Gunning for royalty

Updated: Jul 6 2014, 20:56pm hrs
Despite their elaborate jewels, ornate palaces and luxury cars, for most of Indias erstwhile maharajas, their most prized possession was a pair of matched Purdey shotguns and rifles. Our former royalty may have been anglophiles, but even so, among seasoned hunters, as they were almost to a manand woman (the late Gayatri Devi was no mean shot)Purdey was widely considered the Rolls-Royce of sporting guns. Even today, vintage Purdeys sell for huge amounts in India. This year, it celebrates its 200th anniversary and to mark its bicentenary, it has produced a commemorative trio of guns. The Purdey Bicentenary Trio comprises two shotguns and one double rifle: a 12-bore Side-by-Side Game Gun, 20-bore Damascus Over and Under GameGun and a .470 NitroExpress Double Rifle. The guns come in an oak and leather travel case, and a custom-built glass case for display.

Each historic model has been carefully chosen to represent design, innovation and craftsmanship milestones in the companys 200-year history. Each gun features engraving representative of the era it was made in, the Purdey bicentenary logo and a special serial number. It is a fitting tribute to James Purdey & Sons, which has been making high-quality guns, rifles and shooting equipment in London since 1814 when James Purdey the Elder opened a small shop at Princes Street off Leicester Square. His reputation for making the very best guns soon spread and he moved to larger premises on Oxford Street. By then, Purdey had become the sporting gun of choice for royalty all over the world. Queen Victoria ordered her first Purdeys in 1838. Since 1883, Audley House in Mayfair has been home to James Purdey & Sons. In the famous Long Room, the high and mighty from the past two centuries have been custom-fitted for their guns. Every Purdey gun is handmade in west London by some of the most talented gunsmiths living today.Yet it took years for James Purdy to be mentioned in the same sentence as Joseph Manton, considered Englands greatest gunmaker. Manton had transformed the sporting gun into a thing of exquisite beauty. James Purdey learnt the art of gunmaking at Mantons back in 1808 and, in 1814, having mastered his skills, he set out on his own, building single and double flintlock guns, duelling pistols and rifles.

His reputation, established at Mantons, meant that he attracted the most discerning of customers. Purdeys specialised in bespoke guns sold in every conceivable bore size. Purdey, in 1814 not only made guns, but also serviced and repaired them, and also sold shooting equipment and accessories. Apart from cartridges, wadding and powder flasks, you could find daggers, cutlasses and razors, cast iron targets in the shape of rabbits, salmon hooks and the best cigars. With success came expansion and on August 1, 1826, James took charge of 314 Oxford Street, the premises of his former master, Manton. This was the most famous gun shop in London, supplying orders to everyone from the English aristocracy to Indian princes. In 1831, Charles Darwin paid a visit, ordering guns and supplies for the voyage of HMS Beagle. In 1838, James Purdeys most famous customer placed her first order. In the year of her coronation, Queen Victoria commissioned a pair of double-barrelled pistols from Purdey for presentation to the Imam of Muscat. A decade later, having purchased many Purdey guns and rifles, Queen Victoria assigned a Royal Warrant to Purdey, as has every British monarch since.

Four years later, Purdey moved into Audley House, a specially-built property in newly-developed Mayfair; 57 South Audley Street is Purdeys home to this day and its famed Long Room, originally built as a working office, is today revered in the game-gun community. Masterpieces of the gunsmiths art can be found in the perfect pair of miniature side-by-side guns, which rest on the writing desk in the study of Windsor Castle. Then there are a trio of Purdeys made in 1935, each exactly one-sixth the size of King George Vs 12-bore hammer gun, to celebrate the Kings Silver Jubilee. They were made by Harry Lawrence, one of Purdeys most famous gunsmiths. He remains the only British gunsmith to be awarded the MBE.