One of the most well-known guns ever made in Birmingham is set for a return at a Midland firm.
A Tamworth gun shop is set to launch a 21st century prototype of the “Model T Ford of the firearms world” – in conjunction with world-famous BSA.
Solware has worked with Small Heath-based BSA Guns UK to create a modern BSA Bell Target gun, which owes its heritage to airguns of over 100 years ago.
The Solware-BSA initiative aims to promote Bell Target shooting which is still popular today, more than 100 years after air rifles first appeared on the back streets of Birmingham.
Shooting became such a renowned pastime in Birmingham in the early 1900s that 1,600 of the country’s 4,000 National Air Rifle Association clubs were based in the city, and the sport attracted tens of thousands of enthusiasts.
Solware managing director Carl Harlow said the new prototype was a modern pre-charged airgun.
“There is a very strong link between guns and Birmingham, and of course there is still the Gun Quarter to this day,” he said. “Birmingham is on the world map for its guns and this is a latter-day successor to the famous gun of all those years ago. We have got one prototype at the moment but the amount of interest we are getting is quite phenomenal. It is like ‘you have the Model T Ford and then you have the modern Ford.
“It has taken around 115 years of evolution to create this gun – it’s the Model T Ford of the gun world. The Bell Target gun has very strong links with Birmingham while BSA has got a fantastic history. If you go to any country in the world and say you have heard of BSA, it is a world-renowned brand.
“We want to promote the sport of shooting and show that it is safe. People often think that people who buy guns are nutters – there are a lot of stereotypes and you will always get the odd maniac.”
The sport of Bell Target Shooting enjoyed remarkable growth in Birmingham at the turn of the last century.
Mr Harlow said Birmingham staged the first ever “not quite so serious” Bell Target match using the tiny air rifle in the 1900s.
He explained: “A group of enthusiasts from one public house challenged a group from another pub to a shooting match for the prize of a leg of mutton supper for the winners paid for by the losers.
“That was perhaps for one or two of them, their best meal of the week. Things were pretty hard in those days. Leg of mutton pub suppers in Birmingham were very common at the beginning of 1900, and the licensing laws were not as strict as they became two or three years later.
“The instigator of this match was a Mr M Hirst, who became a leading light in the development of the sport in the Birmingham area following this small competition. Mr Hirst is on record as saying: ‘I remember quite vividly. I was one of the victims of that encounter, but even if that most enjoyable of suppers had cost a thousand times more than the losers were called upon to pay, I honestly think the money would have been well and profitably spent.’
“Spectators filled the pub, and like wildfire the thing caught on.”
The National Air Rifle Association was established in the old Arcade, in Birmingham.
Soon it had a membership across the country of over 4,000 clubs, 1,600 of them in Birmingham, with 20,000 shooters, clubs and associations blossoming in almost every town.
Mr Harlow added: “So popular and important was the airgun scene, that the Birmingham newspapers carried a column of results every Saturday evening, with people waiting on the street corners to see which team had won, and to compare league placings.” Mr Harlow said the Solware-BSA gun would sell for around £550, when it eventually goes into production.
Paul Hughes, northern area sales manager of Small Heath-based BSA Guns UK, said: “This was something that we had in our range and Solware picked up on it out of our catalogue. They looked at it and thought it could be commercially viable for them, and in the long run, BSA Guns.”