Moving to Birmingham after war, Bernard Hinchley became fascinated with the gun trade and spent a great deal time there and from 1948 until around 1975, kept a diary and made copious hand written notes on all aspects of the trade. This included notes of discussions with gun makers, outworkers, dealers and retailers, many of whom told stories of the old days of the gun quarter and what occurred. This is in essence an oral history of the late 19th and early 20th century Birmingham Gun Trade. Hinchley’s extensive notes and diaries were acquired by Cliff Harris and Colin Currie in 2008 who, recognizing their historical importance set about publishing them. A limited printing of three paperback volumes of Hinchley’s diaries were published in 2011. Volume 1 contains 178 pages and covers notes made in 1948–49, Volume 2 has 245 pages and contains notes from 1950–52, and Volume 3 notes from 1953.
I was fortunate to recently acquire copies of the first two volumes of Hinchley’s notes. Inside are facsimile’s of the actual notes that were made by Hinchley. They haven’t been interpreted or reproduced. They are exactly as written with assorted scribbles, sketches, diagrams and corrections. Yes, the cursive writing is difficult to read, but in many ways it’s like coming across the originals. You know there’s something of value here, but you’re going to have to work to find it. There is no index to the book and topics don’t follow any kind of logical order, so finding information on a particular topic involves reading or rather, deciphering every page.
So armed with numerous “Post-It” notes I began. Despite it being extremely hard going, it’s a fascinating read. There’s seemingly random notes concerning most of the larger Birmingham makers, as well as notes from interviews or discussions with individual workers. It contains notes on everything including how to correctly cut rifle sights, regulation, parts orders from other makers (including foreign made parts), refinishing and restoration, military orders, and pages of rumour and gossip from within trade. It’s really quite overwhelming but thoroughly rewarding. Although out of print these volumes can be found on the secondhand market through Abebooks and Ebay. I recommend them to all British gun collectors or anyone with an interest in the British gun trade. You'll need lots of time and patience to get through them, but they reward the effort.