In 2019 a group of gunmakers went for a drink in The Gunmakers’ pub in London’s Clerkenwell. That day celebrated the professional coming of age of one young man – Jamie Holland – who had just received a certification award from the Worshipful Company of Gunmakers for his work at John Rigby & Co.
Jamie, from Sussex in the south of England, began his apprenticeship at Rigby in August 2015. It was fortuitous in more ways than one. Though he had always had a keen interest in military history and historic firearms, the idea of training to become a gunmaker himself only started to seem a serious possibility during his last few months at college. “I didn’t want to go to university, so I thought that I would look for a job in something that I enjoy,” he explains. “I’ve always had a good technical understanding firearms and been good with using hand tools so I figured it would at least be interesting.”
Having sent off a raft of applications to the UK gun trade, just as he was beginning to think about applying for engineering apprenticeships instead, Rigby’s response arrived and was resoundingly positive. “There was something about Jamie that ticked the right boxes,” says Marc Newton. “He didn’t have much direct experience with gunmaking but had a good technical mind, common sense and a strong desire to learn. What was very important was that he also had a passion for fine firearms and a sense of what our history means to us.”
Jamie became an official Rigby apprentice that summer. It was a steep but fascinating learning curve, which showed him just how much artistry and craftsmanship is involved in the manufacture of premium sporting firearms. “To begin with, I wasn’t really sure what to expect,” he admits. “I understood that it would be a lot of hand-work, but I suppose I was surprised at how little the machines were used. One of the more difficult parts was perfecting the art of polishing!”
One of the rewards for the hard work was a high level of job satisfaction, in particular for the young apprentice, in building his first rifle from start to finish – a double square bridge London Best in .416 Rigby. “When my rifle passed proof I was very relieved and proud. Holding it for the first time after the stocking had been finished was a great moment, and by far the best part was actually shooting it at the range. There is a special feeling after you get done shooting with a rifle and you realise that you where the one who has built it completely.”
After three years at Rigby, Jamie completed his apprenticeship and was able to count himself among the ranks of fully-fledged gunmakers. The icing on the cake came a few months later, when he received the Worshipful Company of Gunmakers’ certification for excellence.
The conclusion of the apprenticeship, however, was only the beginning for Jamie’s career. His years at Rigby taught him more than just the physical aspects of gunmaking; they also allowed him to get to grips with the commercial, practical and logistical considerations that are so vital to running a successful business: “As my apprenticeship was wrapping up I started to help out more around the shop, as we are a small team and always have a lot of work to do,” Jamie explains. “I spent the first year after my apprenticeship in the office as gunroom assistant, working alongside our gunroom manager David Miles and head of sales Andrew Ambrose.”
“At the tail end of 2019, I was offered the position of assistant production manager. My role now involves working alongside our production manger Edward Workman, monitoring and planning production throughout the year, monitoring the financial side of production and navigating any issues that arise throughout the year.”
For those wishing to follow in Jamie’s footsteps but unsure where to start, he says: “The best advice I can offer it just start asking people, be that any of the large firms, or just your local gun shop or gunsmith for a position, even something part time. If you are willing to show that you can put the effort in people will notice you.”
To find out more about the Gunmakers’ Company Charitable Trust bursary scheme for apprenticeships, visit: www.gunmakers.org.uk/the-charitable-trust/