In the late 1880s, the British military was looking for a replacement for the large and rather cumbersome Enfield pattern revolvers that were currently in service. A letter from the Adjutant General of the British Army, Lord Garnet Wolseley, initiated the official search for a replacement of the Enfield Mark II service revolver. His letter to the Surveyor General of Ordnance, dated July 8, 1886 noted that the Enfield revolver was "heavy and inconvenient". In an attempt to show the Ordnance Department what he considered to be an appropriate revolver, Lord Wolseley sent his own "British Bulldog" (based upon Philip Webley's design) to the Ordnance Department as a sample. The result was a request for trial revolvers of top break, self-extracting design to chamber the standard British military .450 Adams or .476 Enfield service cartridges. The initial testing resulted in no designs that were considered acceptable, and further testing took place, with a variant of the Smith & Wesson No 3 and a new self-cocking (double action) Webley design being the winners. As no clear preference or advantage could be determined between the two systems, the English design of Philip Webley won out over the American design. Webley's design would be designated Pistol, Webley (Mark I), B.L. Revolver and was accepted for service in 1887. This began a six-decade domination of British military revolver design by the Webley Company. Philip Webley had entered the gun trade in Birmingham in 1827 at the age of 14. He was apprenticed to a gun maker on Weaman Row, in the heart of the Birmingham gun-manufacturing district. In 1835, at the completion of his years as an apprentice, Philip went to work for his brother James, who was also a gunmaker. Three years later, Webley married Caroline Davis, the daughter of deceased mold and implement maker William Davis. Davis' wife Sarah had continued to run the business after her husband's death in 1831, and in 1845, Philip purchased Davis' business from his mother in law. Webley concentrated on improving percussion revolver designs and received a number of British patents for firearms improvements and innovations. His "wedge frame" revolver design became a successful alternative to the more expensive Adams and Tranter guns that were forged with a solid, one-piece frame and barrel. However, Webley produces limited quantities of these guns, and most “wedge frames’ are produced by other Birmingham makers using his patent. Webley really made his mark on the world of revolvers when hi introduced a cartridge revolver in 1867 that would become known as the Royal Irish Constabulary revolver. Webley followed up that success about a decade later by introducing his “Bull Dog” series of revolvers in 1878, and from that point on, he was one of the most celebrated revolver makers in England. It was the success of his “Bull Dog” and fact that Lord Wolseley liked it so much that got Webley's foot in the door for the revolver trials in the late 1880s.
Webley's Mark I was a .455 caliber, 6-shot, self-cocking revolver with a top break action and automatic extraction. The double action mechanism utilizes a rebounding hammer for safety, keeping the firing pin away from the cartridge until the trigger is pulled, and has no half-cock position in the hammer pawl. The revolver's design was robust and relatively simple, with a minimum of parts. A very strong, stirrup shaped locking system kept the action tightly closed, but the ergonomic thumb break release made the pistol easy to open and allowing the pistol to be opened and emptied with one hand. The revolver had simple, fixed sights with the front sight machined integrally with the barrel and the rear sight notch machined into the locking mechanism. A 4" octagonal barrel was equipped with Metford style, 7-groove rifling, and a pair of wedge shaped wings machined on either side of the lower barrel web, forward of the cylinder, assisted in holstering the pistol and kept the cylinder from being hung up on the holster lip. The bird's head grip was comfortable and well suited to hands of various sizes, and had a pair of checkered grip panels made from vulcanized hard rubber, referred to as “Ebonite”. When the Webley Mark I revolver was accepted into service in 1887 it was initially utilized with the current .450 Adams cartridge, but that would be replaced in 1891 with a new Webley cartridge. In 1891 the .455 Mark I cartridge was adopted for use in the Webley service revolver. It was loaded with 18 grains of black powder and a 265-grain round-nosed lead bullet that traveled about 650 fps. The slow velocity, heavy, large diameter bullet was a good man-stopper and the .455 cartridge, in various loadings and designations, would remain in British service through the end of World War II. In 1894 the cartridge was improved by replacing the 18 grains of black powder propellant with 6.5 grains of cordite. The cartridge was further modified in 1897, by shortening the casing to make the cordite burn more effectively, and increasing the charge to 7.5 grains. This new cartridge would remain the standard service cartridge for British revolvers until the adoption of the .38-200 cartridge in the World War II era, and would remain in service until after the Second World War. With the adoption of the new cordite cartridge and the increased pressures it brought with it, a new Webley revolver was adopted, the Mark II. The Mark II was adopted in June of 1895 and was nearly identical to the previous Mark I, with a few minor improvements. Externally, the shape of the grip was very slightly changed, and the small “shelf” or hump on the backstrap, at the grip to frame junction, was eliminated. Additionally, the hammer was made "bulkier" and the triggerguard were made "sturdier". The Mark II also introduced a new recoil shield at the rear of the cylinder. The Mark I recoil shield was integral with the frame of the revolver. The new shield was dovetailed into the frame and secured by a screw and a locating pin. This allowed the shield to be replaced if it became worn or damaged. The older Mark I revolvers were authorized to be upgraded (as necessary) to the Mark II recoil shield system, and these modified revolvers were to be designated Mark I* (pronounced "Mark One Star") revolvers. Technically a Mark I* was also supposed to have the hump ground down on the grip frame, but this rarely happened in service. The Webley Mark II revolver was produced from 1894 through 1898, when the Mark III replaced it. The Mark III was authorized in October of 1897, with the contracts