Lancaster Handguns

Jun 24, 2013

I have a passion for these unique pieces. They only served a useful purpose for a very short period of history, the exact quantity manufactured is unknown, the best estimate is less than one thousand and their period of production was only approximately 20 years during the late 1800’s. At this time cap and ball revolvers were still in use, certainly early double action cartridge revolvers were available but they were all of a solid frame design so reloading was slow and tedious. The cap and ball revolvers were also very slow to reload and their cartridge performance was only adequate at best. The Lancaster was never adopted by any military unit but at one time they were considered for use by the Royal Artillery although this never came to anything. In those days British Officers were expected to purchase their own side arms, the only stipulation was that they fire the current military cartridge. Lancaster’s were expensive for their day at  eight GBP but from all accounts they saw service in the Native Wars in South Africa, the Middle East and Afghanistan. As well as produced in the military calibers of .450 Boxer, .455 Webley and .476 Eley they were also produced in .360 No 5,  .380 (Short and long),  these were in the small frame models and would have made a superb hide a way gun, ideal for personal protection when a Gentleman was walking his lady in the evening or even when visiting those “naughty establishments” in far away exotic lands.

The Lancaster was available in two basic models, either four barrel or two barrel, they could then be subdivided by frame size. Let’s look first at the popular four barrel, in .476 Eely caliber. We have a very simple double action design, the rotary striker assembly fired each barrel in succession, faulty ammo didn’t stop this girl from performing. Nothing to remember, nothing to forget simply aim and pull the trigger. Pressure on the side lever allowed the barrels to unlatch and drop down which gave instant ejection of all four (or two) cases, simply stuff four new cartridges into the empty chambers and close the action and she was good to go again. The lines of the Lancaster are clean and uncluttered, nothing to catch on clothing or equipment.
The large frame size in both two and four barrels made ideal service or field guns, the small frame models were ideal to carry for self defence. In particular the small frame in the two barrel model  would be very discreet “pocket pistol”. Lancaster also produced a large frame  model in .577, now this truly was a “man stopper” ! There were lots of tales from the earlier Indian Mutiny where .36 caliber cap and ball revolvers were failing to stop the fanatical rebels who were often incensed by their Religious Leaders and sometimes high on opium. Now the big bore Lancaster in .577 would surely stop any adversary. These were also referred to as Howdah pistols. They get this name from been carried in a Howdah, which was the box like structure carried on the back of an Elephant from which hunters shot Tigers in India. Enraged or wounded Tigers were very capable of scaling the sides of an Ellie to attack the hunters in the Howdah, so hunters resorted to carrying large caliber double barrel handguns in the Howdah to shoot any attacking Tiger at point blank range. Howdah pistols became popular with British Officers who in some far of corner of Queen Victoria's empire might find themselves having to fight for their life's with no " back up on call".
One unique feature of the Lancaster was the Oval bore rifling this is almost invisible, this very shallow style of rifling is slow to foul up, easy to clean and is capable of firing shot cartridges, where normally shot cartridges fired in rifled arms give very poor patterns.

The only criticism I will accept on these beautiful guns is the trigger pull, due to the rotary style striker which was operated by a double action only trigger, it resulted in a horrendously heavy trigger. I find it impossible to fire them accurately at anything other than point blank range, but then they were intended for defense at point blank range. A special “second” or “cocking” trigger was available as a factory option for an extra charge of ten shillenings. Your second finger operated this second trigger, by pulling it back the action was cocked and then the normal trigger served like a set trigger and the slightest touch fired her. I find that with a bit of practice this works very well. In an emergency the regular trigger could be used in the normal way.

Top photo: The large .577 two barrel dwarfs the tiny pocket .388 CF. Bottom photo shows, from the top. Two barrel .476, two barrel .380 CF and a four barrel .476 Eley.

It is hard to imagine the history that these guns could have witnessed, if only they could talk?

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