A labour of love
A fascinating new small bore from Atkin Grant & Lang leaves a lasting impression on Vic Harker.
(PHOTOGRAPHY: RICHARD FAULKS)
Modern gunmaking is almost always a matter of recreating the past. With the introduction of the centre-fire cartridge in the second half of the 19th century there came a deluge of innovation. By the turn of the 20th century, the shotgun, in the form of the side-by-side hammerless sidelock ejector, had been perfected. If there have been any improvements since, it has not been in the matter of design, but in the way many of the components of the modern gun are now produced. It is now well understood and acknowledged that CNC (computer numerical control) has improved quality even at the pinnacle of gunmaking. It has also considerably reduced the amount of labour involved.
The firm of Atkin Grant & Lang are an amalgamation of three distinguished gunmakers; Henry Atkin, Stephen Grant and Joseph Lang. Recently acquired by the Francis Lovel Group, the main premises are situated at Markyate, near St Albans in Hertfordshire. The site comprises workshops, a retail outlet and an extensive shooting ground. From the beginning of this new venture, the proprietors had the intention to produce a number of guns that replicated those of the famous makers encompassed in their company’s title. This gun test, however, describes a recreation of a design by James Woodward, of which Henry Atkin produced only four. This new gun – made to order for a client – is a 28 bore, which adds both to its interest and rarity.
The action is an exact replica of C. L.Woodward’s design of 1913 which continued to be developed and perfected until 1921. It is almost certainly the most elegant design for an over-under shotgun, due in part to the dispensing of any kind of under-bolting. Instead, the barrels hinge on stud pins behind the knuckles, and bites in the rear side lumps engage by way of a bifurcated locking bolt coming forward through the standing breech. Henry Atkin first used this patent in 1925. The actions in the white came direct from Woodward for which a royalty would have been paid. Indeed, all existing examples of the Henry Atkin/Woodward sidelock over-under bear Woodward’s patent number on the action.
Purdey eventually bought James Woodward & Son in 1948, almost certainly because the latter wanted to own the patent rights to their over-under gun. This accomplished, Purdey immediately ceased production of their own gun of this type and adopted the Woodward design which is used to this day; evidence, if it were needed, that James Woodward’s gun is still the most satisfactory design of its kind. With the patent rights relating to the Woodward over-under now expired, Atkin Grant & Lang have, as Henry Atkin did, replicated it under their banner in the form of a made-to-order 28 bore.
The creation of this gun has clearly been a labour of love with the closest attention paid to every detail of Woodward’s original design. Only in the use of some materials and manufacturing techniques, which represent an improvement on older methods, have there been changes. The machining of the action body from a solid billet of steel by CNC is an example. Another is its employment in the making of the lock work where accuracy is essential in a small frame gun – its precise geometry crucial for reliability.
The barrel tubes were forged using modern continuous compression principles. This process is not dissimilar to Joseph Whitworth’s fluid steel, but allows for even fewer impurities in the steel. The barrel lumps are forged as an integral part of each tube in the traditional way, however CNC creates a perfect dovetail in which to silver solder them together. This provides exceptional strength and improvement on earlier braising techniques. Again, unlike most modern guns, the ribs have been tined on the barrels, which is essential to retaining the integrity of the barrels’ temper and the strength required of a best London gun. Bored to .550thou, the finished barrels have extended forcing cones and 2" chambers. Skilfully regulated chokes provide excellent, consistent and well-distributed patterns with fibre or plastic wads, and heavier loads if required.
Shooting the Henry Atkin represented something of an occasion. This small bore shotgun exuded quality both in its standard of finish and its handling qualities. With 30" barrels and a longish stock, it was sufficiently man-sized to be much more controllable than most small bores. On the high tower at the Oxfordshire Shooting School, another branch of the Francis Lovel Group, Francis and I both shot well. There was a notable feeling of control, which is often absent in some small bores, and the way this 28 bore broke targets at range was a reminder that it was much more than a pretty toy. As to the gun’s mechanical function, trigger pulls were crisp and the mechanical inertia bloc – which cocks the non-selective single trigger – worked faultlessly. The Woodward patent utilises Southgate style ejector work with a cam over principle and leaf springs which provide perfect primary extraction and powerful ejection.
Maker: Henry Atkin
Model: Sidelock over-under
Action: Woodward sidelock
Chokes: 1/4 & 1/2
Rib: Raised, solid
Weight: 6lbs 5oz
Price: £45,000 inc VAT