Finding a gun shop in central London is a little harder these days than it would have been in 1898. Lancaster’s is definitely no longer there, but thanks to studious research by Adventure Club members Nick and Jon, we’ve located it at 151 New Bond Street W1S.
It turns out Lancaster’s was a rather historic place, and Lancaster guns are now museum pieces and/or collectors items. The first Mr Lancaster started the business in 1826 and his son went on to become an extremely successful and innovative gunsmith. He’s credited with inventing ‘the oval bore’, and produced large guns for the government that played a part in the Crimean war. When he fell out with the MoD about patents and payment, he ended up working for the Czar in Russia
By the time Carruthers wanders in, Lancaster’s as a shop is already on the way out, but as a brand it was still very much the gun of choice for a certain kind of gentlemen. If you want to buy a classic vintage Lancaster now, you won’t get much change out £15,000. Here’s one that was recently sold at Bonhams (coincidentally situated on New Bond Street).
This one was owned by the gun writer and archetypal interwar big game hunter and adventurer Elmer Keith. One gets the impression that even by 1903, Lancaster’s was more sought after by Americans than by Brits – perhaps in the same way our translatlantic cousins of today might buy a coat at Burberry or a hamper at Fortnum & Masons on a visit to London.
So where do you go today to get hold of a contemporary ‘Lancaster’s’ shop experience? Well, I’d look no further than the company than ended up taking over Lancaster’s – Grant & Lang. The company is now Atkin, Grant & Lang and has relocated to Hertfordshire. Ok, so it’s not New Bond Street, but there are still gunsmith workshops there, a shooting range and a rich programme of events.
For example, only next week the Shotgun and Chelsea Bun Club ladies are putting on a morning of clay shooting and cake. There’s very little doubt that the modern-day Carruthers and Davies need to visit this place and maybe take a lesson in duck shooting. Perhaps other Adventure Club members would care to join us?
Charles Lancaster Ltd still lives on in spirit, by the way. The limited company is registered to an address in Horsham, and thus associated with a website ostensibly run by a riflesmith called Ronald Wharton. When I tried to contact Ron by email, his wife replied to confirm that her husband and a business partner had indeed acquired the limited company, but very sadly Ron passed away very recently. Not wishing to intrude on Mrs Wharton’s grief, I didn’t pursue the matter much further. Tantalisingly, though, she did happen to mention that a number of Lancaster record books are still in her possession. She writes:
“The books are full of interesting people… Annie Oakley bought several shotguns from Lancasters when she was in London.”
So there it is – Carruthers gets his gun from the same place as Annie got hers. Another musical element to add to our our adventure, that I feel sure Lloyd will enjoy about as much as all those Edwardian musical midi files I’ve been sharing with him.