For over 200 years James Purdey & Sons of London has been crafting the world’s finest bespoke shotguns and rifles. The firm has enjoyed royal patronage since 1838, when Queen Victoria placed her first order, for a pair of pistols. King Edward VII granted the first official Royal Warrant to the founder’s son, James Purdey the Younger, in 1868, a practice continued by each successive English royal including Prince Charles and the present Queen. In 1882 Purdey established its workshop and showroom at Audley House in Mayfair, which the sporting periodical Land and Water called a “palace amongst gun manufactories.” A business so steeped in tradition has had little need to modernize over the years – the firm’s gunmakers still craft their own tools by hand at the beginning of their five-year apprenticeships before using them to fashion the world’s finest firearms – but nearly 135 years later Audley House has been subtly “refitted”, ushering in something of a new era for Purdey.
One of Purdey’s first concessions to modern times was the introduction of a range of high quality shooting clothing, in 1973 – the first London gunmaker to do so. The updates to Audley House are mainly aimed at devoting more real estate to this burgeoning part of the business, allowing for a dedicated clothing and accessories section on the shop floor, with the main gun room now located exclusively in the building’s historic Long Room, which once featured a “well” for looking down into the firm’s workshop below. Whilst saving up for a London-made Purdey 12-bore – or perhaps in lieu of owning an actual gun – enthusiasts can acquire thick tweed coats and other items redolent of grouse shooting weekends at English country estates, conjuring images of muddy Land Rovers, muddier gun dogs and lots of smoky single malt. Purdey’s new range of clothing for autumn includes variations on classic tweed patterns custom milled in the Scottish borders, new windproof knitwear made in England, and the first-time offering of suede and leather pieces.
In addition to new guns and rifles, Purdey also offers second-hand “heritage” models for sale in the Long Room at Audley House. The ultimate achievement for true sportsmen however is having a pair of bespoke Purdey side by side guns crafted for you, a process that can take up to two years. It begins with a visit to the West London Shooting Ground, where Purdey has been fitting its customers since the 1930s. Various measurements are taken while the buyer uses a “try-gun” with an articulated and fully adjustable stock. Back at Audley House you then select a piece of high-grade walnut wood which will become your gun’s stock. Barrels and other hardware are then machined by hand, the whole is assembled and finally the gun is adorned with the engraving of your choice. Finally the finished product is presented in a fitted saddle leather case. Prices start at £78,000 to £150,000 – or about $120,000 to $230,000 at the current rate of exchange – but it’s safe to say a pair of Purdeys is a sound investment for any serious sportsman.