Birmingham Small Arms; More than small arms…

Martini-Henry rifle, Snider-Enfield, Sten submachine gun

Some of the greatest legends of firearms production have emerged from the shops of Birmingham Small Arms, which was located to the Northwest of London, in Birmingham’s famous “Gun Quarter”.  Some of the work in these shops was farmed out from the government-run armory of the RSAF (Royal Small Arms Factory) at Enfield, a suburb of London.  These include mainstays such as the snider-Enfield, the Martini-Henry, the Lee-Metford, the legendary Lee-Enfield, the .303 RAF Browning, the Sten submachine gun and the modern LRL1A.  They also produced some heavier armaments such as cannon and anti-tank rifles.


Besides those legendary firearms, there were some other rather thrilling products that any gun or history enthusiast can also easily appreciate.  Birmingham Small Arms, also known as BSA also produced a very popular line of bicycles, cars and motorcycles.  At one point, BSA was the worlds largest and most popular motorcycle manufacturer.

BSA Bantam Mototrcycle, produced by Birmingham Small Arms, UK.

Like any old and venerated company, Birmingham Small Arms went through a large number of shifts and changes, and dealings with other very well-known companies like Daimler, Norton, Triumph, Raleigh, and others.  There were financial problems and successes along the way.  For awhile, the Royal Post Office used the BSA’s Bantam motorcycles to deliver telegrams.  They were also used by the Automobile Association for roadside services.


In 1930, BSA purchased the car manufacturer, Lanchester Motor Company Ltd. in Sparkbrook, Birmingham.  Lanchester operated from 1895 to 1955.  The Lanchester company had once been a part of BSA’s Armourers Mills small arms production facility.  The BSA line of cars, some still wearing the badge of Lanchester later changed hands to Daimler, Jaguar,  and most recently, Jaguar/rover which as of 2008 was owned by the Ford Motor Company.


BSA Motorcycles Ltd was in business from 1919 to 1972.  During that time, they produced some fine examples of what is now motorcycle history.  For a very short time in 1979, there were a few BSA motorcycles produced by BSA Regal.

1933 Lanchester / BSA 10

As can be easily expected, these wheeled gems of the 20th century continue to gleam in flawless glory in the hands of private collectors around the world.  While the BSA name has changed hands and undergone numerous changes, the name still endures.  2011 is the 150th anniversary of the BSA brand.  Today, only air and spring sporting guns are made in Birmingham at BSA Guns UK.  BSA bicycles are still made and sold by TI Cycles of India.  But the base of the marque’s history still shines as brightly as the chrome on the products of its past glory.


For a more heavily illustrated version of this article, please visit

The SMLE; Short Magazine Lee-Enfield

Lee-Enfield SMLE

The legendary bolt action rifle produced by the Royal Small Arms Factory, perhaps better known as RSAF-Enfield, and a large number of other operations around the allied world, including the Ishapore factory in India, (both British Colonial and post-independence India) has fairly earned itself a place in history. As popular as ever, the Lee-Enfield SMLE has a large coterie of fans and enthusiasts around the world, and is still a prized sporting rifle. In fact, countless numbers of SMLE rifles were “sporterized” in the 1950s and 1960s, and later. The British term “sporterize or sporterise” refers to military models that were fitted with telescopic sights, reworked calibers and bores, and even rebuilt receivers and other customizations, to be used for hunting and sport shooting, or in some cases, just to meet legal requirements in certain areas.

In 1907, the SMLE first entered military service and proved itself in the coming Great War, (aka. World War I) and went on to prove itself in the second World War as well. Officially, the SMLE was used by the British military until around 1957, being replaced by the more modern L1A1 Self Loading Rifle, but continues to be used even today in other places, especially by police forces in India.

The bolt action rifle came at a time when rifles were generally used by infantry, and carbines were used by cavalry or some special forces. The SMLE was a sort of happy medium between the two. Of course there was criticism, as with all other new things, but the rifle soon proved itself in combat, and toned down a lot of that criticism. Although there were many ammunition variances, the one that prevails is the original military selection of .303 caliber. Ask any military rifle enthusiast about the “303” and the conversation will find its way to the SMLE. The rifle’s fast, easy loading, lighter weight and short length were not its only advantages. These things gave it a further tactical advantage by allowing the troops to coordinate their fire and surround and take the enemy’s stationary machine guns positions. Some German militants were even known to claim that they thought they were under attack by a force using machine guns. This parallels experiences by American troops fighting the Germans and Japanese with their M1 Garand bolt action rifles in World War II. Though not related to the SMLE, it is clearly its American counterpart. In fairness, I should also say that the Germans’ Mauser bolt action rifle would be a counterpart too, but on that point, the SMLE seems to be the most wildly popular, and for good reasons. I would consider none of them to be bad weapons. Three Cheers to the SMLE for earning its rightful place in history beside other great and legendary firearms that will never die.

Non-firing replicas of the SMLE for fans, collectors or re-enactors are available, as well as other famous firearms, made of steel and / or wood, with working mechanical parts, both blank-firing and non-firing replicas, framed replicas and box sets, re-enactor gear and more, Please Visit

There is also a source of information on history’s most famous and legendary firearms at GunClassics.Com, where you’ll find info, facts, photos, links and more. Also great links to historical re-enactment sites. There is also a more detailed, expanded page on the Lee-Enfield SMLE there. You are invited to drop by and check it out. Hope to see you soon!