From Acorns, do mighty oaks grow?

You may already be aware that the Gunsmith apprentice standard has been approved by the Government’s Institute for Apprenticeships. I view this as quite an achievement, as nothing like it has ever been attempted before and the interests of the future of British gun making, for which I care deeply, are at stake.

The Gunsmiths Academy will enable learning, skills and innovation which have always been at the core of British gun making in this country to remain.

The initial interest from within the industry has given way to torpor. This may in some part be due to Brexit insecurities and its impact on our home market, foreign sales and business confidence within the trade. But, I would observe that the problem of a domestic skills shortage will only be exacerbated by the lack of engagement now, regardless of the immediate concerns surrounding Brexit.

Our European competitors saw the writing on the wall and established trade apprenticeships long ago. Do you see even the slightest exodus of skill from the British trade flooding to Europe? No, we have resorted to branding foreign guns as British and abandoned making them in the most part. Only the Best guns are left to be made here for the tiniest proportion of the market and in ever diminishing numbers. Let us focus on the ability to serve the mid-range and above segments of the market and invest in the skills it takes to produce guns in volume here in the UK and offer true competition to Italian, Spanish and generally European guns.

The lack of commitment from the industry poses problems in regard to the way the Academy is structured. Without the employment of Apprentices, there is no funding from the Government to pay for trainers and equipment.

In the words of Winston Churchill;

Difficulties mastered are opportunities won.

The reason for the incarnation of the Gunsmith Apprenticeship was initially out of a requirement in our business (W Horton & Sons); and our desire to re-establish our own gun making ability back in Birmingham where we have traded since 1750. To do that, we needed the right people to create artisans for our future. In my opinion that skill set is not necessarily just a recreation of techniques utilised 100 years ago, but is inclusion of modern engineering methods to compliment the long-established techniques which make British guns unique and un-rivalled. To that end we have taken on three apprentices (Jake, Ewan and Conor) who have already begun a 13 month full-time engineering/machining course as part of the foundation of the Gunsmith Apprenticeship. Next October they will join us in Birmingham to apply those skills in the refurbishment and remanufacturing of old English guns whilst on day release to gain an advanced engineering qualification.

The Gunsmith Academy is already delivering on its promise to supply the trade with valuable skilled domestic labour. It just so happens that the only students currently in training are destined for W Horton & Sons.

As ever, any business wishing to take on an apprentice can contact me at any time and I will happily work with them in the most flexible way possible to suit their requirements. We must continue to make the finest guns in the World and to make them together, in the UK as together we are the British gun making trade and must feel the weight of history on our shoulders.

Apprenticeship standard approved

The Gunsmith apprenticeship standard is finally approved. Now while what you see in the link below is a couple of pages of text, the work behind getting to this point cannot be underestimated. It has taken weeks of hard work and meetings with the department of education to get this over the line. There has NEVER been a government funded Gunsmithing school in the UK, this is changing and will soon be realised. I’d like to personally thank Graham Greener, Gary Clarke (ex Boss), Tony White, Marc Newton (Rigby), Pete Boxall, James Edminston and the guys at Viking Arms for the support up to this point. BASC have also now pledged support.

The next step is to finalise the end point assessment, which in short allows apprentices to be graded against the standard.

To reiterate this means training costs to employed apprentices is at no cost to the employer. A meeting is also planned with GCCT (Gunmakers Company Charitable Trust) that will make it even more compelling for a business in the sector to take an apprentice. NO BUSINESS CAN GROW WITHOUT THE RIGHT PEOPLE.

The Gunsmith Academy is brand agnostic and being set-up for the benefit of the wider trade. It is my belief that this is the best opportunity presented to the UK Gun trade to revive itself for a very long time. It is gathering pace week on week and as such I (Steve Horton) have decided to scale back my own business (W Horton & Sons) to by appointment only from 1st June (for a period of time) to take up an unpaid position of Principal of the Gunsmith Academy to ensure it has the best start.

I’m interested in hearing from businesses within the sector who would like an apprentice (potentially at zero cost), people who would be interested in becoming a trainer (full or part time) and also young people who wish to become an apprentice.

You can reach me on email at . For those who have already made contact I will be coming back to you the first week in June. Start date for Apprentices will be September 2018.

You can read the published Gunsmith Apprenticeship Standard here

What is the future of the UK Gun trade?

The UK gun trade in both Birmingham and London were once the centre of the global gun trade, however over the past 100 years there has been a steady decline. So what is the reason for this decline? Can it be reversed or at least stabilised? What we have today is a scattering of viable gunmaking companies who struggle to find the right people.  If something isn’t done very soon we’ll lose the skills for good.

