be noted, however, that the museum may hold other firearms made in London in addition to these 37 but are not at the moment so catalogued

1884.27.39 Baker rifle.

1884.27.39 Baker rifle.

Detail of 1884.27.39

Detail of 1884.27.39

Given that it was the collection of firearms that started General Pitt-Rivers’ career as a collector, it is no surprise to find that a large proportion of these guns are part of his founding collection. Nine out of the 37 are from this source. The manufacturer of three of these is recorded as unknown and a fourth (1884.27.39) is listed as ‘Unknown Stamped Tower’. In fact, there is quite a lot of information available on this last object as a result of the work of Eric Edwards, which is to be found on this website. This rifle, designed by Ezekiel Baker (1758-1836) in 1800, and known as the Baker Rifle, remained in use with the British Army until 1838. This particular specimen has stamped on it ‘14/9” CRR’; the numbers are its owner’s rack number where the rifle was kept and the letters the regiment, probably the Ceylon Rifle Regiment. Of the others of unknown maker, one is described as a rampart gun (1884.27.4), so called as it is designed for use from a rampart rather than as field ordnance. This example is from Hampton Court. The third (1884.27.36) is a flint musket of the sort used by the Foot Guard during the reigns of George III and IV. The final item of unknown manufacture (1884.27.87) is a 17th century revolver with eight chambers – perhaps a relic of the Civil War. Pitt-Rivers acquired it at a sale at Sotheby’s on 8 April 1878, it having previously been owned by William C Neligan. He was Rector and Vicar of the Parishes of St. Mary Shandon and St. Catherine in the City and Diocese of Cork, Ireland and an antiquarian collector. In the 1960s this object was stolen from the Museum, although later recovered. In the course of the investigation into its theft, the police found a replica of it, made in Hong Kong, and donated it to the museum (see 1969.4.1).

The percussion rifle musket (1884.27.57) is an interesting object as it was made especially for Pitt-Rivers as part of his work at the School of Musketry in developing a standard rifle for military use. The manufacturer is Wilkinson Sword, a company now best known for its razors but which started life as gun makers. Its founder was Henry Nock (Ezekiel Baker had been apprenticed to him) who started up in business in Whitechapel, London in 1772. By the end of the century he was one of the main suppliers of flintlocks to the British army and in 1804 was appointed official gun maker to King George III. He died the same year and the business was taken over by his foreman and son-in-law, James Wilkinson. It was James’s son, Henry, who was responsible for building up the business and founding Wilkinson & Son. It became a main supplier to the army, moving to Pall Mall in order to be close to its major customer, the Board of Ordnance. Its gun manufacturing declined after 1857 when the government took over the production of its own firearm needs. It continued, however, to supply bayonets, of which 1884.27.58 is an example that fits this rifle musket.

Wilkinson is also catalogued as a possible manufacturer of the percussion smooth oval bore gun (1884.27.59), although the other possibility, Charles Lancaster & Co., seems more likely; indeed, stamped on the barrel is 'Lancasters patent smooth bored rifle’. Charles Lancaster founded his firm of gun makers in 1826 and soon gained a high reputation for the quality of his guns. He was located at 151 New Bond Street, London. His eldest son, Charles William Lancaster, was responsible for inventing the oval bore in 1850 and constructed rifles using this system which were tested at the School of Musketry. The catalogue describes this weapon as having been ‘made for experiment’. This is also true of 1884.27.60, which according to the on-line database is an Enfield rifle with short 6-groove rifling made by Lancaster for experimental purposes. However, in the RDF, a recent revision states that it is only 3-groove. [2]

