The Gun Room

The gun is a W&C Scott Monte Carlo ‘B’.

by Terry Wieland

The title of this piece might feel familiar to you, and rightly so:  It has been used for books, magazine articles, and newspaper columns going back at least 150 years, to my certain knowledge, and probably well before that.

This, of course, is in addition to its original use for the room in a country house devoted to guns, gun cleaning, storing ammunition, and so on.  In the better establishments, such as Sandringham (the Prince of Wales) or Studley Royal (the Marquess of Ripon) it took on the atmosphere and appurtenances of a gentleman’s club, with reading chairs, a library, and a familiar overtone of leather, pipe tobacco, and gun oil.

The gun room was where the gentlemen repaired after breakfast, when a gale was battering the windows and the rain fell in torrents.  It was both a work room and a refuge.

In Victorian and Edwardian society, the gun room acquired a social status all its own, not unlike some of the elaborate trophy rooms that have been built in the U.S. over the past few decades and immortalized (?) in books by Safari Club, among others.  Unlike these show pieces, however, the gun room—even at Sandringham—was a room for working in.  Ideally, in a proper gun room, everything looked old, and the older the better.  The gun racks and bookshelves were built by cabinet makers, and many of the books were leather bound.

Major Sir Gerald Burrard, Bart., D.S.O., was an expert on firearms at many levels. His three volume work, The Modern Shotgun, is still a standard reference, 90 years after publication.

I have on my shelf two books devoted to the subject:  The Gun Room, by Alexander Innes Shand, and In the Gun Room, by Major Sir Gerald Burrard, Bart., D.S.O.  Astonishingly, my copy of the latter, the “New and Revised Edition,” carries a quote from the review in The Times Literary Supplement.  Can you imagine?

While Sir Gerald is well known for such works as The Modern Shotgun, in three volumes, Innes Shand, although a fine and prolific writer and famous in his time, is almost forgotten today.

Innes Shand devotes a chapter each to guns and gun racks, a proper gun room library, cleaning equipment, art work, game trophies, even cigars and tobacco.  He is obviously writing from both affection and experience.

It is not a physically large book—pocket-book sized, with only 107 pages—but it is leather bound (now worn and tattered) with gold embossing, and even includes a dozen photographs.  This is remarkable given that it was published in 1895.  Although a tad flowery in his prose by today’s standards, and apt to assume knowledge the modern reader probably doesn’t have (What the hell is an arbalist?  A snuggery?  An understrapper?) Innes Shand is always literate and, at times, lyrical.

Sir Gerald’s book, rather surprisingly, covers hardly any of the same ground.  Instead of chapters, he has 153 sections with titles such as “Non-rusting .22 cartridges” and “Ballistic Coefficient.”  This is not surprising, given the technical nature of his other works, which include The Identification of Firearms and Forensic Ballistics.  He wrote a question and answer column for a couple of periodicals (The Field and Game and Gun) from 1920 to 1950, and the sections consist of these, as well as some others which came to him “by other channels.”