GUNSMITHS OF REGENCY LONDON – HENRY NOCK

By

Louisa Cornell

 

 

Henry Nock, Gunmaker

Elm Street, Mount Pleasant, Clerkenwell, London

No. 10 Ludgate Street – Shop

No. 9 Castle Alley, White Chapel – Manufactory

Established 1768

Henry Nock learned his trade as a gunsmith in Birmingham in what was known as the Gun Quarter, an area of Birmingham known for years as the world’s center for gun making and munitions manufacturing. At the age of 27 he made his way to London and in 1768 opened up a gunsmith shop.

In addition to being a skilled craftsman Nock was a pioneer in the realm of firearms and has to his credit many innovations and inventions. One such patented invention would impact the gun trade and be adopted as a standard within the industry. It was a removable octagonal barrel that facilitated much improved maintenance. This development would come to be known as ‘Knoxform’ and is described in the patent application as a process to: “…take the Barrell from the lock, which renders the Barrell exceedingly easy to be cleaned, and there is no obstruction of the Breech Pin as in other Guns.”

The making of guns and gun locks were not Nock’s only business. He knew that diversification was paramount to a successful business. The first recording of this manufacture of edged weapons appears in the Board of Ordnance records for December 20th 1777 where it is recorded that he is advanced 200 pounds to provide bayonets, which suggests a rather large order.

Henry Nock was one of the finest and most influential arms makers of his time. His contribution cannot be understated, and he produced some of the very finest and most beautiful guns of that era.

An exquisite example of Henry Nock’s work. This circa 1780 ‘seven’ barreled volley gun was part of an order of 500 such weapons made and supplied by Nock during the 1780’s to the British military at a cost of £13 each.

In 1784 Nock became a Freeman of the Gunmakers Company. In 1789 he was appointed gunmaker-in-ordinary to King George III , largely as a result of his patented breech for hunting guns and other inventions.  In 1802 Nock became Master of the Gunmakers Company. He made weapons covering the whole field from pistols to muskets. The great variety is perhaps illustrated by his coach blunderbuss which, like naval pistols, had a more corrosion resistant brass barrel. Such weapons were intended to be used at short range and did not take a large enough charge to require iron barrels. Nock continued to innovate until his death – late in life he was making breech loading muskets

Coach Blunderbuss

The brass barrel with a flared and ringed muzzle, tapering inward and backward to a ring fronted octagonal staging. The barrel topped with a spring release triangular and concave sided bayonet. The steel flint lock mechanism engraved ‘H NOCK’ for Henry Nock, 1741 – 1804. The underside with a ramrod held within ringed brass pipes, the trigger guard with floral engraving, finished to the end with a flower head finial. The walnut stock with a hatched hand hold, and brass butt plate.

GUNSMITHS OF REGENCY LONDON – THE EGG BROTHERS

By

Louisa Cornell

 

Durs Egg

St. James, Piccadilly (1778)

Coventry Street (1786)

132 Strand

1 Pall Mall

In 1770 Durs Egg appeared in London “with 3 shillings and 6 pence in his pocket” and found work with the then famous British gunsmith Henry Nock. By 1772 he had his own business with rented premises in the Haymarket, Panton Street. On 3 June 1776 he sold two “Ferguson Rifle Guns” to the British army for £31, the first of many regular orders for arms, and by 1778 he was ensconced at St James, Piccadilly, where he counted the Prince Regent among his customers.

Among the numerous Durs Egg weapons which are shown as masterpieces in the weapons collection in Windsor, is a pair of pistols on which the trademark “Gun Maker To His Royal Highness” appeared for the first time. The prince’s esteem for Durs Egg was revealed in a letter to his brother Prince Ferdinand of Hanover:

“… the rifle barrel gun was made by the best workman we have here; he is a Swiss German and his name is Egg. This gun is made after Ferguson rifle, it is almost the neatest piece of workmanship, ever was made.”

