As fortune would have it, this was 2005 and 2006, before foreclosure became America’s new F word. It was an era of great resplendence when most of us were oblivious to the burning fuse on the time bomb called derivatives, and so Wingfield’s financing most certainly seemed assured.
The directors at Wingfield had agreed to reserve 100 of the plantation’s 1,200 acres for the Chris Batha Shooting Facility. As today’s most prominent impresario of the English shooting tradition, Mr. Batha’s expertise would bring Wingfield’s elite true-to-life simulations of worldwide wingshooting, including a high pheasant tower, grouse butt, dove fields, upland quail walk as well as the traditional clays diversions of skeet, trap, sporting clays and five stand.
Best of all, since Mr. Batha owned the operating assets of Charles Boswell, the 19th century English company that made bespoke best shotguns, the first 40 Wingfield households would be entitled to a stunning Charles Boswell Pendragon over/under. It would be a 20-bore well suited to the game birds on the plantation, yet built to withstand the rigors of daily clays shooting.
The Pendragon adhered to the design and aesthetics of Mr. Batha’s original Boswell side by side.
The Pendragon is a unique trigger plate design with pinless side plates, very much like the side by side. The Boswell side by side continues to sell out its annual allocation with its highly coveted, perfectly scaled sub-gauge models from 20 gauge to .410. The Pendragon, meanwhile, is offered only as a 20 gauge – at least for the time being.
As Mr. Batha explained it, at a base price of $40,500, the Pendragon allowed Boswell to compete in the over/under segment against other British manufacturers.
“I wanted to bring out a gun of comparable quality without having their overhead,” he said of his larger competitors. “It would be a best gun at a more affordable price.”
The Pendragon is a replica of the pinnacle of British gunmaking, the Boss over/under. The difference is that the Pendragon uses a unique V spring trigger plate originally designed for the Boss ‘Robertson Gun,’ but not used for reasons we’ll discuss in a moment.
The Pendragon has a single non-selective trigger with either traditional choke (regulated for the chosen quarry or target), or multi-chokes, fitted before proof by the renowned choke expert, Nigel Teague.
It was originally going to be available in four models with custom-fitted deluxe Turkish walnut, Prince of Wales grip, and a Boss–style, push-rod forend. The standard engraving options would price the Pendragon between $35,000.00 and $40,000.00 – a real value for such a fine bespoke shotgun.
In person, the Pendragon exudes quality and distinction. Having handled a Pendragon (but not shot one), I can say the gun felt balanced and graceful. It shouldered and pointed in a fluid manner that would dispel all the drama associated with lesser shotguns – especially the bulkier target shotguns.
Despite lingering appeal of the Pendragon, the question that begs to be answered, however, is how many will ultimately be produced?
The first allotment of Pendragons was limited to 20 – commensurate with the number of Estate Lots and Lakeside Cottages initially offered at Wingfield. In all, Mr. Batha planned on building a grand total of 40 Pendragons for Wingfield. The bespoke shotguns would consecutively be numbered 1 through 40, allocated in order of purchase.
As the Dow screamed toward an intraday high of 14,000, the Wingfield inner circle expanded at a healthy clip. Despite a build time of 12-18 months, Mr. Batha produced 11 Pendragons: three matching pairs and five singles.
Each Pendragon was assembled by the best craftsmen in the London Gun Trade, with engraving performed in Italy. Many of them were known quantities to Mr. Batha, having worked on the Boswell side by side.
All told, a Pendragon requires approximately 650 man hours for completion – comparable to the time that most of these men put into building the flourishing Boswell side-by-side. (See Mr. Batha’s story, Lock, Stock and Barrel, The Making of a Charles Boswell Shotgun.)
The Pendragon barrels came from Mick Kelly. Mr. Kelly started his apprenticeship with James Purdey and Sons as a barrel maker before leaving to become the “Barrel Maker of Choice” to the World's finest gunmakers.
Pendragon stocks were supplied by Bobby Smith, who served an apprenticeship with James Purdey and Son and is now considered one of the premiere stockers in London.
Richard St. Ledger of the firm of Ray St. Ledger is widely acknowledged as the top craftsman for case-color hardening and plied his trade on the Boswell Pendragons.
The engraving was done by Il Bulino of Italy.
The action for the Pendragon was assembled by Ian Medwell of Mayfair Engineering in Suffolk. Mr. Medwell supplies barreled actions and rifles to many British “Best Gun" makers.