published in May of 1898. The Mark III included the "patented cam cylinder" improvement, but from a casual glance was not noticeably different than the preceding Mark II. The Mark III remained standard issue for only a year, being supplanted by the Mark IV in October of 1899. There were some minor, internal mechanical enhancements, but the primary difference was the use of improved steel in the production of the revolver. In 1913, the Mark V was adopted, again with little noticeable external changes, but with some minor internal improvements and a very slightly longer cylinder. It was the Mark VI, adopted in 1915 that made radical changes to the overall appearance of the Webley service revolver. The Mark VI introduced a 6" barrel and a new grip frame with a squared butt profile. The conclusion of World War I essentially brought the production of the Mark VI Webley to an end, but the majority of the Webley .455 caliber service revolvers remained in some form of British military service through the end of World War II, no matter their model number or designation. During the 1950s and 1960s, many of the British Webley service revolvers were exported to the United States as surplus. The vase majority of these guns had the rear of their cylinders shaved to allow the guns to be loaded with the popular (and readily available) .45 ACP cartridge, with either full or half-moon clips. While that cartridge can be fired in these revolvers, it is s somewhat dicey proposition in the older Mark I, Mark II and Mark III revolvers, due to the lower quality steel used to produce them, and the fact that the .45 ACP has a much higher operating pressure than the .455 Mark II cartridge. None of these older Webley's should be fired with .45 ACP ammunition until inspected by a qualified gunsmith. Due to the fact that so many of the guns were modified, finding one with the original, full-length cylinder is difficult and these revolvers are quite desirable among collectors today.
Offered here is a VERY GOOD+ example of a Webley Mark II .455 Revolver. The gun remains in its original .455 configuration and the cylinder has not been modified or cut. The revolver retains about 90%+ of a reapplied, dull blue-black finish that might be a war time First World War finish, or possibly a finish applied when the gun was imported from England. The gun is 1005 complete and fully functional and is an all original Webley Mark II. The frame and the barrel are both serial numbered 56282, while the rear edge of the cylinder is numbered 13977. Mismatched cylinders are frequently encountered on Webley revolvers that remain in their original, unaltered, .455 Mark II caliber. The lower right side of the frame is crisply marked with a three line Webley makers' mark, with the top and bottom lines in an arc, creating sort of cartouche. The mark reads: WEBLEY / MARK II / PATENTS. The pistol is also profusely marked with British military proof and inspection marks, and with a plethora of small “Broad Arrow” British military ownership marks. The top strap is also deeply marked with a large BROAD ARROW, indicating that this revolver saw service with the Royal Navy during its working life. The right side of the barrel, just forward of the cylinder is marked ENGLAND, a required country of origin mark in English for all items imported into the United States. The Tariff Act of 1930 established this labeling rule. No other import markings are present on the gun. As the gun was produced before December 31, 1898, it is classified as an ANTIQUE and is not subject to any Federal restrictions regarding the sale of modern firearms. Some localities do regulate antique arms, particularly handguns, so you need to be aware of your local laws.
As previously noted, the revolver remains in about VERY GOOD+ condition. The reapplied dull blue-black finish is consistent with the finishes that I have seen on many English arms refurbished for use during World War I and World War II. The metal is mostly smooth and shows only some scattered pinpricking and a couple of patches of very light pitting under this finish. The finish shows some light wear along with some high edge loss and some fading from carry and use. The hammer and stirrup catch have an applied black enamel finish that resembles paint, and may be from the time this revolver saw service with the navy. This enamel is starting to flake off and is only about 50% present at this point in time. The action of the revolver is EXCELLENT and the revolver operates perfectly in both single and double action modes. The revolver times, indexes and locks up crisply and correctly. The barrel and frame latch securely together with only the tiniest perceptible wiggle between the two parts. The release catch remains crisp and tight and functions perfectly. The ejection system is fully functional and operates with strong spring action and smooth ejector movement. The bore of the revolver is in FINE overall condition. It is mostly bright and retains crisp rifling its entire length. There is only some lightly scattered pinpricking in the bore, and some minor frosting in the grooves. With the correct loads, this revolver should shoot very well. The grips of the revolver are in about NEAR FINE condition. The two Ebonite panels are solid and free of any breaks, cracks or repairs. They have even escaped the usual chipping that they fragile grips usually experience with year of service. The checkering remains crisp throughout, with only light wear and a couple of areas with some noticeable flattening. Otherwise, they are really very nice. The original lanyard ring is present in the bottom of the gripstrap of the revolver.
Overall this is a really crisp example of a scarce,antique Webley Mark II .455 Revolver. The gun is in very nice condition with great grips and is mechanically excellent. The bore is quite nice, and this would be a good shooter for someone wanting to shoot antique .455 Mark II ammunition. This would be a great addition to any collection of British military revolvers and would fit into a collection of both World War I and World War II revolvers as well. While the cylinder is mismatched to the balance of the gun, the fact that this is an "un-cut" .455 cylinder more than makes up for that minor issue. These .455 Webley's are getting harder and harder to find and are starting to demand pretty stiff prices for the finest pieces. This is a nice example that would be equally at home in a display, at the range or in the holster of living historian with a 1st or 2nd World War British military impression.