The Greener Blue Rock pigeon gun
Gunmaking historian Donald Dallas examines a gun once used for a long lost sporting pastime.
Boxlock non-ejectors, the mainstay of the rough shooter for over a century, are in little demand these days and are difficult to sell. Similarly, their upmarket cousin, the boxlock ejector, is also out of fashion as the Beretta continues to impress with its functionality. But what about form?
If you can find certain unusual boxlocks they still command very high prices. I am thinking of such guns like Harkom of Edinburgh’s very individual boxlocks with gold washed internals, or Holland & Holland’s Aero Gun, originally designed for shooting down Zeppelins. To this list can be added the Greener Blue Rock pigeon gun.
The Greener Blue Rock was a variation of its popular Empire model, designed specifically for either live pigeon shooting on the Continent or trap shooting. Greener Empire guns were made in their thousands but the Blue Rock model was made in only small quantities. This rarity, combined with the excellent quality of the gun and its suitability for the current fashion for high pheasants, makes it a highly sought after gun, hence the fantastic prices they can achieve.
W.W. Greener liked to make all his firearms as simple as possible; with fewer parts there was less to go wrong, vital in the large export trade he had created. With this in mind he introduced the Emperor boxlock model in 1894, a gun that had only three parts in the lock, the simplest action devised to this date.
However, what W.W. Greener and his son Harry were really aiming for was a simple gun that could be produced virtually entirely by machinery, thereby reducing costs. The result was the Empire boxlock patented by Harry Greener in patent no. 12012 in 1910. It had the same number of lock parts as the Emperor but unlike the Emperor had a conventional V-shaped mainspring with its apex protruding through the knuckle. When the barrels were lowered, the fore-end
“The Blue Rock was a variation of the Empire model, which was designed specifically for live pigeon shooting.”
iron acted against the mainspring and pushed it backwards to cock the tumbler.
The result was a triumph for Greeners, a high quality, strong gun, simple and easy to maintain and above all relatively cheap. The first Empire grade E10 appeared in 1910, costing 10 guineas and from then on they were sold in the thousands. The early Empires were all non-ejectors with long 3” actions known as “Long Empires”. In 1925 a shorter action was introduced, this model being known as the “Short Empire”. Later, an ejector version was offered, usually of the Southgate variety. Between 1910 until Webley’s takeover in 1965 some 17,000 Empires were built.
It was a relatively simple matter to offer a variation on the Empire, and Greeners modified it to create a specific pigeon gun for live pigeon shooters on the Continent of Europe and for trap shooting. In a very clever marketing exercise, Greeners named this gun the “Blue Rock” pigeon gun after the type of pigeon used in live pigeon shooting. The name caught the era perfectly and all Blue Rock pigeon guns have such a pigeon engraved upon the top rib.
The Blue Rock was either an E25 or E35 gun and was available as either a non-ejector or ejector. It was a medium-grade gun and was sold for 25 guineas before 1939 and 35 guineas after 1945.
It was a typical pigeon gun and quite heavy, weighing in at a substantial 7¾lbs The barrels had 2¾” chambers and were proved for 1¼oz of shot, the maximum permissible in live pigeon competitions. When originally made, both barrels were heavily choked, invariably full-choke in both barrels. This specification explains why Blue Rock guns, particularly the ejector versions, are in so much demand for high pheasant shooting today.
The model pictured on page 67 is no. 77818, a late-built example dating from 1955. It has 30” barrels with a matt file cut top rib engraved “W.W. Greener, Maker, 40 Pall Mall, London, Works, Birmingham”. A Blue Rock pigeon is engraved on the top rib. Unusually the breeches are fluted at the top for better vision over the breeches. The barrels have 2¾” chambers and both are bored ¾ choke. It has a treble-grip action due to the large loads that would be put through the gun. Like most pigeon guns, the safety is manual only. It weighs 7¾lbs, is of excellent quality and is nicely engraved on either side of the action.
Live pigeon shooting was banned as long ago as 1921 in Great Britain but the practice still continued on the Continent of Europe, no doubt where this gun spent most of its life. It is gratifying that this gun, although built for a use not pertinent today, will have a new lease of life among the copses and woods not foreseen in its original manufacture.
“Greeners cleverly named the gun the ‘Blue Rock’ after the type of pigeon used in live pigeon shooting during this era.”