Michael E Haskew returns to share the provenance of a shotgun and a rifle coming up for sale: a handsome Hereward and a princely Purdey

The handsome Hereward rifle is valued between £60,000 and £80,000 (Holt’s)

The Holt’s December auction and Gavin Gardiner’s Bond Street event feature an outstanding shotgun and a rifle that are sure to generate tremendous interest among motivated bidders.

Each tells a story steeped in history and reflecting the timeless, quality craftsmanship that sets master gunmakers old and new apart from the rest.

The Hereward Gun, a modern work of art and function completed in 2014, is already the stuff of legend – as we discussed in Under The Hammer last month – leaving the admirer short of sufficient superlatives.

Conceived and fashioned under the steady hand of incomparable gunmaker Don Custerson of Over, Cambridge, this one-of-a-kind Delahaut engraved, 2-bore, take-down, falling block hammer sporting gun shines with the luster of craftsmanship seldom seen in such a unique firearm.

Custerson, a highly sought outworker who has been in demand by the best of London gunmakers and others around the world, set his hand to the Hereward, and the results are dazzling.

Serial No. 201, the shotgun features a 40″ black powder-only barrel engraved “SUTTON & CO. GUNMAKERS” along with the prominent name “THE HEREWARD 2 BORE GUN” emblazoned between distinctive Anglo Saxon swords.

The left side of the barrel is engraved “MADE BY DONALD J CUSTERSON. CAMBRIDGE. ENGLAND.” The right side includes specific loading details, “FULL LOAD: 15 DRAMS NO. 6 BLACK POWDER. 5OZ. SHOT.”

Weighing 19lb in its custom fitted leather case with accessories, care and use manual, and a full length fleece-lined leather gunslip, this exquisite blend of brawn and brilliance is superbly engraved with stunning acanthus scrollwork along panels and borders, while the side panels bear the inscription “Sutton & Co.” along with Saxon swords framing a delicately detailed garter.

The action frame is gracefully adorned with a meticulously matted cartouche centred upon an Anglo Saxon war helmet in fine gold inlay measuring 147/8 inches.

The finely checkered pistol grip stock is complete with a precisely engraved cap, a 11/8 inches leather covered recoil pad, and sculptured forend with Anson style push rod release.

The workings of the Hereward Gun include the well-known Alex Henry-style falling block mechanism with push button locking underlever, curved non-rebounding back-action lock with a lavishly decorative hammer, and elongated top strap. The brass bead fore-sight and 114mm chamber, and breech end with threaded detaching system, complete the spectacular package.

The genesis of the Hereward gun is a story worth retelling. Custerson was approached by renowned gunmaker Giles Whittome to build a 4-bore falling block rifle from castings made by Peter Dyson.

These were taken from a Greener whaling gun residing in the collection of the Royal Armouries. An order for a 2-bore rifle followed, and Custerson built his famed Millennium Rifle from a set of solid machined parts.

“A customer of mine saw one of the subsequent 2-bore Giles Whittome rifles that I have built and asked if I could make a 2-bore shotgun to a similar design,” Custerson commented. “The Hereward is the result of a complete redesign exercise.

The action is not flat sided like the rifle but lighter and rounded. The gun had to be take-down so I designed an interrupted thread barrel mounting with a locking lever concealed in the forend.”

Further, Custerson revealed that the Hereward name was conceived by his wife in reference to the location where his customer lived. Hereward was originally the name of an Anglo Saxon warrior who led resistance against the invasion of William the Conqueror in 1066.

The Hereward Gun’s engraving style, beauty, form and function reflect a heritage of strength – homage to the Anglo Saxon spirit of old – and merely the sight of the stately shotgun brings a twinkle to the discerning eye. The estimated value of the Hereward Gun is £60,000 to £80,000.

An Indian Adventure 

During the glory days of the near century-long British rule in the Indian subcontinent, the famed Raj, His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales journeyed to the “Jewel in the Crown.” The future King Edward VII, son of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert, brought with him gifts fit for royalty to bestow upon loyal regional rulers.

The princely Purdey is expected to sell for £10,000 to £15,000 (Gavin Gardiner)

Departing on 26 September 1875, Edward visited Malta, Italy and Greece during an eight-month tour, and upon his return Queen Victoria was proclaimed Empress of India, in part due to the success of her son’s expedition.

Throughout his travels in India, Edward was said to have treated everyone with respect and even lodged complaints regarding the treatment of native peoples. His reception was warm, and the prince extended good wishes along with sturdy, precision rifles built by London-based gunmaker James Purdey & Sons.

Two of these, outstandingly representative of the presentation pieces ordered for these occasions of state, were presented to the Nizam of the Deccan, ruler of the state of Hyderabad. While one of these rare rifles is available through Gavin Gardiner, the other is in the collections of the Royal Armouries.

Expected to fetch £10,000 to £15,000 as the auctioneer’s gavel falls, the subject rifle, a .360 double barrel hammer type, is engraved on the rib, “H.H. The Nizam of the Decan from H.R.H. The Prince of Wales, KG, GCSI 1876.”

Complete with its original makers case, the Purdey rifle is emblazoned with the royal crest and the Order of the Star of India within a gold oval, while its mechanics remain in fine working order.

Although Purdey made a number of the presentation rifles, Alex Henry and possibly other gunmakers were involved in production as well.

James Purdey & Sons began operations at Princes Street, London, in 1814 and later moved to the former Manton’s location at Oxford Street. James Purdey the Younger, who took control of the company in 1858, developed a reputation as an innovator in design and building techniques, claiming numerous patents. By 1882, the company had relocated to the corner of South Audley and Mount Streets, where a plaque now memorialises its activity. 

Under James’ son, Athol Purdey, the company produced ordnance and gun parts during the Great War. The business was purchased in 1946 by Hugh Seely, 1st Baron Sherwood, ending 132 years of Purdey family ownership.

Meanwhile, the Purdey over & under shotgun became widely known, particularly following the acquisition of J. Woodward & Sons in 1949. Today, Purdey & Sons Ltd. continues as a division of Compagnie Financiere Richemont SA.

During his travels in India, the Prince of Wales visited 21 towns and exchanged gifts with the ruling maharajas, thanking those who had been loyal to the crown during the Indian Mutiny of 1857.

Gavin Gardiner explained: “British monarchs and members of the Royal Family undertook lengthy tours to strengthen ties with other countries, and also to learn more about the culture and history of those regions.

“The Prince of Wales’ tour of India was envisaged as a way of forging diplomatic links between the Indian rulers and the British crown.”

The subject rifle is believed to have returned to Britain during the early 1970s when the formerly wealthy ruling families of India sold many of their valuable possessions to British investors as their government incomes were withdrawn by Prime Minister Indira Gandhi.

The purchaser of this rare rifle will own a fine firearm as well as a lasting link to the glory of the former Empire.


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