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Lock, Stock and Barrel

Last updated: 3 June 2011

Andrew Robertshaw presents a musket and discusses the language associated with it that is still in common usage today.

Lock, Stock and Barrel (video)



Now, in "A small piece of history", Andrew Robertshaw of the National Army Museum presents a favourite object from the Collection.

Andrew Robertshaw:

Not many people really know what a musket is. This is one of them. Very, very simple-looking weapon, but used from the 1720s right through to the 1830s without change. And a soldier, whether he's at Culloden or Waterloo, is using something just like this.

Don't need to describe what it does, but what's interesting is how familiar people actually are with it because of the language that is associated with this particular weapon.

Give you some ideas. It's three parts - there's a lock (the bit that sets it off - this one's a flintlock), the stock (the wooden bit) and the barrel. Hence 'lock stock and barrel'. People still use that term to this day. It's got a 'muzzle'. Dogs have muzzles - that's the dangerous bit. Then down here as well we've got the area called
the 'pan'.

The pan takes a small charge of gunpowder which is external to the barrel. In fact, to load it you bite open a cartridge, made from 'cartridge paper'. You pour in some powder and having half-cocked the safe position, hence 'going off at half-cock', you can close up the frisson.

When you pull the trigger what should happen is the flint strikes the frisson (the steel), shower of sparks ignites the external powder. Unfortunately, if that doesn't work, if there's a bit of dirt, you get what's called a 'flash in the pan' - something that doesn't work.

So, a musket has been out of use now since the 1850s. And yet in common usage every day people talk about 'flash in the pans', 'lock, stock and barrel', they mention the use of 'cartridge paper' without ever realising that this is where it all comes from.

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