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History of locks, part 4

6th March 2016

Well, if you disregard the snow we've had today and the fact the temperatures have gone oddly Siberian,  it seems that spring is just around the corner. As well as the arrival of daffodils and lambs, this means the arrival of the fourth of my blogs casting a glance at the history of lock development - I imagine they'll give each arrival equal time on Springwatch. As ever, if you need to catch up on the story so far, the first three are still up on this site if you fancy a Netflix-style binge read. You will find less crystal meth here, reassuringly.  

So far we've looked at the contributions made by the  Egyptians, the Romans, Robert Barron and Jeremiah Chubb, but today we're back in South Yorkshire itself, looking at one of Barnsley's favourite sons, Joseph Bramah and the impact he had on the history of locks. 

Who was Joseph Bramah?

One of the heavyweights of the industrial revolution era, Bramah entered the world in 1749 and by the time he departed 65 years later, he had left behind a slew of new inventions. The most renowned of these was probably his hydraulic press, but amongst his other 20 or so inventions were a fountain pen, a type of fire engine, a toilet valve, and even a beer hand pump for use behind the bar -needless to say,  this one found a lot of local fans! For me, however, Bramah's greatest invention came in 1784, and was what would come to be known as the "Bramah lock".  In the same year, Joseph also formed the Bramah Lock company which remains one of the oldest security companies in the world. 

Bramah was really a man who put his money where his mouth was. He felt that his new lock was so resistant to any attempts at picking, that he offered 200 guineas to anyone who was able to pick the lock. And as you can imagine, 200 guineas in 1784 was really quite the prize. In today's money it would be *counts on figures, carries the 3*... well, it would be A LOT. The prize itself was unclaimed for over 60 years until a locksmith from across the Atlantic, Alfred Hobbs finally breached it at the Royal Exhibition in 1851. By this time, of course, Bramah was long gone, so his lock had remained unpickable in his lifetime, and even Hobbs took 16 days to manage the feat. 16 days during which you'd imagine your everyday burglar would have given up long ago, or at least attracted a bit of attention from your neighbours. 

The science behind innovative locks

Now for the science part - well, science ish. Why exactly was Bramah's lock such a success? Simply put, his device was the first where the key never actually touched the bolt. Rather, a slider mechanism served as a kind of messenger between the key and the bolt, meaning the lock did not have to be as large as its predecessors. The Bramah key was basically a tube, one end of which had uniquely shaped slots which when placed inside the keyhole would push forward and align the wafers inside the mechanism itself. When these aligned perfectly, the key was able to turn and the lock could be opened. Due to Bramah's lock containing 18 wafers, these led to 470 million different permutations, instantly reducing the chances of a different key being able to open the lock to a negligible amount. Only the specific key, matching one of these millions of combinations would do the job. 

Bramah's influence spread far and wide. Such luminaries as the Duke of Wellington and Czar Alexander I of Russia were fans of his work. His lock even makes an appearance in the work of Charles Dickens. Bramah's name became a byword for engineering quality, and several of his inventions can still be seen today at the Science Museum in that there London.  Should you wish to see it, one of his toilets can also be found (still in working order) at Osborne House on the Isle of Wight.  There is also a pub called The Joseph Bramah in Barnsley at Market Hill. One would hope that the landlord uses a descendant of the Bramah lock to keep the premises secure.  

So next time anyone asks you about famous folk from our neck of the woods, don't forget Joseph Bramah, the lad from Barnsley whose lock took security to the next level, and predated the locks of Yale by a good 70 years. Speaking of which, the work of Mr Linus Yale Jr will be the subject of our blog next month as we bound over the Atlantic and see what they were up to in their neck of the woods, making further advances, and creating a name now synonymous with locks and keys. 

If you require any advice on lock repairs, replacements or upgrades call SF Locksmith on Rotherham 01709 711 055

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