From 1799 Durs Egg was allowed to call himself “Gun Maker To His Majesty, the Prince of Wales and the Duke of York”.

During the war years against Napoleon Bonaparte, Durs Egg produced a large number of rifles and pistols for the army and he also supplied the French royalists, who had established themselves on the Channel Islands, with a large series of carbines. The historian John F. Hayward mentions in his work “The Art of the Old Gunsmiths” that Durs Egg was particularly famous for his double-barreled shotguns and dueling pistols, which he produced in large numbers.

Unfortunately for Durs Egg, the defeat of Napoleon and the ensuing peace meant that in 1815 his income fell from around £90,000 pa to about £2,300. He was also beginning to lose his sight at this time and became completely blind by 1822. He died in 1831.

Only one of his sons, John Egg (1795) followed in his footsteps. The financial situation, however, grew so dire that he had to close the doors of the business from 1831 until 1837 when he reopened at No. 4 Pall Mall in the Opera Colonnade, a few doors down from his father’s old shop. After this he was quite successful, although as a gunsmith he wasn’t in the same class as his father. John Egg was probably the supplier of arms for the last known pistol duel in England in 1843.

Triple barrel pistol created for the Prince Regent -still included in the Windsor Castle armaments collection.

 

 

  

Joseph Egg & Sons

No. 1 Piccadilly (1802) Final and most well-known address.

Established Walker & Egg “Gunsmiths and Patent Spring Truss Makers” in 1801 at 59 Frith Street.

Established Tatham & Egg in 1802 at 37 Charing Cross (Partnership dissolved in 1814)

Established Joseph Egg & Sons in 1835

Jean Joseph Egg (1775-1837) was the brother of Durs Egg and worked for Henry Tatham from 1801. The two men later co-founded the company Tatham & Egg. In 1814 Joseph opened his own shop at Piccadilly Circus.

In 1800 he took out a patent for a “method of bending steel without the assistance of heat, which may be applied to the manufacturing of surgical instruments.” In 1814 he advertised a self-adjusting truss, invented by him, protected by a German patent, used in many hospitals, and made at his shop at the corner of Piccadilly and the Haymarket. While these were both financially advantageous endeavors, his true fortune and claim to fame came from his guns.

Joseph was probably the most creative of the entire Egg gunsmith dynasty. His specialty at first was a new type of miniature pistols (pocket pistols) of the highest quality, whose precision is reminiscent of the work of watchmakers. They have one or two barrels and fittings made of engraved silver, in some cases even gold. This was followed by a whole series of inventions and patents. Joseph Egg’s weapons can be found in Windsor Castle, the Leningrad Hermitage and the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.

Joseph Egg also dedicated a large portion of his business to high-end pistols, carbines and coach guns for wealthy patrons, with most of them never seeing much use despite being based on very practical designs.

In 1813 he took out a patent for “applying and improving locks.” He also took out patents for a waterproof gun lock he devised, a self-primer, a percussion priming magazine, and he took out a French patent for a pellet lock.

This rare pistol is distinguished by its inverted flintlock. This repositioning of the ignition mechanism is emblematic of London gunmakers’ pursuit of inventive methods to improve upon traditional firearm design. Joseph Egg, one of the preeminent gunmakers active in London in the early nineteenth century, patented the configuration in 1813, likely drawing inspiration from a small group of German rifles made in the 1750s which also featured inverted flintlocks. Benefits of the inverted lock included a cleaner sightline down the barrel and a downward-directed flash that allowed for improved vision when firing. Ultimately, Egg’s design failed to gain popularity and few firearms of this type were made. Today, only three examples of inverted flintlocks by Egg and Henry Tatham, a gunmaker with whom Egg partnered from 1801–14, are known.

 

 

GUNSMITHS OF REGENCY LONDON – MANTON’S

By

Louisa Cornell

 

Manton’s

25 Davies Street, Berkeley Square

Established 1792

Joseph Manton was born in Grantham, Lincolnshire in 1766, and at the age of 14 was apprenticed to a local gunmaker. In 1781, he began working under his brother, John Manton, a gunmaker of 6 Dover Street, London.

