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Gunmakers' Proof House Tour and Supper, 22 February

On Wednesday 22 February, a relatively small gathering of Bowyers, principally the Company Shooting Team, met at the Gunmakers' Proof House on Commercial Road for a tour of this highly significant and historic location followed by a black-tie supper. The evening had been arranged by kind permission of the Master Gunmaker, Mr Robert Pitcher, and illustrates the close links that continue to flourish between the Bowyers and the Gunmakers. Our principal guests were Mr John Allen, the Clerk to the Gunmakers, who is well known to many members, and Mr Richard Mabbitt, the Proof Master.

The evening began with a glass of white port in the receiving area where firearms are normally checked in to the Proof House prior to inspection and testing. Once everyone had arrived, Mr Andy Bignold, the Assistant Clerk to the Gunmakers, delivered a fascinating short talk on the history of the Gunmakers and the Proof House explaining why the Company has occupied a site outside the City since 1675. The assembled company were then handed over to the Proof Master who led us into the working area of the Proof House past several displays of firearms.

Several examples of the weapons that are tested had been laid out in preparation. Using these as props, Richard Mabbitt explained how the Gunmakers have retained a functional link to their trade and remain responsible, as one of two proof houses in the UK, for proof-testing guns for safety. He went on to describe how the barrel testing technique involves test-firing the gun with an extra-powerful charge to stress the barrel and action with over two-and-a-half times the intended pressure. The barrel and action are then inspected and, if they have maintained structural integrity, will be stamped with proof marks indicating that they are fit for purpose. He explained how the Proof House tests all sorts of pistols, rifles and guns including those for military and sporting purposes.

After a live demonstration in one of the indoor testing ranges the Bowyers returned to the reception area before being led down into the newly redecorated Gunmakers' Court Room for an excellent supper of monkfish, lamb and chocolate brownie accompanied by some excellent wines. After the Loving Cup had been passed and the toasts drunk Mr Duncan Samuel, the Bowyers Shooting Team Captain, proposed a toast to the guests which included, as well as those mentioned above, Mr Philip Kench, a keen pistol shot himself and member of the British Alpine Rifles. Concluding with a toast to the Gunmakers, Duncan Samuel highlighted the historic relationship between the two companies and their current warm friendship.

Mr John Allen responded on behalf of the Gunmakers. In a witty and amusing reply, punctuated with anecdotes and jokes, John thanked the Bowyers on behalf of the guests and concluded with a toast to the Bowyers. Proceedings were rounded off by the Master who thanked both John and Richard for their hospitality and company and invited the assembled company to remain at the table, passing the bottle, until it was time to vacate the Proof House.

This was an excellent evening combining a fascinating insight into the workings of one of the two Proof Houses in the UK with an intimate and convivial supper in the prestigious Gunmakers' Court Room. We were very fortunate to have had this unique opportunity.

Tony Marinos

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