Mysterious English Rook Rifle

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Mark Batten 250
Posts: 17
Joined: Fri Aug 24, 2018 8:20 pm

Mysterious English Rook Rifle

Post by Mark Batten 250 »

Greetings!

I'm attempting to find out more about who might have made this English 360 No. 5 rook rifle, as there's no maker's name engraved anywhere on the gun.

The rifle has a .366 groove diameter and will accept 38 Special cartridges. It has a nice piece of walnut with steel butt plate and horn forend tip.
There are London proof marks on the left side of the breech, but I don’t know what the small scrolled ‘R’ stamp means. There’s a single standing and single folding leaf sight marked ‘50 YRDS’ and ‘100 YRDS’. The muzzle has an unusual convex crown, with about 1/4” of unrifled and over-size bore inside the barrel.

I can shoot about a 4” group at 50 yards with hollow-based wad cutter 38 Special ammunition. I would like to try a larger heeled .366 bullet, but I’ll need a custom mould for that.

It may have been made by Webley, as it looks like many guns illustrated online and in The Classic British Rook and Rabbit Rifle book.

Please see pictures below. Your thoughts and comments are welcome, thank you!

mbatten


https://imgur.com/gallery/9mAl10g
Last edited by Mark Batten 250 on Fri Jan 28, 2022 2:12 am, edited 1 time in total.
John 39
Posts: 390
Joined: Mon May 22, 2017 5:30 pm

Re: Mysterious English Rook Rifle

Post by John 39 »

We can't access the photos but the scrolled "R" might indicate reproof which may have happened in London, possibly after the muzzle was changed. The London proof is interesting if it is the original proof (which is likely) because almost all rook and rabbit rifles were made and proved in Birmingham. Holland & Holland certainly bought some of these rifles and may have had some of them proved in London, but it would be unusual for them to have not put their name on the rifle.
Barry Gregory 440
Posts: 31
Joined: Tue Nov 05, 2019 3:24 pm

Re: Mysterious English Rook Rifle

Post by Barry Gregory 440 »

Somewhat puzzled by the scrolled ‘R’ which certainly could suggest that there was a reproof at some date unknown.

However, both the London and Birmingham reproof marks are the letter ‘R’ under a crown. I have a couple of old side-by-side shotguns with that mark and can’t see why the reproof mark for a rifle would be any different.

I also wonder what the ‘10’ means which is stamped near the scrolled ‘R’ and away from what looks like the serial number ‘856’.

I might help identification if there were some photographs of the ‘lumps’ on the barrels and the action face.
Barry Gregory 440
Posts: 31
Joined: Tue Nov 05, 2019 3:24 pm

Re: Mysterious English Rook Rifle

Post by Barry Gregory 440 »

Some further thoughts about the scrolled ‘R’. Looking at the photographs attached to the original post, it appears to be stamped twice but in different places.

I don’t think it’s a reproof mark for the reason given in my previous post. In addition, any reproofing would almost certainly be associated with a second set of proof marks and the photographs provided only show the one set of London proof marks. Also, on pages 262 & 263 of Vol 1 of Nigel Brown’s trilogy of books it is noted that the reproofing mark was introduced by both London and Birmingham proof houses in 1925. There Is no suggestion of a reproofing mark being used before this date. This gun may well pre-date 1925.

After a bit of reading, I am speculating, without any firm evidence, whether the two scrolled ‘R’s indicate that the rifle was connected in some way with either John Rigby & Co or E M Reilly & Co both of London. If either is true, it would be consistent with it being proofed in London rather than Birmingham.

However, although Rigby did manufacture and sell rook and rabbit rifles, the example I’ve seen on the internet is both engraved with his name and is very different in design from this one.

Did John Rigby & Co or E M Reilly & Co import rook and rabbit rifles (or parts of) from (say) Belgium and sell them on?

I understand that Diggory Hadoke has made an extensive study into the many gunsmiths who manufactured rook and rabbit rifles in the late 1800s and early 1900s. His Vintage Gun Journal may well have some more information.
Mark Batten 250
Posts: 17
Joined: Fri Aug 24, 2018 8:20 pm

Re: Mysterious English Rook Rifle

Post by Mark Batten 250 »

Hello:

Thank you for your observations and comments about this rifle.

I have included a couple of photos showing the lumps of the rifle, which indicates a 'twin bite' fastening method, as described in Greenwood's The Classic British Rook and Rabbit Rifle .

However, there is no lump with a semi-circular hook to engage a hinge pin; rather, there is a forend screw in a steel escutcheon under the forend that secures the barrels with a quarter turn of the screw. The lumps look somewhat similar to the photo of the Jeffery rifle barrel lumps on page 107 of the Greenwood text above.

I have a copy of Winfer's British Single Shot Rifles, Volume 7: Rook, Rabbit & Miniature Rifles - Early Types & Hammer Models on the way, so perhaps that will reveal more clues about its heritage.