In 1789, at the age of 23, Joseph started out on his own, working mostly on ways to improve rifling and wadding. His fantastic and modern ideas garnered interest from the British government and he was given patronage to explore many of his ideas further. Joseph Manton’s fame spread rapidly. He would go on to register twice as many patents as any other gunmaker.

In 1792 he opened his Mayfair gun shop which was soon patronized by prominent businessmen, leading politicians and nobility. He was awarded a Royal Warrant as well as lucrative contracts from the East India Company. Manton also opened his famous shooting gallery at No. 25 as the young bucks called it. A smart business move, as it allowed potential customers to fire Manton’s various guns before deciding to place an order for one themselves.

Captain Gronow wrote of visiting the shooting gallery:

When in London, Byron used to go to Manton’s shooting gallery in Davies Street, to try his hand, as he said, at a wafer. Wedderburn Webster was present when the poet, intensely delighted with his own skill, boasted to Joe Manton that he considered himself the best shot in London. “No, my lord,” replied Manton. “not the best, but your shooting today was respectable,” upon which Byron waxed wroth, and left the shop in a violent passion.

Lords Byron, Yarmouth, Pollington, Mountjoy, Walliscourt, Blandford, Captain Burges, Jack Bouveric, and myself were in 1814, and for several years afterwards, amongst the chief and most constant frequenters of this well-known shooting gallery, and frequently shot at the wafer for considerable sums of money. Manton was allowed to enter the betting last, and he generally backed me. On one occasion, I hit the wafer nineteen times out of twenty.

Manton is credited with the invention of the tubelock in 1814. This was really the precursor to the percussion cap, and was an important milestone on the path from flintlock to percussion cap guns. The principal was very simple – instead of using a bit of flint to generate a spark on steel to ignite powder, the hammer instead struck down on a pill of ‘fulminate of mercury’ wrapped in copper. When struck, the pill would explode, the flame igniting the main powder charge. Although this technology was superseded in 1822 by a cup filled with fulminate (the percussion cap), it was nevertheless an important step in firearms manufacture. Plenty of sportsmen adopted it as well as a variation that was adopted by the Austrian military.

Rare-joseph-manton-tube-lock-and-elevation-patent-side-by-side-20-bore-shotgun

 

Flintlock pistol made by Joseph Manton in 1802.

Joseph Manton was firm friends with Colonel Peter Hawker, a great sportsman and pioneering wildfowler. They worked together to produce some of the fowling pieces of the muzzle-loading era, and really turned the ‘fowling piece’ into the ‘sporting shotgun’ that we recognize today. The idea of making a sporting shotgun a thing of beauty began with Manton. His skill as a silversmith was nearly as great as his skill as a gunmaker. Many of his guns were considered works of art. In fact, his guns were so beautifully made they are still highly sought today.

Double-Barreled Side-by-Side Flintlock Shotgun
ca. 1837

Manton is also credited with paving the way to breech-loading guns. This started with the development of a disposable cannon cartridge. Instead of loading all pieces independently into the front of the gun, a wooden cup (cut to fit down the rifling on a rifled cannon barrel) was attached to a bag of powder, which in turn was attached to a cannon ball. This self-contained ammunition was also available for smaller guns, and was the start of what we know today as modern bullets.

All of these techniques came together in the development of Manton’s dueling pistols which had a reputation for a truer aim than any pistols in England. As many deaths in duels were a result of poorly aimed pistols and weapon malfunction, Manton’s pistols became the chosen weapon for all duels where the purpose was merely to satisfy one’s honor rather than to kill one’s opponent.

