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A Short History of F Beesley

A short run down of the history of Frederick Beesley, his company and how it faired after his death (to follow)

Frederick Beesley was born on 2 June 1846, the son of Samuel Beesley, a farmer who worked the 255 acres of Diamond Farm, St Giles, then a small village to the north of Oxford. Samuel had first married Susan, who bore him four sons and a daughter, but she died in 1835. A few years later Samuel re-married the widow Elizabeth Roberts, who already had a daughter, also Elizabeth. Samuel went on to father another three sons and two daughters. The youngest of these sons was Frederick.


In 1859 Samuel died and his second wife continued to run the farm. In 1861, upon reaching his 15th birthday, Frederick secured an apprenticeship with the London gunmaking firm of William Moore & Grey, indentured to William Grey, at 43 Old Bond Street. It is probable that Moore died during Frederick’s apprenticeship. Grey however was a canny businessman who had helped Joseph Manton run his firm. He passed on to Frederick some of those skills that would prove so useful to him when he came to run his own business. Meanwhile, Frederick was also learning to build best quality sporting guns and rifles and developing his own mechanical and engineering prowess. At this time the sporting gun was going through a rapid and technologically fascinating transition, all of which the young Frederick was drinking in.


By the middle of 1867 Frederick was coming to the end of his seven year apprenticeship and he was also falling in love. On 16th January 1869, aged 22, he married Clarissa Cheese, the daughter of a mushroom farmer, at Christ’s Church, Marylebone. On Monday 30th August 1869, Frederick started work as a Stocker for James Purdey the Younger at 314 ½ Oxford Street. That Frederick was employed by the most prestigious gun making firm of that time, at such a young age, demonstrates the skill he had already acquired. Stockers at Purdey not only worked in wood, but also with the metalwork of the action and forepart too. They had to have excellent all round knowledge of the entire gun making process and were, in effect, in overall charge of the building of the gun. Over the next ten years Frederick was a key element of the Purdey workforce, involved in building the very best shot guns of all gauges, as well as rifles for big game, for some of the most demanding and aristocratic clients of the day.


By this time Frederick and Clarissa were living at 22 Queen Street, just off the Edgware Road. On 14th August 1871 they had a boy, Herbert Phillip. James Purdey gave his stocker a week off. Then on 13th November 1877 they had a daughter, Frances Julia. The birth was not easy and Frances was a sickly child. Frederick had to have rather more time off to help his wife with his young family. The following year Fredrick began work on Purdey number 10505, a double barrel 10 bore for the famed shot, the Marquess of Rippon. However, Purdey lore has it that by then Frederick was spending too much time at the pub and not enough at his workbench, with the result that he was forced to leave Purdey’s on 4th May 1878. 

To be continued

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