There is a pair of flintlock pistols (1884.27.86.1 & 2), each of which has four touch holes so that four successive discharges could be fired. They are catalogued as made by Jover and Belton. William Jover had his gun making business, Jover & Son, at 337 Oxford Street between 1784 and 1796 when it went bankrupt.[3] Joseph Belton was an American, a citizen of Philadelphia, who in the 1870s had invented a gun from which it was possible to fire multiple successive shots from a single barrel. He tried, without success, to interest Congress in his invention. He visited London in 1784 and teamed up with Jover who made several examples of his gun for him but failed to interest the War Office or the East India Company, although the latter did conduct trials in India. This does raise a question about whether these guns date from the 19th century and were manufactured after 1825, as claimed by Charles Ffoulkes and followed in the catalogue.[4] It seems more likely that they were made in the 18th century at the time Jover was in business and Belton was in London. Apparently no examples of Belton’s design exist in the USA.

Except for Pitt-Rivers there is no other central individual who owned or donated a firearm to the Pitt Rivers Museum that is associated with London. Accordingly the other 28 objects will be considered by maker.

To begin with we might turn to an object from a maker whom we have already met, Charles William Lancaster and Co., of New Bond Street. The item in question (1965.12.42) is a four-barrelled repeating pistol made between 1863 and 1878. It was donated to the museum by a W.E. Williamson, whose father had had it in Egypt in 1918-24. Nothing more is currently known about either the owner or donor, although the latter’s widow was living off the Woodstock Road, Oxford in the 1980s.

There are four firearms which were made in Enfield, north London, at the Royal Small Arms Factory. This factory was set up by the Board of Ordnance towards the end of the Napoleonic Wars and operated from 1816 to 1988. It produced a range of weapons including the Martini-Henry, of which 1997.23.3 is an example. In the catalogue it is described as a Martini-Henry single shot breech loader carbine rifle, dating from 1888. There is another firearm from the same year (2004.146.1), described as a Martini-Henry artillery carbine rifle. Although catalogued as ‘maker unknown’, it has written on it ‘V[ictoria] R[egina] Enfield 1888 II 2’. This suggests that it may have been made at Royal Small Arms Factory, although its county of origin is also unstated. It is not known who its owner or donor was. Martini was Friedrich von Martini (1832-97), a gunsmith of Hungarian extraction, and Henry was Alexander Henry (1817-95), an Edinburgh gunsmith.

In 1888 the Martini-Henry was replaced by the Lee-Metford, which, in turn, was superseded by the Lee-Enfield in 1895. Lee was James Paris Lee (1831-1904) and Metford, William Ellis Metford (1824-99).[5] Various models of the Lee-Enfield, all of .303 calibre, were the standard British army rifle through both World Wars. In fact the two examples in the Pitt Rivers Museum, 1997.23.2 and 1997.43.1, are respectively from the First and Second World Wars. The first is a Lee-Enfield bolt action magazine-fed .303 rifle, dating from 1916, and the second, the same from 1945. The latter was given to the Pitt Rivers Museum as part of the National Museums Consortium Firearms Amnesty.[6]

Two of the four rifles manufactured in Enfield (1997.23.2 & 1997.23.3) were donated by Robert Oliver in 1997. Oliver, an antiquarian, was well known at the Museum and for many years worked as a volunteer with the firearms collection. As well as the two items mentioned here he also presented to the Pitt Rivers three other weapons which appear in the list of London objects. They are all reproductions of old pistols, two of them listed as made in Spain. Of the latter, one (1988.26.5) is a 'Queen Anne' box lock, cannon-barrelled flintlock pistol of 0.50 in. calibre, with ‘London’ inscribed on the lock. The other (1988.26.8) is an ‘up and over' double-barrelled flintlock pistol, also of 0.50 in. calibre. Each barrel is fitted with its own lock and the lock plate is inscribed `London'. The third (1988.26.15) is a five-shot revolver pistol and the maker is entered as ‘[Robert Adams]’. Robert Adams (1809-70) was well known for his revolvers in mid-19th century Britain. He was manager of the gun makers Deane, Adams and Deane which had their business at London Bridge and during 1851-5 was in partnership with John Deane at 30 King William’s Street. He gave this up to become manager of the London Armoury Co. in Bermondsey, but then moved on to start up his own business in 1858. This went bankrupt in 1865 but before his death he went back into business in Pall Mall.[7]

