Despite the heritage culture that surrounds the gun-making industry, it is rare to come across a father-son duo at the helm of a luxury brand, but such is the case with R. Ward, Gunmakers. Here, John Ward takes a moment to reflect on his relationship with his father, the advice he takes to work every day, and what he sees in store for the future of the company…
Ray Ward opened the doors of his first business in 1961 under the name Continental Sports in Redhill, Surrey, initially selling a range of sports equipment. Soon shotgun cartridges entered the inventory and eventually fine shotguns and rifles, and Ray Ward Gunsmiths was born.
From boyhood, John Ward has been faced with both the challenge and the reward of being employed by his father – helping in the shop from the age of 9 – and going on to continue the legacy that was built. “The line between family business and slave labour was often blurred,” John chuckles, “I worked 7 days a week, and 24 hours a day were spent with my boss. But, significantly, the father-son relationship we had was, first and foremost, about professionalism and respect for work.”
A champion clay shooter, Ray Ward won national shooting titles across Olympic skeet and Olympic trap. He became Chairman, then President, of the Clay Pigeon Shooting Association (CPSA) – the UK governing body for clay shooting – where he was Life Vice President until his death in 2013, also playing a key role in driving important changes in safety across gun sports. John mirrored his father’s actions in the sport as well, first overseeing the RW Trap Club, his father’s pioneering competitive clay shooting club, and continuing to support the sport on the clay side and, eventually, game. He now shoots regularly at some of the most prestigious estates in the world and is considered one of the nation’s top shots.
This closeness between Ray and John across sporting and the business provided life lessons that few employees have the opportunity to have. I quiz John over coffee in the newly refurbished Knightsbridge shop on how these lessons manifest themselves. “My father taught me that you can make a living of true passion,” John tells me, “I was taught how to live and breathe my work, how you can physically become your career…and I was also taught to never fry bacon with my shirt off.”
Launched with just £800 and 3 guns Ray Ward Gunsmiths has since grown into one of the leading gun shops in the world. “His legacy was about finding guns no one else could find,” John explains, “and knowing their value and rareness before anyone else did.” John sees this type of forward-thinking in terms of where the company is headed after his father’s passing. “My father had insight and he had foresight. He had this ability to understand and succeed from opportunity, whilst thinking about where the opportunity could take him next.”
Gun wholesale was only part of where his father’s business could go, however, and when the company was bought by Dr. James Hay in 2006, a new dream was realised; manufacture. In 2011, the first Ray Ward guns were debuted. “Dr. Hay was able to make one of my father’s dreams a reality, and to keep pushing the boundaries of what could be accomplished.”
Unsurprisingly, John sees this as a pillar for the business today, particularly as Ray Ward moves into the future, and under its new title, ‘R. Ward Gunmakers’. Theirs is the main resource for the bespoke gun service, providing specifications, customisation and design, and guiding the process from start to finish. With a team of master manufacturers and engravers, combining traditional methods and state of the art technology, a Ray Ward is nothing short of a masterpiece. Within the service the client enjoys lunch with the engraver to discuss the design, review sketches and discuss specs, and receives a gun fit from John Ward. The whole process is personalised, hands-on, tailor-made, and, naturally, culminates in a test shoot at Dr. Hay’s private estate. A custom gunslip and cartridge bag is provided, as well as the sketches presented in a frame using wood from the original stock. Taking about 900 hours for a pair, it’s not simply about purchasing a custom-made gun, but embarking on a journey; understanding the craftsmanship involved and building a relationship with the object, and thus becoming part of the Ray Ward legacy.
“I often forget he is gone,” John reflects, “and I get excited about something I am looking forward to and sharing it with him, and then realise I can’t…but my father always said if you are standing still, you are moving backward. I try and remember that as I look to keep the business innovative and fresh.”
R Ward Gunmakers, 12a Cadogan Place, London SW1X 9PU. Prices start at £55,000 for a single custom-made gun, based on the complexity of the design. For more information, including details of the gun room, clothing & accessories and further articles in ‘The Lodge’, visit www.rwardgunmakers.com.