So far in my tributes to Simon Clode, the former Chairman & Managing Director of Westley Richards, I’ve mentioned two of his company’s most important contributions to side by sides: The Anson & Deeley boxlock action and the Deeley ejectors. Now it’s time for WR’s third and most significant.
If you ever shot a SxS or an O/U, you’ve used it. And while it was revolutionary in its day, it’s so common and obvious now I doubt you’ve ever wondered where it came from.
So what is it? It’s the toplever.
Back in the 1850s, shotguns were moving from muzzleloaders to designs that broke open to be loaded from the breach. Lefaucheux’s pinfire was shown at London’s Great Exhibition in 1851. By the end of that decade, other makers had designs for these doubles.
Westley Richards’ version featured a doll’s head and came out in 1858. To make it function, the company patented its first style toplever the following year. This toplever reached all the way down to the nose on the stock. In the years that followed, WR cut it back to the shorter size we’re familiar with today.
Around same time WR introduced its design, other gunsmiths and gunmakers were introducing their inventions: The Jones Underlever, the Purdey thumbhole, the Daw lever. But time showed they were all two-legged stools compared to the top lever. Once Purdey patented its sliding bolt and W & C Scott came up with it’s spindle, the toplever was able to operate them and introduce a design which has been used on tens of thousands of OUs and SxS since.