I decided to write this article on Webley & Scott 700 because over the years the companies efforts have some how been overlooked in one way or another. And more importantly it was in its day the only British shotgun manufacturer that the average shooting man could afford to purchase a new gun from that was truly built here in England. Yes we do still make high end shotguns in England but they are only for the wealthy and well beyond the purchase capabilities of the average working family man. I will agree with any person that says the 700 is not eye catching when it comes to engraving or the wood. All I can say to that is “you don’t shoot the engraving or it’s Wood” though you shoot the gun and as a whole it does that extremely reliably time after time.
The Webley & Scott 700 legacy
Is it me??? Or do we British seem to be extremely complacent when one of our long established manufactures ceases to trade and parts of the company are sold off to the highest bidder. Webley & Scott was one of the most prolific gunmakers Britain has ever seen being the only maker in reality to warrant the use of six figure gun serial numbers, after all it had been in business since William Davis founded his business at the Weaman Street Birmingham in 1790. Though now it is only one of many world renowned English companies that include Rolls Royce and Bentley cars, Marconi, GEC, and Wilkinson Sword being only a few names that over the last four decades have unfortunately been broken up this way. So before things become changed adjusted forgotten caused by the passage of time.
Webley & Scott 700 action clearly showing the absence of a cross pin
I would like to say why in my personal opinion Webley & Scott 700 series side by side boxlock shotguns, once described has having “Plain Jane looks” does deserve a much closer look. Even though its manufacture ceased here in 1979 after some 26000 to 28000 where built with the Lion’s share of this output still alive and shooting today. This averages out to around 800 to a 1000 guns manufactured a year and for a company that produced arms on a very large scale this is an exceedingly low production number indeed. And as usual we British do not seem to appreciate what assets these guns really are, probably because we can’t or don’t want to look past the name Webley & Scott that prolific manufacturer of military pistols, air weapons, Humane Killers, and harpoon guns to name but a few of its products. Rather than seeing what actually went in to the manufacture of these particular guns, which in reality was accomplished mostly by craftsmen and as far away from today’s slick high volume close tolerance CNC and Laser produced sporting guns of today as you could possibly get, and I do wish those words “Oh it’s only a Webley” would slip out of use especially when used in connection with the 700 series guns.
Trade label used until 1958
Webley & Scott started to manufacture the model 700 around 1947 at a time when Britain was starting to recover after the Second World War with the initial guns being made as 12 and 16 bore Boxlocks. Because of dealer pressure especially from the US 20 and 28 bores where introduced in the 1960’s though all the guns made before the introduction of the 701 & 702s, where made as grade 3 the 701 & 702 models where introduced in the early 1950’s having higher quality wood and a little more elaborate engraving.
In the beginning the Webley 700 was designed and built to meet a growing home market demand for a sound well made no frills workhorse that in the previous century would have been described as a keepers gun, referring to the fact that a game keepers gun was a heavily used work tool out in all weathers treated fairly harshly and would still keep working with the minimum level of servicing if it had any at all, and in that sense I feel Webley did manage to get the design and manufacturing right whether by intention or just old fashioned good luck.
Action cocking leavers and ejector claws
The gun is based on the famous Anson & Deeley boxlock system with automatic safety, and Southgate cartridge ejector system. Both systems are considered exceedingly rugged and reliable though Webley did add a number of their own modifications with two very noticeable deviations that can be seen at a glance. The cocking leavers have extensions that activate the ejector kicker after the appropriate barrel has been fired, and the cross pin which is integral with the action casting and therefore not removable. Nearly all the 700s manufactured where of the double trigger design though there where some single trigger versions built. Another not so obvious modification is that the top leaver is fitted into a part called a screw grip that can be seen surrounding the leaver boss and screw. This also moves when the lever is operated and is used to support the spindle that operates the action bolt when it locks and unlocks the barrels, all powered by a V spring. The strikers are not disk set but are integral with each of the hammers and in its turn each hammer is driven by its own V spring.
