Joseph Lang and the Hodges action - an unresolved mystery


As has already been mentioned in many books and on this site, it was said by Arthur Hodges (1900-1983, who knew his grandfather for 24 years, and who heard stories from his father and uncles for another 25 years) that E.C. Hodges while still an apprentice, went to the Great Exhibition in Hyde Park 1851 saw the Lefaucheux breechloaders and decided to make an improved version of the 'drop down' action, because he felt it was an excellent idea poorly executed. Because the pivot was a short distance from the locking catch, the Lefaucheux guns appeared loose when opened and the tightness of the gun during use did not inspire confidence either. This was no small matter given that the shooters face would be close to this vital joint when firing.

E.C. Hodges is then said to have gone to Lang's 'manufactory' at No. 7 Haymarket and persuaded Lang (presumably Joseph senior, although Joseph junior was more his own age) to buy his prototype on this same principle to use on Lang guns. This story, although oral only, is likely to be true and is confirmed by descendents of the various and distant branches of the Hodges family. There is no independent written contemporary evidence however. Lang and his sons never acknowledged or referred to this story. Unfortunately the mixed fortunes of the Lang company from the 1820s to the 1920s meant that many early records were lost, additionally most of the private family papers were destroyed in 1935. 

Lang's own advertisements and letters, and many gunmakers of the time repeatedly stated he was the first to introduce the breechloader from France. He also mentioned that he produced the first breechloading action he was happy with by 1853. Certainly the early Lang breechloaders looked remarkably like Lefaucheux's gun and used a similar forward facing lever lock on the forend.

While this mystery is frustrating I am not surprised. Credit would never have been given to an unknown apprentice who wasn't even part of Lang's company. Lang's name and reputation for good quality guns had been established for over 30 years by the time this innovation came along. Even when Boss went to E.C. Hodges in 1858 to make their first breechloader, no stories about his involvement with this innovation emerged publicly. The manufacturers got all the credit and the unsung outworkers got all the work.

If you have any information or reasonable theories which might shed any light at all on how an outworker might interest a major name in an innovation or how those manufacturers would have operated in those circumstances please contact me.

If you have any Lang guns with a Lefaucheaux type forward facing locking lever please get in touch too. I'm keen to see any Lang guns from Joseph senior's lifetime, (with serial numbers lower than 3722).

Lang's Shooting Gallery at 7 Haymarket



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