[su_heading]The Legacy Of British Gun Maker Giles Whittome[/su_heading]
Story by Jim Dickson * Photographs by Giles Whittome
When we think of the leaders among quality gun makers of the British Isles we tend to think of names like Purdey and Holland and Holland, but these men have been dead for over a hundred years. Only their firms survive. For innovative leadership we must look to individuals in the trade today, and certainly no one has been a more innovative gunmaker than Giles Whittome.
Giles is famous for his giant 2-gauge single-shot rifles. His 26-pound, 2-bore rifles are the largest and most powerful sporting rifles ever made. They are capable of shooting a half pound of lead backed by a 24-dram powder charge. That is eight times the bullet weight and eight times the powder weight of a standard Brenneke 12-bore torpedo slug. This gun is capable of shooting a heavier charge than a shooter can actually handle so every customer has to work up to their maximum load capabilities.
Giles stands 6-foot, 5 inches, and is quite accustomed to shooting big-bore guns. He remains the only man to have ever fired a 24-dram load through this gun. He pronounced it lethal at both ends.
The 2-bore has a frontal area of 1.05-inch in diameter and greater power than five .600-caliber nitro express bullets hitting at once. It gives a new meaning to the term stopping power. Technically, this is actually a cannon. Swivel cannons were usually 4-bore because anything heavier tended to rip them out of their mounting on a ship’s rail. The recoil of a 4-bore is 295 foot pounds. This gun is twice that size, but no one has ever computed the recoil of a 2-bore. Suffice it to say that the a 4-core recoil is pleasant by comparison.
Proof firing shook the entire London Proof House building, and even with the smoke extractors running, visibility in the room was only one foot 20 minutes after the test. It was truly a moment to remember for everyone present.
The huge action was copied from an old Alexander Henry harpoon gun. The standard two-bore is a rifle Whittome would be glad to make a smoothbore version of for anyone who wants the option of firing harpoons; he can also supply any sort of harpoon or bomb lance required for it. A smoothbore 2-bore would be quite a deck sweeper when loaded with buckshot, and would lose very little practical hunting accuracy, because large dangerous game is not shot at long ranges.
In other arenas and as one of the last experts on the Paradox ball-and-shot guns, Whittome has made new headway in increasing the accuracy of an already accurate and useful weapon. The old accuracy standard was 2½ minute of angle at 50 yards and a handspan at 100. Whittome has managed to shrink that to 4½ MOA at 110 yards. He is one of the few men in the gun trade who understands the rifling subtleties a Paradox gun requires and the secret of regulating its barrels, which is so different from a double rifle. This is still considered a trade secret, and I am not at liberty to divulge it.
Whittome often traveled to Africa for large game, and has had to fight off hyenas. A hyena can take a prize away from any hunter, and keeping them at bay is a lot harder than folks might imagine.
He has had the pleasure of hunting with a dog and a cheetah that had been raised together, and were inseparable. If the cheetah didn’t come when Whittome called for him, he would command the dog to “Kamata duma,” which means catch cheetah in Swahilli. The dog would then go sit on the cheetah until Whittome arrived. Cheetahs are prone to rickets, so Whittome would give it a calcium tablet and a spoonful of cod-liver oil every day to keep it in perfect health and subsequently gave it a shiny coat.
This trio kept the jackals off of the local golf course, and brought many hares to bag. Catching a hare is easy for a cheetah.
Whittome once saw a Swedish missionary and his wife on a motorcycle running at top speed — over 60 miles per hour — trying to get away from the Cheetah, which was easily running beside them having a good time. The riders just didn’t know what a big pussycat it was, and probably imagined a meaneater was after them.
The famous African snake man, Ionides, was a friend and Whittome often helped him gather poisonous snakes such as black mambas and gaboon vipers to get their venom, which was sold to drug companies for anti-venom. He was a gifted linguist capable of communicating in English, French, Swahili, Italian, German, Swedish and some Danish, Norwegian, Greek and Latin. He served as a second lieutenant in the Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry where he saw combat during the Cypris Rebellion and hunted Greek Cypriot terrorists, and for many years he taught the British military how to use exotic machineguns.
In terms of guns Whittome is responsible for The Paragon, perhaps the most elaborate and best quality12-gauge sidelock double ever made. It has every bell and whistle the gun trade can put on a gun:
– The barrels are nitro proofed Damascus steel, and the gold inlays and embellishments are the maximum allowed by good taste.
– There is a rare and desirable disappearing flush-lock detaching, lever which is flipped up by a thumb, and then unscrewed to remove the sidelocks, as opposed to the protruding projection on the lock screw normally found. They can snag on brush and begin unscrewing at the wrong times.
– The pinless locks have blind holes on the inside instead of being drilled all the way through where they can interfere with the artwork of the engraver.
– The self-opening action operates whether or not a barrel has been fired, and the strikers are made of stainless steel.
– The double triggers are unique. They function as both single and double triggers. The front trigger will fire the right then the left barrel in turn with successive pulls, while the rear trigger fires the left barrel only.
– The grip and forend have borderless checkering, and the skeleton buttplate is blued and gold inlaid. The frontsight is a solid gold Labrador retriever’s head with faceted diamond eyes.
– The snap caps are made of Damascus steel.
– The velvet-lined rosewood case is quite airtight and emits an audible “whoosh,” as air is expelled when it closes. It has its own velvet-lined canvas to protect it, and embeded inside the case are the Damascus steel snap caps, a horn-snapping block, three fitted screwdrivers and an ivory-handled chamber cleaning brush along with a three-section hardwood cleaning rod with engraved ferrules. There is a circular patch box carved with a high-relief elephant’s head and a ruby for its eye. Also included is a striker box, two glass bottles — one for gun oil and the other for stock oil — an extractor, a gauge and sundries.
All in all this is perhaps the single most elaborate example of the gunmaker’s art produced in the 20th century.
Today, Whittome hunts mostly in his native England normally using a silencer on his rifles because they are not only legal in England, but it is just considered good manners not to disturb the peace with a rifle’s report when good silencers are readily available. To the English a rifle without a silencer is like an automobile without a muffler.
His interests are varied. He has flown state-of-the-art fighter jets in Russia just outside of Moscow, and made his own horn to play in an orchestra. He is currently preparing to make his own bronze-age sword under the tutelege of one of the last sword masters in England.
If you buy a gun from Giles Whittome you are not only getting one of the finest guns made in the British Isles, you are also dealing with perhaps the most colorful gunmaker that the gun trade has ever known. ASJ
Author’s note: If you would like to contact Giles Whittome, you can call him in England at 011 (441) 76-324-8708.