Opening leaver and ‘Screw grip’
The gun’s design does follow the lines of a classic British boxlock game gun with an oiled straight hand stock whose dimensions are fairly standard with drops of 1½ inches at the comb 2¼ inch at the heel, with a cast off or on around 3/16 inch with its length of pull around 14½ inches. Also there is a less common stock variant, a well proportioned half pistol grip sometimes described as semi pistol grip. All the 700s where fitted with a splinter forend which contains the cartridge ejector mechanism, and the Anson push rod forend release mechanism which incidentally contains the only coil spring in the guns construction. The wood is finished with what some would say rather coarse flat top English chequering, though it does provide an excellent area of grip for cold wet hands. The stock is secured to the action by a screw travelling vertically from the trigger plate to the rear of the action top strap with further anchoring assistance given by the trigger guard retaining screws. Thankfully the action is not secured with a bolt travelling the full length of the stock which does tend to make the hand section so wide, it some how removes that pleasing line of a well proportioned and slim gun stock. Sadly this now brings me to the Walnut used which is extremely plain indeed, to be brutally frank I have seen finer figured wood used in fruit packing boxes, though in webley’s defence can I say this gun was conceived and manufactured as an affordable double gun which it certainly was at the time! From a 1969 Parker-Hale gun catalogue the retail prices for the 700 series where 12 and 16ga £114 with the 20ga slightly more expensive at £128.
This brings me to the strongly made well blued barrels which are of the standard chopper lump design, so they do not have those mono block joint lines that I do believe prevent barrels having that smooth unbroken visual appearance unless welded. Initially barrel lengths available where to be 28 and 26 inch though this stipulation did not last to long for today you will find barrels of every length from 25 to 30 inches, though the majority of barrels do seem to have the smooth style concave game top rib, though I have seen Churchill type top ribs fitted to an occasional gun. Initially the 12 bore barrels had 2 ½ inch chambers but pressure again from the American distributers their size was increased to 2 ¾ inch to accommodate the heavier loads more popular in the US. Barrel chokes are fixed and originally supplied as Left ¾ and Right ¼ but then a change of heart and choking started to be bored to individual requirements when the gun was initially ordered. The weight of the ever popular 12 bore was less than 7 pounds typically 6 ½ though this is very much dependent on barrel length.
Now there are some negative aspects to the gun though these are not great in number. The gun is not assisted opening so if you fire both barrels on opening the gun your efforts will be used for re resetting the hammers, and on closing the ejectors, therefore some extra effort is required.
Early 2 ½ inch Chambered 700 Birmingham Proof Marks
The cross pin being an integral part of the action casting is non removable so makes repair a little more complicated with replacement not an option when the joint eventually loosens to the point where the barrels are off the action face. The only way to rectify the problem is to work on the barrel side of the joint though with the introduction of TIG welding to the gunsmiths armoury this repair has become very much less of a problem, though I must say my own two well used 700 examples are still on the face and close up like well fitting bank vault doors after some fifty years of regular service.
The more usual 2 ¾ inch chambered 700 Birmingham Proof Marks
There are no off the shelf spares available so all replacement’s have to be made and then fitted, this is only to be expected because each gun was initially built by individual craftsmen, and made entirely of parts produced at the Webley & Scott factory and not bought in from the four corners of the planet. So a competent gunsmith should be able to affect the repairs necessary to keep the gun in a sound working condition.
The stock on the earlier of my two has been refinished owing to the fact that the finish applied by Webley to the very early guns I presume was just Linseed Oil and precious little else, so over the intervening fifty years it became darker and darker to the point where the stock took on a definite black appearance. Though as the guns became more popular the Webley finish and wood did improve somewhat as you can see the semi pistol grip version has a little more colour in the wood due to the use of that ever popular ‘red oil’ in finishing. So when I had the black looking stock refinished no improvement was made to its colour as I felt it should look the same as it did when it first left the factory.
The forend wood is fitted to the Iron by a small machine screw which also holds the forend metal nose piece, with a single large wood screw in the centre that if this becomes loose it can cause the wood of the forend to split its full length. This is commonly overcome by removing this screw altogether and fitting a metal diamond let in to the bottom face of the forend wood and using a machine screw to secure the wood to the Iron, and in doing so this does give the forend a more traditional appearance.
