The Webley Senior – Part 1

by B.B. Pelletier

While I’m in New York filming the TV show, I thought you’d be interested in this lengthy article I wrote in 1998 for Airgun Revue #3.


Webley Senior with the so-called straight grip (even though it has a small backward rake).

The Senior wasn’t my first Webley air pistol. I had owned two Premier Mark IIs–both in .177–before buying the first Senior. And before I saw that first one, I would have told anyone who asked that the Premier Mark II was a very nice airgun. But the early straight-grip Senior I got for $75 at a small gun show in Kentucky went way beyond that.

The first model Senior is now called the straight-grip, even though there’s a small amount of rake or backward angle to the line of the grip. Compared to the later, or so-called slant-grip models, this one appears to have a grip that’s at a right angle to the barrel. Hence, the name.


A slant-grip Senior is one of the all-time classic air pistols. It’s better-finished than handguns costing much more.

According to author Dennis Hiller, in his Air Pistols book, the first model straight-grip Senior was produced from 1925 through 1930. Only the Mark I, which may have been made as early as 1923, pre-dates the Senior in the Webley air pistol line.

Since the beginning, in the 1920s, Webley spring pistols have all shared a unique cocking linkage that sets them apart from most others. It’s one of the aspects that defines the Webley. The cocking lever is also the barrel! It’s hinged at the front and loose in the rear, so you pull it up and forward to cock the gun. That holds true for a Senior made in 1925 as well as a Hurricane made in 1995.


Cocking the gun was unusual in its day, but not so today–the Beeman P1 cocks in the same fashion.

To cock the gun requires that the shooter invert the cocking hand to use the thumb as a fulcrum. At first, it’s a bit awkward; but with practice, it becomes second nature. And the Webley cocking linkage really multiplies the mechanical advantage of this arrangement–to the point that these are very powerful, yet compact airguns.

Today, this barrel-cocking linkage doesn’t seem as strange because of all the other models that have adopted it. The Weihrauch 45–known in the US as the Beeman P1–is one notable example; but the total number of spring guns with this type of linkage is actually quite large. Even modern single-stroke pneumatics, such as the Gamo Compact and the Webley Nemesis, use a similar arrangement, though the forces involved in the cocking stroke are reversed.

In 1935, the Senior was changed to the slant grip, which lasted through many other small changes until the model evolved into the Premier in 1964. We’ll look at the slant-grip version in a moment, but first I’ll tell you about the earlier model.

The straight-grip Senior is an all-blued steel pistol weighing 35 oz. and having a grip similar to a broomhandle Mauser–thin gripping area with lots of forward weight. By today’s standards of ergonomics, it’s a dinosaur.

Power and accuracy are comparable with the modern Tempest pistol, but the straight-grip Senior is harder to hold steady because of the grip. As with all Seniors, a lever on the left side of the frame is conveniently located for the thumb of a right-handed shooter to release the barrel for cocking. Lefties were forgotten with this one!

The Senior has Webley’s double-jointed cocking link atop the frame, joining the cocking lever with the part that retracts the piston. This link serves to make the power of cocking change directions by 90 degrees, with greater efficiency than the earlier single joint on the Mark I.

There’s something very curious about the markings of Seniors, but I haven’t been able to figure out why it is done. The word Senior always has quotation marks around it–even on the frame of the gun, itself. What was Webley trying to say? Was this NOT a Senior; or was someone in the company trying to proclaim the Senior name very loud, for all to notice? I don’t think we will ever know for sure. Suffice to say, all Seniors to the end of production were actually “Senior” models.

My straight-grip model came with a worn-out mainspring, which is not uncommon in Webley pistols. They use a flat-section wire coiled in the standard fashion and under a fair amount of pre-compression. The flat wire apparently breaks down faster than a round wire would, so there’s a regular cycle of aging to these springs, even when the guns are not shot a lot. John Groenewold (847-566-2365, Central) sells new replacement springs and other parts, so it never needs to be a problem for owners to keep their pistols in top shooting form. A new spring in my .22 caliber gun brought velocity back from about 275 f.p.s. with 5.6mm Eley Wasps to 350 f.p.s.


The fiber washer that seals the air transfer port can be seen. The metal liner keeps the airway open.

