12. The Soper Rifle

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John Warrick was a member of the Berkshire Volunteer regiment. 1n 1859 in response to a potential threat from France Volunteer regiments were put together throughout the Kingdom. The Berkshire Volunteers was put together and led by Loyd-Lindsay later the first Lord Wantage.

It is generally hard to get records of individuals who were not officers. Even more so with Volunteer regiments rather than the standard brigades.

After some digging on Loyd Lindsay, Greg Warrick found a news cutting stating that that Lord Wantage told Soper that the gun would be selected by the army. The condition being that the gun would be called the Loyd-Lindsay-Soper and that Loyd-Lindsay would be a partner in the firm. On first reading, there was an impression that Lord Wantage was a pompous, over bearing commanding officer, and well done to Soper for rejecting the offer.

But one has to ask: could Loyd-Lindsay have delivered the contract to supply the army with the Lidsay/Soper/Warrick rifle? After studying a brief synopsis of Loyd-Lindsay’s life, Greg believes there was a very real possibility that he could have secured the contract.
He was one of the most decorated soldiers to emerge from the Crimean war, being one of the first to receive the Victoria Cross. He was equerry to the Prince of Wales, and a member of parliament. He was also so influential in the military that he would soon become the financial secretary of the war Office (and was responsible for a financial boost of £6 million in military expenditure, indicating that this man had real power and influence). In 1867 he was also made Colonel of The Honourable Artillery Company.

In 1874 Disraeli considered appointing him under secretary of State for War.

You cannot help admiring Lord Wantage. He had many admirable qualities, true valour, he was also a very capable administrator and leader both of military and civilian entities. He further displayed a willingness to accept and adopt the advances made by science in both agriculture and engineering.

His fault may have been that he was overbearing and although he had great vision it always had to be on his terms.

If Soper and Warrick had gone into business with Wantage there’s a likelihood that the Soper/Warrick rifle and its subsequent offshoots would have been as successful as the Martini, Enfield and Springfield. Yet Soper and Warrick would have been completely overshadowed by Wantage. How would the profits have been split?

Moreover, would Warrick have ever got involved in the bicycle trade if he had his nose to the grindstone churning out military rifles to fulfill the 10 year contract offered by the the British Army? It was the bicycles that made Warrick relatively wealthy and secure. He was his own master and knowing my genes and what I have learned about him and other Warrick’s I doubt he would have enjoyed a subordinate role. Even while working with Soper (who seemed to be a model employer) Warrick wanted his own firm.

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john

This rifle, invented by Mr. W. Soper, of Reading, and illustrated in Figs. 1 and 2, was one of the number sent for the recent competition at Woolwich, and was rejected on the ground of “complication of breech arrangement.”

In this rifle the breech-piece is formed of a block of steel R, working freely up and down in a vertical slot at the rear of the barrel, and secured to a lever fixed at the bottom of the lock, which is placed in the center of the stock. The striker J is mounted inside the breech-piece, and works easily without any spring. The cock is also secured to the breech lever in such a manner that the breech-piece and cock are worked simultaneously.

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The attachment is effected by the swivel H, furnished with a projection and recess for working the extractor L, so that the one movement of drawing down the lever opens the breech, cocks the piece, and throws out the cartridge case. The trigger A is mounted on the lever, and has no connection with the sear E until the breech is placed home, and thus the rifle cannot be fired until the safety catch B is pressed. For cleaning purposes the lock and breech-piece can be removed by withdrawing a couple of screws. Fig. 3 shows a section of the rifling, the calibre being that of the service rifle.

The trials of this rifle at Woolwich were satisfactory. For rapidity twelve rounds were fired in thirty-nine seconds with three mis-fires; the mean deviation of eight shots fired for accuracy from a shoulder rest at 500 yards, with Boxer cartridges, No. 3 pattern, was 2.30ft. Many excellent results have also since been obtained. Nevertheless we cannot but agree with the committee that the mechanism of the breech and lock is too complicated for a purely military weapon, and, moreover, that they were perfectly correct in doubting the value of the safety catch as a substitute of the ordinary half-cock. Mr. Soper has expended a great deal of ingenuity, and has produced a weapon which gives good results, but we think it cannot be denied that it is unsuitable for the use of the soldier.

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Breech-loaders V. Muzzle-loaders

THE ENGINEER, 6 AUGUST 1869

On Saturday, July 31st, a very interesting competition took place in the presence of Major Sir C.S.Paul Hunter, Bart., between Corporal Bainbridge and fourteen picked men of the battalion using long Enfield rifles and three men using the Soper direct-action breech-loader. The targets were similar to those for the file firing, but only half the usual size. Distance; 200 yards; time, three minutes. Each party to fire as rapidly as they please. The scores were as follows:- Enfield Rifles: 1st squad of five men, 84 points; 2nd squad of five men, 94 points; 3rd squad of five men, 94 points; total, 272. Soper’s breech-loader: Sergeant Soper, 140; Private Warrick, 138; Sergeant Gostage, 110; total, 388. Majority in favour of breech-loader, 116 points. It will thus be seen that two men with the breech-loader scored six points more than the fifteen men with the Enfield. Private Warrick having fired eighteen shots the first minute, twenty one the second, and seventeen the third, making a total of fifty-six shots in the three minutes; and Sergeant Soper having scored five bull’s-eyes before a single shot was got off by the squad opposed to him.

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Dear Sir or Madam,

I am trying to obtain records and information regarding a seizure and confiscation of rifles manufactured by my Great great grandfather, John Warrick and Edward Soper. These rifles were to be exported to Turkey and were confiscated at Southampton docks and impounded. The rifles were called Soper rifles and according to a newspaper article that I have copies of the rifles were seized in the early 1870’s. I was referred to you by customs and excise who intimated that you would have the records. I thank you for your anticipated co-operation.

Yours sincerely

Greg Warrick

Thanks for the reply. He did fabricate under his own name. In 1883 Something happened at Soper’s and both he and another gunmaker called Elliott left after being with the firm for 20 years on top of their apprenticeships. They set up a company together called Warrick and Elliott in 1883. Based in Reading like Soper. Elliott left a year later, moved to Birmingham and became a train driver and John Warrick formed another Company John Warrick and it was trading until 1901.

I fully agree with what you say about these gunmakers making other guns according to demand. I am sure he tried the same approach. Sadly his medals and personal effects and his sons war medals (he was in the Boer war) went to my Great Uncle’s side of the family. Even though he was the younger of the two sons. My grandfather did not wish to take on the family business and settled for an annuity from his brother in exchange. So so much information and material has sadly been lost.

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Dear Colin,

following are some photos of my Soper rifle which was built at the time John Warrick was developing and building Sopers. I was recommended the gun by Bill Harriman who viewed the gun and as well as being an arms and miltaria expert for the “Antiques Roadshow” , he has a weekly column in the weekly “Shooting Times” magazine. He said of the dozen he knew in existence this was the finest example. I purchased it through Holt’s auctioneers in December 2006.

As far as I am aware at that time there were two principal gun makers working for William and Robert Soper, John Warrick and an apprentice called Joseph Elliot who are listed as residing at Soper’s residence in 1861 according to the census of that year. John was a very fine engineer and was able to reduce the moving parts of the action from 39 parts to 22. This is what made the weapon so devastatingly quick. John still holds the record for firing the most rounds per minute from a rifle when he was timed at Basingstoke firing 60 rounds in one minute.

He rapidly transferred these engineering skills into his cycles and motor vehicles.

Greg

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Greg Warrick, Soper rifle, and Warrick 1914 Motor Carrier

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Published on February 7, 2009 at 7:46 am  Leave a Comment  

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