Webley’s early ‘Senior’ Air Pistols Part 3 by John Atkins
Additional images courtesy of Webley Archives, Nigel Allen, Chester Purllant and Jeff Hyder
W hen deciding where best to advertise, gunmakers of the past obviously chose the magazines they thought would present their products to the widest and most suitable audience, just as an advertiser of today would by choosing Air Gunner or Airgun World. There were no specialist airgun magazines then, so BSA, for example, targeted the shooters of rooks, rabbits, rats and other crop destroying pests by advertising their button- end underlever air rifle in The Journal
of The Ministry of Agriculture, and more oddly, in a yachting magazine, among many other periodicals. Webley & Scott Ltd. repeatedly used the
Meccano Magazine to reach the younger market, and clearly thought the adventurers avidly reading the Wide World magazine would benefit from arming themselves with a Webley before embarking on their dangerous travels abroad. The longestablished Wide World true adventure magazine had run from April, 1898 and
Figure 1 is a reprint from the August, 1931 issue carrying a belated review of the new Webley ‘Senior’ air pistol, written by ‘The Captain’. It’s possible the writer was the one- time editor of The Captain magazine, aimed at Public School Boys and Old Boys, another rich source for old airgun advertisements. The Captain magazine started from a similar time as the Wide World magazine, commencing a year later in fact, 1899 - until its demise in 1924.
Whilst accuracy, power and the new barrel linkage facilitating the cocking effort of the new flagship model Webley pistol were praised, there was no mention of the new revolver stirrup- type barrel latch, the new metallic piston ring or even the model name! However, if ‘The Captain’s’ example was a first production model, using a Mark II body and a Mark I/II trigger assembly but no safety catch, it’s possible the piston ring had not yet replaced the leather washer of these first ‘square grip’ Seniors. The review was clearly well thought of by Webley & Scott because they reprinted it for further distribution.
A good condition Senior previously in Nigel Allen’s Webley collection has been preserved in its original cardboard carton, and I’m indebted to Nigel for the use of his photographs showing serial number S2220 in Figures 2 and 3. Dating from around the time of the 1931 Wide World magazine review, the images show both sides of this second production- type Senior.
The October 1960 issue of Wide World adventure magazine carried advertisements for the Webley Mark I air pistol, and the Cogswell & Harrison ‘Certus’ De Luxe single- barrel 12 bore shotgun; the front cover being shown as Figure 4. This edition of the publication, contains very un- PC stories with such titles as ‘Dwarfs of The Forbidden Hills’ and a page about ‘The Wide World Brotherhood’ telling how they are a fraternity of men (and women) of goodwill, linked by the common bond of a love of travel and adventure. It had only one rule – a solemn pledge to treat fellow members as brothers, and if need arose, give them any help possible. There was no annual subscription; the only necessary expense was five shillings (25p) [ US 70c.] for the gilt- and- enamel buttonhole badge ( brooch for ladies) and certificate of life membership. The badge was to be worn whenever convenient, to enable Brethren to recognise one another. Although only 11 years old in 1960, the Brotherhood was represented in over 70 different countries and stated to be continually increasing in strength.
My friend and erstwhile colleague, Kevin Brock found this issue and I see he’s stuck a ‘postit’ note on the page outlining the aims of the Brotherhood saying: ‘There’s something a bit disturbing about this! I wonder how many members they had.’
I don’t know, but in an increasingly uncaring world of global indifference and the present ‘every man for himself’ attitude – many car drivers are in too much of a hurry to slow down in respect for a horse on the road, let alone stop for a human in distress – I guess The Wide World coverage of brave British adventurers abroad, and their ethic of care for others, began to have little place, admirable as it was, and the magazine faded away in December 1965.
I’ve read other issues and found it hard to believe that many of the supposedly ‘ true’ adventure stories every actually happened. The Times described the magazine as being about ‘brave chaps with large moustaches on stiff upper lips, who did stupid and dangerous things’.
I mentioned the four variations of barrel linkage last month, made to the original double- jointed barrel linkage covered by Webley’s patent number 326,703, applied for on the 3rd of May 1929 and granted on 20th March, 1930. The patent application date shows that Webley had been at work on the pistol to become known as the ‘Senior’ (rather than the initial ‘Mark III’ designation) for well over a year before it reached the general public in July and August 1930. Webley air pistol historian, Jeff Hyder, informs me that according to pre- war factory records of wages schedules, manufacture of the ‘Senior’ had commenced in late 1929.
The patent double-joint cocking linkage worked against a ramp dovetailed and brazed in at the front end of the pistol body forging behind the barrel hinge lug. The small ramp acted as a fulcrum, assisting the effective pull during the last part of the long cocking movement, and link and ramp had to be hardened by different specialised processes
due to the bearing forces involved.
The first production-type Seniors required an alteration that I had no space to include last month. The new barrel linkages on very early Seniors suffered breakages at the hinge between the long and intermediate links, where they pivoted over the fulcrum on the pistol body, resulting in Webley redesigning the intermediate link by adding strengthening shoulders to widen it at the front end at the hinged joint with the long link.
