William’s sights set on the future

Gunsmiths (from left) David Newell, Nick Quantrill, Graham Emms, Graham Collier and Jake Edgington in the workshop ' one of the largest outside London. Photo (TIM WILSON): SG090512-127TW
Gunsmiths (from left) David Newell, Nick Quantrill, Graham Emms, Graham Collier and Jake Edgington in the workshop ' one of the largest outside London. Photo (TIM WILSON): SG090512-127TW
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WHO would have thought that trendy young things would be making their way to Spalding’s bastion of hunting and shooting, Elderkin and Son?

They are, since learning of the interest in outdoor pursuits among celebrities, and they are brushing past the shop’s tweed breeches and other garments long associated with the shoot to find the rails of now fashionable Burberry jackets and Dubarry boots.

The fashion for outdoor clothing comes as no surprise to William Elderkin, who says – only half jokingly – that the business has always had its finger on the pulse.

What William means is that the business has had to adapt and change in order to have survived since 1750 when it was a milliner’s shop in Pinchbeck. He tells the true tale of two navvies hanged in Lincoln in 1810-11 for stealing £200 worth of cloth.

The business moved to Broad Street in 1880 and by that point it was more like a hardware store selling items also found in Woolworths stores, such as pots and pans as well as a few guns.

“Then Woolworths opened in the 1920s in Spalding and of course we couldn’t compete with them and we got more into guns from there,” says William, adding: “Mind you, we have seen Woolies off.”

As war approached and shops were closing William’s grandfather Alfred started looking after guns and other weaponry for the home forces, and by the time the war ended, when William’s father William Lacey joined the shop, it was dealing mainly in guns and fishing tackle.

The guns – and in particular the workshop – is the main business today, and William says the workshop, with five full-time gunsmiths, is “probably one of the biggest outside of London”.

Elderkin and Son sells guns around the world, particularly the collectable old guns, such as a 1920 model engraved by Harry Kell, one of the top English engravers of his time, selling for £30,000. William says while the engraving is beautiful – one example he showed us was decorated on the action area with griffins and dragons, thus making the gun more valuable – collectors would still use them.

Modern guns are naturally in demand too, particularly for commercial shoots, for farmers and youngsters just starting out clay shooting. However, another modern trend is also stimulating demand.

William says: “They do these computer games and want to do the real thing. It’s all strictly controlled with licences. There is bad press with guns if you look at the tragedies that have happened with them, but guns never killed anybody. It’s the person behind it.”

The five gunsmiths are kept busy restoring the old guns – during our visit a 1960 Purdey gun was being restored with over 200-year-old Turkish wood costing £2,000. However, William says: “There are not many guns that we sell that don’t need to be altered to the person. If you buy a gun, within reason, you can adapt to shoot with it, but in an ideal world it wants to fit you. If you are a quarter of an inch out where you are shooting at 30 yards you will be nearly six feet out if you draw a line.”

The workshop – William says he is looking to take on another lad in the summer – is busy with all kinds of aspects of work, from maintenance – stripping them down, cleaning and repolishing and making sure the gun is ‘tight’ – to re-stocking, starting with a great block of wood.

Many of the gunsmiths have worked there many years – David Newell for 43 years, Graham Collier for 42 years (“It was either be a gunsmith or trainee chef,” he says), Nick Quantrill (who also gets involved in sales) and Graham Emms have both worked there 36 years, while Jake Edgington admits gunsmithing was something he “fell into” seven years ago when he left the Gleed Boys’ School.

William too worked in the workshop when he joined the business at 16 – “My further education was in Broad Street,” he says. However, a car accident at 23 which left him in a wheelchair meant he could no longer access the workshop and so he moved into the shop.

“I can’t think of anything else I wanted to do,” says William (now 51). “I am lucky because it is my hobby and my business. I used to do a lot of competition shooting when I was younger and shot for England, but I just do game shooting now.”

After all these years, William still sees a future in the business – his wife Kirstie is involved in the clothing side.

What will be interesting to see is whether their daughters Georgia-May (12) and Martha-Grace (6) will develop an interest in guns... and whether country clothing is still fashionable then.