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Scottish guns, Seduction and Sinatra

April 2021
Scottish guns, Seduction and Sinatra

The history and stories behind the guns built by John Dickson and Son are a very important part of our heritage and the majority of Dickson guns have a great story behind them. These stories are sometimes uncovered through the name of the original purchaser in the Dickson ledgers, the name on a gun case or a tale recounted to us by a current owner.

We are very pleased to now offer a beautiful pair of Damascus barrelled Dickson Round-Action guns that have a truly remarkable story behind their ownership.

This story starts in 1980, where a young man, who recently turned 18 years old enters the hallowed ground of James Purdey and Sons, the renowned gunmakers in South Audley Street, London. He is there to collect a pair of guns that had been stored at Audley House since November 1965. His father had placed them there for safe keeping when not in use on the extensive family shooting estates in Scotland. However, his father tragically passed away only three years later and so the guns had remained there until his only son was old enough to collect them.

A double gun case was retrieved from the storeroom, accompanied with an extensive service bill, a bill for a repair to the smashed wrist of the stock of the No. 1 gun and an eye-watering storage bill for 15 years. The young man undid the straps and opened the case with the excitement of making a connection to his father, who had suddenly departed when he was only six years old.

Raising the lid of the case did not reveal a pair of Purdey’s but instead a magnificent pair of John Dickson and Son Round-Action shotguns. Knowing of some of the adventures of his late father, the young man was already thinking - if only these guns could talk. The name emblazoned across the gun case lid was R. DOUGLAS - HOME. However, Robin Douglas-Home was not the original purchaser of these guns, only the second custodian of them. We must go back further to learn of their creation.

A single best 12 bore Round-Action gun, No. 4846, was ordered in the spring of 1896 and delivered just in time for the grouse on the 11th of August of that year.

A second gun, No. 4990, was made to match two years later and delivered on the 4th of July 1898. Both guns were ordered by W. A. Kidson.

Solicitors in the North East

William Alexander Kidson was born in the City of Sunderland, North East England, in September 1851. He would follow in the footsteps of his father John Kidson and his grandfather John Pexall Kidson and become a prominent solicitor in the city, later going into partnership with his father as the firm of Kidson, McKenzies & Kidson.

The City of Sunderland is on the doorstep of some of the finest grouse shooting in neighbouring Yorkshire, where these guns would have been destined to be used. By the time the No. 2 gun was delivered to William, his brother, Arthur Pexall Kidson, was also in business as a solicitor trading as Dixon, Barker & Kidson and no doubt, shooting with his brother and seeing his fine Dickson guns, Arthur Pexall took delivery of his first Dickson Round-Action gun in 1899 and then a matching one, two years later like his brother, to make a pair in 1901.

William Alexander Kidson died in 1941 at the grand age of 90. We can only speculate where the guns went on his death - perhaps they went back to Dickson's, but they were certainly in the possession of the Douglas-Home family by the 1950’s, perhaps an 18th birthday present to R. Douglas-Home.

Robin Douglas-Home – A scion of several noble houses 

Cecil ‘Robin’ Douglas-Home was born 5th May 1932 and was the eldest son of the Honourable Henry Montagu Douglas-Home and grandson of Charles Douglas-Home, 13th Earl of Home, Lord Dunglass. To say that he was born into one of the greatest aristocracies would not be an exaggeration. Through his extended family he would have many famous relatives - former British Prime Minister Sir Alec Douglas-Home (formerly 14th Earl of Home) was his uncle and his younger brother Charles Douglas-Home became editor of The Times newspaper of London. Through his mother, Lady Margaret Spencer, Douglas-Home was grandson of Charles Spencer, 6th Earl Spencer, making him a second cousin once removed of Lady Diana Spencer, Princess of Wales (ironically, his unacknowledged daughter, Lady Cosima Somerset, would become close friends with Lady Diana). His illustrious godparents included the Queen Mother's brother David Bowes-Lyon, the Earl of Athlone, and Maurice Baring, his mother’s uncle, son of Lord Revelstoke and the Queen's personal banker.

Former British Prime Minister Sir Alec Douglas-Home (formerly 14th Earl of Home) handling a Dickson Three-barrelled gun at the Frederick street shop in the 1980's. He was Robin's uncle.

