Longthorne Hesketh De-luxe
A high-grade English sidelock over-under for £17,500? Vic Harker can hardly believe it either as he puts the Longthorne Hesketh De-luxe through its paces.
It has taken state of the art 21st century technology to finally create something of a revival in English gunmaking, even resulting in some new makers. This does not equate with vast factories being established and hundreds of new English guns being produced, but it is now easier to create a high-quality gun at a rather lower price, for which there is a market. The Lancashire gunmakers Longthorne are a typical example of a company who were already in a high-tech engineering business and have now applied their expertise to the making of top quality shotguns.
James Stewart Longthorne began the development of a sidelock gun in 2006. His company already manufactured component parts for the arms industry, but to create a high-quality sporting gun was still something of a departure for them. Longthorne was not content to merely recreate the past, and while he determined that his gun should possess all the traditional characteristics of a high-quality English gun, he also decided it should possess its own unique character. I confess it was this aspect of the Longthorne gun that drew me to it from its beginnings. The Longthorne Hesketh De-luxe is a high-grade version of the standard gun.
As with everything about the Longthorne, whilst it incorporates all the essentials of a high-grade sidelock, it avoids generic classification. The action has four pins with intercepting sears and rebounding hammers. It has an integrated bridle that brings a rigidity to the lock-work and consistency in operation, while at the same time every mechanism is individually regulated. “There is no other way with a sidelock,” says James Longthorne.
And so - as with every aspect of his gun - while modernity is incorporated wherever possible, traditional handwork is also utilised when required.
The gun's appearance – as with its mechanical design – while in no way eccentric, avoids classification. First impressions are that the action body is dimensionally small, and in an age where guns get ever bigger and heavier, this is a refreshing change, in both how the gun looks and handles. The fences are small but well defined. And comparatively, the side-panels, which overrun the bottom plate, are heavily beaded so that within delicate proportions there is a voluptuous contrast that provides an exotic look, which is unique.
The jointing of the barrels to the action is less so but is the best possible option with draws and wedges at the side of the barrels and action body, together with a bifurcated bolt and engaging each side of the lower barrel. Likewise, the ejector work mounted each side of the barrels' breech-ends is not an original system, but the most suitable for this type of gun.
If, as with all modern shotguns, there are aspects of the Longthorne sidelock that are derivative, the barrel assembly most certainly is not. While attempts to produce barrels incorporating the tubes, lumps and ribs in one piece has been attempted in the past, most notably by Joseph Whitworth and his patent of 1857, they were never successful. In truth, neither the technology to produce such a concept nor the materials necessary were available then, but in the 21st century they have become so. Already manufacturers of high-quality components incorporating the very latest developments in metallurgy, the Longthorne company were perhaps the obvious people to achieve this concept successfully. The Longthorne's barrels are therefore not chopper lump, demibloc or monobloc but rather the entire barrel assembly is CNC machined from a single bar of high-quality Swedish steel. The result is a perfectly conventional set of barrels with the exception of the single integral middle rib. On my sample gun, the 28" tubes weighed just 1.290kg. Not only are these barrels suitably light, but there are other advantages too. For example they are inherently straighter and more accurately bored, which seems to produce tighter patterns, and so Longthorne recommends more open choke constrictions.
No matter how beautifully balanced a gun is, the stock dimensions have to be close to the shooter's requirements to exploit these qualities. My test gun had originally been stocked for a lady and was a bit on the short side, but fortunately the comb height was about right. The semi-pistol grip configuration and the slim fore-end wood complimented the Longthorne's elegant lines, but most importantly I could shoot the gun very well. As with the first prototype Longthorne that I tried, the gun seemed to just fly to the target. In my experience, such fast handling characteristics tend to produce in most people a rather erratic performance. The Longthorne however, still retains a stability and a perceptible lack of recoil and vibration, which I attribute to the one-piece barrel assembly. In the age of the ever longer and heavier game gun, the Longthorne bucks the trend. My 28" barreled gun dealt with targets high and wide, because, as it seems to me, a Longthorne points without conscious effort, allowing you to shoot instinctively, which is always the best way. Sound too good to be true? Try one for yourself.
I've already said the Longthorne's originality is for me very much part of its appeal. While gunmakers must in most cases inevitably reproduce the past, the Longthorne, significantly, while retaining the traditional aesthetics that the British like to see, does so on its own terms. And most importantly, its design, though in some areas very modern, possesses qualities of handling and balance that are in the very best traditions of the classic English game gun. And all for a quite remarkable £17,500.
Model: Longthorne Hesketh De-luxe Sidelock
Chambers: 3" steel proved
Barrel: 28" test gun or to customer's requirements
Chokes: Fixed or multi-choke
Rib: 8mm – 4mm
Stock: Semi-pistol grip or to order
Fore-end: Beavertail or to order
Weight: 6lb 10oz
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