11. John Warrick: ‘The Celebrated Machinist’

The Celebrated Machinist



Notes taken from a book of this name (by Mr L Mathews of Southend on Sea), July 1996 by Susan Douglas at the Berkshire Record Office. The book is a one off and therefore the library staff say is too valuable to be photocopied.

The Great Exhibition was in 1851. Entrance cost 5/- Sat, 2/6 Fri., 1/- Mon.-Thur.

It was on one of those 1/- days that a Thames Bargee dressed in cords and a cloth cap and his 6 year old son in a sailor suit, both called John Warrick, visited it. The little boy was looking at a breech loading gun made by the Parisian gun maker Leaucheux, when he announced to his father that he wanted to be a gun maker.

The problem was that only the middle classes were able to afford indentures, the premium being £20; a year’s wages.

In 1851 a gunsmith, Richard Soper of Friar St Reading looked over the shoulder of a boy making a detailed drawing of a gun in his shop window. “Are you going to be an artist ?” he said.

“No, a gunsmith”, the boy replied. I have already made one. He brought the gunsmith the perfectly convincing replica gun – which was very light. The he discovered that it was made of wood.

The gunsmith offered him some work but his father was unable to afford the apprenticeship, therefore ‘£17 of lawful money of Great Britain was paid by the Archbishop of Canterbury , William Laud” via the church administrators in Reading for this purpose.

1866 – Completed apprenticeship and continued to work for Soper. (Note saying he had been born in the parish of St Giles, Reading. Copy of indentures are in the book.)

1872 young John Warrick went with Soper to Paris to collect a bronze medal.

John then joined the Berkshire Volunteers as a private. He won many cash prizes for his gun making. One which was presented by Sir F Goldsmid amounted to £25.

He offered a rifle which he had designed and made himself to the Army selection committee, but due to an administrative error, it was a day too late and therefore the Martini was selected for the next 10 year period. This was disastrous for John, particularly as the Duke of Cambridge had said of the Warrick rifle that it was the best he had ever seen. Many London arms dealers wrote letters of support to Warrick.

In 1877, aged 32, he was living at 35 St Mary Butts and renting the shop next door at 34. The new cycles were the latest craze. He formed a short lived partnership with Joseph Elliot for manufacture of a new rifle.

1883 – John designed a carrier tricycle for carrying his heavy tools around with him, then subsequently formed a partnership with Pitt of Birmingham, but this was dissolved in 1990. However, it was during this partnership that he obtained the trademark ‘Monarch’.

1888 – the first Cycling Battalion (!) was formed and led by Colonel Saville. (The carrier tricycles were for carrying arms) Warrick won the contract to supply the cycles.

1892 – 22nd October: The Battalion rode from Queens Hall, Westminster to East Putney station, where arms were distributed for manoeuvres on Wimbledon Common.

1895 – At 2.00 am on 11th June there was a fire at the works. Warrick was not insured and suffered a total loss. He learnt his lesson. (After his death in 1925 the family found that his insurance polices weighed half a hundredweight.) He took on a new partner, Mr Munday.

1888 – He employed a Mr E Clarke who was to remain with the company until 1953. Its longest serving employee.

1899 – John Warrick was now married and eventually had three sons: James, John and William.

1900 – The cycling Battalion was disbanded.

1911 – At the Motor Show, Warrick sold a fleet of his Motor Carriers to Harrods and made a profit of £7,535.

1914 – During the first world war the factory was used as an Aircraft Inspection depot.

1925 – Warrick died. He was sick and senile towards the end. A Mr Hisslett took over as manager of the company and brought it up to date, then left taking seven of the best employees and hired John, William’s son (Warrick’s grandson).


Over the past few months I’ve been talking to Greg Warrick. He’s the most direct descendant, the only son of the eldest son of the eldest son of the eldest son. Between us, we’re hoping to complete the John Warrick story.

Dear Colin,

following are some grainy photos of John’s parents abode. The pub was called the Roebuck and there was a ferry there as well which they ran. When the fast railway line to Reading was built, steps were added to construct a bridge across the line. The pub is still there but now called Beethoven’s and somewhat run down.



Dear Colin,

It was good to speak with you. Enclosed is a mish-mash of information I have retrieved from my correspondence along with some photographs.

Best regards

Greg Warrick


Dear Mr Warrick

Thank you for your enquiry re your great, great grandfather, John Warrick.

Our records show Private J Warrick of the 1st Berkshire shot for England in
the “National” matches of 1883, 1884 and 1887. He also reached the final of
HM The Sovereign’s prize on four occasions; 1871 (14th), 1874 (5th) 1882
(55th) and 1883 (56th).

