Photographs of the inside of Chubb's Wednesfield Road Works are very few, and far between. Luckily for us, ex-Chubb employee, the Reverend Bill Enoch, has kindly passed-on the following photographs that were mainly taken in the 1950s. He has also written about his memories of the company, and these are included below.

The factory, now demolished, covered about 10 acres, and  several hundred people were employed there. The following photographs show some of the highly skilled workforce, at a time when Wolverhampton could be justifiably proud if it's world-leading manufacturer of safes and strong rooms.

The Reverend Bill Enoch's Memories of the Company

My earliest memory of the factory would be during the war years when I passed it each day, either on my bike or on the single-decker trolley bus, on the way to school. The drive was full of newly-completed Bren gun carriers, which were obviously part of Chubb's war-time effort.

In February 1952, not long after completing National Service in the R.A.F. I joined the company as a clerk in the Programme Control Dept. I was put to work with Charlie Grainger who taught me a great deal about the company, its products, its history, and its place in the lock and safe industry.

Strong room doors under construction in the early 1950s.

The small doors are emergency exit doors, built to the same specification as the main doors. They were used in an emergency when there was a "lock-out" on the main door.

An enlarged view from the photograph above, showing part of the complex locking mechanism on a strong room door.

I soon discovered that there was great pride in the company and its reputation, and as my job involved spending a lot of time on the shop-floor, I came to realise that this pride existed at all levels. The reason wasn't hard to find. Chubb had held the Royal Appointment since the 1830's, and also supplied locks and safes to government departments and major banks, both here and abroad. They were probably the best-known lock and safe maker in the world, as well as being one of the oldest. They had factories in all the old Commonwealth countries, and agents all over the world.

The fact that Chubb was still very much a family business probably contributed to this sense of pride, especially as "Mr George", (more properly the Honourable George Chubb) was frequently to be seen at the factory, and was respected there. In fact it was generally felt that the company was run by gentlemen.

Another strong room door, a little nearer completion.
One of the emergency exit doors nearing completion.

When particularly impressive strong room doors or safe deposits were made, usually for overseas banks, the families of employees would be invited to inspect them on the shop floor before they were crated up and sent to the docks. It was common to find Chubb workers who started straight from school and stayed until they retired half-a-century or more later. Many of them lived within walking distance of the factory.

In the early 1950's one would see only two motor cars in the drive. These belonged to the Works Director, Mr Rushton, and the Works Manager Mr Long. For the rest there would be a couple of dozen motor-bikes and about 500 cycles in the bike-shed. Everyone else walked home or made for the bus stops outside the main gates. By the mid 1980s when I finally left the company there were probably 500 employees’ cars.

Beneath the factory there was a rifle range, built for the Home Guard during the war. After the war they formed the Chubb Rifle Club, which I joined and eventually became secretary. We competed very successfully in various Wolverhampton and Black Country Rifle Leagues.

More strong room doors under construction in the early 1950s.

The gentlemen in the foreground are George Palmer and Albert Booth.

Chubb office quality safes being painted in the early 1950s.
Another view of painting in progress.

Names come to mind from my early days:- Bert Tooby the Chief Draughtsman, and David Tate who took over when Mr. Tooby retired. Leslie Tinkler, and Jimmy McGee who were the estimators. There was George Dean the time study chap, Reg Milne the chief accountant and Les James who worked for him, John Jeavons, my boss, and Stan Reese who ran the shipping department.

Gerry Cox was the Safe Works foreman, and later Arthur Gandy. George Prior was in charge of Progress, and Bob Kilvert who could get a bet on for you in those puritan days. Jack Walker was in charge of the paint shop and his two sons worked with him, and Jack Beech was the light Shop foreman, and two of my many brothers-in-law, Ray Wilkes the works union convenor and Saiah Wilkes a painter.

Ivor Jennings; always known as “Bubble" for reasons I never discovered, and Les Minshall, Albie Booth, George Palmer, Frank Morris who shot with me in the Rifle Club. Characters, every one of them.

Filling a ladle with A.B.P. alloy (anti-blowpipe alloy) from a furnace in around 1950.

The man in the light suite on the left, with his hands in his pockets is G.C.H. Chubb, later Lord Hayter.

A close-up view of the ladle being filled from the furnace.
Casting A.B.P. alloy (anti-blowpipe alloy) in the early 1950s.
Another view showing the casting of A.B.P. alloy (anti-blowpipe alloy) in the early 1950s.
A final view of A.B.P. alloy casting.

