Reginald Garrard Leeson - an historical overview

I am indebted to John Smith of the Internet Gun Club for permission to use the information below. John is a distant relative of Reginald Leeson and the information below is an extraction from a much more detailed history of the Birmingham and Calcutta firm of R. B. Rodda & Co, the full history of which can be read via the Internet Gun Club website,

The firm of R B Rodda claimed establishment in 1830. This would appear to have been when Richard Burrows Rodda became a partner in the firm of Brown & Cooper. However, the firm's roots appear to have been established in 1805, if not even earlier.

It seems that in 1846 Cooper left, retired or died, and firm changed its name to Brown & Rodda.

In 1847 Brown left, retired or died, and Richard Burrows Rodda became sole proprietor of the business. The firm's name was changed to R B Rodda & Co, and their address was recorded as 36 Piccadilly.

In about 1850 R B Rodda & Co opened their shop and office in Calcutta at 5 1/2 Tank Square (re-named Dalhousie Square in 1872).

In 1857, either just before or probably just after the Indian mutiny, R B Rodda and most of his extended family emigrated to the USA, but he died in that year (aged only 49). The firm, described then as gunmakers and cutlers, was sold to William Henry Taylor, brother of Rodda’s son-in-law.

In 1872 William Taylor left for England on leave and in his absence J Norton ran the business, his assistant was F Stalman.

In 1874 Taylor returned to England for the last time, and J Norton was made a partner; A Donaldson was employed as his assistant.

By 1877 J Norton was sole proprietor of the business which he described as "Gun, Rifle and Revolver Manufacturers, and Importers of Requisites for Sports and Athletic Games”.

In 1879 J Norton sold the business to the Brookes brothers, T W Brookes and C J Brookes, who owned Hamilton & Co.

In 1879 the firm's address was given as 7 & 8 Dalhousie Square. At that time C J Brookes was on leave in England, and F Stalman had been made a partner. The firm's London agents were Brookes Bros & Co of 91 Queen Victoria Street.

In 1881 F Stalman appears to have died or left the firm, and in London C J Brookes recruited Thomas Mirfin to be their manager in Calcutta. At the same time, C J Brookes recruited Frederick William Prike (b.1860 in Ipswich, Suffolk) as an assistant.

In 1885 F W Prike took over as manager and two new assistants joined the firm; J Lyon, who appears to be the James Lyon who, in 1896, established the firm of Lyon & Lyon in Calcutta, and W Inglis. James Lyon had formerly worked for James Purdey & Sons.

In 1896 F W Prike returned on leave to England where the Brookes brothers appear to have approved him taking the title "Managing Proprietor"; this probably means that he bought the business subject to a final or series of final payments. Whilst on leave he recruited Reginald Garrard Leeson (elder son of William Richard Leeson, gunmaker of Ashford, Kent) as an assistant. By this time the assistants, R Watson, J Lyon, G C O'Brien and W Inglis appear to have left the firm, but A W Hodges remained.

In 1903 F W Prike's son, Frederick Barton Prike (born in Calcutta, 3rd June 1885), returned to Calcutta. F B Prike had joined the firm in 1901 in Birmingham, and worked on the factory floor at 50 Stafford Street.

In 1904 F W Prike returned to England, he never returned to India, and became semi-retired at the age of 45. The Calcutta business was managed by Reginald Leeson with F B Prike and A W Hodges acting as assistants. In 1905 F W Prike was recorded as the firm's English agent, his address was given as Ipswich. In 1906 Reginald Leeson appears to have returned to England on leave and F B Prike ran the business.

In 1910 E S Burroughs left the firm, two new assistants joined, E E Sharpe and H H Clarke. Reginald Leeson moved to live temporarily at 2 Wellesley Place before moving to 5 Park Row, Park Road. F B Prike and his wife moved to live at 2 Vansittart Row, in time to see Halley's Comet through their bedroom window.

In 1914, Frederick William Prike's daughter, Edith Bullard Prike (born 1887 in Calcutta), who had remained in India, married Reginald Leeson. Edith and Reginald had a daughter, Esme who was born in 1915, their only child.

In 1919 Reginald Leeson was still listed as the manager of the firm, and F B Prike, D J Todd and H A Smith were listed as his assistants. In that year B Keenan and A Cashmore also joined the firm as assistants. At about this time, R H Howe (a friend of Frank Harrison, who was manager of Mantons in Calcutta and very possibly a relative of the Harrison’s of Cogswell & Harrison) also worked for the firm. Frank was a very good friend of Reginald Leeson and would appeared to have served his apprenticeship, like Reginald with P Webley & Son.

In 1919 F W Prike sold the business to his son, F B Prike and daughter, Edith Leeson. Edith was, of course, merely a sleeping partner but her husband, Reginald Leeson, became a partner as did A W Hodges.

In 1926 it would appear that Reginald Leeson retired, at this time Reginald and Edith left India to return to England. Reginald may have managed the Rodda factory in Birmingham on a part-time basis for a few years; Edith remained as a sleeping partner in the firm. Reginald was residing at 5 St. Marys Road, Harborne, Birmingham in December 1928.

In 1929 the partners were listed as F B Prike, A W Hodges and Edith B. Leeson.

In 1936 F B Prike and Edith finally finished paying F W Prike for the business. Edith then agreed to sell her share in the partnership to her brother, and he was recorded as sole proprietor of the business.

UK records show that Reginald Garrard Leeson died in the Eastbourne, England on 17th March 1936. His address at this time was a house name "Calcutta" in Decoy Drive, Eastbourne, East Sussex.

In 1946 everyone knew that India would shortly be independent, but they did not know what changes that would bring. F B Prike was 61 years old, so he took the opportunity to retire. He sold the company to Indian industrialists and retired to Durban, South Africa. The new owners continued trading but the loss of European customers and new restrictions on imports and gun ownership affected trade badly. The Birmingham factory was retained until 1952/3, but gun sales were swiftly overtaken by the marine and other engineering diversifications of the business.

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