The Sportsman’s Guide to London
For a stroll through sporting history, take a tour of the U.K. capital’s revered outfitters
photo: Tim Evan-Cook
Of all the great cities for the sportsman, London inevitably leads the list. The reason is that bird shooting, fly-fishing, foxhunting, big-game hunting, and polo all either began or reached their apex in England. As a result, the U.K. capital has superb stores for these gentlemanly, and now gentlewomanly, sports. Herewith, a guide to London’s top purveyors for discerning sportsmen, organized along the British lines of a walking tour starting in Pall Mall, at the eastern end, near Trafalgar Square
Farlows runs largely on a seasonal basis to supply the trout fisherman with the most goodies in the spring and summer, and the bird shooter in the late summer and fall; salmon fishermen and big-game fishermen can fill their needs all year round. You feel welcome whether you’re buying $10 worth of flies or $10,000 worth of tackle. There is much to be enticed by: premium bamboo fly rods, leather-bound fishing and game books, and diaries with gold-edged paper. Outdoor clothing, boots, and accessories from top brands share space with traditional country clothing. The store also offers a few salmon fishing and spey casting clinics each spring.
9 Pall Mall; farlows.co.uk
Lock & Co. Hatters
At this small shop, close to St. James’s Palace, you’ll find a variety of hats-everything from the panama to the bowler, or derby, here called a Coke, after William Coke of Norfolk, who wanted a hat designed to “protect the heads of gamekeepers from overhanging branches of trees.” The prototype was created by Thomas and William Bowler, and it was brought to Lock & Co., where, as the story goes, Coke tested it by jumping on it. It withstood the shock. Riders will also find hunt caps, crash skulls (well suited to schooling and eventing), and tweed shooting caps, including deerstalkers-as in “Come, Watson, come! The game is afoot.” Just never wear a deerstalker while bird shooting.
6 St. James’s St.; lockhatters.co.uk
John Lobb has the feel of a workshop from an era gone by. Here, shoes and boots are made by hand to customers’ specifications, and wooden casts of their feet are kept to facilitate reorders. The hide is selected by a “clicker,” who chooses the skin and particular pieces, bearing in mind the shoe’s purpose. Lasts are made from beech, maple, or hornbeam. Greatness, of course, does not come cheap. A pair of hunting boots with tops and trees (to preserve the shape) will set you back about £6500, or around $10,000. After a wait of eight to nine months, you will get a pair of boots made of waxed calf (reversed, naturally), which can be boned to get the scratches out. With proper care, they should outlive you.
9 St. James’s St.; johnlobbltd.co.uk
The first time I entered the shop, twenty-five or thirty years ago, I was ignored with an élan that could stem only from years of practice. When I asked if they had any double rifles, the old fellow in charge barked something about only shotguns. (The company once upon a time did make double rifles, and it does again.) William Evans has been building London Best guns since 1883 and has always offered guns in a range of prices. It recently added a line of Spanish side-by-sides made in conjunction with Grulla Armas and over-and-unders made by Caesar Guerini. Entering the downstairs gun room is like stepping back in time. The store carries some of the best accessories anywhere, including an upright standing bootjack finished with two duck heads at the top to hold onto. You can also find leather goods and an excellent selection of shooting socks.
67 A St. James’s St.; williamevans.com
Well known among the shooting fraternity, Beretta is the oldest active gun manufacturer in the world. For years the SO9 was its signature model. It is a fantastic shotgun. Its one shortcoming was that the barrels were monobloc. The SO10 has both an improved action and much-improved demibloc barrels. The building Beretta occupies on the corner of Jermyn Street offers everything for the sporting gun. You can buy clothes, crystal with a sporting motif, chairs covered in zebra skin, wonderful bullet display/cartridge boards, Spanish-style shooting boots, books and prints, and the list goes on.
36 St. James’s St.; london.berettagallery.com
Henry Maxwell is Lobb’s only serious rival for top-of-the-line boots. Here, as at Lobb, boots are custom-made and go through a time-consuming, rigorous process. Hunting, polo, and field boots are sold, and Maxwell is historically the place to buy the latter.
