A Gazetteer of Lock and Key Makers

Jim Evans

this gazetteer is copyright Jim Evans, 2002


The information in this very short account, and the pictures which accompany it, are mostly taken from: Sir George Hayter Chubb and Walter Graham Churcher, The House of Chubb 1818-1918, Herbert Jenkins Ltd., 1919;  Chubb & Son's Lock and Safe Co. Ltd., Men with Pride: the House of Chubb 1818-1948, published by the company, nd [1948]; and Noel Currier-Briggs, Contemporary observations on Security from the Chubb Collectanea 1818-1968. We are grateful to Yale Security Products for their permission to reproduce those images which are still in their copyright. Much of the information on the recent developments at Chubbs comes from Peter Gunn of the Chubb Archive, to whom we are also most grateful. Peter has an excellent website at www.chubbarchive.co.uk.

The brothers Charles and Jeremiah Chubb were born in Fordingbridge, Hampshire, Charles in 1779 and Jeremiah in 1793.

Charles Chubb, 1772 - 1846, the founder of the company.

Having been apprenticed as a blacksmith, Charles opened a buisness as a ships' ironmonger in Winchester before moving to Portsea, the dockland area of Portsmouth, in 1804.  

At some point Jeremiah joined Charles in the business.  Presumably it was in this business that they became aware that crime was rife and there was a demand for greater security. 

In February 1818 Jeremiah Chubb patented a "detector lock". The lock was so constructed that if an attempt was made to pick it or open it with the wrong key, the detector mechanism came into play and rendered the lock inoperable. This both deterred the nefarious interloper and warned the owner that an attempt had been made in his property. To make the lock work again the owner had to use a special regulating key supplied with the lock.

In 1824 Charles Chubb patented an improvement which did away with the need for the separate regulator key.

It is from that invention, in 1818, that the Company dates its origins. The lock seems to have been very popular and demand for their products was much boosted by their winning a government competition for a lock which could not be opened other than by its own key.

The brothers started making their locks in Portsea.In the Wolverhampton Chronicle of 10th June 1818 there appeared an advert saying that a few rim and cabinet locksmiths were wanted by J. Chubb.

    The Chubb Detector Lock.

  The original Temple Street works, photographed
  many years after Chubbs had left..

Those who responded were sent to Portsea. Perhaps even at this early stage the brothers had decided that their future lay in their locks and that Wolverhampton was the best place to make locks. 

In 1820 they set up a works in Temple Street. These works continued in use until 1836 when they moved to St. James' Square. The Portsea business was sold and Chubbs also opened a London office. 

Presumably those workers from Wolverhampton who had gone to Portsea returned home.

In 1838 the lock works were moved to premises on the corner of Horseley Fields and Mill Street, where they remained for over forty years.  "This was the old Workhouse founded by Mrs. Ann Gough in 1714".   Production was about 28,000 locks a year.

In 1835 Chubbs had taken out a patent on a burglar resistant safe and in 1837 opened their first safe works at Cowcross Street, close to Smithfield Market in London. 

From this time the manufacture of safes, vaults and safe depots assumed equal importance with that of locks.  (In 1869 the factory was moved to Glengall Road, off the Old Kent Road, London).  

Charles Chubb's youngest son John entered the business and, after Charles' death on 16th May 1846, was the sole proprietor. 

On John's death in 1872 he was succeeded by his three sons, John Charles, George Hayter and Harry Withers.  

In 1882 the firm was converted into a limited company.  Members of the Chubb family remained in the great majority on the board of the company well into the 20th century.

The diagonal bolt system was introduced by Chubbs in 1847 for locks and was later applied to safes.
Security cage for the Koh-i-Noor diamond at the Great Exhibition of 1851. 

At night the diamond descended into a vault. 

One of many specials made by the company, which included many ceremonial keys and caskets.

An advert from 1851.

This caution appeared in the Wolverhampton Post Office Directory for 1847 - and again in 1849, when the advert differs only in that there is an additional address:  28 Lord Street, Liverpool.

The advert refers to "the death of my late father and partner, Mr. Charles Chubb", says that the firm will continue as "Charles Chubb and Son", cautions "all persons not to stamp, engrave, or in any manner put our name or names, or trade marks .. on any description of locks or keys whatever" and offers a reward of £20 to anyone who gives information leading to the conviction of anyone doing so.

This is not really evidence of widespread passing off - this sort of advertisement was common at the time.