Lord Dunglass, inherited the title of Lord Home and extensive lands on the death of his father in 1918. This included Douglas Castle, Bothwell Castle, The Hirsel and lands which totalled some 107,000 acres in 1878, chiefly in Lanarkshire, Roxburghshire and Berwickshire. It was at these estates that the extended Douglas-Home family would gather to shoot and socialise together, and it was at The Hirsel that the No. 1 Dickson had its stock damaged, reputedly by a high-speed inbound despatched grouse.  

The Hirsel in Berwickshire has been the seat of the Earls of Home since 1611, and the principal seat following the destruction of Hume Castle during the mid-17th century. It was the home of the former British prime minister, Sir Alec Douglas-Home, the 14th Earl of Home.

A Pianist and a Princess (the first one)

Robin Douglas-Home’s early education was at Eton and after five years as an officer in the Seaforth Highlanders with overseas postings, he returned to London. Training to be an advertising copywriter by day, and to make ends meet, working as a pianist at night. Douglas-Home was an accomplished jazz pianist, his talent introducing him to the aristocrats and socialites of London and allowing him to become a leading society figure in the 1950’s and 1960’s. He quickly became part of the Princess Margaret set, becoming close friends with the Duke of Kent and a frequent escort of his sister Princess Alexandra.

In the summer of 1956, the 22-year-old Princess Margaretha, granddaughter of Sweden's King Gustaf VI Adolf, arrived in London to improve her English. Staying in Hampstead in very modest accommodation, she would soon be lured to the vibrant nightlife of Mayfair, the social playground of foreign princesses.

It would be at the Casanova Club that Princess Margaretha would meet the tall, blond and thinly handsome 25-year-old Robin Douglas-Home, who was playing a lively jazz piano set in the club. Robin was soon taking the Princess to dinners and parties across London – once, dressed as Little Jack Horner, he took the Princess (dressed as Little Red Riding Hood) to a ball sponsored by Princess Margaret.

In the spring of 1957 Douglas-Home wrote to Princess Margaretha’s mother, Princess Sibylla, asking for Margaretha's hand in marriage. The letter was promptly replied to with a firm refusal and Margaretha abruptly returned to her palace in Sweden. A subsequent statement was issued by King Gustaf VI Adolf saying, "The King has not imposed any ban on the marriage in question".  However, the Princess was left in no doubt by King Gustav that she would forfeit all her royal rights if she married a commoner. At the time, this was a similar problem that Princess Margaret was experiencing with her affair with Group Captain Peter Townsend.

In London, young Robin steadfastly refused a handsome offer from a Stockholm restaurant for his piano-playing services, another offer of $1,000 a week from a Manhattan nightclub and dreamily played Our Love Is Here to Stay for the Berkeley Hotel patrons. He confided to friends that Margaretha had said she would marry him if after two years they were still in love.

Later, Princess Margaretha's nanny and confidante, Ingrid Björnberg, would record in her memoirs that the breakup of the couple was not due to Princess Sibylla refusing to permit them to marry, but because Princess Margaretha did not wish to marry him. There might have been some truth to this since Princess Margaretha’s eventual husband was not the much hoped for prince but an English businessman.

Princess Margaretha met her future husband, John Ambler, at a dinner party in the United Kingdom in 1963. By 1964, seven years after the end of her relationship with Douglas-Home, Princess Margaretha's engagement was announced without much fanfare, to the British citizen, John Kenneth Ambler. They were married in June of that year in Sweden and because of her unequal marriage, she lost her style of Royal Highness and became Princess Margaretha, Mrs. Ambler. With her marriage, as plain Mrs. Ambler, Princess Margaretha put an end to her life as a public person, as she moved to the United Kingdom, where she lived an anonymous life and did not perform any official engagements on behalf of the Swedish Royal Family.

The Model

Rebounding sooner, Douglas-Home was soon dating the up-and-coming fashion model, Sandra Paul. He met her through the advertising agency where Douglas-Home worked when she was chosen as the face to launch Dove soap. At the age of 18-years-old, Sandra Claire Paul, the daughter of Wing Commander Saville Paul, became engaged to Douglas-Home.

