I could make out the walls of buildings and the cobbles of the roadway from Praed Street to the Basin, shown beside Phillips Mills and Co. on the Goad map. Floor levels varied in height, with connecting slopes running up and down. Some parts were in smooth concrete, painted red or pale grey. One could imagine how these floors had been swept daily, scored by the wheels of trolleys, repainted and cared for by generations of people, perhaps even a line of fathers and sons. Now the whole area would become the anonymous foundations for new buildings and the Basin be converted from a stretch of stagnant water into a boating marina and restaurant complex. From the empty site I could see the Metropole Hotel which was being extended for the second time, with the old Purdey gun workshops under scaffolding.

Purdey's Gun Factory

Purdey's, perhaps the most famous sporting gun manufacturers in the world, had head offices in South Audley Street and their factory in Irongate Road. So respected is the name of Purdey that I seem to remember a character in some long-forgotten novel saying that, in the event of a fire, he would rescue his Purdy and his family in that order.

James Purdey founded his firm in 1814, so that it has flourished for almost two hundred years. The firm moved the factory to Praed Street in 1901 and stayed in North Wharf Road until 1979. From the start it has been a craft firm, with the craftsmen almost self-employed and at the top of their trades. Guns are made in sections; each part being made by a specialist who will make only that part all his life. Everything is done by piecework - each part being examined, passed and paid for in turn. Barrels are made first and tested. Then the stock is cut to the customer's measurements and shaped to suit the left or right sighting eye; the gun was engraved and the mechanism regulated. Finally, the gun is finished, having passed from hand to hand and the parts initialed, so that each one is a group creation with its own history.

Purdey workmen dressed in the clothes in which they came
to work in the late nineteenth century1


  1. Photograph from ‘Purdey's: the Guns and the family’, by Richard Beaumont, David & Charles, 1984, by permission.


Page 233
Page 235
Updated August 4, 2011