Written by Daniel James Parry
One such business rich in both history and heritage and arguably a landmark of the Lancashire village of Eccleston is R Bamford Guns. Situated in the heart of The Green, the artisan gunsmiths has been the leading retailer of firearms and shooting supplies in the area with a legacy stemming back as early as the 1920’s. The firm was founded by Ralph Bamford in 1920, serving as a bicycle repair cabin on the exact location upon which the business still stands today. In the years that followed, Ralph expanded his horizons and began selling radios, and later televisions after their invention in 1927.
While following the roads of rural Eccleston in Lancashire, winding and weaving through the village’s picturesque scenery that almost appears taken from the frame of a Monet masterpiece, it’s difficult not to feel the history and agriculture reaching out to you, desperate to be noticed. With classical architecture on every corner, it’s clear that this is a village rich in both history and beauty. With its cerulean blue skies and emerald green grass, even Olympic cyclist Sir Bradley Wiggins calls this archaic town home, commemorated by the placing of glittering golden post boxes dotted across various locations.
In 1944, Bamford’s daughter Alice married a local farmer who was to become a pinnacle figure of R Bamford Guns, a local farmer named Alan Jones, who traded shotguns as a side project. Two years later, Alan was drafted into the Bamford business on a more permanent basis, and was granted the business of selling shotguns from the Eccleston establishment. Speaking to BASC Magazine, Alan described how “I persuaded him to start selling cartridges and then brought my guns from the farm and started selling them in the shop as well.”
But how did Alan instigate this trade? “I used to look in the back of Shooting Times for the gun auctions and would go to them and buy good English guns, Purdeys, Hollands and Bosses that had been neglected and needed renovating; I’d repair them and sell them on. I bought my Tolley 4 bore this way, when I was 19 and had many happy years wildfowling with it. We didn’t start selling new guns until the 1950s, still mainly English until the Spanish guns started coming in. I bought a top-class English Boss in the early 1950s for £80 and used it for many years. I got it through a friend who used to come to the shop to borrow my micrometer. He didn’t buy the Boss, so I did instead.”
Eighteen years passed until Bamfords reached out to extend their business family again; this time in the form of Alan and Alice’s son, Lawrence, who joined the ranks at the tender age of 17. With a natural passion for shooting and a flair for fieldsports, Lawrence, along with his parents, pushed the business in the shooting and fieldsports direction, to the point that they eventually stopped selling anything other than shotguns and shooting accessories.
As time rolled on, so did Bamfords. On the cuff of the swingin’ 70s, Alan and Alice took Bamfords on the road, representing the business at countless country shows and game fairs held all across the United Kingdom over the course of the next twenty years.
In 1996, Lawrence’s daughter Sky took up her role in Bamfords legacy, beginning to work within the business, where she ran the shooting wear and footwear department. With the outdoor lifestyle running deep in her family, naturally, Sky knows the industry like no-one else, so in 2004, she, along with husband Richard McCann, set up Out of the City, an online business which specialised in sports and casual apparel for both men and women, and Welly Warehouse, the UK’s leading online retailer of wellington boots, utilizing over a decade of experience in the trade.
Last year, Sky rejoined the business with Richard as the shop grew and expanded, being extended and remodelled to incorporate Out of the City’s shop within the Bamford premises. A new gun room has been built to hold and display the extensive range of shotguns, and in 2016 Lawrence is now looking towards retirement as Richard takes over the sales of shotguns and rifles.
Taking the brand’s history into consideration, it’s fair to say that Bamfords are truly one of a kind, offering avid participants in the outdoor lifestyle a one off hunting shooting experience, situated in a village in the heart of Lancashire. Completely unrivaled by any other shop in the vicinity, R Bamford Guns have the merit of offering customers service and repairs on their guns, able to carry out minor gun repairs and woodwork on the brand premises, before stepping next door, where they can peruse racks dressed in the latest products from Barbour, Le Chameau, Schoffel and Dubarry to name just four globally acclaimed countrywear brands. While Richard runs the gun sales, Sky immerses herself in the clothing side of the business, regularly scouring the market, seeking out only the finest products which balance quality with style.
First and foremost, everything sold at R Bamford Guns must serve the purpose for which it was designed, while looking great and representing the best value for money. As a consumer, it speaks volumes when business owners are not only retailers, but ‘live and breathe the country life’ – the McCanns regularly take part in country sports, and endorse the products they sell on a day to day basis first hand, so that they can offer a knowledgeable opinion of every piece on sale. This ensures every customer receives the best service available in the North West.
Today, Alan finds himself at the majestic age of 96, and shows no signs of slowing down any time soon. He still likes to oversee the business, and can regularly be found in the shop, sharing his experience and expertise with customers and clients alike.
Alan’s passion for shooting began from an early age – as a young man growing up on his father’s farm, his first firearm came in the form of a Bart Simpson-esque catapult, which soon evolved into an airgun. His finger met the trigger of his first shotgun at the age of 14 when he began to use his father’s Greener 12 bore side-by-side, a weapon he still owns and cherishes to this day. Rules were firmly put in place as ‘father didn’t want him shooting anyone’ , so no friends could accompany Alan on his shooting excursions. A year later he received a Spanish 12 Bore, bought for just £7.50, and two years later he purchased his very own Greener, a model he was already familiar with and had been introduced to in his youth. This was a turning point in his shooting career – with a Greener by his side, he hasn’t looked back since.
An avid shooter, Alan’s merit marksmanship earned his way into the Bols Snippen Club, known today as the Shooting Times Woodcock Club. However, his favoured target is wildfowl, a sport he’s been dedicated to since the age of 17.
Speaking to Mary Bremner at BASC Magazine, he commented “I started wildfowling when I was 17. I used to cycle 12 miles on my bike to Hesketh Bank, or 16 to Banks Marsh with my gun strapped on my back. Wildfowling was free then, you never had to pay. I used to shoot at night when the moon was right, now you have to be off the marsh by 9pm. It is the best sport ever; I can still vividly remember the first bird I shot. I’d been two or three times before I managed to hit anything and am ashamed to say that the first bird I hit I didn’t kill outright. It fell in the middle of the river and even though I had my waders on I just couldn’t get to it. Suddenly more were coming so I got back on the bank, shot the next bird and gathered it. It was a great, great thrill.”
To this day, Alan is still a keen marksman, having shot clay pigeons in competitions for many years in his earlier days. Today, he continues to shoot game and clays regularly, favouring a 20 bore as opposed to a 12, still as sharp eyed as ever, occasionally having to don a pair of glasses to assist when it comes to the minis.
96 years and 4 generations on, the Bamford brand was presented with a commemorative plate by the parish council earlier this year for their long-standing service to the people of Eccleston. As they look towards their upcoming centenary, the family urge sportsmen and women across the entire North West to take a trip to picturesque Eccleston for a guide through the barrel of the Bamford empire. With ever-changing stock, an unrivalled selection of new and secondhand shotguns and air rifles, plus all the top countrywear brands at prices to suit most pockets, the Bamford Store will be sure to please the entire family.
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