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History of locks, part 3

7th February 2016

Valentine's Day is on the horizon and I can't think of any better way than to celebrate this fact than with the third in my series of blogs looking at the history of the development of locks. In fact, and here's a free tip for you, why not print out the story so far from December and January, along with today's entry, and read them all to your loved one on Valentine's Day morning as the ultimate romantic gesture. I imagine your luck will be in for the rest of February. No need to thank me, really. 

So I'd better get on with it really for the good of the region's love-lives. You may remember that we left the story of locks just after the Ancient Egyptians and Romans had made their significant developments - see the last 2 blogs for a quick recap. The surprising thing is that after the Romans had done their stuff, there were really no other significant developments for the next 1700 years. I mean, occasionally we might have a lazy Sunday and worry we've not got much done, but compared to the world of lock development, our productivity levels are through the roof.  After such a long time, would there even be any more progress in terms of lock inventions? 

Taking lock innovation to the next level

Happily for our industry, and specifically for this blog, the answer is a resounding "Yes". In fact to use the old London bus analogy, after waiting 1700 years for someone to revolutionise the locksmith world, suddenly four came along within 50 years of each other. Okay, four buses in 50 years might not sound a lot but if you'd been waiting at the interchange for 1700 years you'd think all your Christmases had come at once. In the late 18th and 19th century, four lock developers entered the industry and they remain influential to this day. They would drag lock design out of the Ancient times and carry it forward into the new industrial world.

Robert Barron was the first of these men. His double-acting lever tumbler lock did away with the wards used in Egyptian locks, and instead introduced levers that would lock and unlock the door. This was a revolution, pardon the pun, in lock design, and Barron's mechanism acted as the prototype for many lock mechanisms used today in the 21st Century. 

But what made Barron's lever lock better? Simply put, in a basic lever lock, the bolt is held in position by the lever, meaning it cannot be unlocked. However, when a key is placed in the keyhole, it lifts a spring from a notch on the bolt, which in turn forces the bolt forward. All that has to happen is the notch has to be cleared - the amount by which it is cleared is not important. What Barron then did was revamp the design to mean that the springs had to rise exactly the right amount rather than just clear an arbitrary point. Thus if the spring was raised just a touch too high beyond the right point, the lock would still not open. This added greater precision to the relationship between the key and the lock and ensured that the previously used skeleton keys that were able to open the older style ward locks with little problem, became worthless overnight. 

Fast-forward four decades and a name with which you may well be familiar, Chubb,  shook up the industry again. Charles and Jeremiah Chubb were originally ironmongers who moved into the locksmith industry in around 1818. They set up their own lock business, based in Wolverhampton, through which they would develop and make their new invention, and Chubb locks are still a name well known in the lock industry today. 

Jeremiah is the brother who generally gets the credit for their big invention - the Chubb Detector Lever Lock. In a "Standing on the Shoulders of Giants" scenario, he took the basics of Barron's lock and tinkered about with its configuration. Jeremiah made the gates in the lock be part of the levers themselves rather than having the gates as part of the bolt as in previous designs. This simple change increased security greatly and the Chubbs' design is still widely used today  all around the world.

The first anti-picking locks

The lock the Chubb brothers designed also had the advantage of showing whether anyone had actually tried to pick it. If any would-be burglar tried to breach the system, the levers would immediately disable themselves, meaning any further attempts would prove fruitless and the home owner would also be able to tell that someone had been trying to break in. The device also included a sort of metal curtain that moved with the key as it revolved, meaning less of the internal mechanism was exposed to any picking attempts. These additions led to great consumer confidence in the Chubbs' design and a reputation for security that lasts to this day. 

That's a brief look at two of the big names in lock development then - take a bow, Robert Barron and Jeremiah Chubb. And that's only half the story - we still have two more to go. One of these will be an American whose name still appears on millions of keys even now (Yale), and the other will be very close to home - Barnsley born Joseph Bramah who was so convinced of the security of his design that he issued an open challenge to the world to breach it, with the offer of a huge financial reward. More on that in March. 

For more contemporary lock advice, repairs or replacements, call 01226 399 067 for a Barnsley Locksmith

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