I think we may have more, but not readily available at the moment. I will
see what I can find and will forward anything found.


N.E.C. (Ted) Molyneux
Hon Curator
NRA Museum

Dear Mr Molyneaux,

Thank you for your prompt response. I was referred to you by Frank Oldfield-Box who shoots for Berkshire.

I was aware of John Warrick shooting in a lot of competitions between 1867-1875 to promote a Soper rifle he worked on. I also knew that he briefly went into business with another gun maker called Elliot. But in 1881 he founded his bicycle works and bought the Monarch brand. He invented a lot of the commercial bicycles and provided the bikes for the first bicycle battalion and all the bikes for the Harrods delivery boys.

So it was quite a surprise to me that he was still shooting in competitions after 1881. Therefore the information you have given me is a delight.


John was based in Reading and was apprenticed to Soper for 7 years. At the conclusion of his apprenticeship he worked with Soper and also built his own guns.

In !867 The War Office called for a new design of rifle to replace the Snider Enfield,introduced in 1861 as the first breech loader of the British Army to replace the old muzzle loaders.

Warrick, with his experience in the craft and at the ranges, had very firm ideas on the type of weapon he wanted and it was made in Soper’s workshop.

Adapted from the well tried Enfield mechanism, the rifle contained only 23 parts compared with the Snider’s 39.

When submitted for consideration to the war office it was rejected as being “One Day Too Late.” This was in spite of the Duke of Cambridge being stating that it was the finest rifle he had ever seen and several London Gun Dealers writing letters of support. (This story of the gun being one day too late has been written of in several accounts/biographies/newspaper articles which I have seen. However, I saw an article from an engineering magazine with a diagram of the action of Soper rifle dated 1887. The article stated that the gun was submitted for testing at Woolwich and was rejected for having too complicated an action for the common soldier. It did
have decent test results.

This was a bitter lesson for Warrick and Soper, who knew they had a winner and spent years demonstrating the superiority of their design over the selected Martini Henry which Warrick considered a suicidal weapon with no feel to the trigger and a tendency to serious jamming.

From then on Warrick attended all functions with the Soper rifle. Using an unusual firing position, lying on his back, feet towards the target with the rifle resting between the vee of his crossed legs, Warrick achieved such a rate if fire that he humiliated marksmen using the official weapon, and set up a record for single loading fire which it is believed has been unsurpassed to this day.

He joined the Berkshire volunteers as a private and won many cups and prizes for his shooting using guns he had made. One being £25 from Sir F Goldsmid.

In 1872 Warrick and Soper went to Paris to receive a bronze medal for their rifle at the international fair. Following are some articles about him and the guns he was involved with.

I have only recently learned so much about John Warrick and have 2 grainy pictures of him with his rifle, but as you can probably discern, I am immensely proud of my ancestor. So I would welcome any more information about him and of course like to locate and purchase an example of his work.


I think I am getting close to unearthing more or less all I will learn about John Warrick. I asked Dad to contact his cousin Diana about photographs of the family and also his stepmother, (Grandpa’s third spouse), to see if she has any papers, photographs etc or even cups or medals that Eric may have been handed down. It seems that as Phil took on the firm he probably got most of the family treasures. His 2 daughters are not in touch and Dad and they do not get on.

I also sent a letter to customs and excise yesterday to see if they have any records pertaining to the large shipment of Soper guns seized at Southampton in the 1870’s which were being shipped to the Turkish government. It said in the article the guns were “lost to Soper” so what did the Customs men do with them? It would be nice to learn. Being the eternal optimist perhaps they are still packed in grease in some government warehouse. In all likelihood they were melted down.


Dear Colin,

I stopped to see my mother over the weekend who lives just up the hill from Caversham. i dragged my two teenage nephews out of bed and we all proceeded to the Caversham cemetery to try and find John’s grave. It was raining and the place had become very unkempt and neglected. Ivy on the head stones and many knocked over. He did our best for an hour but did not find it. So yesterday I called the Reading Council, cemetery department who are located at the main Reading crematorium and cemetery and spoke to a lady called Robin.
I complained about the state of the place and told her who I was trying to locate and she said “Well what do you want to make a complaint or find the plot?” So I was put in my place immediately.

She called back within the hour and said she had located the plot and added that it was a double plot and his wife and two of his daughters were buried with him. She is sending me a plot map and so I will go there next time I see Mum and complete that quest. If anything is photographable I will e-mail a copy to you.

Best wishes



Published on February 7, 2009 at 7:25 am  Leave a Comment  

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