The History of Webley and Scott Pistols, Revolvers, Airguns and Shotguns
Webley and Scott is one of the oldest names in the UK gun industry. They are responsible for almost two centuries of production of some of the most famous firearms the world has ever seen – the Webely revolver, shotguns, and Webley rifles. Webley was founded in the late 18th century by William Davies who originally made bullet moulds. In 1834 the company was taken over by his son-in-law, Philip Webley, and his brother James who began the production of percussion sporting guns. Two sons, Thomas and Henry, entered the family business during the 1860′s. The Webley’s manufactured several types of pistols over the subsequent years, including single and double action percussion revolvers as well as pin-fire and center-fire revolvers. It is for the production of handguns, that Webley became famous. Webley’s production originally consisted of hand-crafted firearms, although mass-production was later introduced to supply police and military buyers.
PISTOLS & REVOLVERS
The first Webley production revolver appeared in 1853. Known as the Longspur it was a muzzle-loaded percussion cap and ball pistol. Some consider it to be the finest revolver of its day as it could shoot as fast as the contemporary Colt revolvers, and was faster to load. However, the hand-made Longspur could not compete in price with mass-produced revolvers such as the Colt, and production never equaled that of Webley’s competitors Adams of Tranter.
Webley’s first well-known success with revolvers came with the adoption of one of tis pistols by the Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC) in 1867. The pistol gained its name, RIC, when it was adopted by that organization upon its formation in 1868. It was later adopted by police forces in South Africa and Australia, and numbers of copies were made, most notably in Belgium. The RIC was an extremely rugged and compact weapon with considerable stopping power and, in its various models, remained a popular civilian and police weapon well into the twentieth century. A pair of Webley RIC Model revolvers were presented to Brevet Major General George Armstrong Custer by Lord Berkerley in 1869, and it is believed that General Custer was using them at the time of his death at the Battle of the Little Bighorn.
Webley went on to produce more revolvers for the civilian market. Webley’s popular pocket revolver, The British Bull Dog, was developed in 1872 and remained in production until 1914. The Bulldog was made in a number of variations and was a solid-frame, five-chambered revolver with a short barrel and of large caliber, typically .442 or .450. The Bulldog gained a degree of infamy when in July 1877; Charles Jules Guiteau used one to shoot U.S. President James A. Garfield in the back as he waited for a train. Garfield died two months later.
The Webely Army Express Model 1878 is one of the most handsome pistols Webley ever manufactured. It was a solid-frame weapon, however, and it entered the scene just as the British military was shifting its attention to break-open, automatic-ejecting designs. A few saw service in South Africa. Webley manufactured several versions of the Army Express, but the typical Model 1878 was a double-action, six-shooter chambered for .450/.455 cartridges. A spring-activated ejector rod was mounted on the right of the 6-inch octagon shaped barrel, and a loading gate was hinged on the right side of the frame. Grips of earlier pistols were of one-piece walnut and of a rather square profile, whereas later pistols, or New Expresses, were fitted with two-piece bird’s-head grips. Finishes were blue, and a lanyard ring was fitted to the butt of both models. Although the Army Express failed to attract a British contract, Webley continued to develop more suitable designs.
Almost all of Webley’s subsequent revolvers were of a top break design. A pivoting lever on the side of the gun’s upper receiver was pressed to release the barrel and cylinder assembly, which then tilts up and forward on a bottom-front pivot. After loading, the assembly is tilted back into firing position and locked closed.