Forend showing ejector and cocking leaver points
The barrels are definitely not suitable for steel shot but that said a lot of other maker’s guns are not suitable for steel either. While on the subject of other makers Webley’s Plain Jane can be found sporting such illustrious maker’s names as Holland & Holland, Westley Richards, William Evans, though displaying a more lavishly engraved action coupled with up market walnut. And not only that I have lost count of the various dealers names I seen engraved on these guns over the years, it was at one time possible to purchase a completed proofed action and barrels in the white. I have seen three guns carrying their owner’s names which where purchased in the white from Webley & Scott then finished to their owner’s specification by other gun trade craftsmen; I am sure my own semi pistol grip 1½ with the polished action started out this way. Though the most memorable of all the names on a 700 I have seen was “A.N. Other” some owner with a mischievous sense of humour for sure.
Now some food for thought! The records show that there was one double .410 made in 1967 but knowing Webley records there may be more! Now that would be a find and a half if it did happen to travel your way, you could be the luckiest .410 owner on the planet.
How about a leap of faith! At today’s prices it is possible to buy two second user identical specification 700 12 bores in good condition for an extremely fair price if you are prepared to shop around. Then may be spend a little more to re-instate the colour hardening and a barrel re-blue also not forgetting to have the guns engraved respectively 1 and 2 to finish your project. And what you would have for your outlay would be a composed pair at a price far below what you would realistically have to pay today for a pair of English guns, and these are as English as Earl Grey Tea! Fish and Chips! And Charles Dickens! On the other hand you could just leave them as they are and plan each gun’s restoration over the coming years secure in the knowledge that the value of your purchase will increase.
If you can beg steel or borrow as the saying goes one of these “Plain Jane’s” just to see what this not so pricey English gun really feels like to use, you never know you just might suit each other if an English made gun is really what you want of course.
My two “Plain Jane’s” still working well after some 60 plus years
I do want to make it very clear it is the original 700 series side by side built entirely at the Webley & Scott Factory Birmingham England with production ceasing in 1979, and not the side by side we see on sale today under the Webley & Scott name manufactured in Turkey! The real 700 series are a finite resource with the prices creeping inexorably higher year on year though good examples are still available here in England at a reasonable price. Though in common with all older guns each should be judged on its merits paying very close attention to its over all condition, but those lucky people who already own one I am sure they would be very reluctant to part with it. That sentiment also goes for me and my two examples though they are not a composed pair, they are now with me for the long haul in fact it will be the death us do part thing!
Semi pistol grip 700 “one and a half” with a polished action
This “one and a half” with the polished action was put together around 1952 dating it by the serial number on the second barrel set which is two years after the guns initial build date, the extra barrel fitting work I am sure was undertaken by T.W.C. & Co which is engraved on the barrel lump, which makes me think they may have also retailed the gun. With having two barrel sets and 2¾ inch chambers plus a choice of chokes this is a useful gun for all seasons here in England, and to be expected of course there is a trade off regarding the guns balance, which is brought to an equitable compromise by the fitting of a Lead weight under the heal plate. The choking for the 29 inch barrel set is ¼ left and improved cylinder right and for the 27 ½ inch barrel set ¾ left and ½ right. The more traditional style 700 in the picture with the English straight hand stock was built in 1949 having 2½ inch chambers 28inch barrels choked left ¾ right ¼ and was probably a gun from one of the very first batches offered for sale by Webley & Scott. Its balance and overall fit is exceedingly good and being a little less weighty than its companion at 6½ pounds very useful in the field for fast birds when using a 1oz English No 6 shot load, it is also light enough to be carried all day without taking too much of a toll on your stamina. Those amongst you with Eagle eyes will have noticed the small differences in the engraving layout between the guns. Engraving style differed between individual engravers output on the day, though there is not a lot of engraving on each gun any way. I do hope after reading this you do come across one of these “plain Jane’s” in a retailers gun rack, and if you do please remember to give this now mature English Lady a second glance you never know it may turn in to love at the first shot.