Manton’s Shooting Gallery and the Man Who Changed Weaponry During the Regency

Joseph Manton, who was born in 1766 in Lincolnshire, is considered as an innovative English gunmaker of the late 18th to early 19th Century. His numerous patents and designs changed the gun industry as no one had done previously. Moreover, he made the use of a gun a “gentlemanly pursuit.” From 1780-81, Manton was apprenticed to a gunmaker in Grantham, Newton. Afterwards, he worked under his older brother John Manton. It is said he produced 100+ weapons annually, including both cased dueling pistols and shotguns.

At age 29, Manton opened his gun shop. Even members of the Royal family are said to have been his patrons. Eventually, his sons entered the business, and John Manton and Son produced guns for discerning and well known clients of the time. 

Meanwhile, from the Dictionary of National Biography (released 1885-1900), Volume 36, by Richard Bissell Prosser we discover:

“MANTON, JOSEPH (1766?–1836), gunmaker, was, according to the specification of a patent granted to him in April 1792, then established in business in Davies Street, Berkeley Square, London; his name does not appear in the ‘Directory’ until two years afterwards. He remained in Davies Street until 1825, and his shop, No. 25, became widely known to shooters.”

The “Directory” mentioned in this biography entry was most likely the London Directory. Businessmen had to pay to have their businesses listed in these types of directories. The fact that Manton was not listed for the first two years of his business has nothing to do with wether he was “worthy” of being listed, but, rather, he could have afforded the listing.

In the early 19th Century, Manton invented the tube (or pill) lock, which was a drastic improvement over Alexander Forsyth’s scent-bottle lock. Although more reliable than Forsythe’s design, and used quite liberally by many gentlemen of the Regency, it quickly became obsolete when the percussion cap replaced the old flintlock styles. 

One of Manton’s many improvements came about with his wooden cup design to be used for rifled artillery. He created a new type of ammunition, which is the bases of modern bullet design. The ammunition was loaded into a rifled cannon. The cannonball was attached to a wooden cup that fitted into the groves within the cannon, which was connected to a sack of gunpowder, eliminating the need for powder and shot to be loaded separately. The powder was, therefore, fixed behind the shot, helping to pave the way for breech-loading weapons of the future.

Unfortunately for Manton, although his design was a superior one over what the British army had previously used, the Army did not want to pay him the 30,000 pounds he demanded for the use of his weaponry. The Army argued they had bankrolled his experiments and the 30,000 was too much. In retaliation, Manton patented his design, forcing the Army to deal. They offered him one farthing for each shell produced, but Manton refused the offer. Manton countered offered to allow the Army to make the shells without paying royalities while Manton would make and be paid for the wooden cups. After more than a decade of legal wrangling, Joseph Manton lost his fortune and declared bankruptcy in 1826. His workshop was seized by the government for payment of debts, and his stock of guns were bought up by Joseph Lang, whose initial company would eventually become part of Atkin, Grant & Lang, an amalgamation of three of the best and most prolific shotgun and rifle makers of the time. Lang made a huge impact in the development of breech loading shotguns, as well as establing the .470 Nitro Express rifle. It is said Lang opened one of the first shooting schools on the premises adjoining the Royal Theatre Haymarket. 

Rees Howell Gronow Reminiscences of Captain Gronow, formerly of the Grenadier Guards and M.P. for Stafford, being Anecdotes of the Camp, the Court, and the Clubs, at the close of the last War with France, related by himself (1962)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Manton’s weapons remain a highly sought after design of the flintlock age. His legacy includes some of the men who learned their skills in his workshop: James Purdey, Thomas Boss, William Greener, Charles Lancaster, and William Moore, all five establishing major gun firms. 

Daniel’s Antiques describes a pair of dueling pistols recently sold on the site as this: “One of the greatest technologies Manton refined was the accuracy of the dueling pistol. The inaccuracy of the dueling pistols as they were led to less wounds and deaths, and were designed for a quick draw. Manton wanted to improve the slow shot of the dueling pistol because of the increasingly popular event of target practice. Those who purchased these heavier barreled dueling pistols from Manton were at a clear advantage if they were to be caught defending their honor. Many gentleman would visit the shooting gallery of Manton to practice their slow shots, and refine their precision so that they could always be ready for a duel.

“This pair of Manton and Son dueling pistols features large caliber smoothbore barrels, fixed blade and notch sights, and a high quality finish. Fish motifs are engraved on the hammers. The stocks are half length with horn forend caps and tear drop flats.

“Manton’s reputation as a silversmith was on par with his reputation as a gunsmith. These pistols feature silver escutcheons and silver thumb plates that are engraved with griffins and the initials “AC.” The locks are marked “John Manton & Son Patent,” and the Damascus barrels are marked “John Manton and Son Dover Street.”

“This pair of pistols features the concealed single set trigger mechanisms which allowed for deliberate aiming. Though the balance of the gun was often poor with the heavier barrel, the guns were very accurate. So accurate, that in 1824, the anonymous author of the British Code of Duel warned that the “decisive aim” of these types of dueling pistols was an unfair and dishonorable advantage in the dueling field.

“Nonetheless, this style of dueling pistols became popular. These pistols are in fantastic condition, showing signs of wear commensurate with age and use. Eighty-five percent of the original brown finish remains on the barrel, while over ninety percent of the original blue finish remains on the ramrod entry pipe and the trigger guard. Overall, there is a wonderful patina to this piece, and all of the engravings are crisp and readable.

“Ten inch octagonal barrels, 15 inches in length. This piece includes the original English fitted gun case with the original maker’s label on the interior. Also included is a cruciform multi-tool, two spare nipples, ram rod with multiple attachments, several lead balls, large cap tin, a patch, a powder flask, and a ball mold. This is a truly remarkable piece of gun history.”

I might recommend this lovely piece from the Historical Hussies on Pistols and Duels. It is very informative. 

About reginajeffers

Regina Jeffers is the award-winning author of Austenesque, Regency and historical romantic suspense.
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