A case of flintlock pistols, John Manton & Sons, London, ca. 1814

Manton did all of this research and development in conjunction with the British army, with the army lending Manton a gun and ongoing investment. When Manton went to bill the army for his work, they fell out, as the army felt Manton wanted too much (£30,000 in 1820 works out as £3,500,000, give or take a few quid). Manton had patented the design already so the army had to pay him to use it – their offer was one farthing per shell (a farthing was ¼ of a penny or 1/960 of a pound – equivalent today to £0.13 per shell). Although the production rate of shells would have been great, this did not agree with Manton and he refused the offer. During the long dispute, the army was still allowed to make shells, but had to buy the wooden cups from Manton.

In the end, the army won out, Manton lost the legal battle and his fortune along with it. In 1826, the great man was declared bankrupt, the bank seizing his workshop on Oxford Street as well as his large stock of guns. Although the company tried to restart, increasing debts forced its closure once again, leaving Joseph Manton in debtors’ prison between 1828 and 1829.

Manton’s gun shop produced a generation of gunmakers that made London gunmaking what it is today. James Purdey, Thomas Boss, William Moore and Charles Lancaster all worked for him and these four men alone went on to found some of the best gunmaking businesses of all time.

Joseph Manton died on 29 June 1835 at the age of 59. Colonel Hawker wrote in his epitaph that while his tomb may hold his mortal remains, ‘an everlasting monument to his unrivalled genius is already established in every quarter of the globe by his celebrity as the greatest artist in firearms ever the world produced, as the founder and the father of the modern gun trade, and as a most scientific inventor in other departments, not only for the benefit of his friends and the sporting world, but for the good of his king and country’.

 

30 Bore Dueling Pistols made in 1790 for the 2nd Marquess of Hertford

HISTORIC PUB CRAWL – The Prospect of Whitby

THE PROSPECT OF WHITBY

WAPPING / TOWER HAMLETS                                                                   

57 Wapping Wall, London

LOUISA CORNELL

 

 

The Prospect of Whitby is one of London’s oldest pubs and it is believed to be the oldest riverside pub on the Thames. There has been a pub on this site since 1520 which means it existed during the reign of Henry VIII. In fact, the original flagstone floor is still visible in the pub today. Four hundred year old craftsmanship endures.

The four hundred year old flagstone floor and pewter bar make the Prospect of Whitby one of the most authentic historic pubs in London.

The first pub on the site was called the Pelican. Because of its proximity to the river it quickly became a den of cutthroats, pirates, thieves, highwaymen, and many other unsavory denizens of the area. Larger ships had to berth in the middle of the river and goods were ferried to shore in smaller boats by men called lightermen. This made it easy for criminals to steal from the ships, and The Pelican often served as a base for these felons to disperse their stolen goods. In spite of the name on the sign, because of the constant nefarious activity the tavern eventually became known as the Devil’s Tavern. Of course, with this sort of clientele the local prostitutes congregated here as well.

Naturally with the large criminal contingent in attendance, the tavern also claims its proximity to the execution dock used to hang those condemned to death by the Admiralty Courts. To this day there is a scaffold and hanging noose outside the tavern. Wapping Old Stairs next to the tavern was where some of those sentenced to death – usually pirates – were chained to posts to await the incoming tide and death by drowning.

Like the Town of Ramsgate pub, the Prospect of Whitby was a favorite of the Hanging Judge George Jeffries (1645-1689) (see the Town of Ramsgate post.   http://numberonelondon.net/2021/05/historic-pub-crawl-town-of-ramsgate/) Once he began to frequent the establishment, the criminal element moved their activity elsewhere, or at least conducted their activities out of his sight. He had a special window built in the tavern that overlooked the execution dock so he could watch those whom he had condemned die. To this day people have reported seeing a man’s face gazing out the window where Jeffries used to sit. In an interesting side note, Jeffries supposedly had the bodies of those hanged dumped into the Thames. The body snatchers hid out in boats along the river’s edge to fish out the bodies and sell them to local medical schools.

