Author Topic: Understanding the British Fowler Part 1 Intro and 2 English Fowlers  (Read 2237 times)

Offline smart dog

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I am starting a pretty ambitious series of tutorials on building a historically correct British fowling gun from the mid-18th century.  I believe there is a demand for something like that among our members and I suspect viewing original 18th century British fowling guns is even more difficult for most than examining original American long rifles.  My purpose then is to emphasize the features of these guns that are unique to the time and place and how to reproduce those traits.  These are not going to be general “how to” tutorials for building flintlock guns but will focus on features specific to British fowling guns from the time period covered. They should be a nice compliment to Mike Brook’s gun building tutorial as well as others that cover various general gun building tasks.  I hope to cover details of history, design, materials, and construction of which I suspect many of you on this side of the Atlantic are unfamiliar. I base these tutorials on my careful examination of every 18th century British firearm I could get my hands on (including military fusils), my library of books and photos on the subject, information shared by very knowledgeable folks such as James Rogers, Mike Brooks, and Taylor Sapergia, and my experiences building British styled guns.  I am only going to focus on styles commonly used during 1740-1770.  That was not the time of John and Joe Manton, Egg, Nock, Twigg, Mortimer, and their contemporaries so don’t expect discussion of Nock’s breeches or much about roller frizzens, etc. It is the time of James Barbar, Joseph Heylin, Joseph Griffin, James Harman, James Freeman, and their colleagues, when the elegance and artistry of British guns was at its peak.


I begin Part 1 with the eye candy to get you all hooked.  It is difficult to build a historically correct British fowling gun if you’ve never seen a real one. Let me emphasize again that I am only discussing British fowling guns made during 1740-1770 when their elegance and artistic quality was highest in my opinion. I don’t want to get distracted discussing guns and features from other times unless relevant to the time period on which I am focusing. The 2 guns represent classic architecture for the time and are good examples of a gun of export or moderate quality and another of 1st or highest quality.  Neither was likely made entirely by a single shop run by the master and his journeyman and apprentices.  Each was the product of a remarkable number of specific professional occupations serving the gun trade. The process involved barrel makers, barrel finishers, stock makers, lock makers, lock polishers, ramrod makers, small workers, engravers, and silversmiths. It was a far cry from the rural Pennsylvania gun shop and local competition likely was fierce. The real money in the gun trade was made making trade and military guns for the Hudson’s Bay Company, East India Company, Africa Company, local militias, and British ordnance.  The civilian market was keen but the wealthy customers often were shameless deadbeats when it came to paying their bills. It is a sad commentary that 2 of the greatest British gunmakers of all time who catered to the high-end sporting crowd, William Bailes from our time period, and Joseph Manton from a later time, died bankrupt and penniless. The division of labor resulted in the workmanship being of very good quality even on moderately priced guns. Consequently, if you build a fowler that you intend to represent as British, the workmanship must be of a high quality because the label “British fowler” and “English fowler” implies excellent craftsmanship.  Certainly, those historical standards can be relaxed if you build an American fowler in the “British” style but if you want it to represent a British-made gun, the workmanship should be of a high standard. They probably are not a good choice for new builders.   
The first gun is brass mounted and represents second or export quality. Unfortunately, the maker is obscured by corrosion thanks to the conversion of the lock to percussion. It was a wreck expertly restored and returned to flint by Jim Kibler and it may have spent most of its working career in North America.  It likely was made during the 1760s and has private Tower proof marks and “London” engraved on the barrel.  The barrel is 16 gauge and 39” long.  At the breech it is about 1.25” in diameter. The barrel is round tapered and flared with a flattened sighting plane on top near the breech.  I will discuss the barrel in more detail later.  It has the typical standing breech (hook and tang) with a hump containing a sighting groove.  The round-faced lock is the original but it was converted to percussion sometime during the gun’s working life and then Jim reconverted it back to flint.  It is typical of locks used on less expensive guns during the 1760s.  The brass mounts are very high quality castings and have good but standard (not exceptional) engraving for the time period. The stock is Juglans regia otherwise known as English, French, European, Bastogne, Cicassian, and Turkish walnut. The fowling gun weighs 7 lbs.   

The second gun is very high quality and made by Joseph Heylin, one of the finest gunmakers in London. He began work in his Cornhill shop in 1757 and was still working in 1797.  He died in 1801. Heylin was a very great gun maker and figures prominently in Norman Dixon’s book on Georgian pistols. The gun is mounted in sterling silver made by John King and hallmarked for 1767.  King was one of the most famous London silversmiths working for the gun trade during the mid-18th century.  The flat-faced lock with safety bolt is typical of high-end locks made during the latter part of the period we are considering.  The gun was made as a “take down” so that the barrel and forestock could be detached allowing the gun to be packed in a shorter case. Cases at the time might be made of wicker basketry, japanned tin, or deal wood covered with leather and lined with wall paper rather than woolen baize fabric. The fowler was originally full stocked in wood but was eventually turned into a half stock with a horn nose cap following changing fashions.  The lock was converted to percussion indicating clearly that the gun was heavily used during its life and was not a decorative wall hanger.  The English walnut stock is very elegant and the thickness along the barrel channel is very thin.  The barrel is Spanish by Eudal Pous of Barcelona and dated to 1747. It is of Spanish form meaning octagon to round, 40“ long and of about 16 gauge.  It has a standing breech with humped sighting groove typical of the time. It weighs 6 lbs.

In the next segment I will discuss the locks, stocks, and barrels in detail and suggest the modern components that are the most historically correct for building a British fowler from 1740-1770. I will include more detailed photos of disassembled components in the next section.

« Last Edit: January 22, 2019, 01:40:08 AM by smart dog »
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