Not-So-British Bulldog

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In the 1860’s Philip Webley & Son developed a solid-frame, large caliber double-action revolver with a five-shot cylinder. These were relatively compact guns chambered for a .44 Rimfire cartridge, .442 British (also known as .44 Webley) and .450 Adams. These developed into the Webley RIC, which stood for Royal Irish Constabulary who adopted the weapon, and a short-handled, short barreled variant that become known as the British Bulldog, which name Webley trademarked in 1878. Webley later produced variants in .320 and .380 Revolver, but only guns forty-caliber and larger received the ‘British Bulldog’ name.

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The classic Webley RIC- father of the famous ‘British Bulldog’ and Dr.Watson’s sidearm of choice.

These guns were widely imitated in Europe- mostly by the Belgian cottage gunsmithing industry- and in the United States. The quality of these guns varied from excellent to rubbish, and calibers of these ‘knock-offs’ ranged from .22 Short to .45 caliber.  These guns became very popular in America during the western expansion, and in fact General George Custer was reportedly carrying a pair of these guns when he was killed at the Little Bighorn.

 

The best of the American copies were introduced by Forehand & Wadsworth in the late 1870s. The gun was available in a single frame size and chambered in a seven-shot .32 S&W version, a six-shot .38 S&W and a six-shot chambered in .442 British. While not up to the quality of Webleys these were decently-made, robust little revolvers. No records exist of production numbers, but they must have been reasonably popular judging from the numbers of surviving examples.

The company’s name changed to Forehand Arms in 1890, so guns labelled ‘Forehand & Wadsworth’ were produced prior to that time, and are classified as antiques by the BATF.

Given my love of ‘snubbies’ I have long desired a proper British Bulldog, but alas the prices of Webleys are out of my reach. I was offered a F&W .38 Bulldog last year, but finances were tight that month and I reluctantly turned it down- which decision I’ve regretted it ever since.  So when I came across another at an affordable price I snatched it up- maybe a little faster than I should have. More on that later…

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Bulldogs load through a gate like most single-action revolvers.
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This gun has a hammer-safety that blocks the hammer from moving fully forward unless the trigger is pulled.
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Here’s the loading gate, which may be opened with the hammer at rest The cylinder free-rotates when not firing, so there is no half-cock notch for loading.
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This picture shows the operation of the ejector rod. This is stored in the cylinder-axis pin. You simply pull it forward, rotate it to the right then push the shells free with the rod. It only pushed the expended shells part-way out, but they are easily removed manually at that point.

The gun shoots well enough, but it shaves lead with each shot. After a cylinder or so enough lead will build up to block the rotation of the cylinder. In addition, of course, to spraying hot lead out of the gap at high velocity. Not good.

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Accuracy is reasonable- this group was shot rapidly at 5 yards.

Another issue is that the cylinder axis pin is stuck. Soaking did not loosen it, and the retaining flange was ground off some time in the past to allow it to rotate with the cylinder. That’s pretty annoying, and had I examined the gun a little more thoroughly I’d have noticed this.  It’s well and truly stuck too; a 1/4″ drift and hammer didn’t budge. OK, I’ll drill it out; there are enough of these guns out there that I might well be able to find a replacement, and if I can’t it’ll be a doddle to fabricate a new one.

OK, I didn’t know that I was purchasing a project-gun. That’s just more fun, right?

Michael Tinker Pearce, 30 April 2018

 

 

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