“A company should limit its growth based on its ability to attract enough of the right people.”  Jim Collins

The reason for the decline?

To understand how something can be fixed, we must understand the route cause of how it broke in the first place. No one thing can be muted as the single reason for decline of the UK Gun trade, it is more a catalogue of events that have led to a sector that is considered niche. If we timeline some of these events it is easy to understand why we are where we are.

  • Less world conflict The 1850’s were the pinnacle of gun production in the UK. Demand from various conflicts globally fuelled the demand for small arms. The UK were at the cutting edge of manufacturing and set-up to produce in high volume with thousands of people and hundreds of businesses within the sector. The spread and scale of the British Empire was a conduit for the trade in small arms. As the number of conflicts reduced, the volume reduced and the attention turned from volume to quality and innovation.
  • The Great War (WWI) Leading up to the outbreak of WWI the innovation within the UK small arms trade was relentless. You can see this in paper form by the sheer number of patents being created up until 1914. Both Birmingham and London were at the forefront of this innovation. At the outbreak of WWI the factories gunmaking companies were commandeered by the UK Government to focus on war efforts and a lot of the young men within the workforce were either conscripted or volunteered for front line action. Post WWI the UK entered a prolonged depression as did the rest of the world. This saw further contraction of the industry until an economic boom in the late 20’s and into the 30’s which saw a mild renaissance.
  • The Second World War (WWII) The industry was stabilising prior to WWII but was again commandeered by the UK Government to focus on war efforts. Yet again this saw young people within the sector being conscripted or volunteering for action in the front line. My own Grandfather was one of these men who had just started an apprenticeship at BSA and ended up as a Chindit in Burma. Post WWII the UK entered into another depression. There was little trade to get back into post WWII.
  • Removal of the habitat In Birmingham specifically in the mid fifties the local council embarked on a city wide modernisation programme. In the 50’s, the council could and often did compulsory take ownership of huge swaithes of buildings with no financial compensation for the owner. The Birmingham Gun Quarter was cut in half and mostly demolished to make way for the A38, in effect a motorway through the heart of the city. This pulled the rug from underneath any trade that was left.
  • Cheap imports In the 60’s the UK gun trade saw a complete shift towards imported sporting guns that were and still are superb value for money. You or I cannot blame anyone for taking the opportunity of building an import and distribution business. A lot of folk say that the UK Gun trade failed to innovate manufacturing processes and it has manufactured its own demise. I would agree, however it was never and still isn’t an even playing field.
  • Lack of ability to innovate Our continental counterparts post both WWI and WWII saw the respective gun trades as yet another industry to be rebuilt, the UK gun trade and manufacturing as a whole never received such help. In Liege (Belgium), St Etienne (France) Suhl (Germany) and Ferlach (Austria) Gunsmithing schools were supported to train the people and future workforces, the UK has never had such luxury. Furthermore in the Thatcher years the country went through a complete shift away from manufacturing in general as we strived to become a clean service industry economy.

So after a series of body blows it is no wonder the UK Gun trade is in such poor state.

Can the industry be revitalised?

It is my belief it can be revitalised. That must start with giving those companies in the sector access to the right people to facilitate the growth. We need the sector to innovate to differentiate and offer value of a different kind. We also need the right type of people to work on imported guns whether that be warranty repairs or customisation. Another significant factor  comes down to accessing the right level of business support to facilitate growth, this is out there but needs thought and patience to access it.

How do we start training young people?

The UK needs a training facility to breed a generation of new gunsmiths that access brand agnostic training and learn a broad set of skills. This emulates the approach of the large gunsmithing schools on the continent; Suhl (Germany), Liege (Belgium), St Etienne (France) and Ferlach (Austria) who produce 250 gunsmiths per year collectively. Steve Horton from W Horton & Sons and a group of forward thinking businesses and individuals are working on the accreditation of a new Gunsmith Apprenticeship standard (due end of April). Once the standard is written and approved by the Governments department of education it will attract government funding and various grants that will allow a Birmingham Gunsmith Academy to be formed here in Birmingham’s historic gun quarter. The academy will use the funds to employ a variety of gunsmiths who have worked in the industry for more than 30 years for some of the biggest names in the industry. These trainers will pass on the skills they have learnt to apprentices in a structured and assessed manner. The training cost will be borne by the Government funding*, the Apprentices need to be paid and funded by companies and charities.

Why do we need a standard?