The top view of my Webley Senior, serial no. S2027 in Figure 5, shows this second type of intermediate link with additional strengthening shoulders. The new stepped sides of this modification meant the position of the linkage patent number previously stamped along the left side, needed to be moved to the top of this improved intermediate link. The small link at this stage of production remained the original semi- circular shoe above the cocking slider.
No matter what type of linkage, they could all suffer from the stretching problem over a long period of hard use, as I described last month, requiring either replacement with a later version, or careful specialised repair. Long ago, Jeff was told of another curious way someone in the past had overcome the ‘stretched links’ problem,
by inserting another metal piston ring further back on the piston, acting as a spacer for the small link cocking slider to work against, presumably to push the piston back further and into bent with the sear. It was so long back, that Jeff is unsure where he heard this, but it was most likely from his friend, Dr. Mark Newcomer who dismantled many Webley pistols during research for his pioneering series on Webley Air Pistols published in three parts in Guns Review magazine in the 1970s.
CHESTER’S CANVAS CASES
Chester Purllant had no less than six canvas- cased Webley Seniors through his hands when actively collecting, and four Seniors in the later black ‘leatherette’ cases. One was retailed by the Army & Navy Co- Operative Society Ltd, Gun Department, 105 Victoria Street, London, S.W.1. Figure 6 shows that the strong, canvas- on-wood case is similar to the green baize lined ‘Webley’ label types, but this one’s lining is a reddish colour. The lock is ‘left- hand’, just like the Webley official cased pistol photograph shown last month.
In proportion to the size of the pistol case, this Army & Navy Co- Operative Society, Ltd. label looks neat. Many of the trade labels stuck inside pistol boxes are ludicrously large and seemed to be just utilised from those meant for rifles or shotgun cases. If, for example, the Webley air pistol case labels had been smaller, that would have prevented the label damage caused by the thumb- piece of the barrel stirrup sticking up and wearing the label. I suppose one size of printed trade label had to do in the interests of economy. I have BSA air rifles stamped on the barrel top as having been retailed by Army & Navy Stores, and it would be interesting to travel back in time to visit their gun department. It must have been quite a large establishment, full of interesting shooting items, many being shipped worldwide. The few Webleys found in cases are usually beautifully preserved, like another Senior’ from the late 1930s that Chester once owned, shown in Figure 7.
A very interesting Webley Senior belonging to Jeff Hyder has some unusual features, making it an ‘intermediate’ example. A 1940, 150th Anniversary pistol constructed from pre-war, and what would later become, post-war parts appears in Figure 8. Namely, a ‘straight’ pre- war style trigger and a Webley unmarked grip on the right side with a pre-war Webley marked grip fitted to the left- hand side only. We don’t feel this arrangement is caused merely by a broken unmarked grip being replaced by one of the new ‘Webley’ marked ones, because Jeff’s cased ‘Senior’ pistol formerly belonged to Albert Green of Webley, the co- creator of the Webley air pistol and rifle dealers’ spare parts box system. Without doubt, Mr. Green would have had better access to replacing a grip with the correct one, than anybody else on earth.
Jeff has always felt that having just the one makermarked stock- side could well be a throwback to the woodgripped original Mk. I air pistol models, sporting just the name medallion on the left- hand side grip only, with the right grip left plain. It’s also worth considering the fact that Webley never threw anything away, and they would use up parts from different eras and sell guns with unexpected features and possibly they still had old grips in stock at this time, and this would at least use up half of them on the right side of any new pistols produced until the old
unmarked grips ran out. It seems we will never know for certain, unless further examples from 1940 appear with the combination of old- and new- style grips – one marked and one unmarked. Even then we might never know for sure the reason for the odd grips.
The long knurling to the barrel was introduced in June 1939. Figure 9 shows Jeff’s 1940 Webley Senior with fourth- type barrel linkage with no coil spring or a slot for it. In fact, nothing to prevent the links folding over and having to be manually straightened out in order for the barrel to seat properly after cocking, as with the earliest Senior linkages.
A new fourth- type barrel linkage appears on Jeff’s ‘Senior’ with no slot cut for a coil spring. The knurling that initially extended forward on the barrel, fouled the top of both intermediate link and cocking slider and had a detrimental effect on the top of this link because it imprinted the pattern of the knurling on the top. This impact between link and the underside of the barrel also caused the knurling there of the mild steel (used at that stage) barrel to became flattened by corresponding wear.
Jeff’s Senior is housed in the correct, new ‘leatherette’, non- lockable Webley pistol case with nickel- plated snap catches and a gold lettering on black trade label, reminiscent of the type fitted to the first of the canvas- covered pre- war cases, but with the additional line, saying ‘GRAND PRIX DU CASINO A MONTE CARLO – FIVE YEARS’ - which applies to the repeated success of Webley’s sporting guns in the pigeonshooting field; not airgun related.
