Gun lore and the dynasty still going strong today
- Credit: Archant
A sweeping family saga that combines a history of individual figures with a detailed insight into the ups and downs of a niche manufacturing business goes on sale this week. Tony Wenham spoke to the author of Gallyons: Gunmakers of East Anglia
How many families can trace their roots back more than 200 years: through untimely deaths, global wars, hard times and prosperity? And how many could chronicle the characters and events which make up that family story?
Richard Gallyon, now in his 70s and representing the sixth generation of an East Anglian family of shotgun manufacturers, has done it – completing what his father had wanted to do but never quite got round to.
'He said to me once that we should produce a book, pointing to boxes and boxes of documents that lined his rather large office,' Richard explains.
Years later, the files found their way into two trunks and 10 boxes, in due course delivered to Richard's sister-in-law, Wendy Trott, who agreed to ghost-write the book... before realising the quantity of material. She was soon seduced by the contents, however.
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Example: William Gallyon founded the business in Cambridge in 1784. In those files, more than 13,000 sporting guns and 230 years later, his great-great-great grandson discovered William's notebook and a diary from 1786. The whole story had to be told.
'I'm a scientist,' says Wendy. 'I'd written research papers, never anything like this, but I thought I'd give it a go. The idea was to write it under Richard's name and to write it from his perspective, as if he was writing it. We've known each other a long time, so that wasn't a problem.
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'I wanted to approach it from three angles: a history of the family, the business and the historical context of the gun. I wrote one section – the one on his father – to see if it worked, and he said it was exactly what he wanted.'
Four years later, the 238-page (almost) A4 tome is ready.
William Gallyon, the descendant of a family of stained glass window craftsmen from Alsace-Lorraine, who worked in Cambridge's King's College chapel in the 16th century, opened for business in 1784. Almost 180 years later, Richard Gallyon, straight out of school, was beginning his own apprenticeship.
The weapons they worked on were very different in design and usage. In the late 18th and early 19th centuries, farmers and smallholders – along with professional wildfowlers on the coast – shot for the pot.
By the 1860s, the young Prince of Wales, later Edward VII, was refurbishing Sandringham House in west Norfolk and, with input from neighbour Lord Leicester at Holkham Hall, developing a new form of shooting. Driven shooting, with game birds such as pheasant and partridge flushed over standing shooters, became a fashionable sport.
It also opened up a new revenue stream for Gallyons. With premises in the heart of Cambridge, well-heeled undergraduates were a constant source of custom.
Richard Gallyon, formerly the youngest master of the Worshipful Company of Gunmakers and now its longest-standing member, explains the technology had to change rapidly to accommodate sportsmen who might be shooting thousands of driven birds a day.
As muzzle-loading flintlocks and percussion cap weapons had been superseded briefly by the pin-firing and subsequently the breechload, by the mid-1880s the hammerless side-by-side 12-bore shotgun – almost unchanged today – was in use.
Today's crafted English-built shotguns cost thousands of pounds in a market dominated by mass-produced European products. Very few new shotguns bear the Gallyon imprint, although the clothing and shooting accessories store in Norwich – brainchild of Richard's wife Vicky, but sold by the family 25 years ago – still carries the name. Richard continues to sell quality shotguns from his Norfolk home and assists with accreditation of apprentices.
Managing director of the company since the death of father Theodore (Fred) in 1978, Richard has derived great satisfaction from his and Wendy's work on the book. 'We're hoping it's not just for people who are interested in guns, but also those who love history. Our forebears had hard times – children died young, William lived over the shop and they took in lodgers. It's been moving to discover how my ancestors lived.'
Gallyons: Gunmakers of East Anglia goes on sale from Thursday at £50. It is also available from www.gallyon-and-sons.co.uk or 01953 850215.