The lick of polished walnut caresses the cheek and the elaborate engraving of gold-inlaid gun metal glints reassuringly in the periphery of sight. The curves of the trigger nestle thumb and forefinger, before the smell of gunpowder toasts the nostrils. “Shoot!” the marksman calls.
I’m at the 60-acre shooting grounds of Holland & Holland, master gunmakers, legendary rifle makers and one of the few British heritage brands to totally resist any internationalism seeping into their thoroughbred English DNA. That’s not to say they aren’t far-reaching – far from it.
A brief history
The veteran English gunmakers have come a long way since they were established by Harris Holland – by all accounts one of the keenest shots in the land – in 1835. Holland swiftly enlisted the eye and acumen of nephew Henry, gaining Royal Warrants as gun and rifle makers to HRH the Duke of Edinburgh and HRH Prince of Wales along the way. Today, Holland & Holland have showrooms in London, Moscow and New York. Chanel acquired the company in 1989.
Holland & Holland Flagship London Showroom
The Paris fashion house encouraged the establishmentarian gunmakers to venture into shooting attire, and today their flagship London showroom on the directional Bruton Street, just off Bond Street (where Holland & Holland held their previous London showroom) is home to a Ladies Room where silk scarves and utterly elegant safari wear line the clubby interior in reassuringly authoritative shades of khaki, white and dust pink. Alongside the water-resistant house tweed, toffee for men and lilac-flecked caramel for women, are the green and tan seasonal tweed; luxuriantly light cashmere jackets, non-crease blazers with silver house buttons and an eye-catching roulette wheel-esque table of primary coloured game-motif ties. Taxidermy dots the shelving, giant tusks guard entryways, a diamond-and-check dinner service to emulate the forend end of a shotgun lines an alcove. Artwork takes in everything from Big Five game sculptures to an original portrait of the legendary gunmaker, Westley Richards, aka the “Bishop of Bond Street.”
The calming space leads to the gunroom lined with gleaming 270-degree glass cabinets. The guns, proudly standing, provide an inspirational and reassuring backdrop from which to select your barrels, engravings and wood. This is the start of a one-to-two-year journey that takes you to ownership of a Holland & Holland bespoke gun. At the comely base of the premises lies the Brevis Room, a magnificent rectangular boardroom displaying ancient-looking weapons of manifest majesty and beauty, including the pièce de résistance antique 700-bore rifle. To be guided through the clubby environs of this longstanding legend is not just luxury shopping but a heady dalliance with British heritage too.
Greater London Shooting Grounds
Holland & Holland is justly proud of its Greater London Shooting Grounds, where clients are sent for the crème de la crème of bespoke shopping experiences. Holland & Holland’s experts assess each visitor for fit, shot and model. And, once they have the measure of you, you would do well to visit the factory that Harris Holland installed outside Paddington in 1898. Everything – from the exquisite reliefs through to the screws and barrels – is not just custom-made, but completely handcrafted here. The tall, redbrick Victorian building is home to artisan gunmakers – many of whom had great grandfathers, grandfathers and fathers in the trade – with their rows and rows of antique, handcrafted tools lining the huge, gaping window in front of their workbenches from where they practice their stocking, actioning, finishing, barreling and engraving. Their windows overlook the haunting vista of the oldest of London’s 19th Century “Magnificent Seven” cemeteries. Each gun entails up to 1500 hours of highly skilled labour, in a feat of absolute precision, dedication, patience and care in creating these masterpieces priced at up to £160,000. Fashions may come and go, but the pride and craftsmanship of Holland & Holland has been constant, and so has the experience their creations have given a discerning clientele.