ANSON & DEELEY – History



by Dr. Marco Sebastiano Scipioni,

journalist, writer and gun expert


The Anson & Deeley mechanics for side-by-sides was born in 1875 with patent n° 1756 inside Westley & Richards factory, which at the time was one of the two or three largest and most important sporting gun factories in Great Britain and therefore in the world. At that time, Great Britain had, indeed, by far the largest and most advanced industry on the planet. Until that fateful 1875, gunsmiths had designed tens and tens of actions with the desire to satisfy the fashion for something new, by eliminating external hammers. This perfect creation, the result of the genius of William Anson, workshop manager, and John Deeley, President of Westley Richards, swept away all previous actions in one fell swoop and was a true epoch-making revolution. The mechanics was made up of few very sturdy parts, all housed inside the action (and therefore protected from humidity and dirt) and the cocking of the hammers was done by opening and lowering the barrels, which allowed for enormous leverage and mechanical advantage. Now we take it for granted and nobody thinks about it, but cocking by means of the barrels movement was the definitive solution and has then been adopted by all shotgun models that have followed over almost 150 years, with very few exceptions. The cocking levers housed in the action, which with their protruding front “beaks“ interact with the designated holes in the forend cross, are essential elements of virtually all side-by-sides, even those with sidelocks. In fact, all sidelock actions we know today were born years later and have all copied this cocking concept.



Draft of the first internal mechanics Anson & Deeley

Since 1875, Anson & Deeley’s action has been the “standard” action of hunting side-by-sides, replicated in millions of examples by factories all over the world. The mechanism with locks on the side plates (what in Italy is roughly referred to  as “Holland & Holland-type”) in its most common version (the Holland one, indeed) is, after all, conceptually nothing more than a lock with external hammers with the hammer brought inside, with an additional safety sear and cocking levers copied from Anson & Deeley. From then on, this mechanism would constitute a very elitist niche segment, limited in number and mainly used for pigeon shooting and exclusive driven hunts, where people used two gun sets of twin side-by-sides, custom-made for the lucky owner.


Side view of an Anson & Deeley action


The rest of the market was the absolute domain of Anson & Deeley, of which William Wellington Greener had produced his own particular variant. A very refined version is the one with hand-detachable locks, also introduced by Westley Richards, which in my opinion is an absolute gem of class and functionality. Years ago I was talking with the late Gianoberto Lupi, a great expert and writer to whom we owe the best and most technically precise books on hunting weapons in Italian, and he confided to me that, after examining hundreds of different side-by-side models over the years, he considered Westley Richard’s with hand-detachable locks to be one of the best, of the most perfect and of his favourite ones.


Westley & Richards “Dropblock”


My sincere appreciation therefore goes to Fabio Piotti, who with great insight for gunsmithing has recently come up with a modern version, which is also equipped with a safety sear. The operation of the Anson & Deeley action is very simple and a picture with a cutaway of the action is enough to immediately understand how it works. It should also be noted that all modern over-and-under shotguns without sidelocks have Anson-derived mechanics. Since there is obviously no space for the lock inside the receiver of an over-and-under, in the early 1900s German gunsmiths moved it backwards and placed it above the trigger group and called it “Blitz system” (Blitz meaning „flash“ in German). Variously interpreted, this is the basis of modern over-and-unders series production.


Dropblock model Fabio, Flli. Piotti


Finally, a digression to underline the enormous importance that Westley Richards had in the development of the modern double-barreled shotgun. The two most widely used systems to join the forend to the barrels are both patented by the company: the “button” system is a W. Anson patent of 1872 and the „finger latch“ system (like in Beretta SO) is a Deeley & Edge patent of 1873. Another director of Westley Richards, Leslie Taylor, was responsible for the first selective single trigger in history, patented as far back as 1887, while the ubiquitous William Anson was responsible for the modern safety on the back, which has then been perfected by several patents over the years. In conclusion, an Anson system side-by-side is by no means to be regarded as a poor relation of a side-by-side with Holland system. 


Mechanical details of a  Dropblock


They are, indeed, two different things and if someone is looking for a light and balanced side-by-side, very well shouldered thanks to its masses all concentrated in the centre of the gun and which also resists very well the water and humidity that can easily be encountered during hunting, then their choice should fall on a Anson & Deeley-type side-by-side. However, we should keep in mind that the above applies to the “true” Anson & Deeley action, which today is only made in its original form by very few companies, among which F.lli Piotti stands out and that in the end everything depends on the overall quality, both in terms of the materials used and of the construction of the individual components, assembly and finishing.


Model BSEE luxury  Anson & Deeley Flli. Piotti