By the time of her marriage to Douglas-Home in July 1959, she was the most highly paid fashion model in Britain. Working alongside such names as Jean Shrimpton and Twiggy, Sandra Paul, graced the covers of Vogue with the best in the business. Such was her popularity, that she was also featured on the cover of American Vogue for two months in a row, having been photographed by David Bailey and Norman Parkinson.

By 1965, the couple were sadly divorced, prompted by Douglas-Home’s behaviour outside of the marriage and no doubt exacerbated by his affair and fathering a child with Nicolette ‘Nico’ Vane-Tempest-Stewart, Marchioness of Londonderry. Nicolette had been introduced to Robin by his close friend, Mark Birley – then married to Nico’s sister, Lady Annabel Goldsmith, after whom he named his famous Berkeley Square night club ‘Annabels’. At the time of the baby’s birth, the little girl was unwittingly recognized by the Marquess of Londonderry as his own daughter. The truth would remain a secret until 1998 when Lady Cosima Somerset announced that her biological father was actually Robin Douglas-Home. Lady Cosima had formed a friendship with Lady Diana Spencer and unbeknown to both at the time, they were related. Robin’s mother was Margaret Spencer, great aunt to Lady Diana Spencer.

Lady Diana Spencer and Lady Cosima Somerset head to Mallorca on holiday in 1996.

Sandra Paul became Lady Sandra Howard in 1975 when she married Conservative MP Michael Howard, becoming a novelist and publishing a number of books with a brief return to modelling in the 1990’s for the British retailer, Marks & Spencers.

Frank in the studio © Robin Douglas-Home

Ol' Blue Eyes

Whilst still working a conventional day job and playing his piano in the evenings to make ends meet, Douglas-Home still found time to become an accomplished writer, journalist and photographer. The late 1950’s had brought the famous sound and voice of Frank Sinatra to the world and Douglas-Home, already moving in the right circles, was keen to photograph and interview him. However, the world media already knew that Sinatra was a reserved man and avoided any chance to discuss his show-biz or private life.

Bob Hope, Sandra Paul, Robin Douglas-Home and Michael Romanoff celebrating Frank Sinatra’s engagement to Juliet Prowse.

It would be a chance opportunity in 1960 that Douglas-Home would find himself at a dinner with Michael and Gloria Romanoff, of the famous Romanoff’s Restaurant in Beverley Hills, that an introduction could be brokered, as they were good friends of Sinatra. Another lucky break followed in the opportunity of meeting Nelson Riddle. Riddle was responsible for much of the orchestral sound to Sinatra’s recordings, with the chance to observe him and interview him at the Elstree Studios in the UK. The result was published in The Queen magazine in July 1961 and a copy sent to the Romanoff’s to pass onto Sinatra to demonstrate his approach to finding out more about the man and his music, rather than his social antics.

Sinatra obviously warmed to the writings of Douglas-Home and agreed to meet with him in the autumn of 1961 in London. A friendship was formed on the spot and Douglas-Home did not get his interview, instead he was asked to write the only authorised biography of the star. Douglas-Home would have to spend time in the proximity of Sinatra to understand the man rather than then myth and so both Sandra and Robin headed to Palm Springs for three months to stay in Sinatra’s home.

Elizabeth Taylor playing with a wig © Robin Douglas-Home

Here they would meet and socialise with Franks friends such as Marilyn Monroe, Elizabeth Taylor, Bob Dylan, Natalie Wood, Benny Goodman, Peter Lawford, Warren Beatty, Bob Hope, Dean Martin and many other celebrities of that era. Much of this world was captured through Douglas-Home’s camera and it created a number of intimate photo albums providing an intriguing insight into the behind-the-scenes life of some of the world's most recognised 1960s celebrities. Sinatra’s home is also where Douglas-Home’s only son was conceived and leading to Sinatra becoming the boy’s god father.  

‘Sinatra’ was published in 1962, the authorised biography of the man and his music. Douglas-Home had four further novels published, including Hot for Certainties (1964) which won the Author's Club First Novel Award. Additionally, he also penned a number of articles for journals and magazines such as The Queen and Woman's Own.

The First Lady 

The introduction to Washington society came whilst Robin and Sandra were in the city to visit British ambassador, Sir David Ormsby-Gore and his wife. Douglas-Hume’s uncle at that time was the Foreign Secretary and an invite to the White House would be supportive of the ‘special relationship’ with the UK, especially with the Cuban Missile Crisis on the horizon.