A number of gunsmiths are represented by two examples. Durs Egg, of 132 Strand, London, and later Pall Mall, is one of these. There is an 18th century air gun (1938.35.1337) and an early 19th century sporting gun (1951.10.50). The first formed part of Balfour’s bequest. Air rifles came into existence in the 15th century and for a period were a serious alternative to powder weapons which were often unreliable, could not be used in wet weather and took longer to load.The second was given by Alfred E. Toms whose father had owned the gun. Alfred Toms is identified in the catalogue as probably being the person of that name, a hardware assistant, living in the Cowley St John ward of Oxford in 1901. The catalogue also contains further description of the gun. Ursus Christian Egg (1748-1831) was a Swiss gun maker who settled in London in 1772. He was successful and appointed gun maker to George III, the Prince of Wales, and the Duke of York. He is mainly noted for his flintlock pistols and the Ferguson rifle, the first breech loading rifle to be adopted by the British army and used by it in the American War of Independence. However, as the two specimens in the Pitt Rivers reveal, these were not the limit of his production.

Barbar is represented by a pair of flintlock pistols with ‘turn-off’ or detachable barrels for loading, also known as the Queen Anne pistol (1925.61.1-2). They were purchased from F.H. Bennett for £1 paid out of petty cash. In the same year Bennett sold to the Pitt Rivers another pair of pistols (1925.61.3-4) for the same price. He worked at the University Museum and the pistols had belonged to his grandfather. Louis (later Lewis) Barbar was a Huguenot from Poitou. His father had migrated to France with Lord Byron after the Civil War and around 1688 Louis returned to London following the persecution consequent on the Revocation of the Edict of Nantes. He was naturalised in 1700, became Gentleman Armourer to George I in 1717 and George II in 1727. He died in 1741. He appears to have been succeeded by his son James Barbar, although there was also a firm Bidet, Barbar and Clarkson operating in the 18th century.[8]

A pair of large bore percussion pistols (1928.15.1.1-2) belonged to the Rev. Thomas William Baxter Aveling (1815-84) who had taken them to Italy, Egypt and Palestine in 1852. They were donated to the Pitt Rivers Museum in 1928 by his daughter, Edith Mary Louise, who was married to Robert Francis Wilkins of Kingswear, South Devon. More importantly perhaps, she was Balfour’s mother-in-law. The full donation also includes their box, cleaning equipment, etc. Among Aveling’s numerous publications, mainly of sermons, there is an account of his travels, Voices of many waters: or, Travels in the lands of the Tiber, the Jordan, and the Nile / with notices of Asia Minor, Constantinople, Athens. (London, 1856). The weapons were made by Edward London of London Wall, in the first half of the 19th century. This company appears to have had a fairly long history. There was an Edward London, gun maker of London Wall in 1734, who appeared as a witness in an attempted murder case. In 1838 there is record of Edward London, gun maker of 51 London Wall, insured with the Sun Fire Office. It is not, however, clear when the company went out of business.

The collection also contains two 18th century flint-lock turn-off pistols (1942.1.363 & 364) made by William Turvey of London, and donated to the Pitt Rivers Museum by William Hammerton Antrobus Cowell before 1942, possibly in 1937. Cowell’s address is given in the catalogue as St Edward’s School, Oxford where he was Senior Master. He joined the school in 1880 and stayed there until his death, serving as school librarian and editor of the school newspaper, director of school plays and a great polymath. The first record of the Turvey family as gun makers is 1628. During the 18th century there were two named William. The first William’s business was located in Eagle & Child Alley, Shoe Lane, London from 1712 to 1718 when it moved to Holborn. He was a contractor to the Board of Ordnance in 1719, and to the East India Company in 1741. He was married to Sara, who took over the business in 1744 after William died. She, in turn, was succeeded by William's nephew, Jonathan Stanton who died in 1766. The second William’s career started in 1742, but we know little about him.[9]

