A tribute to John Barnaby McCrossen 5th June 1938 – 16th April 2018
I ’m deeply saddened to record the death of my good friend, John McCrossen, known to so many collectors for his huge affection and enthusiasm for the Birmingham firm of Webley & Scott and their products. As an engineer and businessman, John greatly appreciated their work and long ago decided to collect examples of the company’s air pistols and air rifles and preserve them for prosperity as a specialist collector.
Occasionally, John would find airguns from other makers – like French Giffard gas rifles, BSAs, Clarke’s ‘Titan’ pistols and antique pneumatics – and acquire them, often for restoration and to eventually use as ‘swap items’ for his beloved Webley products. Apart from that, he followed a path without deviating from it, often playing his cards close to his chest in his quest to find out more about the Webley firm and the men behind it – the gun designers and other key figures and their working methods.
John’s magnificent collection included many cased and boxed Webley pistols and rifles, housed in superb, mahogany gun cabinets, one of which he adapted himself, building a superb base unit with drawers, to match the top. Indeed, John seemed just as skilled when working in wood as he did in metal – or on anything else, in his large, well- equipped workshop. He restored many fine guns including two ultra- rare Anson’s ‘Star’ air pistols; my own example I’d located in relic condition, and one specimen that Tony Williams had found. I recall a Parker Hale Patent Precision, geared- wheel cocking pistol that John rebuilt using my drawings and he even built his own double- barrel, ‘under- andover style’ dual calibre pneumatic to shoot both .177 and .22 calibre pellets, which appeared on the front cover of March 1989, and a spring piston, rotary magazine air rifle that l featured in the February 1987 issue of this magazine; the under-lever radially pulling the mainspring into compression.
It was on a 1976 visit to The London Airgun Centre ( T.L.C. World Trading Ltd.) once situated at 32 Craven Street, W.C.2 that I first heard of John, in an indirect sort of way. Eugene Alexander, the gun sales manager was trying to persuade me to part with £18 for the fine, inter- Wars slant grip, Webley ‘Senior’ air pistol shown here in
Figure 8. “If you don’t have it, ‘ Webley Mac’ will have it!” warned Gene, anxious to make a sale. I thought I’d better dig deep and pay the 18 quid before this unknown rival for the pistol appeared and bought it from under my nose!
The identity of ‘Webley Mac’ remained a mystery for some months, until one morning when I was working in the newspaper art studio with my assistant, Cherry, and the receptionist knocked on the door and entered, followed by a stranger who she announced as Mr. McCrossen. I noted he was wearing a ‘Webley Flying Bullet’ badge on his blazer lapel and as we shook hands it dawned on me that this was the collector that Gene called ‘Webley Mac’. While on a visit to my area, John had decided to call in on the off chance to introduce himself at my place of work as he didn’t know where I lived. I was glad he did because we soon become good friends. John was no stranger to newspaper offices, working for ‘News Group Newspapers Ltd.’(A subsidiary of News International Ltd.) at the time.
With John as my oracle, as far as Webley airguns were concerned, I produced large Webley articles like the 6- page ‘ Webley Aristocrat’ piece on the Senior pistol for Airgun World Annual ’83 and the
Development of Webley Pistols also over 6- pages for Air Gunner ’88 Annual and it was to John I sent the rough drafts prepublication, for checking and his expert comment. John, seen in Figure 9, soon became an essential member of the Airgun
Collection team. Later, John was also to prove invaluable to Gordon Bruce during the compilation of his book Webley Air
Pistols by contributing facts and pistols for photography and inclusion. When setting off from John’s home for Bisley Arms Fair early one morning, I recall John pointing out Gordon’s house quite nearby.
I was often invited to visit John and his family and spent many happy times there, talking about, and examining airguns in the