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The King, William III, expressed concern that guns and swords were not made in his dominions and had, therefore, to be procured from Holland "at great expense and greater difficulty".Among those who heard the King's complaint was Sir Richard Newdegate, one of the Members of Parliament for Warwickshire, who pleaded the cause of his constituents.It was at this period that a new factor commenced to make its influence felt in the industry — the machine. This was part of a contract for 50,000 placed with the Birmingham trade and was secured through the good offices of Mr. Certainly but for his enterprise and his unceasing battle on behalf of the company (and of the private arms trade in general) it is doubtful whether B. When rifle contracts for the British Army failed to materialize he did not hesitate to take the matter to Cabinet level and, on one occasion, to the then Prime Minister, Lord Palmerston.Although Birmingham supplied 156,000 rifles for the British forces in the Crimea between December, 1854, and April, 1856, against 75,000 obtained by the War Department from all other sources at home and abroad in the same period, it began to feel towards the end of the war the competition of the Government factory at Enfield, which had been established at the beginning of the century. With the passing of the years the company, directors and workers alike, indeed the whole of the Birmingham gun trade, came to feel, with some justice, that, except in times of national crisis, they were doomed to be the unwilling sacrifice on the altar of Enfield, which remained the principal Government source of small arms.Orders dwindled to such an extent that they were forced to a decision; they must either buy machinery or go out of business. It was a valuable order, being worth £98,750, but like so many in the future it was only inspired by alarm. was asked as a matter of extreme urgency to state the number of Snider rifles it could turn out by the end of the following March. With no Government work on hand or likely, almost all the machinery had been adapted to fulfil a Russian contract for rifles.
The city's gunsmiths continued to preach the gospel of the hand-made weapon, but inevitably it was a losing struggle. It was not for new rifles but for the conversion within 20 months of 100,000 muzzle-loaders into breech- loading weapons on the principle evolved by Snider, a Dutch-American wine merchant."Much genius", he assured the King, "resides in Warwickshire", and Birmingham smiths were "well able to answer the royal wishes".A trial order from the Crown in 1689 was satisfactorily executed; subsequently "Their Majesty's Board of Ordnance" entered into a contract with five leading gunsmiths of Birmingham, who, on behalf of themselves and their fellow master craftsmen, undertook to supply 200 Snaphance muskets every month "at seventeen shillings per piece ready money".WITH an initial capital of £24,500, the first step of the Birmingham Small Arms Company was to buy its present chief site at Small Heath—25 acres at £300 an acre—and to build thereon a factory at a cost of £17,050. So urgent was the demand for these conversions that for the first time a night shift was instituted at Small Heath and an output of more than 3,000 conversions a week was eventually attained. and its workmen were to repeat again and again in years to come in times of international crisis. was by this time the largest private arms company in Europe and Small Heath was working to capacity. A.- built Whitworth weapon had won an open contest for a small-bore breech-loading rifle; while in the following year a B. The outbreak of the Franco-Prussian war found the Government nervous of being involved and unprepared for a major campaign. The company had, therefore, been unable either to take up fresh work—it could have obtained enormous orders from the belligerents—or to proceed with the contract in hand. Within two weeks all the machinery at Small Heath had been readapted and work on the 20,000 rifles was in full swing with a double shift operating. short of money but this position was eased by the sale, chiefly to France, of surplus stocks of all weapons not required by Britain. Numbers of skilled men, who had been dismissed earlier in the year, had to be found andre-engaged or else replaced; no easy matter when craftsmen were in great demand.To link the new works with Golden Hillock Lane, the main thoroughfare in the neighbourhood, a road was constructed on the company's land. The first batch of 50,000 was completed in 10 months, the last being delivered for Government inspection a quarter of an hour before the contract time expired. To mark the occasion the directors presented the three foremen chiefly responsible for executing the contract with a special bonus of £100 each, an action at that time without parallel in the industry. Nor was research being neglected, for the company was continually experimenting on the improvement of rifles. But whatever treatment it had received in the past from Whitehall, it recognized the supply of new rifles to the British Army as the national emergency it indeed was and again stepped into the breach. Expenditure on preparations for the Russian order—some £30,000 without any return as yet—had left B. However, all difficulties were overcome and the weapons duly delivered to time.
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By far the largest numbers of the finished guns, weapons of the cheapest variety, were bought by London and Liverpool merchants, who bartered them with African natives for ivory, spices and gold.