Paul Garrity talks to GTN as he celebrates an incredible 50 years with the iconic Webley & Scott.
Webley & Scott is one of the oldest names in the firearms industry with almost two centuries of production, including revolvers, shotguns and world-famous Webley Airguns.
The company began making percussion sporting guns in 1834, and following a dominant success of pistol and shotgun markets, Webley decided to enter the airgun market in the early 1900s, when the UK Firearms Act of 1920 required people to obtain a firearms certificate to purchase or possess a firearm.
After several years of development, Webley released their first air pistol, the Mark I in 1924. Webley then released their first air rifle (Mark I Air Rifle) two years later.
The Mark I Air Rifle set the standard for such guns. A break-barrel, spring rifle, it is very much a collectors piece today. The follow-up model, the MKII Service (1929), became so-called as it was used to train army recruits. Today, a complete gun in its original case could fetch as much as $3,000.
Paul Garrity joined the Webley scene in 1970 and has subsequently seen several models join the brands line-up. The Hurricane Air Pistol was released in 1977, joined by the Tempest in 1979.
The Patriot was the most powerful spring airgun in the world when it came to market in 1992. The Nemesis followed in 1994 and in 1997 Webley launched their first PCP, the Axsor.
Now approaching 50 years with the company, Paul has undoubtedly earned his title: Master Gunmaker.
Formerly based at the border of West Bromwich and Birmingham, Webley and Scott are now based within the Highland Outdoors head office and fall under the Fuller Group umbrella. From their recently revamped new home, Paul shares his background, explaining how he joined the trade half a century ago.
“I was educated in West Bromwich Technical High School, which guided me into engineering,” he says. “When I left school in 1970 I came to interview at Webley and Scott. When I went, initially they said that all of their apprenticeship places had been filled.
“At the time the company was probably about 400 people strong, and their intake was about 30 apprentices every year.
“Fortunately I was also in the army cadets, and the personnel manager and sales manager were both ex-army, so I got a letter which said I’d been accepted.”
Paul joined the technical stream of starters, with a year of college and technical engineer’s qualification. He explains: “At the end of my apprenticeship – which involved placements all around the factory – I joined the technical department, which included the drawing office.
“During my time in the design office Webley developed airguns such as the Hawk II, Junior Mark II, Premier Mark II and eventually what became the Hurricane and the Tempest.
“I was involved in all of those projects. At that stage we still had revolvers and shotguns and, because of the size of the company, it was decided that somebody was needed to bridge the gap between the shop floor and the technical department. Again, because of my product knowledge and experience on the shop floor during my apprenticeship, I was promoted to Liaison Officer.
“By 1978, they decided that they needed a more active role on the shop floor and so my role changed again. I was promoted to Inspection Manager – supervising the inspection, which included the firing range. I carried on that role until Webley and Scott finished in 2005.
“Part of my role as inspection manager included liaising with suppliers in the UK and abroad, so I would go to our stock manufacturers – this was outsourced to Italy and Spain.
“My product knowledge got me involved with the gun shows, including the Midland Game Fair and IWA. As the size of the company decreased, I took on the role of warehouse manager in addition to the inspection department.
“Then in 1998, I gave up the warehouse role to return to the design department. At one point I was inspecting finished machined parts that I had previously drawn in my design role, so it was certainly varied!” remarks Paul.
When Webley and Scott went into liquidation in 2005, Paul was one of two employees to stay on when the company was purchased by AGS. “I then held the title of Technical Manager,” says Paul. “That carried on until around 2012, at which point we became part of the Fuller Global group.”
Surrounded by a library of Webley literature and spare parts, there aren’t many people who can match Paul’s knowledge on the company.
“But I am an engineer not a gunsmith,” he reminds me. “When I was at college I was taught mechanical engineering, not gun engineering. For the last 12 years my job has included manufacturing mostly abroad, but with several projects that have been UK-based, trade shows and marketing.
“We are involved in all aspects of gun production from the initial concept to the marketing and sales of the product. Making products abroad gives us the most up-to-date machining equipment in the world.
“Our range includes CO2, spring, pneumatic and PCP airguns; over-under and semi-automatic shotguns; rimfire and centrefire rifles; and even includes a 50mm bore replica field cannon!”
Paul points to the Mark VI CO2 revolver and says: “That was a ‘back of a fag packet’ idea, and now it sell thousands throughout the world. You can start with an idea – it might only be a small one – and seeing it come to fruition is great.”
One of Paul’s earliest pistols was the Webley Junior. He has been involved with the company’s projects ever since and has noticed changes along the way.
“Change in technology is a big thing – nowadays we prototype on 3D printers and feel shapes in our hands within hours. Laser engraving machines can engrave and checker parts in minutes – once it would have taken days.
“Multi-axis CNC machines can finish parts at one setting, which when I started would have meant travelling around the whole factory to get to the same stage.
“Plus, the education of end users has changed. They are far more knowledgeable these days.”
Paul recalls his early days in the West Bromwich office, throughout iconic moments of the 1970s. “I can even remember Webley buying themselves an electric generator to help during the rolling blackouts during the miners’ strikes in the 1970s. The technical department was involved in the installation.
“In my early days in the drawing office there were no electronic calculators – we did it long-hand. We used a slide-rule or a Curta calculator – a thing like a manual coffee grinder.
“One of my first production jobs during my apprenticeship was the assembling of barbs for the Greener harpoon gun – this was the type of gun they used to shoot Jaws!”
And while production has gradually been outsourced over the years, Paul says the work is “nothing we haven’t already done.”
He says: “In the early 1900s we imported Mauser actions, finished them in the UK and sold them abroad as high-powered bolt-action hunting rifles. And in the 60s and early 70s we brought in over-and-under shotguns from a little company in Brescia called Beretta.
“We finished them in the UK – that was Webley’s first over-under shotgun. We have been doing it for many years, and it is part of the history of the brand.
“The gun trade is like smaller version of the car trade. Parts and whole cars are made in different places other than where the brand in based.”
Despite being present for half a century of Webley history (almost a fifth of the company’s total history), Paul says now is the toughest time to be a shooter in the UK.
“When I started, everybody had an airgun. I lived in the middle of West Brom, and most of my mates had an airgun at one stage or another. Nowadays they are more likely to play video games.
“In the 70s we used to sell vast amounts of airguns to a catalogue firm. Then they changed managing directors and he pulled the plug on all shooting and fishing overnight. That changed everything.
“We had a programme where we made three new pistols in three years, and then the Dunblane tragedy happened – sales of air pistols dropped after that. It had a big impact on Webley and Scott at the time and is one of the reasons that Webley shrank.”
Because of his long association with Webley, Paul was added to the Birmingham Proof House register. Usually the honour is reserved for official gunsmiths or owners of gun companies, but due to his experience, Paul joined the exclusive club.
He explains: “I used to have letters sent to me from the proof house, which would say ‘Paul Garrity – Master Gunmaker’. The old boss said, “Let’s put that on your business card!” and the title has stuck ever since.”