This post is really for the development of a storyboard for a Youtube video that I am planning – I need to work through the history in a systematic way, so I might as well turn it into a post.
To understand the development of the flintlock in England and Ireland – Scotland went its own way and Wales was on the sidelines – we need to appreciate a some background details. The most important is that England and even more so Ireland, was for the most part a backwater in terms of firearms development for most of the time that flintlocks were in use. The main centres of firearms production and development were in continental Europe – principally France, Germany, Italy and Spain and the Netherlands (a Spanish territory for some of the time) and it was not until almost the third quarter of the 18th century, almost 150 years after the flintlock reached something like its final form, that England and Ireland moved towards the top of the league – a position they held throughout the last 50 years of the flintlock’s reign. The second factor to be taken into consideration is the function served by firearms during the period before the this change – this divides into military and civilian use. Military minds during the early life of the flintlock were for the most part conservative and saw flintlocks as both expensive and unreliable, and continued to use the ‘good old’ matchlock for many years, and when flintlock muskets eventually came into military use (1700) there main concern was that they should be easy to reload, rather than achieve any sort of accuracy. Civilian firearms were expensive, and the rulers of countries had no eagerness for their populations to acquire firearms, so firearms became associated with displays of wealth and as presentations and gifts between the aristocracy and royalty. Even where firearms were used for hunting or personal protection they were usually profusely decorated. Hunting in England was fairly undemanding of the guns, unlike Germany where hunting was taken seriously and in fact wheellocks remained in use through much of the early flintlock period. In short, there were, in the first 150 years of flintlock existence, no great drivers for technical improvement. Twe things changed that state of affairs, one was the development of twist barrels, and hence lighter guns, and better gunpowder that made shooting at flying birds possible, and the other was the change from swords to pistols as the preferred weapons for fighting duels. Both of these activities called for significant improvements in the design of flintlocks to speed up ignition, increase accuracy and improve the certainty of fire. These changes began to bear fruit around the 1770s, and English and Irish gunmakers were at the forefront of the resulting developments, establishing the English and Irish as world class gunmakers. The new emphasis on function rather than purely on form With the ascent of our gunmaking skills we were able for the most part to drop continental ideas of gun decoration for our own less elaborate and more sophisticated style.
Let’s look at the technical developments of the flintlock which developed from the earlier forms of lock that introduced the principle of flint striking steel, the Mingulet and the Snaphaunch locks, which here characterised by the ‘steel’, the surface that was struck by the flint, being separate from the lid of the priming pan. These and the early ‘dog locks’ that did combine steel and pan cover in a one piece ‘frizzen’ or ‘steel’ or ‘hammer’, all names used more orless interchangebly had the ‘sear’ or ‘scear’ moving hotrizontally to control the fall of the ‘cock’ holding the flint. Initially the sear worked through the ‘lockplate’ and intercepted the cock itself, later variations had a ‘tumbler’ fixed to the same shaft as the cock that was intercepted by a horizontally moving sear. The accepted definition of a true flintlock is that it has the steel and pan cover in one piece, and a vertically moving sear engaging in notches in the tumbler – always with the provision of two notches called ‘bents’, a ‘full cock’ bent from which firing could occur when the trigger was pulled, and a ‘half cock’ bent that prevented the trigger from releasing the tumbler by virtue of the shape of the bent. The true filntlocks was a French development of between 16 10 and 1615. The first flintlocks had the cock pivot shaft made as part of the cock, with the tumbler sliding on to it and fixed with a pin, but this soon developed to the pattern we are familiar with where the shaft is part of the tumbler and the cock is fitted to a square filed on the send of the shaft and held by a screw. The first major improvement (XXXX) was the provision of the ‘bridle’ that straddled the back of the tumbler and fixed to the lockplate so as to provide a second bearing for the tumbler shaft – this reduced the friction and wear in the lock enormously. At this point the initial development phase was complete, and in fact military flintlocks followed this pattern almost throughout the era of the flintlock. Around XXXX when the pressure to speed up the firing of the lock a link was introduced in better quality guns to eliminate the friction that existed as the ‘mainspring’ slid along the surface of the tumbler on firing (and cocking) – This small link effectively removed the friction and allowed faster action, but was too fragile ever to be incorperated in military flintlocks. A further source of friction existed where the tail of the frizzen moved over the surface of the frizzen spring as the frizzen was thrown back by the impact of the flint. Around 1770 a similar link to that used on the mainspring was introduced by some better quality gunmakers, but this was soon replaced by a small roller, initially fixed into the tail of teh frizzen itself, but later incorporated into the frizzen spring.