I joined Chubb as a student apprentice on 4th September 1950, straight from Wolverhampton Grammar School where I had specialised in science. My original career ambition had been to go to Sandhurst as a professional soldier, but I had failed the medical due to slightly defective vision. The Wolverhampton Juvenile Employment Bureau were most helpful and on being advised that part of my reason for a military career was "to see the world", suggested an interview with Chubb, who were seeking young men to train in security engineering and then to join the Export Department. I was interviewed by Leonard Dunham, the Sales Director and Leslie Tinkler who doubled his job as chief estimator with that of apprentice supervisor.

 A strong room emergency exit door nearing completion.
 Courtesy of the Reverend Bill Enoch.
Most apprentices started work in the tool room where they were introduced to engineering machinery, measuring instruments, and the basics of hand fitting.

I was extremely fortunate to be trained by Albert Ling, who was the model maker, responsible for pre production safes etc, based on the new drawings.

Our charge hand was a larger than life character, Ron Brown who later progressed to the Research Department, where amongst other things, he handled the explosives used for testing safes, and the weapons used in testing bullet resisting materials.

At that time we were working a forty four hour week, and during term times apprentices were expected to attend Wolverhampton and Staffordshire Technical College, later Wolverhampton Polytechnic and then Wolverhampton University, for one day a week and
as many evening sessions as demanded by our course.

Every six months, apprentices changed their place of work, so as to familiarise themselves with the whole factory and its production.

My next place of work was the Lock Shop, which consisted of a very large number of repetition lathes, milling machines etc., mainly operated by women under male tool setters, and the locksmiths benches at which the locksmiths, whose apprentices underwent a separate course to the safe works apprentices, produced the whole range of locks

  Assembling a strong room emergency exit
  door. Courtesy of the Reverend Bill Enoch.

  George Palmer constructing a strong room door. Courtesy of
  the Reverend Bill Enoch.
My next area was the Light Product Works, where fire resisting filing cabinets, safe deposit lockers, metal deed and cash boxes were produced.

Initially, I was based with Horace Ward, the shop foreman, following which I had spells with Walter Webb, charge hand of the fire resisting filing cabinet section and then with Bill Stean on the safe deposit locker section.

Bill had a sideline as a dance band leader and was a popular figure at local dances.

A spell in the safe works followed, where I spent a fair amount of time on the vault door section, although I was encouraged to look over other sections such as safes, night deposit traps, the foundry, and heavy machine bays. Most interesting were the number of relatives who all worked in the same areas. The Hamlin brothers, who made all the night deposit safes with their apprentice, Dennis Unit, who later became a senior manager. The Moore family were welders and one of my fellow apprentices, also a Moore, later became a first class welder. The Roberts family were well represented and over the years were known as "Old Cock", "Young Cock", "Bantam" and Chick", although I remember only Chick Roberts.

Whilst in the safe works, I was seen again by Mr. Dunham, during one of his visits, who enquired whether I still wished to go to the Export Department. On receiving an affirmative answer he arranged for me to transfer to the Drawing Office, under David Tate, the Chief Draughtsman.

I must confess I was not a good draughtsman but was greatly helped by David Tate who allowed Ron Swift and myself to carry out many fire resisting tests on his behalf as he strove to develop better fire resisting materials. We also made a number of small prototypes which were most interesting, particularly when they entered production, based on my drawings. Ron Swift went on to become a first class designer and was responsible for many of the later security features for high grade safes.

A nearly completed strong room door. Courtesy of the
Reverend Bill Enoch.
For a short period I spent time with the Time Study department who were responsible for deciding how long the various items of equipment should take to make (and therefore the labour cost). This background was extremely useful in estimating production time and cost when I joined Export Department, and non standard items were called for.

  Casting anti-blowpipe alloy in the early 1950s. Courtesy of the
  Reverend Bill Enoch.
After a further brief spell with John Jeavons and Charles Grainger, who dealt with the programming of orders for Chubb products, I was transferred to Birmingham sales office, then based in Newhall Street to start learning the basis of selling Chubb products.

I was extremely fortunate in that Frank Hall, the sales manager, let me deal with the showroom and also go out on calls from time to time, and also assist Peter Dewey, a first class engineer who dealt with repairs and breakdowns.

Peter and I became close friends and in later years I was able to recommend him for Overseas Installations, which until then had been carried out by one or two works engineers, notably, Les Minshall. Finally in September 1955, my indentures came to an end and I awaited call up for National Service at the age of twenty two.
Back From National Service

Following my National Service in the RAF, I resumed work at Wolverhampton on 1st January, 1956. I was attached to Mr. Reg Hoye, manager of the Lockworks and given a refresher course.