There are two weapons made by Westley Richards & Co. The first is a 19th century percussion lock pistol (1896.64.1) which was purchased for five shillings (25p) from someone called Bateman who may have been J. Bateman, a dealer in Gloucester Green, Oxford, who sold a number of items to the museum. The second is a 20th century target rifle (1984.14.8) which was handed over to the Pitt Rivers by the Thames Valley Police, who had acquired it through an arms amnesty or confiscation. Although there was a tradition of gun making in the Richards family that stretches back into the 18th century, it was William Westley Richards who founded Westley Richards & Co. in Birmingham in 1812. It continues in business today. Its manufacturing has always been based in Birmingham but in 1814 it set up an outlet at 170 New Bond Street which survived until the 1950s.[10]

J[oseph] & W[illiam] Richards appears to have had no connection with Westley Richards. This firm also operated mainly in Birmingham although it had partners in London in the early 19th century. The one specimen of its production held by the Pitt Rivers is a three-barrelled flint-lock turn-off pistol (1945.11.191), presumably of the late 18th or early 19th century. The catalogue has little information on this item although it may have formed part of Balfour’s bequest.

A silver-mounted flint-lock pistol with a brass barrel (1940.5.96), dating from the 18th century and made by John Cuff, was donated by John or Gordon Busby. The Pitt Rivers database expresses some uncertainty whether these are one and the same person. In either case little seems to be known about him or them, other than he or they appear to have been residents of Oxford. It is possible that the maker, John Cuff, is the well-known optician and microscope maker of 18th century London, although there is no record of his having made firearms. However, the Sun Fire Office records reveal a John Cuff, silversmith and dealer in firearms, at 106 Regent Street in 1827. [11] Given the description of the weapon this may well be the person or firm who silver-mounted the pistol made by someone else.

The next is a 19th century short-barrelled percussion gun (1927.45.1) made by Harvey Walklate Mortimer. It was the property of Charles Jackson and donated by his great granddaughter, Miss Hatchett Jackson. According to the latter, her great grandfather, who had died in 1845, had been a Fellow of the Royal Society although his name does not appear on the official list of fellows from 1660 onwards. Nor is anything further known about Miss Jackson other than she was living in Weston-super-Mare, Somerset, at the time of the donation which included numerous other items, some of them firearm accessories, cleaning equipment, etc. We do know rather more about the maker. There were two Harvey Walklate Mortimers, the Senior and Junior, who both worked at 89 Fleet Street. The firm began in the mid-18th century and survived until 1923, and was well known for its high quality firearms. [12]

John Blanch is the maker of a 19th century pistol (1946.6.2.1). This particular specimen is a replica of the Beaumont Adams patent (see 1988.26.15 above) and has both self cocking and manual cocking. This double acting facility was a result of work by Lt. Beaumont of the Royal Engineers on the Adams original self cocking weapon. It was donated by B.C. Wood, about whom little is known other than that he lived in Banbury, North Oxfordshire, and had obtained the weapon at a sale in London around 1930. John Blanch was apprenticed to another Mortimer, Jackson Mortimer, who does not appear to have been related to those referred to in the previous paragraph. Blanch married his master’s daughter and in 1811 formed a partnership with him in Fish Street Hill. This, however, was short lived and in 1813 he set up on his own in the same place before moving to Gracechurch Street in 1826, where the business remained for 89 years. After 1915 it was located at various sites in London. Today J. Blanch and Son (Gun & Rifle Makers) Ltd, still has its registered office in London but mainly operates as a dealer in old firearms.[13]