In the 1880′s Webley developed a rugged and powerful revolver for the British military, the Webley Mk I. In July of 1887, the British War Office issued a contract to Webley for 10,000 caliber .455 Mk I revolvers. They were the first of six models or “marks” of Webleys that would see continual service until well past their final manufacturer in 1932. The first five marks were essentially a continual series of minor improvements on Webley’s original Model of 1882 with birds-head grips and four-inch barrels. Webley’s proved themselves in their first major engagement with British General Horatio Kitchener’s troops at the September 1898 Battle of Omdurman in the Sudan, and the Mark IV served as the standard British sidearm during the Boer War of 1899-1902. Webley manufactured some 36,700 mark IV’s before ending production in 1904. Webley later improved the design in 1913 by strengthening the cylinder of the Mark V to accept the new smokeless Cordite propellant. In 1915 the Company introduced the last pistol in the series, Mark VI. The Webley Mark VI became the standard British service revolver in .38/200 and .455 calibres. The Mark VI (known as the Webley Revolver No. 1 Mark VI after 1927) was the last standard service pistol made by Webley; the most widely-produced of their revolvers, 300,000 were made for service during World War I. The Mark VI, the last Webley mark differed from its forbearers in that it mounted a 6-inch rather than a 4-inch barrel and had a square rather than a bird’s-head butt. The improvements gave the Mark VI better sighting and handling characteristics that it’s stubbier predecessors. The Mark VI was officially retired as obsolete in 1947 by the British military, but many continued in service with colonial troops. In 1932 the Enfield No. 2 .38 inch caliber revolver, based on the Webley Mark IV, became the standard British service revolver. However, wartime shortages ensured that all marks of the Webley including models in .455 and .38/200 remained in use through World War II, and the pistol remained in service as a substitute standard weapon into the early 1960s.
In the 19th Century Webley is best known for their revolvers, but by 1860 the firm was also well established in the production of guns, muzzle loaders and later, breach loaders. From 1862 the firm exhibited shotguns at international exhibitions and took many awards. Webley’s strength as a shotgun manufacturer was overshadowed by its famous revolvers and often went unseen outside of the gun trade due to Webley’s substantial production of shotguns “in the white” for the trade. Each trade buyer had his own name engraved on the barrels and action and there was nothing to indicate that they had actually been manufactured by Webley. This type of trade accounted for up to 90% of output up until 1938.
In 1897, Webley & Son amalgamated with W & C Scott and Sons to become The Webley and Scott Revolver and Arms Company Ltd of Birmingham. Webley & Scott soon introduced a unique revolver that utilized the self-cocking recoil principle at the Bisley match in July 1900. Its inventor was Colonel G. Vincent Fosbery, and the new revolver was appropriately dubbed the Webley-Fosbery Automatic Revolver. The new weapon won high praise for reliability and accuracy, and the company placed the revolver on the market the following summer. The Webley-Fosbery mechanism relied on a fixed lower frame with machined rails upon which the barrel, cylinder, and upper frame assembly slid back and forth from the force of the recoil. This action simultaneously cocked the hammer and rotated the cylinder. Cylinder rotation was achieved through the use of zigzag tracks in the cylinder that mated with a diamond-shaped stud fixed in the center of the lower frame. The loading and unloading procedure was the same as the other break-open Webleys, and a thumb operated safety bolt was fitted to the lower-left fame. The safety bolt locked the revolver’s main body to the frame, thus preventing accidental discharge. It was offered in 4″, 6″ and 7.5″ barrel lengths.
Webley began experimenting with semi-automatic action in 1900, and in 1909 they began producing a series of semi-automatic pistols for civilian and police use. Their .32 Automatic Pistol was adopted by London’s Metropolitan Police in 1911. The same weapon in .38 caliber was used by the Royal Navy as a substitute standard weapon during World War II. The Ordnance Factory Board of India still manufactures .380 Revolver Mk IIz cartridges as well as a.32 caliber (also known as IOF Mk1) with 2-inch (51 mm) barrel that is clearly based on the Webley Mk IV .38 service pistol.
On the heels of the success of the pistol and shotgun markets, Webley decide to enter the air gun market in the early 1900′s when the UK Firearms Act of 1920 required people to obtain a firearms certificate to purchase or possess a firearm. After several years of development, Webley released their first air pistol, the Mark I in 1924.
