Best of British – Under the Spotlight: Holland and Holland

The Shooting Star – Daryl Greatrex, Managing Director of British heritage sporting gun makers, Holland and Holland talks to Urban Life.

Unless the 12th of August each year happens to be the day of your birthday or anniversary, for most of us the date holds no more significance than the day before it or the day after it. For a very well heeled section of the population, however, the day has been extravagantly christened ‘The Glorious Twelfth’ and marks the start of the Grouse hunting season in the UK; a uniquely British tradition that has been strictly adhered to for almost 180 years.

Shooting as a pastime and as a sport is something that has become integral to the rural economy in this country – it brought in over £22 million to Exmoor alone in 2005 – but the image of it had always seemed to revolve around Old Money and Landed Gentry gathering in the bushes away from prying eyes to be rich together. It’s a reputation that is not entirely undeserved but the past few
decades have seen the sport become very popular to a far wider range of people from all walks of life. One of the leading names heading this charge into the wider national conscientiousness is prestigious gun and rifle maker, Holland and Holland. As a company Holland and Holland are almost as old as the British shooting season itself (175 years) and was originally started by Harris Holland, a former tobacco wholesaler in London with a penchant for pigeon shooting, who was later joined by his nephew Henry Holland.

After building on well over a century of excellence and innovation in gun and rifle making the company joined the ranks of other luxury brands like Bentley, Fortnum & Mason and Aquascutum when it received an official Royal Warrant from the Duke of Edinburgh in 1963. But the real surge for the company has taken place in the most recent decades. As the membership base for sport shooting expanded exponentially Holland and Holland sought to capitalise on the boom by adding a full range of associated clothes, accessories and services to its portfolio. Advertising and marketing for the brand is now not merely confined to targeted publications like The Field or the Shooting Gazette, now you will find them speaking to you from the pages of the likes of GQ. “The expansion was
overseen by our creative director, Niels van Rooyan”, explains the fantastically named Daryl Greatrex, managing director for Holland & Holland, “His remit was to develop the clothing ranges and carefully take the brand forward. We don’t like to align ourselves too closely with the fashion industry though, we’re more a lifestyle company with a tremendous heritage in gun making and traditional crafts and we prefer our clothing to mirror that”.

The expansion of the company coincided with the acquisition of the company by France’s Chanel Group in 1989, but that didn’t stop it being the quintessentially English brand it always was and the core business was never diminished. In fact, in terms of business share, gun making still accounts for the larger part of the revenue, especially when you consider that many of the guns sold here are one off, bespoke collector’s items that are either made by the company or re-sold through the company. “Collecting guns can be akin to collecting art”, says Daryl, “Some guns can take anywhere from twelve months to three years to make. This is because gun making involves a lot of specialised processes that can’t be rushed. The wood that you choose, for instance, is treated with a particular oil to give it a protective finish but it can only be applied for ten minutes a day and then it has to be left to dry and set. Once it has set it’s rubbed down and the cycle starts again”. Add to this the care taken to ‘fit’ a shotgun to your personal dimensions and comfort, the manufacture of the various mechanisms, the very high quality of materials used and the highly skilled labour that goes into making them and just dipping your toe in the water can set you back either a cool £35,000 for an entry level ‘Round Action’ model or £66,000 for the standard ‘Royal’, the trademarked Holland and Holland premier over-under gun (both barrels one on top of the other rather than side by side). That’s not necessarily including the extras like precious metals or personalised hand engraving either. Highly decorative commissions can run into hundreds of thousands of pounds…

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