One of the most famous of all manufacturers of sporting guns, Holland and Holland, is represented by a single specimen, a .275 Magnum sporting rifle (1985.45.6). The history of this gun is well documented. It was finished on 21 July 1931, and rebarrelled by Holland & Holland in 1957. What is not known is how it came into the hands of the Thames Valley Police who presented it to the PRM in 1985. Presumably it was handed in as part of a firearms amnesty or perhaps confiscated, and recognised as being too valuable to destroy. It is not recorded who was the owner at the time it came into the police’s possession. The company was founded by John Harris Holland in 1835, and became Holland and Holland in 1876 when he went into partnership with his nephew, Henry William Harris, who had previously been his apprentice. At the time when this rifle was made the firm was located at 98 New Bond Street; today it is based in Bruton Street, and has stores in New York, Paris and Moscow.

Another firearm that the Thames Valley Police regarded as too valuable to destroy is a Webley and Scott .25 calibre (6.35mm) automatic pistol (1984.14.3). This weapon dates from the First World War. Webley and Scott is basically a Birmingham-based arms company although it also has London premises. Indeed this particular example is inscribed ‘Webley & Scott Ltd – London & Birmingham’. The firm traces its roots back to 1790 when William Davis set up business manufacturing equipment for the thriving Birmingham gun industry. In 1838 Philip Webley, who, in 1835, had with his brothers set up the firm of Webley Brothers next door to Davis’s concern in Weaman Street, married the daughter of the then deceased Davis in 1838. The same year the two firms were amalgamated and continued for the next sixty years as P. Webley and Sons, prospering from the manufacture of rifles and revolvers, many under government contract. William and Charles Scott founded the company W. & C. Scott, later to become W. & C. Scott & Sons, in 1832 and specialised in making shotguns. In 1897, the two firms, together with a third, Richard Ellis and Sons (about which firm little is known), merged to form the Webley and Scott Revolver and Arms Co. Ltd. A gradual decline in the sale of firearms led to the company give up their manufacture in 1979 and concentrate on making the successful Webley airgun. In 2005 Airgunsport Ltd. of Wolverhampton took it over and in 2007 renamed itself Webley Ltd. for its airgun business and Webley & Scott for its shotguns.

Yet another firearm that reached the Pitt Rivers by the same route is a shotgun made by E.J. Churchill (1984.14.7). It is a Prodigy model, with the serial number 2137 which places its manufacture between 1914 and 1919. In this case, although the gun was passed to the museum by the Thames Valley Police because of its value, there is a clue as to one possible previous owner. There is a label attached stating ‘Mrs Robbins – Lambourn – Berks’. Nothing is known of this person. E.J. Churchill is another example of a famous gunsmith. The firm was founded by Edwin John Churchill in 1891 at 8 Agar Street, near Strand, London. Over the years it has been located at various sites in London. After the Second World War the company underwent a variety of divisions and amalgamations, but since 2003 it has been reformed as a single company, The E.J. Churchill Group Ltd, with its headquarters in High Wycombe.

We know, however, a lot about the owner and donor of an 1885 fowling piece made by Watson Bros. of Pall Mall (1968.2.1). He was Edward George Tandy Liddell, Waynflete Professor of Physiology at Oxford and Fellow of Magdalen College. He spent almost his entire live in Oxford. [14] Neither of the sources examined gives any clue as to how he came by this gun although he donated at the same time a second gun, an 1898 12-bore hammer gun made by William Wallas of Wigton and Carlisle, Cumbria (1968.2.2). The firm of Watson Bros was founded in 1885, when Thomas William Watson handed over his business to his two sons. Thomas William Watson had connections with the Birmingham gun trade through marriage to the daughter of William Tranter, whose work is represented in the museum by a revolver (1934.33.1). The date of 1885 makes the Watson Bros’ specimen one of their very earliest products. It is listed in the catalogue as 4-bore but since the firm gained a high reputation for the manufacture of small-bore shotguns, in particular .410s, it is probably one of these. The firm still exists and is located at 39 Redcross Way in Southwark, London.