Webley released their first air rifle (Mark I Air Rifle) two years later in 1926. The Webley Mark I air rifle set the standard for such guns. A break-barrel, spring rifle, it is today very much a collectors piece. The follow-up model, the MKII Service (1929), became known as the Service as it was used to train Army recruits. Today, a complete gun in its original case could fetch as much as $3,000.
During World War II Webley air rifles were used for rifle training as well as civilian target shooting and hunting. The Mark II, known as the service air rifle because of its use by the UK military, used break-action with a superimposed barrel locked by bolt action. The barrel was easily detachable so it was possible to have three calibres, .177; .22; .25.
The Mark II was discontinued in 1946 and replaced by the Mark III, in production until 1975. The Mark III was a top-loaded air rifle with a fixed barrel and used under lever cocking. It was only made in .177 and .22 calibers.
Webley continuned to manufacturer and innovate in the air gun market in the early 20th century. By the early 1970′s, Webely’s Tempest model air pistol had sold over 500,000 units. It contiues to be a current model (although upgraded) in the current product assortment today.
Today, Webley continues to manufacture air pistols in .22 (5.5 mm) and .177 (4.5 mm) caliber, and air rifles in .22, .177 and .25 (6.35 mm) caliber. A variety of pistols and rifles are available in single/multi stroke pneumatic, spring, spring, PCP and CO2.
In 1878 William Middleditch Scott designed and patented the first successful side-lock shotgun, this was manufactured under royalty arrangements by a number of firms including Holland & Holland. In 1910 the firm made it’s “Proprietary Hammerless Boxlock”, this used the Webley top extension Screw Grip patented in 1882. It was later named the Model 400 and and became available for a time in three grades, production continued until 1946. This model with it’s top extension was the first to take advantage of improvements in accurate machining of metal parts so that guns could be made on what was called the “interchangeable principle”.
In about 1912 the company made a trap-shooting shotgun with a raised ventilated rib, a mid-sight, Monte Carlo stock with pistol grip, and a beavertail fore-end. In 1914 the company introduced their Model 100 single barrel semi-hammerless shotgun production of which continued until about 1975. This was gun was based on William Baker’s patent No. 6223 of 1910 but in 1922 and 1924 improvements were patented by D V Johnstone and John William Fearn. From 1914 to 1929 they made a single-barrel trap gun.
In the 1950s they also made boxlock and falling-block guns for Holland & Holland. W C Scott & Son had been a major supplier of guns to Holland & Holland from the mid-1800s; from about 1919 these boxlocks were usually sold with “Shot and Regulated by Holland & Holland” engraved on the barrel or rib.
In 1957 two extra models were introduced, these were the 701 and 702 which had more engraving and better wood. The 702 was the top of the range, not the 701 as some reports state; this oft-repeated mistake arose due to a researcher obtaining prices for the 701 and 702 at different times and between rises in prices. Variations including 20 bore and 28 bore models, were made for export to the USA. The number of guns produced by the firm at this time and during the 1960′s and early 1970′s was about 1000 per annum of which more than half were exported to the USA.
From 1970 to 1978 the company imported Over/Under shotguns from Beretta in Italy. These guns were finished by Webley & Scott and named either “Model 900″ (1346 in number)or “Model 901″ (11 in number), the latter having better wood and engraving. In 1973 the Harris & Sheldon Group bought Webley & Scott, Ltd. In 1978 and In 1979 Webley & Scott ceased shotgun production but continued to manufacturer air rifles and air pistols.
In 2010, Webley & Scott was purchased by new management. Newly focused, and after an absence of over two decades Webely & Scott shotguns are back. A perfect blend of traditional craftsmanship and modern technology, the new range of Webley & Scott Over and Under and Semi-Automatic shotguns are set to create a legacy of their own in the new millennium. Webely & Scott is very proud to offer these tremendous new firearms and revive such a historical name.