It comes as no surprise, therefore, that English best-gun maker Boss & Co. had commissioned Mayfair to design an action for a planned small gauge game gun called the Robertson (not the version currently sold by Boss). The proposed action would be based on a more affordable V-spring design – allowing Boss to enter the market with an economical over and under shotgun offering exceptional value under the Robertson name, but aimed at the mid market at a favorable price compared with a standard starting price of $100,000 plus for one of their best shotguns.
In the end, though, the fledgling Mayfair Robertson model could not be manufactured at the price bracket that fitted the Boss marketing strategy. That left Mayfair with 11 world-class actions that they sold to Mr. Batha. These Boss type actions became the basis for the initial run of Pendragons. When that inventory of actions was depleted, another batch would be made for Wingfield patrons.
When Pendragon No. 1 was ready in September 2008, Wingfield’s financing had already collapsed, and the gun’s new owner could not take delivery. In turn, Mr. Batha put the shotgun on the open market.
For the prospective owner of No. 1, the now-available Pendragon was a dream deferred. The extent of this missed opportunity becomes evident in speaking with David S. Luker, the owner of a Pendragon with a gold serial number unique to his birthday.
Mr. Luker is an attorney and avid shotgun collector. Of the 60 he currently owns, the Pendragon is his first Boswell. He received the shotgun in September 2009, after placing his order in December 2007.
His Pendragon features 30-inch barrels, single trigger and a custom serial number in gold that commemorates his birthday. He requested a “unique block scroll” and a gold oval at the bottom of the stock.
We spoke with Mr. Luker prior to opening day of quail season in his native Alabama, but he had already shot sporting clays with it.
“Knowing how the gun is made and shooting it for the first time, it was wonderful,” he said. “Having something with dimensions made for you, when you put it to your cheek and you crush those clays, it’s a wonderful feeling. It’s a very fine gun and I look forward to my next one.”
Mr. Luker equally extolled the virtues of Mr. Batha, underscoring the benefits of purchasing a bespoke shotgun from someone with such extensive knowledge of gun making and gun fitting.
“The thing about the gun, is when you buy it from Chris you get someone with the background and education,” he said.
After some 30 years in the business as an acclaimed instructor, author, gun fitter, TV personality and guide, Mr. Batha’s English roots have figured prominently in his forays into gun making
As far back as 1992, he served as a Director at Atkin, Grant & Lang – a London gunmaker whose principals started in the trade during the late 1890s and then pooled their talents in 1925 with the company’s formation. Through a tumultuous history of mergers and acquisitions, Atkin, Grant & Lang plodded along until its demise in 1980 when it succumbed to a global recession sparked by the Iranian revolution driving up oil prices.
In 1981 an investor group bought the rights to the company’s name and restarted operations. The new owners did reasonably well, but sold Atkin, Grant & Lang to Mr. Batha, Ken Duglan and another group of investors. Under the current management, Atkin, Grant and Lang sells best guns under their own brand and others, engages in quality restoration, repairs and shooting lessons.
Mr. Batha now saw that the revival of celebrated English marques could become a profitable venture if properly handled. That meant adhering to the limited production and hand-crafted traditions of rarified shotguns and double rifles bought by discriminating collectors with a high net worth.
He acquired the company name, records, and goodwill of Charles Boswell in January of 2004.
His side by sides were an immediate hit and orders for them continue to reach their maximum of approximately 10 guns per year as eager customers wait some 12 to 18 months for their prized possessions.
But for those discriminating shooters with a streak of impatience, Pendragon No. 1 is here for the taking.
Mr. Batha characterized the original buyer of No. 1 as a man of “average build.” As a result, No. 1 should fit most shooters. The drop at comb is 1½ inches, while the drop at heel is 2 inches. The cast-off is ¼ inch and the length of pull is 14½ inches. The pitch is 5 degrees, giving most shooters maximum contact between shoulder and the butt of the stock.
I can say that at 5 feet, 10 inches and 190 pounds, Pendragon No. 1 fit me quite nicely.
Mr. Batha said that he is willing to part with it for $32,900 – the cost of construction, importation and taxes.
Now imagine if No. 1 does turn out be the last of the Pendragons… What better way to invest your money?
Porter Smith is a contributor to Shotgun Life. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.