The most famous criminal hanged at the execution dock at the Prospect of Whitby was Captain William Kidd. Ironic, as the Scottish sea captain was originally appointed by the Crown to hunt down pirates. He discovered piracy was much more profitable than hunting down pirates. He did quite well for a while. Unfortunately, in 1698 he captured The Quedagh, which was sailing under a French pass. The captain, however, was an Englishman and the rich cargo Kidd took was property of the East India Company. Kidd was eventually captured and brought back to London where he was sentenced to death for piracy and for the murder of one of his own crewmen (in 1697) who had dared to cross him.

It took three tries to execute Captain Kidd. The first two ropes broke. The third one held and once he was dead his body was dipped in tar and hung by chains on the banks of the Thames as a warning to other pirates.

After a fire in the early nineteenth century the tavern was rebuilt and renamed. As the owners had tried everything to disassociate their tavern from its dangerous reputation, for a while they had removed all signage. Those who wished to direct someone to the tavern would say “You want the tavern across from the Prospect of Whitby. The Prospect of Whitby was a collier that berthed next to the tavern. The ship hauled coal from Newcastle on Tyne to London. Eventually the directions were shortened to the Prospect of Whitby and the owners of the newly rebuilt establishment decided to adopt the name permanently. Much more amiable a name than The Devil’s Tavern. Even with the new name a few of the tavern’s more lucrative activities continued. The cock fighting pit and the bare knuckle boxing arena were in use well into the nineteenth century.

Of course the pub claims its more upstanding celebrity visitors as well. The diarist Samuel Pepys (1633-1703) was said to have had supper at the tavern quite frequently. Charles Dickens (1812-1870) was known to visit as well. The artists J.M.W. Turner (1775-1851) and James Abbott MacNeill Whistler (1834-1903) both visited and made sketches of views from the pub.

Is the pub haunted, you ask?

According to customers from the eighteenth century forward, the Prospect of Whitby is the grand central station of riverside hauntings. To name just a few:

Supposedly one is often accosted walking to the pub at night by the waterlogged ghosts of the men hanged or drowned at the execution dock in search of their bodies taken by the body snatchers. Other similar ghosts are said to be in search of Judge George Jeffries to exact revenge.

The ghost of a young woman dressed in a doublet, breeches, and smoking a pipe is often seen sitting in the dark corners of the pub watching guests drink. Supposedly, she was a moll cutpurse – a woman who would sidle up to unsuspecting (translation:drunk and in search of feminine company) men and cut their purses from their belts. She is believed to have been caught by one of her marks before she could get away and the gentleman beat her to death in the back of the tavern. One wonders if she is visiting the pub these days in search of her next mark.

Oh, and remember that fire in the early nineteenth century? The cobblestone streets around the tavern all but guarantee it is shrouded in fog at night. The cobblestones retain heat and the cold night air pulls that heat out as fog. The fog was even thicker in the nineteenth century when horse and foot traffic kept the roads heated at all times. As a result it was not unusual to see shapes, but nothing clearly, if one happened to stroll by the tavern after closing time. However, people began to say they saw lights in the Prospect of Whitby long after the owners had closed up and gone to bed. Not just lights, but lights enough to see clear through the pub to the river. And in those lights they saw a figure moving about the tavern. A figure very like that of Captain William Kidd. Eventually the owners decided they did not want people coming to the pub after closing in an attempt to see the mysterious figure. So one night they decided to leave the lights on in the tavern. Big mistake. That very night a fire broke out in the back of the tavern and burned nearly to the execution dock. If not for the newly inaugurated fire brigade the fire might have spread throughout the dockside buildings. Needless to say once the tavern was restored the lights were left out after closing. Just in case. A vengeful Captain Kidd is not to be trifled with.  

 

 

 

These days there is no need to imagine what the pub might have looked like when pirates, cutthroats, and thieves occupied the tables there. From the rickety stairs to the stone-flagged floors to the crooked doors and heavy rum flagons the Prospect of Whitby looks very much as it did then. For a trip back in time to the swashbuckling days of yore, this pub is definitely worth a visit. Just pay attention to sudden chills and the hairs on the back of your neck!