The other major wear-out part in a Senior is the breech seal, where the rear of the barrel mates with the frame. This is a fiber washer with a copper or brass reinforcement in the middle to keep the air transfer port open. The piston in the gun moves from front to rear, so the high-pressure air must change directions 180 deg. to get behind the pellet. A manifold in the frame is where this takes place, and the fiber seal is the final part of the pathway to the barrel. In my experience, these seals can look pretty bad and still function fine, so check them before replacing on looks, alone. Talcum powder sprinkled at the top of the barrel/breech seal will show how much air is escaping when a shot is fired. Some escape is normal, but a huge cloud of powder means it’s fixin’ time. Be sure to thoroughly clean off all powder after this test is finished.

The piston is sealed by a beryllium copper piston ring that will last many lifetimes if not abused by curious owners. At the low power level of the gun, it works fine.

The barrel of my straight-grip gun is bored very large. Most .22 pellets are way too small for it; fortunately, Eley makes a 5.6mm pellet that fits. As a result, I shoot Wasps exclusively in this gun. There’s also an imperfection in the bore about halfway through the tube, so someone in the past may have damaged the barrel while cleaning. It’s so easy to do.

The rear sight is a marvel of simplicity that we seldom see on guns anymore. A single screw is loosened to allow the sight notch to slide both vertically and horizontally. It isn’t easy to adjust, but it does provide fine adjustment possibilities in both directions.

Shooting the gun is a real trip! The single-stage trigger has a smooth pull that’s very heavy in today’s context. You can’t horse it and expect accurate results. It demands a steady, smooth pull to the release point, where it breaks like the proverbial glass rod. I put moly on all the trigger parts during the mainspring replacement, but it wasn’t really necessary. The gun came to me with a great trigger.

The only parts on the entire outside of the gun that aren’t blued steel are the black plastic grips. They’re thin, solid panels on either side of the grip frame and are very reminiscent of firearm grips of the early 1900s. I had several Colts with similar ones.


When you have all the related paperwork for an airgun, the collector interest really rises.

My slant-grip Senior (also marked “Senior”) is a model made in the early 1950s, according to Hiller’s book and documents that came in the original box that accompanied it. The angle of the grip frame, plus the extra thickness and roundness of the grip panels, themselves, makes this a much easier gun to shoot accurately. It has much less muzzle-heaviness than the older gun and seems to conform to the hand more like a Luger.


The “crack” in the left grip panel of slant-grip Seniors and Premiers is a fault in the mold. Some will have it, others won’t.

Speaking of the grips, this is the gun that we reported on in The Airgun Letter in November 1994 as having “cracked” grips from the factory. As reported, there’s a flaw in the mold from which the left grip panel is cast. It looks like a hairline crack running vertically down through the “Y” in the name Webley. Dozens of collectors confirmed that this flaw can be found on many Webley grips from the 1950s through the Premier models of the early 1970s, although not all of them have it. It isn’t really a crack, it just looks like one.

This pistol came to me in almost excellent condition, except for a few unfortunate spots of localized pitting that look like blood spots under the front of the mainspring tube. If that’s not what they are, then some other kind of acid was spilled on the gun and allowed to remain. The end of the box is still faintly marked with the original price: £7-11-0.

From the rest of the almost-complete finish, it’s easy to see that Webley wasn’t spending the same time preparing the metal in 1950 that they did in 1930. The gun has an acceptable deep black finish overall, but it’s a long way from a master bluing job. Still, when compared to most firearms sold today, the Webley comes off as the better gun.

The trigger on this gun has changed very little from the one on the straight grip, but this one is lighter and easier to use. Coupled with the better grip, it makes this the easier gun to hit with.

The barrel, which is also a .22, is just as large as the one on the older gun, so you really do need a source of large-sized pellets. If you can’t find Wasps, RWS Hobbys will do.

The barrel ends flush with the end of the mainspring tube underneath, giving the slant-grip a sleeker profile than the straight-grip. Versions with longer barrels were produced in both model variations, but the flush barrel is by far the most common.

I paid $150 for this newer Senior to a man who advertised in Airgun Ads. It came with the original box, instructions, a price/parts list and a paper envelope of pellets–the ones that came with the gun when it was new. At the time I bought it, I thought it was a super deal; but over the years, I’ve seen many Seniors in similar condition go for about the same price. I’ve also seen a few priced around $250, which is much too high for such a common gun.


The serial number of the straight-grip Senior was later replaced by lot numbers.

