The Sussex Armoury was founded in 1968, primarily as a dealer of antique arms, over time the company began selling reproduction Japanese replica guns. The first move into airguns continued the replica theme with western six-guns being amongst the first sold.
The company initially bought a large shipment of Baikal air rifles and then did a deal with Crosman to be their UK agency as well as deals to import Italian pistols.
The drive behind the team was to produce a low price, accurate, high power .22 rifle to fill a gap that they perceived in the market. As they couldn’t buy in what they wanted, they decided to design and build it themselves.
Throughout the history of the company the majority of engineered parts were produced in the UK by NSP Engineering.
Sussex Armoury went from strength to strength, opening retail shops in London and Manchester but with the wonder of hindsight, it looks like the additional financial strain of running what would have been two expensive locations was too much of a stretch for the finances especially when coupled with the 1981 London and Manchester riots in the aftermath of which, guns and knives were becoming frowned upon by the British public.
In this period, Sussex Armoury also produced the prop guns for the third Star Wars movie, Episode VI: Return of the Jedi. These were made using modified replica models, for example, a Storm Troopers blaster was a modified Sterling sub-machine gun. The company did not receive a credit at the end of the movie because by the time the movie was released in 1983, the company had gone into liquidation.
On the 2nd February 1982 Sussex Armoury went into receivership and the operation was closed down. There was a liquidation sale of stock and plant held in April 1982.
NSP Engineering went on to re-engineer some elements of the original rifles and sell them in their own right. In due course, NSP Engineering went on to become Air Arms, the giant of the airgun industry today.
The Managing Director of the Sussex Armoury was Richard Marriot-Smith, who after the demise of the Sussex Armoury bought a large quantity of the stock during the liquidation sale and went on to create The Pheonix Arms Company. Richard purchased the design of the 1960 American Hy-score pistol and made some improvements and started selling this new version. Phoenix was looking successful and in 1987, relocated from Eastbourne to Sandwich and in the process became the Hy Score Arms Company, sales were on the up when in 1996, the Dunblaine massacre took place which coming on the heals of the Hungerford shootings of 1987 put the final 'political correctness' nail in the coffin for the types of products that Richard sold.
Richard Marriott-Smith was also the unsung father of modern Field Target competitions, having organised the first ever National Field Shooting Championship event with the help of Airgun World in 1981, the final of the first event was held at Bisley on 30th August 1981 after heats in Edinburgh, Leeds, Birmingham and Bisley.
The year before, in 1980, Sussex Armoury held what is likely to be the first ever Field Target competition which was held at the Red Lion pub at Magham Down in Sussex (not far from the Sussex Armoury factory). The winner of this 1980 event was Mr Rex Hunt, who was awarded a specially engraved Sussex Armoury Woodsman fitted in a custom stock. This is a beautiful rifle that I have had the pleasure of viewing 'up close'.