Very little is known about an 18th century flintlock single-barrelled pistol (2003.30.1) which was found unentered in the catalogue in 2003. Its source is unrecorded but engravings on the gun show it to have been made by Clark of London, about whom, in turn, nothing has been discovered, although Blackmore lists a number of Clarks or Clarkes involved in the gun trade.

The only other weapon (1986.20.1) from the firearm collection that may be included here is of unknown manufacture. It is described as a flintlock musket dated 1640-50, roughly contemporary with the Civil War. Nothing else seems to be known about it: who owned it, who donated it or even when the Museum acquired it.[15]

Finally, and still to be found in the catalogue although no longer in the collection, a Snider rifle made by Isaac Hollis & Sons in 1866 (1966.17.3). This is one of three firearms on extended loan from the Tower of London Armoury which were returned there in 1990. The other two items were a Prussian infantry rifle of 1862 (1966.17.1) and a Winchester carbine of 1873 (1966.17.2). The three weapons had been borrowed to complete the series on the evolution of firearms. Jacob Snider (1811-66), an American, after whom a range of rifles are called, invented a way of converting muzzle-loading rifles into breech-loading. There is also doubt on another ground that Isaac Hollis & Sons belongs in this review as there is little evidence that it is a London gun maker. Although the catalogue so states, all other sources indicate that it was a Birmingham company. Indeed Isaac Hollis was in partnership for some years with the William Tranter referred to in the previous paragraph.


[1] Information drawn from these sources is not referenced; information from other sources is. There exist numerous publications on English, some even specifically on London, gun makers; details of those consulted are to be found below.

[2] For more about Lancaster, see entry in Oxford Dictionary of National Biography [ODNB].

[3] See Blackmore, A Dictionary of London Gunmakers.

[4] See Ffoulkes, European Arms and Armour in the University of Oxford, p50.

[5] For Metford, see Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Lee, who was born in Scotland, moved with his family to Canada and later to the USA, does not receive an entry in the dictionaries of national biography of any of those three countries. See, however, Skennerton, The Lee-Enfield story.

[6] For more about the Martini-Henry, Lee-Metford and Lee-Enfield rifles, see Skennerton, The Lee-Enfield story.

[7] See Blackmore, A Dictionary of London Gunmakers.

[8] See Blackmore, A Dictionary of London Gunmakers.

[9] See Blackmore, A Dictionary of London Gunmakers.

[10] Shooting Times, 9 October 2007; The Field, 15 September 2008

[11] See Oxford Dictionary of National Biography.

[12] H. Lee Munson, The Mortimer Gunmakers 1753 - 1923, Andrew Mowbray, Lincoln, R.I., c.1992. It has not been possible to consult this work.

[13] A history of the Blanch family is to be found at http://www.jblanchdatabase.co.uk/history.htm. One of his sons, John Blanch, migrated to Australia in 1836 where he set up as a gunsmith in Melbourne. He and his wife were killed in 1839 in an explosion caused by the accidental firing of a gun into a supply on gunpowder.

[14] See Oxford Dictionary of National Biography and Who was who

[15] It does, however, feature in an article by Michael Spencer, ‘Early English Muskets in the Pitt-Rivers Museum, Oxford’.

Further Reading

Blackmore, H.L., A Dictionary of London Gunmakers 1350-1850. London, 1986.
Blackmore, H.L., Supplement to a Dictionary of London Gunmakers 1350-1850. Bloomfield, Ontario, 1999.
Brown, N., British Gunmakers. Volume 1, Historical data on the London gun trade in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Shrewsbury, 2004
Ffoulkes, C.J., European Arms and Armour in the University of Oxford. Oxford, 1912.
Skennerton, I., The Lee-Enfield story. London, 1993.
Spencer, M.G., ‘Early English Muskets in the Pitt-Rivers Museum, Oxford’, Journal of the Arms and Armour Society, 11 (1977), pp. 82-6.