In this abridged extract from London Explored, Peter Dazeley and Mark Daly discover a gun shop in Mayfair.
Did you know there's a gun shop in Mayfair?
The West End was once the home of diverse expert craftsmen, including gunmakers. From 1814 the first muzzle loading flintlocks made by James Purdey came from a workroom in what is now Wardour Street, and later from a shop in Oxford Street.
By 1883 the thriving James Purdey & Sons had moved to Mayfair's Audley House, a building which the firm had commissioned in Queen Anne-style red brick and red stone on the corner with Mount Street. The royal coat of arms over the entrance door is unsurprising; Country Life reported that by Edwardian times there was no crowned head of state in Europe without a Purdey.
On the ground floor is the Long Room, once an office, where James Purdey the Younger, the founder's son, would watch the craftsmen at work below through a well in the floor. In 1938 the well was closed over and a long table installed, which is still in place today. The space is hung with portraits of the Purdey patriarchs, lined with memorabilia and houses historic ledgers. The selection of wood for the stock by customers and the taking of measurements are still handled here.
What's so special about these guns?
A patent of 1870 provided an ingenious and simple design of bolt and top-lever mechanism. This innovation for aiding the opening and closing of drop-down guns put the firm at the forefront during the golden age of gun-making.
In the 2020s a capable shotgun can be bought off-the-shelf for much less than a thousand pounds; a Purdey gun can cost a hundred times more than that. Purdey take up to two years to produce a shotgun and make only about a hundred guns and rifles each year.
Are the guns still used by their owners?
Today, collectability is often the aim of the owner, and some guns are destined from the start to become what is known as a 'safe queen'. "If you want to lock it away, it's the buyer's choice," says a spokesman for the company.
Where are the guns made?
Purdey's factory for making actions and working on gun tubes for barrel making has been located at various places in west London, eventually settling in Hammersmith in 1979.
Here, the traditional trades of the barrel maker, actioner, stocker, engraver and finisher continue. Computer numerically controlled machines cut the outline of the action, but 97% of the process is done by hand, including the use of smoke black from a paraffin lamp to deposit soot over the surfaces to reveal any unevenness, and application of an oil called 'slacum'.
Assembly, known as' putting together', is a two-part process, spread over three months. These days, a high volume of work is repair and servicing, with Purdey guns from the 1890s, some with original barrels, still supported.
James Purdey & Sons Ltd, 57–58 South Audley Street, Mayfair
London Explored by Peter Dazeley & Mark Daly, published by Frances Lincoln, RRP £35
All images © Peter Dazeley