We have some great Gunmakers in the UK who employ and train very good gunsmiths but the tendency is to focus the training on very specific parts of the gunmaking process as that is what is required by the gunmaking firm. This creates very specialist gunsmiths, moreover very specialist in one way of performing part of a manufacturing process on a specific gun. This doesn’t lend itself to innovation.

This has been tried before, why is this different?

You may believe this has been tried before, but it hasn’t. A variation on this has been tried before, however it has always fell down due to lack of funding for both sides of the equation. Moreover the Academy will happily help any company with its training needs and will have no allegiance to any.  Whilst people are generally happy to fund or donate to assist to pay the wages of an apprentice, the funding was never in place for equipment and trainers wages. The training provided by the Academy is paid for by the UK Government. Other grants from local education partnership and National Lottery heritage fund are being applied for.

Who can get involved and/or access the training?

Any business involved in the Gun trade in the UK can access the training in multiple ways. The Academy will have a board of member organisations as part of its governence to ensure the training being delivered is that required by the Gun trade. If you are an employer in the Gun trade, the Academy will deliver the training for you. Equally if you have a specialism within the trade and wish to pass the skills on, you can apply to become a trainer. Please contact Steve Horton of W Horton & Sons via www.hortonguns.comif you are interested in becoming a trainer or accessing the training in anyway.

When is a school not a school?

For the Academy to access the training funding, the young person must be in an employed position. It is evident that whilst some organisations will choose to employ a young person and put them on a day release at the Academy (other routes of training will be available). That route is not viable for every organisation, so a Charitable Educational trust is being set-up to train a pool of Apprentices who are then free to be employed within the trade at a point in the future (They must be allowed to complete the Standard).

When can I apply to be an apprentice?

We are aiming to open the Academy during the summer of 2018 with training starting in September 2018, this allows school leavers in 2018 to be eligible and apply for a place. Numbers will be limited and are to be decided. The training will be free for 16-19 year olds, after 20 there will be a cost (TBD) for training like any further educational facility. If you are a young person who wants to be considered for a for a place please contact Steve Horton of W Horton & Sons via We are focusing on getting the core nucleus to prove this can be delivered with a view of expanding overtime, however quality of training will be the focus and not quantity.

How has it been received by the UK Gun trade?

As you’d expect with something that has never been done before, it has a level of ‘it will never work’ (I don’t count keyboard naysayers on facebook). A number have already pledged support financially and will employ apprentices from day one, some are holding back to see it set-up and functioning before committing. Gaining support from some of the institutions such as BASC, CA and GTA has not been forthcoming which is disappointing given this is being created for the good of the trade and wider sport but I am sure they will support once they see it in operation.

You’re a keen shot and would like to help, how can I help?

Once the charitable trust is created to assist in funding the apprentices a donation however small would be welcomed. As a Charity it attracts all the tax benefits you would expect and any donation is tax deductible. The apprentices will need guns to practice on; so that old boxlock non ejector that has sat in your cabinet gathering dust for the past ten years and isn’t worth a lot, send it in. The old sidelock that is out of proof and dangerous to shoot, send it in. Any gun that is of no use to you (either functioning or not) will be of use to an apprentice. Any assistance is greatly received.

Feel free to get in touch if you’d like to learn more. Steve Horton


EEF announced as training partner

The Gunsmith Academy will be supported by EEF, one of the largest engineering training organisations in the UK.

Any Apprentice joining the Academy will be expected to do an initial 6 month training programme at the EEF training facility in Aston. The training delivered at EEF will cover all basic machinery (Lathes, Milling, Grinding, Bench Drills, Polishers) and more advanced items such as CAD (Computer Aided Design) and CNC (Computer Numerical Control) machines. Only when this training is complete will the Apprentice have the chance to apply the newly gained engineering skills to firearms.

The facilities of EEF are cutting edge and the skills they deliver are to the highest standards. They currently train most of the Jaguar Landrover apprentices and manage the HS2 rail engineering school.




Apprenticeship standard, consultation

The trailblazer group have now completed working on the Apprenticeship standard for Gunsmith. As such we’d like to hear from people in the trade in a professional context and ask for your input and critique on the content. Have we missed anything?

In addition to this, further members of the trailblazer group are welcomed both small and large. In particular anyone in the trade who wishes to take on an Apprentice through the forthcoming Birmingham Gunsmith Academy.

You can view the standard in .pdf format by clicking the link Level 3 Apprenticeship Standard for a Gunsmith

Feedback can either be posted as a comment on this website or by emailing Steve Horton Feedback is requested by 27th February 12 noon.

Apprenticeship standard receives support of IET

It is with great pleasure that I announce the IET (Institute of Engineering and Technology) are supporting and assisting with development of the Gunsmith apprenticeship standard.