Serial numbers
The early guns have them–later ones do not. All guns have lot numbers, however, which often mislead owners into believing they have a particularly early gun. The end cap is located under the muzzle and will have the last three digits of either the serial number or the lot number stamped into it. It’s best to get Hiller’s book, as there are some subtle manufacturing cues to identify a gun’s true age.

You can collect and shoot these fine air pistols. Modern replacement parts exist for nearly all problems, unless there’s been severe abuse. If you like well-made precision airguns, you should really look into a Webley Senior. It represents a lifetime investment in fine airgunning!

Look for part 2 in a few days.

28 thoughts on “The Webley Senior – Part 1

  1. Happy Labor Day to all. After having finished painting one side of my house, sealing cracks in my driveway, dropping off the 5+ gallons of waste engine oil at the recycling station and mowing the lawn and cutting the bushes, I decided I deserved some time off. I picked up my Crosman Model 99 after having it soaking in silicon oil for several days and put another CO2 cartridge in. I thought I hadn't pierced the cartridge as I heard no hiss of gas. I decided to load and see if it would fire anyway and no, I DID NOT put my finger in front of the muzzle but fired at a target. The report proved the cartridge had been pierced and I started experimenting with pellets to see what the rifle liked. I can tell you that 15.8 gr JSB Exacts do not like this rifle, going all over the target. Other pellets, such as RWS Meiusterkugeln and Crosman Premiers (all .22 cal) gave me 2" groupings but the RWS Super H 14.2 gr pellets produced a 1.5" group – all shooting in basement at approximately 30'. I fired 10 of each pellet, 5 to a group to measure results and due to target ripping, these are not ctc but with such diversity, it didn't seem to matter.

    The rifle has been holding pressure for two days now and it seems that once again, the BB wisdom of putting 30W oil or in my case, Silicon on the CO2 cartridge lip, can restore many an O ring and save you some poorly tolerated downtime. Next step is to see what type of velocity I'm getting at low power and high power. By the way, all shooting has been done on low power. Perhaps I should re-run my testing for high power?

    Hope to see a bunch of you at Roanoke next month.

    Fred


  2. B.B.

    Safe travels again.

    Boy that looks like a well made air pistol. I like that. I'm gonna watch for one.

    Have fun in New York, all work and no play… ah… you know that one..

    Wacky Wayne


  3. Edith,

    When I open PA's web site I get an error message as follows: "570 Identification Failed. Connection could not be made." Being optomistic I tried to open the blog any way and it did. Is blogger playing with me or is AOL?

    Mr B.


  4. Mr. B.,

    I'm not having any issues connecting with Pyramyd Air's website. We have Charter Business Cable as our connection, so I'm assuming there's something amiss with AOL.

    Edith


  5. My first ever adult air gun was a Webley pistol, ordered directly from England. Dr. Beeman refused to match the price as claimed in his advertisements and instead responded with a very nice hand written letter as to why he would not. Wish I would have kept it. In retrospect waiting almost 6 months for delivery probably was not worth the ten bucks or so, but I was an unemployed teenager.

    Nice pistol, but still left me longing for a rifle. At the time, early 70’s, it was the Wischo 55 and FWB 124 that caught my eye, but exceeded my budget.


  6. B.B.,

    A little off topic question for you or anyone else who can help me…

    I'm new to the airgunning world and am looking to build my first cleaning kit. Currently I have a Crosman Phantom 1000X, a Umarex HK USP (love this gun), and a Crosman PRO77. Can you tell me what I need to start out with for cleaning the guns?

    And do you recommend a website that shows you the basics on how to to clean them properly? I looked on Pyramyd Air for the basics, but I couldn't find any info.

    Thanks in advance,
    John B.


  7. Correction – Wischo S 60 – very American looking stock. Made by BSF it is the only rifle I have not tried from that era – that I desired to. Must have not been a big seller, as it seems a rare bird.


  8. John B.,

    The reason you see very little about cleaning airguns is due to the fact that, unlike firearms, airguns don't need much in the way of cleaning. Here are some previous blogs that you can reference:

    Is your airgun barrel REALLY clean?

    Should you clean a new airgun barrel?

    Cleaning airgun barrels – the stuff you need to know!

    Firearms require cleaning on a regular basis after shooting. Airguns don't have the high temperatures and they don' burn powder. Cleaning isn't something most airgunners do on a regular basis…or ever, for that matter. B.B. hasn't cleaned most of his airguns, and many of them have thousands of shots through them. Accuracy & reliability hasn't suffered one bit, either.

