Boss & Co Gunmakers where craftmanship stands the test of time.
Boss & Co Gunmakers where craftsmanship stands the test of time.
Jeremy Webb visited the Gunmakers', Gunmaker Boss & Co in the tranquil surroundings of Kew, in England. He found artisans who form a tight family with a passion for their guns.
I never thought I would be writing about a love affair when I took up the invitation to visit Boss & Co bespoke Gunmakers, but I am. All will become clear as I tell you the story of this English company established in 1812 and the longest London Gunmaker in continuous production. I hope in my writing I will be able to capture and pass on the pride and passion of the people I met on my tour of the facilities.
I say facilities but again you will understand more as I write, and you look at the photos in this piece. I arrived at Kew, South West of London expecting to find a large building with machines whirring away, lots of noise and smells. The reality was far from this.
The guns are produced in a building that must have once been a house. I walked by it several times before I saw someone leaving and an employee wearing a Boss & Co shirt.
I entered and met Arthur the owner, a Bostonian self-made billionaire who purchased the company in 2015. Immediately I knew I would like Arthur as he was welcoming and comfortable in his surroundings.
He grew up on a farm in the USA, where shooting was a daily activity. Not for sport but purely to keep squirrels, rats and bird numbers down. As he says everyone had a BB gun. A very enterprising child he started to sell produce from his family farm at the roadside and sales grew, which lead to other farmers asking Arthur to sell their produce. This became very successful and a chain of shops was formed.
Arthur got introduced to sports shooting and soon became aware of famous English made guns. Purdy and Holland & Holland, but above all Boss & Co kept being referred to as the best of the best. He decided to purchase a pair of guns and that was it, he was hooked on the company. This was in the early 1990s. His passion had been ignited. After a visit to the London shop, he was not impressed with the service, believing the experience should match the quality of the guns. He was actually upset about it, so a friend casually suggested to change the service to the way he wanted it to be, he should buy the company. That one comment fuelled Arthur's desire to purchase Boss & Co.
After several years of what he described as "Bird Dogging" the company he finally snagged his target and took over on November 3rd 2015. Before he took over it was a family business and had been since 1812 when William Boss established it. William had been an apprentice Gunmaker learning his trade in the many gun companies in Birmingham in the 19th century.
The company had not been up for sale, Arthur persuaded the owners with his passion and plans for it.
William Boss was also a good businessman like Arthur, and his skills soon became wanted amongst the gentlemen who shot. He worked hard and gathered enough money to start his own business, very much like Arthur. Boss quickly became the go-to Gunmaker and the company grew, developed and innovated. It became the first to produce the Over and Under shotgun, the side-lever and the very intricate single trigger mechanism. This was leading-edge technology at the time and changed the way other gunmakers produced their guns. William also made his guns slender which as I found out is very much an advantage when shooting. The gentlemen of the period desired a Boss & Co pair. This has not changed and anyone within the shooting world desires a pair of Boss & Co guns. I found myself wanting some too. If you want a pair to be prepared to wait a couple of years, as demand is high, but the output is low. You will understand why, by the end of this article.
Over the years since the company started the philosophy has been one thing only. "Always about the guns" They don't make low-grade guns, they only make the best.
I sat with Arthur for some time listening intently to his story and Boss & Co's history. Passion, pride and that Love Affair with the company became apparent. He was then keen to show me around the building, where he knows all the staff by first name as a good manager should. Arthur is hands-on and very personal.
The craftsmen and their apprentices work in small rooms which are packed full of tools of the trade. Each room looks like a hobbyist’ s shed, but the work that takes place within them is the highest quality in the world. I met a lot of the Gunmakers and their apprentices who were proud to show their craftsmanship, which I was in awe of. What they make is art, every bit as skilful as a Monet or Henry Moore. The detail that goes into every step of the making of one of these guns is tremendous. The Finisher, told me they deal in 1000th of an inch so a file is handled like a paintbrush.
Between the current GunMakers in the company, there is over two hundred years of experience. This is being passed on to Apprentices who showed me their passion for their work, which has passed to them along with the skills and knowledge of their mentors. Arthur is determined the skills are passed on and that is why he supports the apprentice scheme in the old tradition. They are qualified when ready and not just by a set period or piece of paper showing them they are competent. As I was told, " when people are firing something you have made, it has to be right every time."