 

 

 

 

HISTORIC PUB CRAWL – The Grenadier – aka The Most Haunted Pub in London

THE GRENADIER

BELGRAVIA / KNIGHTSBRIDGE

18 Wilton Row, London

LOUISA CORNELL

 

 

The building that houses The Grenadier was originally built in 1720. It served as the officers’ mess for the senior infantry regiment of his His Majesty’s Army, the 1st Regiment of Foot Guards. The building was, in fact, located in the courtyard of their barracks. This particular regiment played an important role in the defeat of Napoleon at Waterloo. And after they defeated the emperor’s French Imperial Guard they felt the need to adapt the Imperial Guard’s bearskins as their regimental trademark and they changed their name to the Grenadier Guards. Apparently when one whoops the derrieres of Napoleon’s elite one can do that.

It is understandable then that when the building was repurposed as a tavern called The Guardsman in 1818 that many of its customers were members of the regiment still housed in the nearby barracks. In honor of their success at Waterloo it wasn’t long before the tavern changed its name to The Grenadier. Because of its rather out of the way location, the Duke of Wellington and even King George IV are said to have stopped by for a pint or two.

 

 

The upper rooms of the tavern were used by the more urbane customers. The common soldiers used the cellar as their personal haven to drink and wile away the hours playing cards. It is said on a September evening in 1818 a young Grenadier guard named Cedric was caught cheating at cards. His fellow card players punished him with a beating so brutal he died, right there in the cellar of The Grenadier.

And apparently, Cedric never left. Whilst his presence is felt in various ways throughout the year, for some reason the month of September still gets Cedric stirred up. During September a solemn, silent spectre is said to be seen moving slowly across the low-ceilinged rooms. Objects have been known to disappear or to be moved during the night. Unseen hands rattle tables and chairs. Footsteps have been heard in empty rooms. Low moans can sometimes be heard from the cellar when there is no one down there. At times rooms in the pub become icy cold and can remain so for hours, days, or even an entire month at the time.

A Chief Superintendent from New Scotland Yard was having a drink at The Grenadier one evening when he noticed puffs of smoke swirling around him. He reached out to try and detect the source of the smoke and snatched his hand back in pain. He’d been burned by a cigarette. The thing was, there was no one there.

Another even more recent event involved a barman who went down into the cellar to fetch some cigars for the bar. Cigarette breaks were hard to come by, especially when The Grenadier was busy. He stopped for a moment to have a cigarette. The landlord’s cat appeared in the cellar, an unusual event in and of itself as the cat wasn’t ever allowed out of the owner’s flat over the pub. Suddenly the cellar turned icy cold. The barman’s crystal ashtray flew across the room into the wall. The cat bowed up and sank his teeth and claws into the barman’s ankle. Needless to say the barman shook off the cat and shot up the stairs out of the cellar and back into the pub.

The Grenadier is still hard to find if you don’t know exactly where it is. The building is surrounded by lovely cottages and one must weave in and out of various cobblestone lanes and narrow private side streets to reach the beautiful Georgian building beneath the shade of a magnificent tree. The distinct red and blue accents against the whitewashed walls gives the pub a distinct pop.

 

The Grenadier is the typical old pub with random objects on the walls and sturdy wooden furniture. The Boot Room is where the general public imbibes as it has more of the common touch. Which includes a ceiling papered with pound notes. Why? To pay Cedric’s gambling debts, of course. If one doesn’t want to incur his wrath or have him light up a cigarette next to one it is best to do one’s part.

 

 

 

 

The Wellington room is a bit more elegant with ornate mirrors and leather Chesterfield seating. Which creates an atmosphere that has been called spooky. Be forewarned.

 

 

 

 

 

For a more personal visit to the most haunted pub in London, check out this post by our very own Kristine Hughes-Patrone and her travel companions!

http://numberonelondon.net/2015/07/the-wellington-tour-dinner-at-the-grenadier/