    Since you're new here, I should tell you why I know B.B. hasn't cleaned most of his airguns…I'm his wife.

    Edith



  9. Edith,

    "Since you're new here, I should tell you why I know B.B. hasn't cleaned most of his airguns…I'm his wife.".

    Is this an implication that YOU get stuck cleaning them???

    :-)


  10. John B.,

    If you search the blog for "cleaning" even more tips will emerge. This is a very common topic.

    I'll give you a bit of a head start…

    You do need to wipe off the exterior metal where you've been handling the rifle or pistol.

    BB gets a lot of new guns from PA to test which are then sold as open box. So BB has developed the habit of cleaning any NEW steel barrel with JB bore paste and a new brass brush to remove the factory gunk. The alternative is to shoot several hundred rounds to clean the barrel out with just pellets. But BB's readers are the impatient time. The first two questions from us are always (1) how fast? (2) What was the group size? So he needs results fast, out of the box so to speak. But JB paste is abrasive, and you have to be very careful to get clean out every bit of it.

    Once the barrel is clean, measure group size for the best pellet. Don't clean the barrel again unless group size gets worse. You don't have a super high power PCP so leading of the barrel shouldn't be a problem for you.

    The other thing is keep hydrocarbon oil away from the piston (transfer port) of your rifle to prevent dieseling. There is a special silicon oil for that. You need a drop of Pell Gun oil (30W non-detergent oil will do) on each and every CO2 cartridge.

    Please hang around. There has to 10,000 years of shooting knowledge on this blog. You'll never meet a friendlier bunch of people.


  11. Vince,

    Never have cleaned a gun, but gun cleaning in the Gaylord household is still a family affair.

    First, a collapsible wooden table is set up in the livingroom. Then, an old bath towel is draped over it. Next, the cleaning implements are brought out along with any cleaning fluids & patches. If it's firearms, the Hoppes No. 9 comes out. If it's airguns, Hoppes No. 9 isn't brought out & the house will continue to smell nice :-) Last, a small tool chest is brought into the room, followed by a comfy office chair.

    After that, I pop a DVD into the player and we watch 1 or 2 movies while the guns are cleaned. Dinner is usually served during the cleaning, at which time the guns are put down as we eat and watch the movies…and possibly imbibe in a Corona or two.

    Life is good :-)

    Edith



  12. BG_Farmer,

    I think they are! In fact, I told Tom that a smart woman in this day & age should toss the expensive perfumes & pomades and just dab some Hoppes No. 9 behind her ears.

    Edith


  13. Edith,

    I'm going to propose to my wife that my firearms and airguns now all need to be cleaned in our Livingroom but before I do, does anyone have a spare room they would be willing to rent to me? Somehow I think I may need a new place to live.

    Vince, I think you're the closest to me here in Jersey?



  14. Fred, yes, I'm in NJ. Moving soon, though, to another part of NJ. No more outdoor shooting, but far better indoor shooting and work area.

    But we'll always have a doghouse available fer ya!



  15. All,
    Hope everyone had a great labor day weekend. I sure did.

    At my home my wife is very liberal about the smell of Hope's No. 9. As long as I keep it in the garage she does not complain and we get along great.

    Life is good,
    DB


  16. Mrs. Gaylord,

    I really enjor your sense of humor. You can't help keep it hidden. It's apparent that it runs broad and deep since you've been married to what's him name for so long.

    B.B.,

    Been gone for 4 days and returned to over 160 blog hits most from archived topics that you revived. Seems that your following continues to grow. The river never stops.

    Have you noticed the new bloggers that these wonderful archives generate? HMMMM.

    My favorite comment by you was a self deprecatory remark referencing a bobber. It's still not clear if this is indicative of honesty or self confidence. No matter. Both are admirable.

    It is my hope that this hectic schedule permits you two to be together again very soon.

    kevin




  17. B.B.

    My first and most memorable encounter with a Webley gun is from The Secret Life of Walter Mitty. The scene goes something like: "'Let me refresh your memory,' said the district attorney, thrusting a heavy automatic at the quiet figure in the witness stand…'Yes, this is my Webley-Vickers 50.80,' said Walter Mitty…'With any known make of gun,' he said evenly, 'I could have killed Gregory Fitzhurst at 300 feet with my left hand.'…Pandemonium in the courtroom. Suddenly a lovely dark-haired girl was in his arms. The district attorney struck savagely at her. Without rising from his chair, Mitty let him have it on the point of the chin…."