The later post-war model Senior batch no. 4276 in Figure 10 has a fifth-type barrel linkage having the addition of small coil spring introduced in February 1947 to further prevent the links folding over themselves. Note the long barrel knurling still extending forward to foul the linkage; also the thicker ‘curly’ trigger with a long tip introduced in 1944 and lack of the wedgeshaped short link of the third-type linkage, this ‘teardrop linkage’ previously preventing the intermediate link from folding over. The trigger tip was trimmed back in May, 1963.
Figures 11 and 12 show the damaging effect on the rear of the link as the barrel knurling imprinted its pattern on the top, due to the hard collision between link and the underside of the barrel on closure; a similar effect is seen on Jeff Hyder’s earlier 150th Anniversary model pistol. In September 1949, the crosshatched knurling of the barrel was reduced to two inches to prevent it colliding with the linkage. It took Webley a decade to address this problem, but there had been a war on, so low priority. Jeff ‘s further photograph, Figure 13 shows a later Senior with the barrel knurling shortened at the front to clear the sprung short link. Factory blueprints tell us the new slot for the link spring was added in March, 1947 which dates my example (Figures 10, 11 and 12) still with the extended barrel knurling, as after this date.
An early, slant- grip Senior serial no. S7111, a pre-war pistol housed in a post-war ‘Leatherette’ case is seen in
Figure 14. Dark lettering on gold trade label with wear in the usual place. Webley’ Special’ pellet tin and HOC ‘Excelene’ oil. A one-time owner of this pistol, Chester Purllant, told me it’s since had a Webley oilcan substituted and a ‘Senior’ pistol more suited to the age of the case. The contoured lower section found in a few of these later, non-locking cases allowed a post-war style, screw- on, reversible spout Webley oil can to be compartmented alongside, rather than a pre-war Valvespout tin. Obviously, it’s essential that later cans are screwed on tight to prevent spoiling a pistol case with oil leakage.
Thanks to Jeff Hyder and Chester Purllant for input and photographs; also to Nigel Allen for the use of his photographs.
Figure 1: Although the model name is unmentioned, ‘The Captain’s’ belated review of the new ‘ Senior’ pistol was clearly approved of by Webley & Scott because they reprinted it from ‘ Wide World Magazine’, August, 1931. [Webley Archives]Figure 2: Dating from around the time of the 1931 ‘Wide World Magazine’ review, this good condition ‘Senior’ serial number S2220 previously in Nigel Allen’s Webley collection has been preserved in its original cardboard carton. [Photo courtesy of Nigel Allen]Figure 3: Second production type Senior serial no. S2220. The first Patent type of intermediate link strengthened by widening at the hinge of the long link. [Photo courtesy of Nigel Allen]Figure 4: Still being published in 1960, The October issue of ‘ Wide World’ true adventure magazine carried advertisements for the Webley Mark I air pistol and the Cogswell & Harrison ‘ Certus’ De Luxe single barrel 12 bore shotgunFigure 5: Top view of Webley ‘ Senior’ serial no. S2027, showing second type of intermediate link with additional strengthening shoulders at the hinge with the long link, to remedy earlier breakages hereFigure 6: The Army & Navy Co- Operative Society Ltd, Gun Department, London retailed this ‘ Senior’. The strong, canvas- on-wood case is similar to the green baize lined ‘ Webley’ label types, but this one’s lining is a reddish colour. [Photo courtesy of Chester Purllant]Figure 7:The few Webleys found in cases are usually beautifully preserved, like this fine ‘ Senior’ from the late 1930s. [Photo courtesy of Chester Purllant]
Figure 8: Interesting Webley ‘ Senior’ with some unusual features making it an ‘intermediate’ example - being a 1940, 150th Anniversary pistol constructed from pre-war, and what would later become, post-war parts. [Photo courtesy of Jeff Hyder]Figure 9: 1940 Webley ‘ Senior’, 150th Anniversary pistol with fourth- type barrel linkage without the ‘ teardrop’ and with no coil spring or a slot for same. [Photo courtesy of Jeff Hyder]Figure 10: Later post-war model batch no. 4276 with fifth- type barrel linkage having addition of small coil spring introduced in February 1947 to further prevent the links folding over themselvesFigure 11: Showing the detrimental effect on the rear of the link as the barrel knurling imprinted its pattern on the top due to the hard collision between link and the underside of the barrel on closureFigure 12: Another view of Webley ‘ Senior’ batch no. 4276, showing how the barrel knurling stamped its pattern on the link - as with Jeff Hyder’s earlier 150th Anniversary model pistolFigure 13: In September 1949, the cross- hatched knurling of the barrel was reduced to two inches to prevent it fouling the linkage. It took Webley a decade to address this simple problem for some reason. [Photo courtesy of Jeff Hyder]Figure 14: Early slant- grip Senior serial no. S7111, a pre-war pistol housed in a post-war ‘ Leatherette’ case. Dark lettering on gold trade label with wear in the usual place. Webley ‘ Special’ pellet tin and HOC ‘ Excelene’ oil. [Photo courtesy of Chester Purllant] FIGURE 13