Barrels come rough-forged from a large English steel company. For the working mechanism, forgings are done by a two-man subsidiary in the market town of Droitwich, Worcestershire. Handwork is done at Purdey's Padding-ton factory at Irongate Wharf alongside a London canal basin. Like a jackdaw's secret horde, myriad chisels, hammers and files lie on benches.
A Purdey gun is built by a team composed of a barrelmaker, an actioner, an ejector man, the stocker, the polisher, an engraver and a man known as the finisher, who fits the pieces together and gives the woodwork its glowing gloss. The last process alone takes three weeks and is done entirely by bare hand. Every member of the team initials his part of the production with the same pride as an artist might a masterpiece.
Purdey's craftsmen serve an apprenticeship of six years, and there is no shortage of applicants. Once in, they rarely leave.
Like all British firearms, Purdey guns have to pass two strict proofing tests. The proofmark on a British gun barrel is as necessary as the hallmark on a piece of gold or silver, and no gun can be sold or offered for sale in Britain or exported from the country without it. After factory tests, a Purdey must also pass tests on the shooting grounds.
In a year, Purdey's produces 150 new guns, although there is a continual flow of work involving the fitting of new barrels and stocks, overhauls and repairs. A simple Purdey may cost $1,540. With extras such as a pistol grip, ventilated rib, engravings of acorns and oak leaves, dogs and birds (or, as one man suggested, portraits of his wife and himself), the cost of excellence is considerably higher.
A third of the firm's business is with Americans, and many are as faithful as Purdey's old British clients about keeping in touch. Mementos, notes, reports and even an occasional trophy pour into South Audley Street from the jungles of India and the frozen arctic wastes. Wherever the country and whatever the game, there are Purdeys being fired around the world.