One lad told me he had been working on a single piece for the Action, for ten hours. Filing then black-smoking the metal until the tiny pieces fit perfectly, with no tolerance.
There are five stages to making a gun and as I mentioned they are made in pairs. The reason is that a shooter will always be firing one gun while the loader, charges the other. This is in high-end shooting, not your average company bonding shoot at a local club.
There are designated roles within the company but all the Gunmakers know the entire process and are competent to produce a part if required.
The Barrel Maker.
Concentric high-grade steel tubes are braised together to create each individual barrel set to the customer’s own specification, then meticulously filed and shaped before soldering on the ribs and wings. This stage is where the bespoke element first applies as fine details have to be decided early to allow the barrel maker to shape the barrel. I learnt about Choke, which is shaping of the inside of the barrel to decide the spread of the pellets leaving the gun. You need different Chokes for the different game you are shooting. Hours of work go into each process and a combined figure is 1400 man hours per gun, not per pair.
Next stage is,
The heart of any Boss gun begins in the action shop, with each individual shape filed up after sculpting with a hammer and chisel, and uniquely dropping the barrels into the action rather than hooking the barrels in. Attention to detail on all the small internal parts including Boss’s own single trigger is carried out with precision. I spoke to an Apprentice who was filing the Boss & Co unique Trunnions on which the barrel pivots. These are so detailed yet are hidden away within the mechanism, and engraved over on the external part.
The woodwork is beautifully crafted and fitted to the metal work using original methods and all shaped by hand to the desired size and measurements. Precise chequering of the stock is carried out by the craftsman’s own hand-made tools. The wood is sourced from Turkey and buyers choose their stock from blocks in the Stocker's room. Various shapes can be made such as pistol grip, and the owner has the stock made to their firing preference and size.
The gun is assembled with the wood united with the metal, now it goes through the final two processes.
I met the Engraver who works in a small room with a lot of light and a large magnifying glass. He can replicate any design from Boss & Co's catalogue but mainly buyers want the acclaimed Boss best rose & scroll engraving which accounts for the vast majority of our understated elegant guns. He explained the engraving process take about six weeks per gun, which you can see why when you look at the amazing detail up close.
The final process before a Boss gun is delivered is at the skilled hands of the Finisher. The wood to metal finish is conscientiously examined and best London oil finish is applied to the woodwork by hand. The mechanical side of the gun is checked over and regulated and extensively test shot. I chatted to the Finisher who was my guide around the other departments. He oversees every worker and is very much a mentor to the Apprentices. Very proud of the guns Boss produce he loves his job.
I could spend a lot more time writing about each process and the skill, passion and love that goes into each gun. My trip around what is a very small building took two and a half hours and yet it flew by. My head full of information which I noted down as I didn't want to do an injustice to the dedicated and skilled workers.
When I say the building is old and small, even Arthur doesn’t have a grand, glass-walled office, he is happy in a small room right by the front door. It would have been the front room of a Georgian family.
Part of Arthur's attraction to buying the company came from the fact the workers are like a family. He has now become like a father and is protective of his workers, and keen to show their talents. He has plans for the company but will not compromise on quality, it will remain a bespoke Gunmaker and not move into other markets. It doesn't need to as customers are always demanding guns. The guns are exclusive as only a few are made a year, and you can see why after learning about the time put into every one.
Boss & Co can make you a 12, 16, 20 or 28 Bore gun totally unique to your design and specifications. When you decide to purchase a pair, you are measured for your guns as you would be for a bespoke suit. The company looks after you very well. A pair of guns starts at £140,000 and they increase in value with age, so again like art they appreciate. These are made to be used and not just looked at and are in high demand, just as they have been since the 19th century. This was when they gained the label the Gunmaker's Gunmaker. Every Gunmaker said their choice of gun if they could own one would be a Boss.
A story about one of the company's salesmen shows how sought after they were but yet unobtainable for most people. King George VI was approached by the salesman and asked if he had ever considered buying a Boss gun. The King instantly retorted, “A Boss gun, a Boss gun, bloody beautiful but too bloody expensive!”
A pair of guns is a luxury purchase but they are every bit worth the price for the time spent in building a quality gun which is the best of the best, and that title is not given out lightly.
Each gun is bespoke to the owner, no two guns are alike and each is a beautiful piece of artistry as well as being a precision shooter.
After my visit, I am hooked on the company and I just want to shoot a pair now.