James Purdey & Sons was founded in 1814 by James Purdey (known as “the Elder”) in London (England). Purdey was apprenticed in 1798 to Joseph Manton, a renowned gunsmith, and following Purdey’s establishment of his business in Princes Street, in 1826, he moved to Manton’s former premises in Oxford Street.
In 1858 the Elder’s son, also James, took over the firm and presided over an era of great change in the design and manufacture of guns. Primarily this involved the means of loading and firing from muzzle loaded flintlocks to hammer centre firing and then to a hammerless self opening mechanism designed in 1880 by a Purdey master gunsmith, Frederick Beesley.
Aside from minor design changes and refinement the iconic Purdey side-by-side shotguns, as sold today, are largely identical to those sold over hundred years ago.
In 1882 James Purdey &Sons Ltd relocated to the corner of South Audley Street and Mount Street – where it remains to this day – diagonally opposite St George’s Chapel (“the American Chapel”) where my wife and I got married nearly twenty two years ago.
In 1949, James Purdey & Sons Ltd purchased the business of J.Woodward & Sons and with it acquired the 1913 Patent for an “over & under” shotgun which Purdey’s have manufactured to great acclaim.
A highly distinctive element of the Purdey range of shotguns are the finishes used on the gun metal – including the very attractive Damascus effect that is often seen on very high quality knives and swords – and very fine and hugely artistic engraving depicting scenes of country or safari life.
Those lucky enough to afford a Purdey shotgun – with starting prices from around £89,000 – are treated to an experience that has been likened to the purchase of a Saville Row suit. Purdey’s shotguns are largely hand-made and the shotguns are made entirely “to measure”. So the future owner’s “stock” measurements are often taken in the Long Room at the South Audley Street premises using an electric “try-gun” that was originally devised by Harry Lawrence, to aid the convalescence of King George V. At this stage the walnut bland for the stock of your gun may also be selected. As part of this process it’s likely you will be invited to test shotguns at the shooting range of the newly renovated Purdey factory at “Felgate House” in Hammersmith (West London).
Naturally, Purdey’s shotguns comprise a range of different gauges from: 10, 12, 16, 20, 28 or .410 – the smaller the gauge, the larger the size so a 12 gauge is a larger cartridge is larger than a 20 gauge. The other variable is barrel length depending upon the proposed sport that you are looking to pursue.
In 1994, the then Chairman, Richard Beaumont, sold James Purdey & Sons Ltd to Compagnie Financière Richemont SA the Swiss-based luxury goods holding company founded in 1988 by South African businessman Johann Rupert. In addition to Purdey, Richemont’s brands include Cartier, Dunhill, Montblanc, and Van Cleef & Arpels. However, the Purdey dynasty’s involvement with the family firm didn’t end until 2007 when Richard Purdey, the sixth generation of the family from the founder, retired as Chairman.