Published on 09-28-2014 11:46 AM
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THE PARKER-HALE ENFIELD
By Craig L Barry1st generation Birmingham made Parker Hale before de-farbing, serial number 5556, probably manufactured about 1980 or 1981, note type IV “British service” oval rear sling swivel and P-H stamped under the crown behind the hammer, case colored lock, etc. (collection of author)
While the history of the US Civil War is an area of great interest to hobby participants there is also a historical piece to the (re)enactment hobby itself which dates back at least fifty years. In the early 1970s, the Birmingham gun-maker Parker-Hale began selling reproduction Enfield rifles to both (re)enactors and live fire enthusiasts, or “skirmishers.” The company ceased production (in England) of muzzleloaders in 1990. These are considered among the highest quality reproductions of Civil War-era rifles and rifle- muskets ever produced. The first reproduction Parker Hale Enfields became available for sale beginning in 1972, starting with the 1861 Artillery carbine. This was followed by their Enfield long rifle (P53) in 1974, Naval rifle (P58) in 1975 and later a .451 “Whitworth” target rifle. The P53 was by far the most popular Parker Hale product, and the one most widely used by (re)enactors. The Birmingham Parker-Hales are now gone but not forgotten. A bit of background discussion about the history of the Parker-Hale enterprise is in order.
First of all, Parker-Hale was an English gun-maker founded in the Gun Quarter of Birmingham England, but not until well after the US Civil War ended. Although the name sounds reminiscent of many Civil War-era gun-makers in the Birmingham Small Arms Trade, obviously, the company never produced Enfield rifles on commercial contract for either side in the US Civil War.  Alfred Gray Parker and Arthur Hale founded the business to provide shooting supplies to the British Volunteer companies and the marksmanship (target shooting) clubs in England around 1880.
Over the years the firm primarily produced small caliber bolt-action target rifles. Parker Hale’s Production Manager John Le Breton decided in the early 1970s that he wanted to make an exact reproduction of the Enfield black powder muzzle loading rifle, and that he wanted the gun to reflect the exact specifications of the original Enfield rifles. He assigned an engineer named Tony Kinchin to the project.
An expert on the history of US Civil War arms noted, “In an attempt to meet Le Breton's request, Tony Kinchin traveled to the (Royal Armoury) museum at Enfield to record the dimensions of original rifle-muskets and the tooling used to manufacture them. To his delight, the museum director allowed him to take a set of original Enfield master gauges back to Parker Hale.”  What this means is that Parker-Hale copied (almost exactly) from original gauges the specifications for the machine made P53 British service rifle. This is the so called type IV Enfield that was manufactured at Royal Small Arms Factory by the British War Department to supply their own troops. This particular version of the Enfield rifle was an improved design over earlier models still being commercially manufactured using individual craftsmen as they had for centuries in Birmingham and London. The two types were close in overall design, but not exactly the same in detail.
Some of the variation between British service rifle (which Parker Hale copied) and the earlier type III widely used during the US Civil War included different stock contours, lock plate screw washers and lock engraving, a rounded screw head design, along with different sling swivels and barrel bands. There has always been considerable confusion in particular about the front or “top” sling swivel on the Parker Hale, which is offset and does not resemble any type of Civil War-era Enfield sling swivel ever made. The company decided to make “a minor concession to historical accuracy” and used readily available surplus sling swivels from the World War II-era Lee-Enfield SMLE, which were less expensive than making their own in the correct center stud configuration front swivel. This decision by Parker Hale would impact the Italian made Enfield reproductions down the road. Ironically, when the Italian reproduction gun makers decided to add an Enfield model to their Civil War product line, rather than copy an original P53 they merely copied the successful Parker Hale…mistakes and all. This included the inaccurate, oddly offset front sling swivel.
Parker Hale purchased inauthentic offset front sling swivels for their reproduction Enfield
While there were differences between the Parker Hale and the original US Civil War P53 Enfield, there were also a number of details which were identical, for example the barrel which featured a 1:78 twist and progressive depth rifling. The rifling in the period correct .577 caliber bore tapers from .015 at the breech to .005 at the muzzle. All original Enfield long and short rifles manufactured after 1858 featured progressive depth rifling. In addition, Parker Hale used modern manufacturing methods to recreate this old-style rifling. Progressive rifling in Parker Hale barrels was cold hammer forged around a sliding mandrel to insure the proper depth.  Taking it a step further, Parker Hale lock plates were case hardened through the bone charcoal method, which results in the unique swirling color pattern. All other modern reproduction locks are not actually case hardened but have a chemically induced surface color. The Parker Hale percussion cone uses the same pattern 5/16 x 18 bolster threads as the original Civil War-era Enfield rifles.
Therefore, while the Parker Hale reproduction was very well made, especially compared to the various reproductions which followed, and got a number of things right, it was not quite the same as the earlier commercial version most widely used during the US Civil War. However despite all that, it was an immediate sales success among both (re)enactors and skirmishers.
Barrel marking from Birmingham made 1st generation Parker Hale Enfield (collection of author)
The net result was the Birmingham Parker Hale was the best reproduction Enfield available for most of its almost twenty year production run. When Parker Hale stopped making muzzle loaders, they sold the naming rights to Euroarms Italia, SrL. For a period of time, Euroarms produced and sold what was essentially their own reproduction Enfield with a Parker Hale barrel for about twice the price. These “2nd generation” Enfields were not of the same high quality as the Birmingham made Parker Hales, though they shared all of the same faults.  Euroarms went out of business in 2011 and there are currently no newly manufactured Parker Hales of any type currently available.
Part of the Parker Hale legacy is that in the void created by their absence, demand for a quality reproduction of the P53 Enfield has remained strong. After Euroarms went out of business, there has been a marked improvement in the form of newly available “de-farbed” Enfield offerings from both Italian gun makers Armi Chiappa (Armi Sport) and in particular D. Pedersoli.  Existing 1st generation ‘made in Birmingham’ Parker Hales in good condition still come up from time to time. If you happen to find one of those, they are well worth the cost. 
 Some examples of well-known firms from the Birmingham Small Arms Trade in the 1860s include Cooper & Goodman, Bentley & Playfair, etc.
 Joe Bilby, Colt Six Guns and Parker Hale, www.civilwarguns.com. February 1996.
 Ibid, Bilby
 The Italian made Parker Hale Enfields are easily distinguished by their lock plate markings which read Parker Hale in front of the hammer with no date. The Birmingham made version reads “1853” over “ENFIELD.” Neither one is period correct but besides an early four digit serial number, the lock plate is a quick way to identify a 1st generation Birmingham made Parker Hale.
 Armi Sport offers both a defarbed and (believe it or not) what they call a “farbed” version. Their defarbed version has a few of the worst historical accuracy mistakes corrected. D Pedersoli makes a very good quality reproduction Birmingham Tower 1861 P53 Enfield which is historically accurate pretty much right out of the box. It still requires refinishing w/ linseed oil, etc.
 My Parker Hale Enfield was over thirty years old when purchased, and virtually in unfired condition. It has since been “defarbed” as a LA Co P53, which it closely resembles being that like the Parker Hale, the Civil War-era LA Co was a parts interchangeable copy of the RSAF Enfield. An original LA Co 1862 lock assembly dropped right into the lock mortise and works perfectly.