The first ever Post Office letter box, installed in 1851, was fitted with a Chubb lock, as most pillar boxes continued to be.
Chubb's was clearly expanding rapidly throughout the second half of the 19th century. They also seem to have been exporting a good deal. In 1894 they set up a subsidiary company in South Africa; in 1896 one in Australia; and they had representation in many other countries.
Chubb exhibited at the International Exhibition of 1862, held at South Kensington. The company's exhibits included the following:

From Melville & Company's 1851 Wolverhampton Directory.

An advert from the mid 1880s.

On the expiry of the lease of the Wolverhampton factory in 1882, the lock works were closed and moved to London, to return to Wolverhampton in 1889 on the completion of a new lock works, in Railway Street.

The building could accommodate 350 locksmiths.  It could also accommodate the same number of safe makers.

For the next ten years safes were made in two factories, but in 1909 Chubb's closed their London safe works in order to concentrate production in Wolverhampton, extending their existing Wolverhampton works and "new and extensive buildings for the manufacture of safes, strong-room doors, treasuries, strong rooms and safe-deposits were erected on a ten-acres site at Wednesfield Road, near the Lock Works…". The new factory included a workers' canteen. 

An advert from 1908.

Read about the new factory at Heath Town
A drawing, from an old advert, showing the "Safe Works at Wednesfield Road".

During the First World War the company turned nearly all of its works over to war production. (The short work by Chubb and Hayter contains an unusually interesting account of war work in a factory). 

The company had always had a large export trade.  In the 1920s they found it worthwhile to open a factory in Sydney.

In 1938 new lock works and offices were opened at Wednesfield Road, bringing the total factory to over 6.5 acres.

The Second World War resulted in another bout of war time production and afterwards another return to normal.

Developments in lock and security devices continued with new technologies being employed, in part at least to combat the new technologies being employed by cracksmen and thieves of all sorts.

In 1947 a major policy decision was made to move away from the hand made locks and to begin to produce a range of locks, machine made, designed to offer a high degree of security at a reasonable price.

An advert from 1908.

A large safe from the 1930s.

An advert from the 1930s.

The Wednesfield Road works, from the 1948 book "Men with Pride" and presumably photographed not long before then.

chubb09x.jpg (32860 bytes)

An advert from 1953.

Two safes from the beginning of the 20th century.  On the left Chubb's Patent Anti-blowpipe Safe with a keyless lock.  On the right an Armour-plated Strong Room door, weighing six tons.

A Chubb Safe Deposit from the middle of the 20th century. Chubb's would have designed, made and installed the whole thing.

In 1956 Chubbs took over the famous lock and safe maker Hobbs Hart and Co Ltd.

In 1961 the manufacture of fire resistant safe deposit lockers was moved to Park Lane, Wolverhampton. In 1964 new offices were opened on the Wednesfield Road site.

The last half of the 20th century saw increasing overseas competition, partly offset by a perceived increase in crime and a greater demand for security devices. The industry as a whole had to concentrate its efforts.  In 1965 Josiah Parkes and Sons (Holdings) Ltd (qv) became members of the Chubb Group, and in 1973 they purchased Lips (q.v.) in Holland.

Lips safe plate from the Trevor Dowson collection.

Also in the 1960s Chubbs took over Milner safes of Liverpool who, by that time, were Chatwood Milner, Milner having merged with the Shrewsbury safe makers, Chatwood.

Products from the middle of the 20th century.  On the left a Treasury Strong Room door, weighing 30 tons.  On the right  Treasury door.

Harry Inscoe, completing 60 years of service to Chubbs on 9th October 1918. 

Despite increasing mechanisation there still remained a place for the craftsman.

Chubbs have always liked to position themselves at the quality end of the market and to reflect this in their marketing. 

Even this p.r. gift money box, in the form of a safe, was made by Wedgwood.

The Chubb & Sons Lock & Safe Co. Ltd. was taken over by Racal Electronics in 1984.  Chubb became part of the Racal Group of Companies but continued under the registered name of Chubb & Sons Lock & Safe Co. Ltd..  Prior to the takeover Chubb had already decided to create separate Lock and Safe Divisions and these came into being in 1984 under the names Chubb Safe Equipment Co (to manufacture safes, strong rooms and fire resistant cabinets) and Chubb Lock Co. (to manufacture locks for residential and commercial markets). 

Racal's dislike of central London offices lead to Chubbs' head offices being moved from London to Wednesfield Road during 1985.  Up to this time, from the foundation of the company, the head offices had always been in London and Wolverhampton was the manufacturing centre.  

In 1986 Racal acknowledged the strength of the Chubb name by renaming the whole group of companies Racal-Chubb Products Ltd..