I was involved in the early attempts to manufacture certain locks without all the hand fitting by locksmiths. This work was carried out at Leyton, in East London, at the former Hobbs Hart factory The experiment was not altogether successful but it gave an insight on what was required to manufacture locks in this way.

For the final month of my time at the factory, I was allowed to spend time on the locksmiths benches, not usually granted to any except lock apprentices, where I spent time hand fitting locks and dealing with three and four wheel combination locks.

Finally, in August 1958, I transferred to London sales to take up my career.

A Chubb Treasury Vault door.

Since joining the Company in 1950, rapid expansion had taken place and in this period, Chatwood-Milner, itself formed by the amalgamation of Chatwood and Milner, was taken over. Hobbs Hart, Josiah Parkes (Union locks), Burgot Alarms, Rely a Bell, Pyrene, Read and Campbell and others were acquired to form the rapidly growing security group. Additionally, a company had been set up in Canada and the existing operations in Australia and South Africa expanded.

Another Chubb Treasury Vault door.

In addition to this rapid growth, much development work was taking place in the construction of safes and vault doors to counter a large number of burglary attacks.

Many men had been trained in the use of explosives, cutting equipment and modem tools during their military service and as much security equipment in use dated back to the early parts of the twentieth century, the contest between modern explosives and cutting equipment, and obsolete safes, was very one sided.

The banks especially, were keenly aware of the problems posed and instituted large upgrading programs in their branches, which kept the security companies, Chubb included, at full stretch.

This period saw the development of the new relocking devices from the pre-war "static" varieties which could be beaten by preloading the bolt throwing handle during an explosive attack, to the final version of the Chubb "live" re-locker which operated every time the safe was locked, which together with the handle clutch mechanism, which disconnected the handle from the mechanism when locked, effectively closed this avenue of attack. As a result, explosive attacks became very rare during the final years of my service.

Oxy acetylene metal cutting equipment had been available to safebreakers since the late 1800's and Chubb had developed a ferrous based material which we called A.B.P. (anti blow pipe) which was practically impervious to attack by oxy acetylene, and this material which was cast in thick slabs was used in heavy bankers safes and vault doors.

In the late 1950's however a new cutting device utilising both the electric arc and oxygen was produced to cut up the complex alloys which had been used in the manufacture of military tanks etc. This was the oxy arc cutter. The first successful attack using this new tool was carried out on a London bank in the late 1950's. The perpetrators were caught as the tool was so new that the manufacturers kept records of all purchasers. It quickly became obvious that Chubb A.B.P. could be penetrated by this new weapon and after much research a material comprising copper and extremely hard inclusions which Chubb called Anti Arc was produced.

An advert from 1968.

This material not only protected against penetration by oxy arc but also effectively countered the threat posed by the new tungsten carbide tipped drills, and the percussion drilling machine which could bore through most hardened steels and concretes.

A further version of this protective material was developed using aluminium in lieu of copper, which was found to be ideal for the protection of the bodies of safes. Very soon a process was developed using the aluminium based material, which enabled the foundry to cast a five sided "bell" on a heavy steel inner shell, and this system quickly replaced the old iron based protection used in the bodies of high grade safes, and remained in use until the closure of the Wednesfield Road plant.

This form of protection, allied with a highly sophisticated drill protection, which covered the vulnerable points of the Chubb "isolator" bolt locking mechanism, was used in the highest grade production safe produced at Wolverhampton, "The Sovereign".

An advert from 1972.

Until my retirement from the Company at the end of 1991, no successful attack was ever recorded on this type of unit. For cheaper range safes, special concrete protective layers were developed by the Research Department, which gave incredibly high levels of protection. These concretes utilised metal and synthetic fibres to prevent the shattering, which normal concretes are subject to, and strict quality control enabled concretes having extremely high crushing strengths to be produced.

The early attempts to produce locks more cheaply than by the traditional hand fitting by locksmiths eventually bore fruit. Whilst domestic locks (those for use on company products) were still manufactured by skilled locksmiths, those sold to the general public for household and commercial use were manufactured by a process of extremely accurate machining which enabled semi skilled fitters to assemble them without compromising security.

The Later Years

The vastly enlarged company fortunes prospered until the early 1970's when a further addition to the Chubb group was made. The Gross company manufactured a range of mechanical cash registers, which had been extremely popular with many large chain stores. Unfortunately, insufficient research had been undertaken to move from mechanical machines to the coming electronic and computer controlled systems. It became obvious that unless something could be done to remedy this situation, Gross would go out of business with the loss of a large number of jobs.