So who are IET? They are the worlds largest institution for professional engineers. Being a member of the IET allows a wide range of engineers to continue professional development throughout their career.

So what does this mean? The IET have looked at the draft apprenticeship standard and agreed that it meets level 3 competency which is the same level of competency for example as an aircraft engineering technician amongst others. It means that any apprentice completing the standard will be able to gain professional membership of IET and display the logo as officially accredited member. It also allows any apprentice to access a variety of further educational routes.

Now in isolation this means very little to most, however you must remember that ‘Gunsmiths’ in the UK have never been viewed as a professional outside of our rather insular sector. By aligning the apprenticeship standard in such a way it gives credibility outside of our sector and will only serve to strengthen our trade for years to come.

The standard is not being written to preclude those competent smiths in our trade already, it is our desire to include those in the sector already and assist them with professional development for the long term. Once the standard is published any competent smith can opt to go through the assessment route and top up training where they specifically lack experience. Yes there will be a cost although this will be the lowest it can be and also not time dependant.

If you question the logic behind promoting standardised training, cast your eye to the continent and the various gunsmithing schools. Whilst our trade has declined, the equivalent trades in Italy, Belgium, France and Austria have become real respective national assets. I read a report the other day, showing Italian export revenues for small arms exceed $750m every year, it is no wonder the trade in Italy receives so much assistance from its respective government. The UK trade were once a global player but a catalogue of events have pushed the UK gun trade into a corner. If something is not done now, we will lose what little we have.

It is my belief that with the right support and investment in young people, the UK gun trade can once again flourish and be at the forefront of a global trade. Maybe not in volume, but definitely in quality and innovation. The UK exports knowledge in various other sectors (Architecture, Education, Engineering et al) around the world, could the UK gun trade do the same?

Both Birmingham and London gun trades were the epicentre of all things firearm in the world for the best part of 100 years. You can see this in the number of patents created which number far more than I wish to count, this all but came to an end at the outbreak of the Great War of 1914 and it has never recovered.

The lack of support from banks, government and other facets of the UK have not helped, this for me can be put down to perception of the dreaded three letter word ‘gun’. Anyone who shoots or is in the trade will have experienced this first hand. When you tell someone what you do, it is often met with ‘that’s illegal, you’re cruel, what you sell sawn offs’ and all manner of ill educated responses. Whereas on the continent, it is widely viewed as a normal pastime and profession which is no more elaborate than golf etc.

If you are involved in the gun trade and wish to pledge support in anyway, please get in touch ( The Academy and the gunsmith apprenticeship standard is being set-up to benefit the trade and our sport shooting disciplines, it requires your help and support. Just sharing this post on social media will help promote it.

IET support

The Gunsmith Academy moves forward

The Gunsmith Academy now has official approval to move through to the next stage of developing the fully accredited Gunsmith apprenticeship standard. If you’d like to understand why this is crucial, see the Gunsmith apprenticeship standard post on the blog.

On the 30th January a variety of businesses within the sector meet with the depart of education representative to jointly present the standard and seek final approval. This approval will unlock a wide range of funding options that allow the Academy to be formed.

The meeting is being held at Birmingham Gun proof which physically hasn’t changed since the film below. However the Birmingham Gun Proof also understand the need for standards across the board, having recently been given ISO 17025 accreditation for its laboratory. 

John Rigby & Co pledge support for the Gunsmith Academy

Steven Horton (MD of W Horton & Sons) who is leading the initiative on the Birmingham Gunsmith Academy met with Marc Newton (MD of John Rigby & Co) at the Rigby premises in London.

Marc was very keen to understand the plans behind academy and what the gunsmith standard will produce. The John Rigby & Co business has benefited hugely from the structured training provided by a variety of gunsmithing schools on the continent. So naturally Marc is very keen to get involved with the new Academy initiative at its inception.

By getting involved at this early stage means that John Rigby & Co have an input into the department of education standard for ‘Gunsmith’.

Marc commented ‘this is a fantastic initiative that is very long overdue in the UK, it is great to be on board’.

If you are a gunmaker in the UK, now is the time to get involved and help set the standard. There can only ever be one apprenticeship standard accredited by the UK Government. 

Gun Proof Tour

Did you know you can book yourself on a tour of the Birmingham Proof House? The Proof house was designed by John Horton and built by a group of Birmingham Gunmakers in 1813, one of only two gun proof houses in the UK.  It is restricted to a group size of c10 and the cost is £150 per group (with biscuits included). Contact the proof house direct if you’d like to book on a tour. Click here