In November 1961, Robin and Sandra, together with the ambassador and his wife were invited to a small private dinner party with the Kennedys at the White House. During the evening, whilst the President focused on engaging and entertaining his guests, Jackie preferred to be out of the limelight. Some polite conversation was exchanged, but Douglas-Home was hypnotised by Jackie, in return, she found him diverting and attractive.

Jackie and Douglas-Home did not meet again until August 1962 when he was invited by her younger sister and his old friend, Princess Lee Radziwill, to join her and some friends at the Italian coastal village of Ravello, south of Naples, where she had rented a villa. A few days after he arrived, Jackie Kennedy flew in with her small daughter Caroline and a nanny. It was there that Douglas-Hume began an intriguing friendship with America's then First Lady that continued up to, and for a couple of years beyond, John Kennedy's assassination.

Jackie in Ravello © Robin Douglas-Home

This holiday occurred just after one of the most searing moments of Kennedy's presidency, when his marriage was at its lowest, over his affair with Marilyn Monroe. Only a few months earlier, the whole world had been exposed to what had been going on when the screen goddess had famously sung the highly suggestive Happy Birthday, Mr President to Kennedy in an outrageously skin-tight dress at a party organised for him at New York's Madison Square Garden.

JFK in the Oval Office © Robin Douglas-Home

Two months later, Douglas-Hume holidayed again with the President and First Lady in Virginia, having lengthy and intimate conversations long into the night after Jack Kennedy had gone to bed and they would holiday together again in 1964 after the President's assassination. Douglas-Hume wrote a 10,000-word profile of Jackie for The Queen magazine. It was so tantalising about the full extent of his relationship with her that the News of the World tabloid paper published the story over three Sundays.

Margaret at home © Robin Douglas-Home

The Princess (the second one)

With his family's numerous royal and aristocratic connections and being part of the London Mayfair set, Douglas-Home had known Princess Margaret for many years. He was a good friend and confidant to the Princess and often photographing her in the carefree years before her marriage in 1960. They shared a deep love of music, with Douglas-Home playing the piano at Kensington Palace parties while Margaret sang.

By Christmas 1966, the Princess was tormented by the deterioration of her seven-year marriage to Lord Snowdon and so looked for some solace with Douglas-Home. Early in 1967, with her husband away on a photographic assignment in Tokyo, the Princess spent a weekend at Douglas-Home's house in West Chiltingdon, West Sussex and he spent some evenings at Kensington Palace. The blossoming relationship prompted a series of affectionate letters to Douglas-Home to thank him for his friendship, attentiveness and support to her.

However, Princess Margaret ended the relationship suddenly in March 1967 after a trip to the United States with her husband. The Princess phoned Douglas-Home to tell him they would not be able to meet again alone and that she had to work on her marriage and remain with her husband for the sake of her children.

The Princess later claimed the relationship was purely platonic, but her letters to him, which were later sold, were very intimate in nature. Their affair would have remained secret, but to the Princess's great distress, the letters were to surface almost 30 years later, in a book by Noel Botham, the tabloid journalist.

The candle that burns twice as bright, burns half as long

After the abrupt end of his relationship with Princess Margaret, Douglas-Home tragically took his own life on October 15, 1968, aged only 36 years old. Undoubtedly distraught, Princess Margaret did not attend his funeral.

The intensity of their affair and the tragic aftermath of Douglas-Home's death can only leave us with the impression that Robin Douglas-Hume was a not a compulsive womaniser but a compulsive romantic, always falling in love but never finding the lasting love he clearly desired.

The Guns Today

We are very privileged to be able to offer the Douglas-Home guns for sale, having been considerately placed back with the manufacturer after 125 years since they first left our workshop. The guns are in superb condition throughout and have now been sympathetically cleaned and serviced and prepared for sale. 

The Douglas-Home family have confirmed that the No. 1 gun was re-stocked in the mid-1980’s to replace the damaged stock, the funds to do this raised by the sale of a pair of William Evans guns that Robin Douglas-Home had also owned.

Interestingly, the double gun case still has the Purdey storage label on the end of it from 1965.

To find out more about this fabulous pair of guns please click here.