17 Nov 2016

Childhood Gun Ownership in the UK Before WWII

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Major collector Peter McManus, in his One Man’s Gun Quest — 50 Years of Gun Collecting, describes the economics of his first gun.

When I was about 13 I was given my first firearm: an 1860 .577 Enfield military muzzleloading rifle, though I never use that as a rifle with a solid bullet.

So this was a new dimension!

I made my own gunpowder, using potassium chloride, not potassium nitrate (don’t do it!). A quarter pound cocoa tin served as a powder flask.

The bowl of a clay pipe was an excellent powder and shot measure and another quarter pound cocoa tin was used as a shot flask.

Shot, however, was a problem! Lead shot was used when pocket money would run to it but many other alternatives were tried: I experimented with D. I. Y. lead shot but it was pear-shaped and irregular in size: Not satisfactory at all. How to make it? You don’t want to know as it could be dangerous!

Tin tacks were good, but expensive! Gravel was tried, but without success: don’t bother with it! Used ball bearings: okay, but difficult to obtain. For wadding I used a wodge of rolled up newspaper: a thick one over the powder charge and a thin one over the shot charge to hold it in position.

Percussion caps? Couldn’t afford them! The alternative was a pair of paper caps, as used in toy guns, wedged into the hammer. This was surprisingly effective, most of the time, though you could occasionally get a hang fire.
Hang fires were not good! You would pull the trigger, hear the caps fire, but fail to ignite the charge. As you took the gun from your shoulder it would belatedly go off! Potentially dangerous, of course, but no harm was ever done.

My parents ran a guesthouse: Stella Maris, 34/35 West Parade opposite Rhyl Pavilion. On one occasion I decided to fire a clay marble at the back gate of Stella Maris. It would, I reasoned, be bound to shatter on impact as the marble was far too small for the board. Only a light charge of powder was used but, to my horror, the marble went straight through the gate. Virtually no one was walking by at the time but was the kind of experiment I never repeated.

My understanding is that we cannot even buy caps in America anymore.

2 Feedbacks on "Childhood Gun Ownership in the UK Before WWII"


Hmm, never thought of that. .577 would be about 28 gauge, a fairly decent boy’s shotgun. And one could probably pick up muzzle loaders at that time for approximately the price of a ham sandwich.


You can buy caps, paper roll caps, and plastic disc ring caps for 6 or 8 shot revolvers. Check Amazon and eBay. I would bet money I can’t buy them in Massachusetts, retail, though.


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