One of England’s finest inventors of sporting shotguns is William Greener. Born in 1806, in the village of Felling, which is now engulfed by Newcastle, he was the son of a toll gate keeper. As a young man he took an apprenticeship with Burnand in Newcastle after which he moved to London seeking to improve his knowledge and skills as a gunsmith. He was fortunate to obtain work with John Manton & Son, a prominent gunmaker at that time. In 1829, he returned to his native Newcastle where he set up on his own business and remained there until 1844.
Greener began to experience challenges with the location of the business since many of the specialised skills and raw materials were mainly concentrated in London and Birmingham. This made trading difficult and wasted much time in travelling round the trade and to and from the gunmaker’s hometown.
It was clear to Greener that in order to improve the efficiency of his business and the quality of his lifestyle it was necessary to relocate and in the November of 1844 he moved his business to new premises at Rifle Hill, Aston in Birmingham. This new location was near to both supplies and the trade outworkers he needed for a successful enterprise. With a true entrepreneurial spirit he took the opportunity at the same time to establish representation in London and in 1846 he opened his first outlet at 25 Gerrard Street, Soho where it remained until 1852 when it was moved to 1 Ely Pl., Holborn. In 1856-59 it moved again but this time just a short distance to 42 Ely Pl. and Daniel B Harvey was recorded as the agent.
Greener’s business was clearly a success. His better quality weapons found a good market in London and he was also exporting large quantities of plainer weapons to the overseas market. Greener was well known for his harpoon guns and built up a good reputation with the Scottish whalers who used the Newcastle port facilities. At a public contest at the London Docks in 1848, he achieved a record flight of 120 yards. Queen Victoria’s husband, Prince Albert, placed orders for guns with Greener and in 1851 he took the highest award in the Great Exhibition for guns and barrels.
Not only was Greener a successful and skilled gunsmith, he also had talent as an author and established himself as an authoritative writer on guns and shooting. His first book, written in 1834, was titled The Gun and was followed in 1842 by his second publication, The Science of Gunnery. In 1958 he published his third book called Gunnery.
William Greener was a muzzle loading gunmaker and in 1835 he invented the first rifle bullet designed to expand into the bore of a muzzle loading rifle. However, the Board of Ordnance rejected his invention in favour of the Minie bullet, which worked on a similar principle. Greener, justifiably made representations that the Board had adopted what was essentially his idea and was eventually awarded £1000 by the government in 1857.
William was a great inventor and registered patents for a number of firearms. He also invented a wide variety of other items ranging from whaling guns to improved mining lamps and even a self-righting lifeboat and level crossing gates.
William was fiercely loyal to the design of the muzzle loader and so with the arrival of the breech loading guns in 1850 this caused a relationship split with Greener’s son, William Wellington (1834-1921, named after the duke of Wellington, whom his father held in high esteem.)
William Greener died in 1869 at the age of 63.