See below for more photos:
https://imgur.com/gallery/9mAl10g
Last edited by Mark Batten 250 on Fri Jan 28, 2022 2:13 am, edited 1 time in total.
John 39
Posts: 390
Joined: Mon May 22, 2017 5:30 pm

Re: Mysterious English Rook Rifle

Post by John 39 »

On second thoughts, I don't think the scrolled R is a reproof mark because it is not accompanied by a crown. Maybe it is the barrel maker's or finisher's mark, but this is unlikely because it wouldn't normally be in scroll. Maybe the proof house just forgot to put the crown on the R ? Mistakes were made from time to time.
Barry Gregory 440
Posts: 31
Joined: Tue Nov 05, 2019 3:24 pm

Re: Mysterious English Rook Rifle

Post by Barry Gregory 440 »

Some thoughts and observations after looking at the new photographs that have been added recently - very interesting and informative.

Especially the photograph with the barrel and ejector removed as well as the photograph of the left hand side of the action with the rifle open.

They do show a very novel and unusual design, construction and operation.
1. My personal impression (a gut feeling if you like) is that overall the rifle somehow doesn’t look and feel ‘English’.
2. It does seem very angular without perhaps the smooth curves characteristic of many English gunmakers. Nevertheless it was clearly proofed in London.
3. I wonder if it was imported from (say) Belgium. I understand that Belgium was the source of many rook rifles. (I have no idea how many gunmakers there were in Belgium making rook rifles.)
4. Does the hammer rebound after firing? Looking at the new photograph showing the action with the barrel removed, it looks as though it doesn’t rebound because the firing pin is ‘sticking out’ of the action face.
5. Depending on whether or not the hammer rebounds may provide a clue to the age of the rifle.
6. Is it an ejector or non-ejector? From the photographs it looks as though it could be the latter.
7. The method of retaining the barrel to the action is unusual and unlike anything I’ve seen in searches on the internet.

This interesting mystery continues …..
Mark Batten 250
Posts: 17
Joined: Fri Aug 24, 2018 8:20 pm

Re: Mysterious English Rook Rifle

Post by Mark Batten 250 »

Thanks for your observations, Barry.

To your questions:

- the hammer does not rebound; rather there is a ‘half cock’ notch that permits the firing pin to disengage from the primer as the rifle is opened after shooting.

- it is manual extraction only.

- the barrel - forend connection is unusual, perhaps similar to the Jeffery rifle on page 107 of Greenwood’s book.

- there is a Belgian ‘R’proof mark in my reference books, but it isn’t scrolled like those on this rifle.

Cheers!
M Batten
Barry Gregory 440
Posts: 31
Joined: Tue Nov 05, 2019 3:24 pm

Re: Mysterious English Rook Rifle

Post by Barry Gregory 440 »

Thanks for your most recent post confirming the details about this mysterious ‘English’ rook and rabbit rifle. For me, the word ‘mysterious’ about sums it up.

Despite many searches on the internet for both English and Belgium rifles, I have found nothing quite like it. Frustrating because, with so many searches, some clues often turn up. I guess you’ve done the same thing.

I’ve looked through Colin Greenwood’s book and while there are bits and pieces that may be similar, overall there’s nothing remotely like it in appearance, design and operation. (Colin Greenwood does seem to take quite a specific view of what constitutes a rook and rabbit rifle.)

From what’s been posted earlier, I think it can be noted that:
1. It’s old - most probably pre-1900 and almost certainly much earlier.
2. It’s very ‘simple’ in design and operation because:

o The hammer doesn’t rebound but has half-cock and full cock positions,

o Extraction of the spent casing is entirely manual.

o it has a seemingly unique method of retaining the barrel.
3. There is a strong possibility that it was not made by an English gunmaker.
4. First proofed in London but with no evidence that it has been reproofed.
5. It’s not clear it was first proofed for black powder or more modern ammunition.

I guess it’s perhaps time to ‘call in an expert’ to see if they recognise it and maybe know where it was made and who made it - but who?

I would suggest contacting some of the auctioneers best known for selling firearms. They have specialists and have hundreds of firearms through their businesses each year.

In the U.K. I would suggest, for example, Holts Auctioneers in Wolferton Norfolk and Bonhams in London. Also, Diggory Hadoke at Vintage Guns Ltd in Ludlow Shropshire. Contact details for each of the above are available on the internet.

If you do find out the gunsmith who made it I’d very much like to know.
Mark Batten 250
Posts: 17
Joined: Fri Aug 24, 2018 8:20 pm

Re: Mysterious English Rook Rifle

Post by Mark Batten 250 »

Thanks Barry.

A representative from Rigby's tells me that the scrolled 'R' may indicate a connection to their firm, but the records are too convoluted to confirm this. Dig H. could not help with identifying it.

As you suggest, I'll try connecting with Holt's and other auction houses too.

Mark
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