At the start of November 2017, John Rigby & Co. appointed Andrew Ambrose as their new head of sales, bringing with him over 19 years’ experience working in the British gun trade. After joining the London gunmaker Holland & Holland at the budding age of 23, Andrew worked his way through the ranks from junior administrator to gunroom manager, before moving to Rigby. In this blog, Andrew shares his experiences of working in this niche industry.
2018 will be my 20th year in the British gun trade and although this may seem like a considerable period of time, to many people this is just beginner level. Having worked for the same company for 19 of those years and now recently moved to another premier gun and rifle maker here at John Rigby & Co., I was asked what my thoughts and experiences of ‘the trade’ were in the UK over that time.
Where does one begin? The amazing and varied guns and rifles produced over the years from all gunmakers, the changing nature of the trade over the past two decades, the characters from the trade that I’ve been fortunate to meet or the fascinating places I have been able to visit? All of the above in my opinion but I wouldn’t want to bore the reader and besides some of my experiences are unprintable.
On 6 July 1998, I started life in the historic hallowed halls of Holland & Holland (try saying that after a Saturday night at The Game Fair) working in the administration department at a time where everyone in the company referred to each other by their surname. I had come from a jeans company, very informal in language and dress code; I knew from day one I had a lot to learn. I sat down at my desk whilst being told, “Mr Ambrose, you are now responsible for the Firearms Register – the most important document inside this company”.
If that was not daunting enough, there were also a lot of strong characters and it was not unusual for a blazing row to erupt in an instant, only for it all to be forgotten in the blink of an eye. The reason for this was simple – every single one of my colleagues at that time was passionate about protecting and preserving the Holland & Holland name.
I was extremely fortunate to be shown around the Holland & Holland factory by Russell Wilkin, who was the factory manager and had at that time nearly 40 years’ experience. Russell took the time to give me a detailed tour of the factory and answered every silly question I had, with the patience of a saint. I learnt very quickly that the passing on of knowledge was the key to the future of gunmaking in Britain and if we ignored that, there would cease to be a trade and it may disappear like many other traditional trades.
Over the next few years my education progressed and I gained an understanding of the inner workings of a best London gun and rifle through the many great craftsmen at Holland & Holland, who were passionate for the craft. That passion was infectious and it gets under your skin as those of you reading this will fully appreciate. This side of the business combined with meeting so many fascinating clients from all over the world is something I never believed I would have experienced, especially if I had followed my original career path (I studied politics at university and intended to join the Civil Service). To put it very bluntly, I was hooked.
A very fascinating change for me has been to witness, in my humble opinion, an increasing skill level in gunmaking, which given the traditional nature of the business is often over looked. If I had a pound for every time someone had kindly informed me that “the best guns were made between the wars” I would be very rich. This needs clarification because yes, very good guns were made between the wars due to many factors, but it serves as an injustice to today’s gunmakers. There are guns and rifles being produced in the UK today that are some of the finest quality ever produced. This is simply due to the fact that we have an additional 90 years’ experience on those pre-war guns, we are using better metals, better wood and very highly talented gunmakers and engravers.
One aspect that has never changed and never ceases to amaze me is how relatively small the trade is. It is important to note here that I do not mean this in the sense of the number of gunmakers, I am referring to the very close relationship between client and gunmaker. A lot of clients I have met over the years knew more about the latest developments within the trade than I did. For me this is an important trait that illustrates what I believe makes the trade unusual. The client wants to know all the details, all the characters and all the latest developments because they are as interested and passionate as we are. We are simply on a different side of the fence. This makes it into a very small trade because we all, to a lesser or greater extent know each other’s business.
Fast forward 20 years, Rigby has that same energy and passion. I’ve witnessed here at Rigby the desire to make the best rifle humanly possible and with a very youthful team, it’s being achieved.
I have been very fortunate to have travelled to many different countries throughout the world ranging from the US, the Middle East, Russia and many countries in between. The countries may differ but what doesn’t differ is the huge respect people hold for a best London gun or rifle.
My view of the trade has not changed since I joined Holland & Holland. We must all work far closer together to protect and preserve the future of the gun trade and ensure that the British gun trade is still going strong in another 100 years and that global respect for a British gun or rifle is maintained.