    I figured that Webley was an old prestigious English line of guns, but I have never heard of and cannot imagine what kind of caliber that is. Maybe it's completely made up.

    Hungry Hippo, I believe that story about the Thai circus dwarf swallowed by a hippo is an internet hoax. If it happened at all, it happened in 1994. But it probably never happened. Thankfully. So much for librarian standards of credibility…

    Herb, yes I'm looking to compare the radial standard deviation and associated variability of the average of 6 five shot groups with a 30 shot group which should have no variability because 30 is the magic number, right? But I'm going to read more before I say any more on this topic.

    Jane, interesting about the 5.7 FN. I believe the equivalent in rifle shooting must be the 6mm BR or 6mmX-C which David Tubb uses which must be the same thing. This seems to be the ultimate flat-shooting rifle cartridge. Along those lines, I'm thinking that your ultimate rifle shooting machine is the Tubb 2000 rifle in 6mm. Accurate out to a mile; infinitely adjustable; unsurpassed Anschutz trigger; bolt-action reliability; modified bolt throw almost as fast as a semi-auto. This has to be the ultimate.

    As far as an airgun equivalent to the 5.7, I don't believe you'll get a flat trajectory with a diablo pellet. And if you go with solid bullet designs, the technology gets indistinguishable from firearms designs, so you may as well go with a 6mm.

    Regarding the larger discussion of souping up airguns, I can't even justify a pcp for myself since the airguns I have already overlap with my firearms. So enhancing airgun performance to imitate firearms seems to me reinventing the wheel and jeopardizing the legal niche that airguns have now.

    Jane, on the subject of handguns, if the HK Mark 23 is the Special Forces pistol, I believe it has been a bust. There's no need for a super-sized handgun like that. I would go with the other HK model.

    Wayne, so lower power on the scope gathers more light not less? I didn't know that.

    Matt61


  18. Kevin,

    Tom & I have a funny marriage–he's funny & I laugh. A lot. In fact, he's so entertaining, that on many occasions I have collapsed with uncontrollable laughter. My knees buckle, & and I literally fall on the floor on my back howling with laughter. Tom likes the idea that he makes his wife laugh so hard that she can't stand up.

    When he's out of town & I'm monitoring the blog, I'm actually doing something very selfish. The blog is a constant reminder of Tom. When I write funny stories about him and how we work together, it brings a smile to my face and reminds me of how good life is. It does more for me than it does for the blog.

    When it became apparent that he'd have to travel for the TV show every month for 7-10 days, I made only 2 requests: (1) He had to be here for our annual family Xmas in July celebration, and (2) he had to be here for Xmas.

    Life's a trip, & we're enjoying the journey.

    Edith


  19. Matt,

    To my knowledge there never was a Webley-Vickers 50.80, but using the naming convention of the era, it would have been a .50 caliber gun powered by 80 grains of powder that we now call black powder.

    B.B.


  20. Matt,

    Yep, surprised the heck out of me! It seems backwards, but it sure made a difference when I turned down the power of the scope from 50 to 30.. Now after practicing more, I only use the crummy Nikko Nighteater on 25 power at the most, there it's just fine.

    I can't believe they named it "NightEater" when it gets eaten itself by the slightest darkness!

    If you want a good Nikko, you have to move up to the $800 – $1,000 Diamond.

    The $200 leapers 8-32×56 is really the best entry level field target scope for the money I've found..

    Next step is the Bushy Elite 4200 in 6-24 or 8-32… but that's not side focus and most don't care, or make a stand up wheel to see the distance markings.

    Wacky Wayne,
    Ashland Air Rifle Range


  21. Mrs Gaylord,

    Thanks for the insight.

    Without doubt the show is a wonderful opportunity for the airgun community and hopefully for you two as well. What's overlooked is the sacrifice you both make for this to happen.

    What a great example for a successful marriage.

    kevin


  22. This is a question that no one, so far has been able to answer and it's this; when is the Webley 'SENIOR' air pistol considered to be loaded? When not cocked and there is a pellet in the barrel or cocked with no pellet in the barrel?

    Nearly everyone who knows about air pistols will know that with both pellet in the barrel and cocked, ready to be discharged, the pistol would be considered loaded, but what are the opinions on the question of pellet in the barrel not cocked or cocked with no pellet in the barrel? I know what my answer is, but what is everyone else's opinion?


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