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History of locks, part 3

7th February 2016

Well hello again, fancy seeing you here.  It's February which means Valentine's Day is on the horizon. I admit this doesn't massively impact on my work as a locksmith unless I get a call-out to romantics who are experimenting with handcuffs for Valentine's Day and have found themselves chained to a bedpost in flagrante. And if you think I came up with that hypothetical story purely to try and increase the number of visits to this blog via dubious Google searches, you'd be entirely correct. (Apologies if you've come here expecting some 50 Shades of Grey style action, that'll have to wait for another day). 

But anyway, it's time for the third in my series of looking back at the history and development of locks. There's still time to catch up on December's and January's postings if you want to relive the story so far where we looked at the locks developed by the Ancient Romans and Egyptians which, a few minor modifications aside, stood the test of time for 17 centuries, by which time it seemed lock development had ground to a halt.

However, in the late 18th early 19th centuries, along came a quartet of lock developers, each of whose names would become synonymous with locks and keys, even up to the present day. This foursome would radically alter lock mechanisms, acting as a bridge between the ancient lock designs of the Romans and Egyptians to the modern locks we have today.

The first of these lock designers was an Englishman called Robert Barron. In 1778, he came up with a completely new locking theory and mechanism, creating his double-acting lever tumbler lock  This device marked a sea change from the locks of Egyptian times that relied on wards to lock and unlock the device , to instead using levers. This change revolutionised the industry, and the lever lock mechanism introduced by Barron remains popular to this day in one form or another. 

Inside the lever lock

So how does a lever lock work? Well, in a simple lever lock a lever holds the bolt in a fixed position until a key is inserted which lifts a spring from a notch in the bolt, forcing the bolt forward. As long as the notch is cleared, the height of the lift is unimportant. However, Barron's double-acting tumbler lock added an extra layer to this. In the Barron lock, not only did the notch have to be cleared, but due to additional internal tinkering, the springs had to lift their stumps to the EXACT right height - a millimetre too high or low and the lock would remain firmly in place. In a mechanism with numerous springs and stumps, this made the design even more precise.  Skeleton keys that had been used to easily broach the old warded-style locks became useless overnight, as the key needed for each lock had to exactly match the shape of the gate inside the lock.

Forty years later in 1818, Jeremiah Chubb, a name familiar to locksmiths everywhere, transformed the industry yet again.  Jermiah, along with his older brother Charles were both ironmongers, and used their knowledge in that field to create and develop new mechanisms. The brothers opened a lock factory in Wolverhampton to produce and manufacture their new device, and the company that bears their name is still a big player in the lock industry today. 

Introducing the Chubb Detector Lever Lock

The device that started it all was the Chubb Detector Lever Lock - this took Barron's mechanism and changed its configuration. Whereas previously the gates in the lock had been part of the bolt, the Chubbs  realised that by amalgamating the gates with the levers themselves, security would be greatly increased and the lock would be much more robust. This enhancement is still very much in use today. 

The Chubb Detector Lock was also able to show if any attempt had been made to pick the lock itself. Any break-in attempt would  result in immediate disablement of the levers, meaning repeated attempts at unlawful entry would be pointless, as would any attempt to enter with an incorrect key. This greatly increased consumer confidence in the security of the lever lock, boosting Chubb's reputation further.  They also added a curtain that would surround the internal part of the keyhole, and would revolve with the key as it turned, rendering any attempts at picking the lock futile. 

So, Robert Barron and Jermiah Chubb  - two giants who had a major impact on the history of locksmiths. And still we have two more to go! We'll finish by looking at perhaps the most famous family in the history of locksmiths - Yale, whose name still adorns millions of locks across the world today, but before that we'll be exploring  much closer to home, telling the story of Barnsley lad, Joseph Bramah, who was so confident in his design he literally put his money where his mouth was. More on that next time. 

For more contemporary Rotherham lock advice, repairs or replacements, call 01709 711055. 



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