Doune Pistols

Thomas Cadell, Pistol-Maker of Doune

In 1647, a refugee Flemish blacksmith named Thomas Caddell settled in Doune.  Originally a blacksmith by trade, he soon began to make pistols as well, and he became exceedingly proficient at this.

Caddell's workshop

Restored Pistol Factory

The Caddells became one of the leading gunsmith families in Doune, and were established there for over a century. There were four generations of Caddell called Thomas working during this period, and also one named Robert, who was active in the mid-18th century. As Doune developed as a gun-making centre the Caddell reputation grew throughout Scotland.

Caddell developed various decorative techniques, which made his best guns highly sought after by the very wealthy.  Also, even though Caddell’s pistols were more expensive than those of his competitors, their quality and reputation for reliability was so high that Highlanders saved up to buy his products in preference to those of other foreign manufacturers.  The pistols were also sold to buyers from England and from there on to abroad, some even finding their way to America during the American War of Independence.  It is likely that this trade was mostly carried on at the Doune Fayres.

It is hard to imagine how these lovely, and efficient objects could be fashioned in such basic accommodation, and without the use of modern tools or lighting.

Over the years, Caddell trained many apprentices, some of whom went on to open their own successful pistol making workshops in Doune. The most successful of these were Campbell, Christie and Murdoch. Some of the pistols manufactured by these workshops were heavily ornamented with elaborate engravings and inlays made of gold and silver.  They were mostly sold in pairs, cost a small fortune and were proudly carried by nobility.

After the failure of the ’45 rebellion, the use of weapons in the Highlands was banned, and this reduced demand for Doune pistols from the Highland clans for a period.  However, Doune continued to supply the wider gentry, and to fulfil government contracts and commissions for army officers.

Ultimately, Doune could not compete with the other gun making centres in England and cheap imports from abroad, to supply government contracts.  By circa 1770, Doune was in decline as a gun making centre.

Doune Pistols

Image by Ewen Weatherspoon for Inverness Museum and Art Gallery, High Life Highland

This is a beautifully engraved and decorated pair of flintlock pistols by J.Murdoch of Doune.  Presented to the Duke of Clarence in 1792.

The Pistols

The pistols that Cadell developed used the relatively common “flintlock” firing mechanism (using the striking of steel on flint to create a spark, thus igniting the gunpowder).  However, they had certain features that made them completely different from weapons made elsewhere:

  • He used “pattern-welding” techniques, copied from earlier Viking sword making, which meant that his steel was of a higher quality than those used by other gun makers.
  • Due to difficulty sourcing suitable wood for the gun stocks (handles), he made the whole weapon from steel.  He also developed designs of stock shaped like a ram’s horns, heart or other flared shape, which made the gun easier to pull out quickly.
  • Firing was made quicker (but arguably less safe) by the omission of a trigger guard or safety catch.
  • There was a long steel ramrod stored under the barrel. This was used this to push the ball (bullet) and gunpowder into the barrel, when loading the weapon.
  • The round knob at the back could be unscrewed and had a thin pricking pin at the end.  This was used to clean out the touch-hole of the flintlock firing mechanism, making the gun easier to re-use.