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

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. 

Gunsmith Apprenticeships

The UK has long been behind the curve when it comes to training gunsmiths.

The likes of the large gunsmithing schools on the continent; Suhl (Germany), Liege (Belgium), St Etienne (France) and Ferlach (Austria) produce 250 gunsmiths per year collectively. Is it no wonder that many of the large Gunmakers here in the UK today employ a large percentage of gunsmiths produced by these highly regarded schools, it is much cheaper than training from scratch here in the UK.

Well all that is about to change, Steve Horton from newly re-founded W Horton & Sons and a group of forward thinking businesses and individuals who are making up a trail blazer group to set apprenticeship standards for gunsmithing in the UK. This includes WW Greener, Birmingham Proof House, Viking Arms, Edgar Brothers, Pro-Gun Services, C H Smith amongst a few others.

What is the point of setting an apprentice standard?

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 a small group of apprentices in a structured and assessed manner.

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.

However, it is a sad fact that most of the guns bought in UK today are imported and have no resemblance to some of the guns produced in the UK. So whilst an ex apprentice of one of the large UK gunmakers or a handy engineer may well be able to repair a modern over and under, they won’t have been officially trained to repair it.

The training provided by the Birmingham gunsmith Academy will focus on repair, re-manufacture and refurbishment. This broad knowledge will give the apprentices more opportunity to progress a career in the industry whether that be with a UK gunmaker, setting up a business in own right or working overseas.

The department of education insist that 20% of the standard is ‘off job/knowledge’ and it is planned that apprentices will be taught related subjects such as ballistics, study of old patents, firearms law, CAD, CNC and even business studies like how to calculate VAT and submit a return.

The aim of the Academy is to create the next generation of gunsmiths although the focus will always be on quality vs quantity. Much better to create 10 exceptional young gunsmiths than 50 mediocre gunsmiths.

This has been tried before, why is this different?

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. 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. In days gone by a father would pay a gunsmith to train their child, that no longer happens.

The UK Government are pushing the Apprenticeship model of learning like never before to fill the skills gaps that exist within various industries within the UK. A good case study is the classic motor industry who were lacking skills in repair and rebuilding of classic cars, for example it is impossible to find a wing for a classic 1930’s Jaguar and one has to be made by hand. The Marches Centre of Manufacuring & Technology were awarded £2.9m to set-up a facility to provide the training. You can read the case study here. The Birmingham Gunsmith Academy will be using the same training provider who helped make the Marches centre happen, In-Comm training are an Ofsted outstanding training provider.

By accessing the funding available, the Birmingham Gunsmith Academy will put in place all the equipment and trainers as you would expect from any educational facility. A separate charitable trust will be created to assist in funding apprenticeship wages and further funding sought from various other sources.

Who can get involved?

Any business involved in the Gun trade in the UK can elect to be included on the panel of Trail Blazers who help set the standard, however this is a commitment that cannot be taken lightly. 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

When can I apply to be an apprentice?

We are aiming to open the Academy for Easter 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 who are offered a place, after 19 there will be a cost (TBD) for training like any further educational facility. If you are a young person who wants to apply for a place please contact Steve Horton of W Horton & Sons via

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. 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.


From an acorn a mighty oak does grow.

Latest News from the Quarter

The new website is coming along nicely. We’ll be adding a list and photos of all the residents (Gunmakers/smiths & the pubs of course). We’ll also include the Proof house etc.

The other items that are moving along;

Gunsmith Academy

In discussion with South Birmingham College to create a recognised Gunsmithing course. We know that the traditional manner of serving an apprentice has been the way for years, we don’t want to deviate too much from this. However a recognised qualification under written by an accredited body such as ‘City & Guilds’, ‘BTEC’ etc will allow an educational provider to obtain grants per student per academic year from the Government.

The grants can then be diverted to semi retiring gunsmiths to teach the next generation. The students get the best of both worlds and we can select the tutors who deliver the best training. The students will also spend time doing general ‘Engineering’ and learning CNC techniques from different industries, this will bring new ideas from outside of the trade.

Once we know more, we’ll be approaching various Gun related organisations for support – yes this means dipping into cash reserves and helping out the next generation!

Exciting stuff, I’m sure you’ll agree.

Gun trade rental incentives

With a handful of units available in the Quarter, the focus is now on bringing gun trade businesses back into the area. With units from as little as £850 per year and 12 months free rent (available to gun trade only). The area and wider Birmingham is crying out for a good Air Gun retailer.

Well that’s it for now, if you have any questions please get in touch through the website, facebook or twitter.