Rod Wilson  

A business trip to Sydney several years ago was the beginning of my interest in Charles Hellis, a London gun-maker and self-proclaimed practical gunsmith. As sometimes happens on such trips the numerous meetings concluded much faster than expected leaving me with a day spare and nothing planned.  What to do?  A harbour cruise?  Shopping in the city?  Laze around at Bondi?  Or perhaps spend some time wandering through the city’s gun-shops - just for a look?  The last option, as usual, won.


The day had been pretty uneventful until I entered a shop filled with modern stainless and plastic firearms and after striking up initial conversation with the shopkeeper I enquired with little optimism, "Old guns?  British?  Single shot or double?  Anything at all?"  Expecting an answer along the lines of, “Don’t get much like that anymore”, or to be shown a very worn low quality example passed off as a high grade fine arm, I was surprised to hear,


“Yeah, this came in few days ago and might interest you”.


A leather bound gun case was placed on the counter and opened to reveal a totally original condition boxlock ejector gun by Charles Hellis & Sons, London.  Interest me it certainly did but I wasn’t going to let him know that!

  Hellis Action- RHS  

Charles Edward Hellis began his gunmaking business in 1884 at 21 Shrewsbury Road, Westbourne Park, London before moving in 1897 to more prestigious premises at 119 Edgeware Road in Hyde Park. By this time he was describing himself as a, “practical gunsmith and expert in cartridge loading”. His two sons, Charles and Clifford, joined the family business in 1902 and from that date, “and Sons” was added to the business name. Charles Edward Hellis died in 1905 and the entire business was taken over by his two sons until 1932 when Charles Robert Hellis died, leaving Clifford Hellis as sole director.


A photograph from this period shows the Edgeware Road shop-front complete with cartridge boards, numerous guns and, interestingly, what appears to be a pump action Winchester rifle in the window. The proprietor stands in a white gunmakers apron in the door of the shop, perhaps Mr Charles Edward Hellis himself.

  Hellis Shopfront  

Higher grade Hellis guns were made on the premises and proofed in London whilst other grades were made by the better Birmingham makers, proofed in Birmingham and finished in London.  Hellis had several brand names including Reliable, Standard, Universal, Windsor, Mark Over, Featherweight and the Premier.  The grades of guns varied from basic Anson and Deeley boxlock non-ejectors with border engraving, right through to best sidelock ejectors with extensive scroll engraving and presentation walnut stocks.  It was also during this period that Hellis found favour with royalty and subsequently, “Under Royal Patronage” appeared on his trade labels.


The advertising of being a cartridge loading expert is also significant as Hellis exported loaded cartridges throughout the world and it is thought they had the largest cartridge trade in London.  At one period they hand-loaded up to 1,000,000 cartridges per year.  It may well have been a larger part of the business than gunmaking!

  Hellis Trade Label  

The Hellis firm continued trading until finally closing in 1956 with the name being acquired by Henry Atkin, who merged in 1960 with Stephen Grant & Joseph Lang to become Atkin, Grant & Lang.  Recently the Charles Hellis name has been acquired by a British syndicate who are once again producing best quality side by side and over/under guns from new premises at 16 Saville Row, London.


The gun that was now assembled in front of me was a 12-bore Anson & Deeley boxlock ejector game gun probably made between the wars.  It had been nitro proofed in Birmingham and was chambered for the 2½“ cartridge that was the standard British cartridge at the time.  The blueing was a little worn on the 28-inch steel barrels but they were free of dings and dents and importantly the bores and chambers were like a mirror.  Clearly this gun had been used but also had been well cared for.  The straight stock was original and featured nicely figured walnut and the slender grip that I always find so appealing on British game guns.  The stock escutcheon had the initials CJO engraved.  I wondered who he was?

  Hellis Action- LHS  

The gun's action was a basic A&D boxlock but was covered in superb scroll engraving with traces of the original colour case hardening.  I had seen many things done to the A&D action to attempt to pretty it up.  The scroll back as used by Westley Richards was one example.  Also the addition of false sideplates to give the impression of a sidelock gun was used by some makers.  Others used a sunken side panel that was commonly chequered.  This gun however was different, it did indeed have sunken side panels but it was then fitted with metal plates that were tastefully engraved.  I had never seen it done before by any other maker and overall the effect was quite pleasing.  I quickly lifted the gun to my shoulder.  It came up quickly, with beautiful 'between the hands' balance.  It was also light.  I guessed about 6½Ibs.  Perhaps that’s what the crossed feathers engraving on the action meant.  A featherweight?


I was interested!  Very interested!


I put down the gun and gave some attention to the guncase.  Externally it had suffered a bit of damage with stitching coming away and what looked like mouse damage on one end.  CJO was embossed on the lid.  Hmm, same as the stock.  Original case maybe.  Internally the case was very good, the trade label was fully intact and the felt lining slightly worn but clean overall.  Damn the external damage, there’s always one thing not right.  Still, it was relatively easy to repair and I needed to find a few faults to negotiate on.  The accessories in the case consisted of the usual cleaning gear, a silver oil bottle stamped with “Hellis” and an oil soaked owners booklet, probably the original one judging by what I could read after peeling the first few pages open.

  Hellis in the case  

Lastly, I thought I’d better check the triggers and ejectors.  Snap caps were called for and after checking the trigger pull the ejectors soon had both caps flying over my right shoulder.  The ejectors worked OK!  On closing the gun I noticed the safety had been engaged.  Automatic safety!  Clearly this was not a lower grade firearm.  I checked later and found that it was indeed the highest grade boxlock made by Hellis.  Called the “Windsor” it was produced both before and after the war.  Further digging into my records found a letter from Hellis dated 1950 where the Windsor model is priced at 78 pounds, 15 shillings, significantly more than their basic boxlock, the “Standard” at 47 pounds.  However, I didn’t know all this at the time.

  Hellis Engraving  

I glanced up at the salesman and he was grinning, almost smirking at me.  He knew he almost had a sale, and I hadn’t even enquired about the price yet.


The true game of haggling is something that works best if both parties are fully aware of and appreciative of the value of a piece, and most importantly, want a deal to be done, and so are prepared to negotiate.  Despite my attempts to hide my enthusiasm for the piece and emphasise its few faults the salesman knew he had me and I, not one to let something go once I decided I wanted it, knew he had me too.  In the end I purchased the Hellis for a very fair and reasonable price and quickly grew to appreciate its light weight, fine balance and quick pointing as much as its quality finish and decoration.


On returning home, an enquiry into the Hellis records revealed the gun was first sold in 1928 to a Mr Owen for the price of 50 pounds.  This ties in with the initials CJO engraved on both the gun and gun case.  The gun was not marked as for export in the records and how it found its way to Sydney, Australia, is unknown.  I am glad it did however, and that I was in the right place at the right time to be able to acquire it.

  Hellis with Case  
    Boothroyd, Geoffrey – Sidelocks & Boxlocks, Safari Press, 1998  
    Boothroyd, Geoffrey – Directory of British Gunmakers, Sand Lake Press, 1997  
    Brown, Nigel – London Gunmakers, Christie, Manson & Woods Ltd, 1998  
    Utterson, T.C. – History of Charles Hellis & Sons, Ltd