First Generation

John and Mary Worrall

John Worrall (1754 - 1834) settled in Willenhall during the 1780s. Like many in the Willenhall area, he used a small building at the back of his house to make locks. There was no machinery in those days; the locks had to be made entirely by hand. The master locksmith was intelligent and inventive,  John and Mary had three children, who were baptised in St. Giles’ Church, Willenhall.  

Second Generation

William John (1788-1851) Elizabeth

Lock makers taught their sons to make locks at a very early age, maybe as young as nine or ten. It was usual for family members to help with the business, as young John did. The children rarely received a school education, but they became professionals in their trade.  

Young John Worrall married Mary Taylor on the 5th April 1812 in St. Peter's Church, Wolverhampton. They had four sons, who also became locksmiths.  

This picture, taken in the mid twentieth century, shows a derelict lock factory at the back of a house in Willenhall. In the 18th and 19th centuries this building would have been just one of the many used in the family lock making industry, but naturally it would have been in better condition.

Third Generation

Daniel (1813-1877)
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Thomas (1818-1894)
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And so father, son and grandsons would be at their workbenches each day making the different parts that would eventually become a lock, which was a hard job. They relied on the locally found coal and iron to produce the wrought iron needed for the locks. The iron was bought in round or square bars and hammered over the anvil, usually at night. Parts were hammered out to a rough size and then filed down to shape. The file and hammer were in fact the most important tools of the locksmith. Any holes in the locks were punched in over the anvil or drilled out with a bow and stock, a process carried on until very late into the nineteenth century.

To sell their products the master of the firm used to travel every Saturday to the factors in Wolverhampton or even Birmingham, and return with orders for the next week or so. Padlocks could be sold in the nineteenth century at a wholesale price of 6/6d. per gross and retail at a penny each. In 1833, according to the Bridgen’s Directory of the Borough of Wolverhampton, John Worrall was a Rim Locksmith, of New Square [maybe New Street], Willenhall. In 1834, at the age of 78, John Worrall senior died. His son, John, carried on the business of lock making and moved to Walsall Street.  
This is from an etching by an unknown artist of the locksmith's forge in the late eighteenth century.  

Daniel, his eldest son (1813 - 1877) also worked in the business. He married Ellen Meanley from Bromley, Niddlesex and after their son, Thomas, was born in 1837 they moved to East St. George, London, where they had two more sons. During the time they lived there Daniel was employed as a locksmith.

Fourth Generation

Thomas (1837-1900s)
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In 1841 when the first national census was taken, John and Mary Worrall, who were in their fifties, were living with three of their sons, Thomas, David and John (who were the third generation), and making locks in King Street, Willenhall. Also living with them and working in the lock factory were four apprentices whose ages were 10, 11, 12 and 14, and a labourer. The ten-year-old apprentice was named John Hunt, whose father had died.

As apprentices were a cheap form of labour for the lock makers, they deserve a mention, as they were a part of the history of the lockmaking trade. 

Children who were in the care of the Parochial Officers or in the Workhouse were placed as apprentices to the lock-makers, to spend ten years as members of their household. Some were badly treated and made to work long hours, sometimes from dawn to dusk each day with very little to eat and sometimes poor food.

The Apprentices often developed humped backs; because of their age their bones were still undeveloped.

This pictures shows how they had to stand for many hours in an unnatural position whilst they filed the metal.

A lot of them died from consumption or other ailments because of the cramped space in the workshops.

When nearing the end of his apprenticeship, at around the age of twenty or twenty one, an apprentice had to design and make a lock entirely on his own. These locks were usually very decorative, and had a very complex system of wards. They would often have unusual extras, such as a set of chimes that played when the bolt was “shot”, or an indicator to show the number of times the lock had to be used. These locks were then sold for a very high price by the apprentice's master.

The qualified apprentices then moved on, sometimes being self-employed as a Journeyman Locksmith travelling the country, as the master could not afford to pay them a man's wage. 

This young boy, Alexander Pitt, born in 1895 was twelve years old and working in a lock factory when this picture was taken. He had left school when he was eleven. 

He had been a pupil at the Catholic School where the parents had to pay threepence per week for their children's education. Children at that time had to stay at school until they were twelve years old, and so his parents had to continue paying threepence per week until he could officially leave school. 

His job in the lock factory was filing, which was a hard job. Because he wasn't tall enough to reach the bench, he had to stand on a box to carry out this arduous task.

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