Naturally this prospect horrified the Labour government of the day and a high level search was instituted to seek a rescuer for the ailing company. Chubb was one of the possible companies approached and finally it is said after certain government inducements, Chubb made an offer which was accepted. It quickly became obvious that Gross was beyond saving, in spite of large amounts of capital being injected in an attempt to catch up on the neglected research work.

Finally the cash register business was closed causing a loss of the capital which had been denied to the core businesses of the Group. This financial blow had a severe effect on the stock market standing of the Chubb Group, as dividends paid to investors suffered and also reduced funds for the development of the group.

Chubb quickly became a target in the financial press, as the likely victim of a take over bid themselves and on many occasions G.E.C. were said to be the likely predators.

In fact, a senior director assured me that no take over bid was ever received from G.E.C. or anyone else, but over a period of time, the drip, drip, drip of rumour had the desired effect.

A final view of a Chubb Treasury Vault door.

Racal, headed by Ernest Harrison was a long time competitor of G.E.C.; in fact it was reported that there was considerable rivalry between Arnold Weinstock of G.E.C. and Harrison. Eventually, Racal launched a bid for Chubb, some said to spite G.E.C. and as Harrison had something of a cult status in the City, as a financial wizard, the bid succeeded.

The main casualties were most of Chubb's senior management, including Lord Hayter, W.E. Randall, and W.G. Bannochie, all of whom had considerable service with Chubb and had been successful. Their replacements under the Racal regime were of a much lower quality and many employees, including me, could not understand why Racal had bought the group and for what purpose. Initially, Chubb were amalgamated into the Racal Group, but the promised increase in value failed to occur and eventually Chubb were de-merged from Racal and set up again as a stock market quoted company.

In the early years of Racal ownership, many in Chubb, myself included, wondered why we had been taken over.

An advert from 1974.

 One explanation given to me whilst on holiday in the West Indies, occurred during a lunch with two Racal directors, who happened to be visiting the island where we shared a common agent. The managing director of our agent, having mentioned my presence on the island to the Racal men, acted as the host. During lunch I was quizzed about many aspects of Chubb and the reaction of Chubb staff to the take over. I answered to the best of my ability and towards the end of a very good lunch, one of the Racal men asked if I had any questions of my own.

I enquired the reason for the take over when nothing appeared to have changed. "We believed that you had a very sophisticated electronics department", I was told. I protested that within the Group we had alarm and fire companies but really their work comprised standard electrical fitting rather than specialised electronics. To this I received the amazing answer, "Yes, we know that now".

It appeared that an error had been made and it was believed that all towns where a Chubb Super Centre sticker was displayed - which indicated a major lock stockist, in fact had an alarm control centre. I was simply staggered and to this day I cannot believe that such an elementary mistake could have occurred. But if it had then at least there was some sense in the take over.

As time passed and Racal desperately attempted to provide the "value" which Harrison had frequently told the City that he could provide, the accountants resorted to what had become a very popular measure at this time; discarding staff as a company's greatest expense, in order to improve the "bottom line".

These voluntary redundancies were a very fashionable way forward in many businesses at the time and Chubb were no exception. Gradually, any staff who might have been considered as excess left and as further redundancies took place, the staff involved were vital for production at Wolverhampton. More and more redundancies were called for until finally in 1991, it was decided that not only production personnel but also management and sales must also be "downsized".

In an attempt to save the positions of some of our younger and very promising staff, I volunteered to go, on the basis that after forty one years service, I had very few more years to go until the official retirement age of sixty five. On December 31st, 1991 I left the office for the last time. Unfortunately, this did not save the prospects for many of our younger staff, who were dismissed, which I felt to be extremely unfortunate as they were the future life blood of the company.

Shortly after my retirement, Racal sold the Chubb business to Williams, who owned the Yale lock company. There had been rumour for some years that Williams were seeking to acquire Chubb; presumably to consolidate their lock business.

After a few years however, Williams decided to break up and sell off their security business. Fire Alarms and manned security were bought out by United Technologies, an American concern, whilst the locks and safes were purchased by Assa Abloy, a Finnish security organisation, who then sold on the safe operations to Gunnebo, another Finnish concern.

The Wednesfield Road factory was closed down and the lock manufacture moved to Willenhall for Commercial locks, and to a new smaller manufacturing plant for the high security (prison) locks.

An advert from 1970.

There was great sadness amongst many of the former staff, that after almost one hundred and seventy years, the safe making skills, in which Chubb had been world leaders, were finally lost.

It has often been said that in this modem age, where cash is not so significant, such skills were no longer required. One has only to recollect however, that precious metals, jewels and other valuable commodities still need protection from theft and that cash is still vitally necessary for many transactions, to realise that there is still a place for high grade security products. It is a pity that the house of Chubb no longer exists to meet these requirements.

© D. R. E. Ibbs. August 2007.

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