The Webley revolver is recognised in some quarters as an emblem of the British Empire, in the realm of service handguns at least. The Webley was first approved for Her Majesty's service in 1887, manufactured and supplied by P. Webley & Son. The first contract was for 10,000 revolvers priced at £3/1/- each and the initial batch of 2,000 to 3,000 pistols were supplied within the first eight months after the contract was signed in July of 1887.
Philip Webley, founder of the company, died in March 1888 but the company name remained P. Webley & Son, although he was succeeded by his two sons, Thomas and Henry. Before 1889, Webley revolvers were not necessarily marked with the maker's name. Failures with some revolvers, that the owners had thought to have been made by Webley but were found to be of Belgian manufacture, caused Webleys to mark all their product after this. Salesmen travelled to South Africa, America and the Far East to promote Webley's wares, the revolvers were particularly popular in Africa.
Webley opened a London depot at 78 Shaftesbury Ave. in 1893 which allowed their retail address to be amended from 'Birmingham' to 'London & Birmingham'. They also manufactured and offered sporting rifles and shotguns. Then in 1897, the firm amalgamated with Richard Ellis & Son and W. & C. Scott to become a public company that was registered in October 1897, as 'Webley & Scott'.
The official name was 'The Webley & Scott Revolver & Arms Company Limited' however, this does not imply that P. Webley & Son markings were replaced on all their products from that time. 'P. Webley & Son' had a good reputation and this marking continued until 1906 after which Webley & Scott Ltd. became the company title that was marked on their revolvers and pistols. Webley's lockwork has the design of Schmidt Galand while the hinged barrel locking latch saddle is attributed to Webley.
The British List of Changes in War Materiel and Military Stores were monthly circulars issued to officers commanding all around the empire to keep them updated with latest patterns of rifles, pistols, edged weapons, artillery and related stores. The regulation issue .455 Webley revolver advances and differences are described with dates of approval as follows…
Webley, Mk I
8 Nov 1887
The first model, with a 4-inch barrel. §6075
Webley, Mk I*
1 Oct 1894
Added hard steel plate, Mk II hammer. §7816
Webley, Mk II
1 Oct 1894
Hard steel plate, heavy hammer, different grip & smaller thumbpiece, corners rounded off guard, stronger trigger guard at front radius. §7816
Webley, Mk III
5 Oct 1897
Whiting patent cylinder cam & lever & fixing screw. §9039
Webley, Mk IV
21 Jul 1899
Cylinder mounted on fixed axis that is part of barrel, lightened hammer, wider trigger stop slots in cylinder. §9787
Webley, Mk V
9 Dec 1913
Cylinder diameter increased .012-inch for nitro loads, top of body enlarged for bigger cylinder. §26783
Webley, Mk VI
24 May 1915
Squared target grip, longer 6-inch barrel with remove-able foresight, additional stock pin higher on butt, barrel catch has axis bosses on inside faces. §17319
Some naval conversions resulted in Mark I** and Mk I** variations which feature 6-inch barrels like the Mk VI although the framework and other features are typical of the Marks from which the conversions were made.
The Mark VI Webley was also made at R.S.A.F. Enfield from 1921 until 1926. Other than this relatively short run, Webley was the only manufacturer of the service models. There were many complaints about late deliveries for the War Office and Ministry of Munitions, this was likely a prime reason for Enfield tooling up to produce the .455 Mark VI revolver in the early 1920s.
The particular .455 Webley Mark designation is usually found stamped on the frame, inside the 'WEBLEY PATENTS' oval on the left side. On the barrel assembly, it was marked on the left side of the backstrap. During World War One, the Mk V and Mk VI may also be observed to have the year of manufacture stamped underneath the Webley Patents oval and Mark designation.
Quite a few Webley service revolvers were privately purchased by officers, these would not normally have service ownership markings and subsequent inspector's marks. Service issues are found with W^D acceptance markings, the broad arrow, Birmingham and Enfield inspection marks and often, with regimental or unit marks on the back-strap or frame too. Such markings will sometimes be noted to have been barred out and subsequent unit or rack numbers applied.
Variations may be noted in barrel lengths and the non-service WG, Army and Bisley Target models, however these differences become quite apparent when they are compared with regulation service models. Barrel lengths of 4, 6 and 7.5 inches are observed on these .455 models which are otherwise similar to the Mk VI although constructed from Mk IV component parts.
For a comprehensive list of markings as found on the Webley service revolvers, see 'The Broad Arrow – British Empire Manufacture, Proof, Inspection, Armourers and Unit Issue Markings' (Skennerton). Here the different factory and service viewers' marks are identified along with factory, proof and armourers stamps.
Some parts are interchangeable among the various marks of service .455 revolvers while other parts are not, due to the improvements related to the advance in model (mark). A full list of Webley parts interchangeability will be found in S.A.I.S. #9, pages 22-25.
Serial numbers are stamped on the underside of the frame and barrel assembly at the hinge point, at their mating surfaces. The serial number may also be found stamped on the circumference of the cylinder.
The Webley Fosbery is worthy of mention here. Although it was not a service issue, it was privately purchased by some officers and target shooters. This is a unique self-loading model made by Webley. The G.V. Fosbery patents were dated 1896 and the barrel and cylinder group recoil along the grip section. Along with the obvious two-piece frame, the zig-zag cam slots on the cylinder readily identifies this model. These pistols also have a distinctive safety lever on the left side of the grips.
Manufacturers: P. Webley & Son, Webley & Scott, RSAF Enfield
Length overall: 10.25 ins. w/ 4-in. barrel; 11.75-in. for Mk VI w/ 6-in. barrel
Weight: 2 lb. 3 oz. for Marks I-IV, 2 lb. 5.5 oz. for Marks V-VI
Action: Double action, self-ejecting on break-open for loading
Accessories: Cleaning rod, Hammer protector, Prideaux & Watson quick loaders,
Parker Hale sub-calibre kit, W.W. Greener Pritchard bayonet
Illustrations courtesy of Ron Hayes & Lithgow Small Arms Museum
- 'Webley Revolvers' (Gordon Bruce & Christian Reinhart)
- Verlag Stocker-Schmidt 1988
- 'Revolvers of the British Service 1854-1954' (Chamberlain & Taylorson)
- Museum Restoration Service 1989
- 'Hayes Handgun Omnibus' Hayes & Skennerton 2007
- 'Textbook of Small Arms - 1929' HMSO 1929
- S.A.I.S. #9 - .455 Welbey Revolvers (Skennerton) 1997
© Ian Skennerton 2010