83 Jermyn St.; henrymaxwell.com
Bernard Weatherill Ltd.
Bernard Weatherill, whose coats, vests, and breeches are proper and extremely handsome, was founded in 1910, and by 1920 it was awarded a Royal Warrant by His Majesty King George V as a riding clothes outfitter. The company has kept its Royal Warrant by providing bespoke riding clothes for the royal family, including Her Majesty the Queen. A gentleman’s foxhunting coat and a lady’s swallowtail are usually bespoke, but for those ladies in a hurry, a few off-the-rack coats are offered. Sidesaddle habits can be ordered. Not only is the rider well served here but also the driven game shooter. A shooting suit, tailored to the purchaser’s specifications and requirements, can often be made quickly.
5 Savile Row; bernardweatherill.com
Huntsman & Sons
A pair of stag’s heads greet you as you enter the establishment, probably the most famous (and perhaps the most expensive) of Savile Row tailors. Douglas Fairbanks, Jr., that well-known swashbuckler, had his tailoring done by Huntsman. His only complaint was that the clothes would never wear out. Huntsman made its reputation as a cavalry tailor and still makes a lot of riding habits, but it is possibly best known today for its classic, impeccably styled and finished suits. But fear not, dear sportsman; Huntsman can outfit you in black or hunt pinks in a variety of weights and even in a scarlet evening coat for attending hunt balls or other parties to which the invitation reads, “Scarlet if convenient.”
11 Savile Row; h-huntsman.com
Holland & Holland
Holland & Holland began as a maker of fine shotguns, double rifles, and bolt-action rifles. The original Holland & Holland Royal sidelock action is about a hundred years old. It is little changed and, still, widely copied. These guns epitomize the gun maker’s art. Each is made to the owner’s specification and normally takes two to three years before delivery. But the company has increased production to shorten delivery times, and also stocks completed and preowned guns. Perhaps you would like a motor case for your pair of sidelocks? How about a staghorn dog whistle, a tally counter, or a black leather hand guard? Now owned by Chanel, the company also offers a wide range of shooting clothes.
33 Bruton St.; hollandandholland.com
William & Son
William & Son offers an interesting range of fine side-by-sides and over-and-unders, its over-and-under design looking for all the world like a Boss. Its line of accessories includes a silver toothpick holder in the shape of a single-barreled gun, along with luggage, handmade socks, and particularly spiffy gloves.
10 Mount St.; williamandson.com
James Purdey & Sons
James Purdey & Sons is possibly England’s most renowned gun maker. These guns have a balance, grace, and symmetry that must be seen and felt to be appreciated. In addition to bespoke guns and those that are machine made but finished by hand, the shop offers many accessories: gun-cleaning kits; rapid-load cartridge bags in canvas or leather; position finders for driven shoots; a silver money clip that is a replica of an engraved Purdey lock plate. When you visit, ask to see the famous Long Room, which is filled with Purdey memorabilia. My favorite non-firearm offering is the traveling walking stick, which is hand carved to the customer’s requirements of size and choice of wood. The top of the stick can be carved with a variety of subjects, a favorite being the customer’s dog. For ease of packing, the walking stick unscrews into two pieces.
57-58 S. Audley St.; purdey.com
Boss & Co Ltd.
You’ll have to hop in a cab for this one, but it’s worth the fare. Thomas Boss set up his business in 1812. Boss & Co. policy was “builders of Best guns only.” In 1891 John Robertson took over the business, and invented, among others, the famous Boss single trigger in 1894 and the magnificent over-and-under in 1909. Asked if he had ever considered shooting Boss guns, King George VI replied, “A Boss gun, a Boss gun, bloody beautiful, but too bloody expensive!” Though plans are in the works to have a presence in Mayfair, the company now sells and shows by appointment from its factory in Kew, west of downtown London. Assuming it is still in good shape, no gun fetches more at auction.
Kew, Richmond; bossguns.co.uk
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