One gained the following accolade from The Vintage Gun Journal in 2021: “Few provincial gunmakers were as singular as Thomas Horsley of York and fewer still were interesting enough to become the subject of an entire book by Britain’s foremost living authority on the patents and mechanisms of the Victorian shotgun, David J Baker [published in 2006].”
A rare 12-bore sidelever hammer ejector gun by Horsley dating from 1890 sold for £11,000 to a European collector via a phone bid, against an estimate of £7000-9000, at Gardiner’s sale in Pulborough, West Sussex.
Horsley had developed his business “during the most fruitful time for sporting gun designers through which anyone has lived”. The hammer gun of the 1860s, featuring three of Horsley’s own patents, are usually most sought after by collectors.
His work was comparable to the work of London and Birmingham gunmakers. Clients included the great and good of the Yorkshire scene.
Gardiner told ATG: “Horsley was a very interesting York maker who appears to have established his business there in 1834.
“He rose to prominence in the early years of the breech-loading sporting gun and it was his innovative patent action of 1863 with a sliding toplever for opening that gun that really established Horsley as one of the provincial leaders of his trade.
“Further patents followed and it is his hammer guns from the period 1863-80 that are generally his most collected. By 1880, the hammerless gun had risen to prominence and sadly Horsley was unable to provide a unique action of his own, the sliding lever of his earlier gun being less suited to a hammerless design.”
However, as evident from this result, later Horsley guns certainly have their fans.
Gardiner added: “This particular gun was exceptionally rare as it was a hammer ejector shotgun. Very few British hammer ejector guns were built as the hammer gun was essentially obsolete by 1880, but the ejector mechanisms that all modern guns use to throw the empty fired cases clear of the gun on opening were not invented and perfected until around 1888. Hammer guns with ejector mechanisms are a bit of an anachronism and are hugely sought after.”
After the sale it was confirmed that this gun was built in 1882 for Harry Kearsley, the son of the Ripon MP, Robert Kearsley. In common with most Horsley guns, it was built for a local customer.
After moving from Doncaster, Horsley was initially based in Coney Street, York, and his shop interior has actually been reproduced in Kirkgate – the Victorian ‘living history’ recreation in York Castle Museum. The firm made guns for more than 100 years under three generations of Thomas Horsleys, finally closing in 1956.