The steady growth of sales in the range of commercial locks, which had begun in the 1960s, continued over the next 15 to 20 years. 

By the mid 1980s production of the specialised range of safe and contract locks (for prisons, Royal Mail letter boxes, HMSO, etc.) was severely restricted.  Plans were put in place for a machine shop and assembly area at Wednesfield Road, dedicated to the production of these high security products.  April 1989 saw the launch of Chubb High Security Locks Division.

An advert from 1985.

In the mid 1990s Chubb Security plc was probably the world's largest security company, including such names as Chubb in Wolverhampton, Josiah Parkes in Willenhall, Albert Marston, C. E. Marshall and L & F Willenhall. They also owned a manufacturing and sales operation in Holland, producing locks under the Chubb Lips brand. These locks are made to European specification.  [Chubbs also had an association with the German manufacturer, Kromer, and some locks can be found marked Chubb Kromer].

In October 1992 the shareholders of the Racal Electronic Group approved the £650 million hiving off of Chubb Security plc, a firm that employed more than 1000 people.  The reasons behind this decision to float Chubb were complex but a hostile bid for Racal-Chubb in 1991 by Williams Holdings was a major factor.

Chubb Locks Ltd. came into being just prior to the decision to transfer all commercial local production to the Josiah Parkes sites in Portobello and Union Street, Willenhall.   They made redundant 100 of the 360 employees who worked for the lock division. This left Chubb Safe Equipment Co and Chubb High Security Locks as the sole occupants of the Wednesfield Road site.

The financial results of the Company for the year ending 31 March 1995 showed Chubb with a turnover of £23.4m and Josiah Parkes with a turnover of £40.1m. Chubb and Sons Lock and Safe Co. made most of its £29.1m turnover from safes, but also manufactured high security locks for prisons and banks. C.E.Marshall concentrated exclusively on their motor vehicle sector. Its turnover was £20.8m.

In April 1997 Williams Holdings finally acquired Chubb Security plc.  Many people thought that negotiations had been going on behind the scenes for some time.  Williams had already acquired Yale in 1991 and so there was now a combined holding which included Yale, Parkes (union) and Chubbs.  [Some further information on these companies under the Williams regime, can be found in their respective entries in this Gazetteer].

An advert from 1903.

Williams’s policy became to import cheap safes from Indonesia, which resulted in major job losses over the next two years. In August 1999 Chubb Safe and Security Equipment Division at Wednesfield Road, Wolverhampton, employed 350 people and were reported to be looking to reduce this by 10%. 

In August 2000 Williams Holdings sold Chubb Safe and the High Security Equipment Divisions, with the rest of their lock making interests, including Yale and Parkes (Union), to Assa-Abloy of Sweden. The deal was finally signed in August 2000. 

Assa-Abloy, having no interest in the production of safes, immediately sold the Chubb safe making division to Gunnebo, another Swedish Company, while retaining the High Security Locks side. At the time it was reported that the Safe division employed 200 and the Security locks side 120. (Note that Chubb had always treated their safe and lock making operations as separate operations, with the safe makers making their own locks.  Strong rooms were always part of the safe making division).

On the 15th December, 2000 Gunnebo announced they had carried out a worldwide review of business and decided to cut about 40% of their European safe manufacturing operations. That meant they were closing the Chubb Safe works at Wolverhampton and that 170 jobs would go. (Express and Star 15/12/2000)

This cut back had no effect on the Chubb Locks Custodial Services Ltd (formerly Chubb High Security Lock Division) which was owned by Assa Abloy and operated from the same Wednesfield Road site. In April 2002 Custodial Services moved to a new, purpose built, factory and offices in Well Lane, Wednesfield. The commercial products continue to be manufactured, along with Union and Yale locks, at Wood Street, Willenhall, now the site of the Morrisons store.

In 2004 Chubb Yale Union opened a new distribution centre on the old Henry Meadows site in Cannock Road, Wolverhampton. When Meadows had closed, Chubbs used part of the site for distribution, for a time. The company has thus closed the circle on this site.

This part of Assa Abloy now trades through Security Products UK Ltd., based in School Street, Portobello. The company still uses the Yale and Union brand names.

The end of Chubb locks. From the London Gazette.

The old Josiah Parkes, Union, and Yale factories in Willenhall are long gone. Assa Abloy is now based in School Street, Willenhall where high security products including door handles, door locks, access control systems, wireless locking systems, and door closers are produced.


An old Chubb padlock, photographed where it was in use in 2003, securing the gates of an old factory in Wolverhampton

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