Obituary to
William Blanch,

Published in Arms and Explosives, October 1899

The Late Mr William Blanch

A few days before our last issue went to press we paid a visit, for the purpose of gaining certain information, to the premises of Messrs. J. Blanch and Son, at 29, Gracechurch Street. There we saw Mr William Blanch hard at work attending to the rush of duties which fall upon every gunmaker in the early part of the shooting season. We little thought that we had seen him for the last time. But such was the case, for a fortnight later we received news of his death on the 8th ult., at the ripe old age of 77 years.

The firm of Blanch & Son are the only gunmakers carrying on business at the extreme eastern end of the City of London. The firm was originated by the late John Blanch, father of Mr William Blanch, in the year 1809, in premises at 39, Fish Street Hill, which is but a stone's throw from the present place of business. John Blanch was apprenticed to Mortimer, whose daughter he afterwards married. Later on he worked for John Manton, and having gained great experience, he considered the time ripe for starting business on his own account.

In the course of time the business was firmly established, and the son, William Blanch, learnt the intricacies of a gunmaker's calling from his father, by whom he was ultimately taken into partnership. The most notable portion of the late Mr William Blanch's career as a gunmaker is inseparably connected with the all-important development of the breech loader. While the original invention of this system of fire-arm was due to a Frenchman, it rested with the English firms to apply the invention to English fire-arms. The Lefaucheux system of breech-loader was brought prominently forward in the 1851 Exhibition. The invention was not received with open arms, and it practically rested with three enterprising gunmakers to fight the battle of the breech-loaders against the inert resistance of conservative influences, and also against the active opposition of those who have eyes only for the objections to the system.

At this time of day it is difficult to realize how great these objections really were. The gas-tight cartridge had not yet been evolved, and the difficulties of construction were increased many times. A little thought will, therefore, manifest the wide sympathies of the gunmaker who pledged his reputation on the soundness of the breech-loading system. This honour is divided between the firms of Lang, Reilly and Blanch, though, of course, others joined in as time went on.

It was in the year 1855 that the late William Blanch sent to Paris and purchased of Beringer, for £27 odd, one of the new-fashioned guns. This he set to work to copy and improve. But he had also the even more arduous task of teaching his men to make the new gun. The barrel maker had to be instructed how to make the lump instead of the screw breech-plug. The percussioner had to be broken in to the task of making actions on Lefaucheux's system. Everything was new, and the only moral support in the task arose from the fact that Joseph Lang had some time previously entered the same field of research. The cartridges of Chaudun and Gevelot make were imported from the continent, English cartridge makers not being then in existence. The following extract from the Field , of October, 1858, shows the stage at which matters had arrived some three years later:-" Lang, Reilly and Blanch have been overdone with orders, and more than one gentleman, we know, has had great difficulty in meeting with what he wanted. It is, therefore, simply absurd to attempt to pooh-pooh the invention." For the next ten years the capacity of the business to turn out guns was taxed to the utmost, and throughout that period, and, in fact, for many years after, the late Mr William Blanch supervised every detail of the business personally. In later years he has received an increasing amount of assistance from his son, Mr Herbert J. Blanch, and we feel every confidence that the business, which has been so ably conducted for two generations, will be worthily carried on by Mr H. J. Blanch, who will face his increased responsibilities with the best wishes and sympathy of all who have come into contact with him.

The portrait we here reproduce is an excellent likeness of Mr William Blanch as he was known to his numerous circle of customers and friends in the City. "

Courtesy of David Baker  
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