Before the 1950's were out Chubb began to expand. New designs and materials were always necessary in the constant battle to keep safes one step ahead of the villains. Better fire resisting cabinets were developed to meet the need to protect vital records including computer media. Chubb Research came into being with highly sophisticated design and testing facilities. Some demonstrations of their testing were done before select audiences invited from police, military and insurance bodies.

Many high security locks were redesigned so that they could be mass-produced rather than hand-made by locksmiths, although these highly-skilled men remained in demand for the really specialist locks. The Wednesfield Road site must have doubled in size during the 60's and 70's.

A special case made for exhibiting the crown jewels. Chubb held the Royal warrant from around 1840.

The photograph was taken in the late 19th century.

Chubb certified fire-resisting cabinets, sizes 1 to 6. From
the 1930s.

The eventual decline of safe-making seems linked to changes in society itself. For more than a century Chubb had made ever stronger and more sophisticated safes in answer to increasingly skilled and resourceful safe-breakers. Sometimes it seemed that the villains got ahead, in which case Chubb had to come up with something better, until the next legitimate advance in cutting or boring techniques which might give the criminal the edge. And so on.

But there came a time when money began to go out of fashion as we all swapped our cash for bits of plastic. The need for the big Chubb safes and strong-room doors began to dry up, especially as the safe-makers at that moment in time were well ahead of the safe-breakers. The villains changed tack, finding it preferable to attack cash in transit rather than knock themselves out on safes they weren’t going to get into. The rest, alas, is history.

Chubb strongroom reinforcement "Tangbar" and other items about to be transported from the works. Possibly in the 1920s or 1930s.

The following photographs were kindly sent in by Adam Morris who worked at the Wednesfield Road site from 1979 when he started as an apprentice, until 2001 when it closed. He trained in the  Quality Department, before moving on to CNC machines in 1987, at a time when there were over 1,000 employees at the works.


The official staff photograph taken after the manufacture of a pair of doors for the King of Brunei, around 1995. Courtesy of Adam Morris.

Left to right:

      
Back row: ? , Mick Beeston, Norman Stevens, Mac Gardiner, Adam Morris.
Middle row: George Fones, Terry Pallant, Geoff Dunn, Steve Lloyd, Den Deg, Roger Green, Andy Burgiss, Pete Swan, Brian Jones, Sid Hobbs, Albert Rhodes, Roy Stanley, Terry Bloomer.
Front row: Bill Hickman, Alan Kimber, Mac Evans, Ron Alcock, Alan Jones

The following two photographs show the front and back page of Adam's Apprenticeship Indentures, signed by Mr Charles Barton, the MD at the time. Chubb used to take on around 20 craft apprentice's each year, at Wednesfield Road, up until about 1982. They also had Technical Apprentices and Commercial Apprentices. The in-house training centre had its own Fitting and Bench Shop, a separate Machine shop, and a staff of four. In the early to mid 1980s the training school moved to the Josiah Parkes site.


I must thank Michael Stevens for kindly sending the following photos. The first two are of the Chubb rifle team, who won the Bird Trophy in 1964. They were gathered together to celebrate their success, and were photographed at Chubb's Rifle Range which was under the factory floor.

The team members on the photographs are as follows: left to right:
Front row - Bill Heritage, Ken (?), unknown
Back row -  Michael Stevens, Harry Saich, Councillor Alan Beste

In the rifle range the targets were attached to a trolley that ran on rails. It was positioned by a rope and pulley system, similar to that seen in the film "The Great Escape". It was done this way because of the lack of roof space. If the trolley de-railed, as it would if the operator was impatient, it was quite an ordeal to crouch down and waddle along in order to put matters right. The rifles used were BSA Martini, lever action, single shot .22 calibre.

On one occasion, a club member brought a pistol to try out, and without checking, fired a couple of rounds down the range. Unfortunately, the trolley with the targets had de-railed and another member was some distance down range and not clearly in view. The ensuing altercation was quite amusing, to say the least.


The Bird Trophy.

The range was unique. The outer door lead directly into a small room, where the guns and ammunition were secured.

The roof was just above head height. The shooting positions, of which there were two, were on a raised level at about waist height, which was constant from that point onwards down the range. It was quite common to be lying in the prone shooting position and hear the large and very heavy safes being trundled about in the workshops directly above.

Having a fertile imagination was not an asset, and it was no wonder some members developed a certain reluctance to shoot when the floor above started creaking.

Michael also sent the following two photos of a version of a Chubb safe that was produced by Wedgwood.

 


If anyone can add to the story, or has any photographs of the works, please contact Bev Parker.

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