A Gazetteer of Lock and Key Makers

Jim Evans

this gazetteer is copyright Jim Evans, 2002

JAMES GIBBONS LTD - From 1897 to 1918

This photo of Gibbons staff was probably taken at about the turn of the century.  There are 39 people in it.  They are probably the office staff. (photo by courtesy of Frank Spittle)

On the 29th November 1899 Mr. F J J Gibbons was granted a patent for the "Mastership" two-keyhole lock.  This made master keying of mortice locks more secure, as the master key was inserted into a separate keyhole from the ordinary key and was of a different form.  This meant that a master key could not be made by the simple process of filing off parts of one of the ordinary keys.

A Gibbons' catalogue of 1952 explains the Mastership system:  "In making locks to differ under the old system, the levers (A) of the locks must all be made the same so that the master key may go over them and the only variance that is made on the locks is on the wards (B).  It is thus simple for the ward to be filed out and an ordinary key made into a master key.  This has already been done at a large hotel in London.

With the two keyhole system all the locks are varied on the levers, so that one key does not indicate in the slightest manner what another key may be on the building.  It is therefore impossible to alter an ordinary key into a master;  they vary in size the master key being larger than the master."

You could also have a three tier system so that the ordinary keys would, for example, only open one hotel room door, the master key would, open all the doors on one floor of the hotel but not those on any other floor, but the Grand Master Key could open any door on any floor.

The original "Mastership" lock was replaced in 1960 by a new patent system for a wardless lock on a single keyhole system.  The "New Mastership" system achieved the same degree of security without the complication of the larger size of the two key lock.

At some point in the early 20th century Gibbons started making safes.  If they had been making them in 1897 the book referred to on the previous page would have mentioned them. 

This photo (and the one of the mansion itself) has been provided by Siamak Soroushian and shows a Gibbon safe in a 100 year old mansion  in the ancient city of Kerman in Iran.  Mr. Soroushian inherited this house from his father and his grandfather. 

And this is the mansion where the safe is located.

The mansion is now on the register of historical-cultural foundations of Iran.  The safe may have been installed when the house was built.

This safe is the only Gibbons safe of which we currently have evidence.  It is also of interest as showing a trade connection between Iran and the UK and is the only evidence we currently have of trade between Wolverhampton and Western Asia. 

Gibbons had over 200 patents and registered designs.  In addition, by the mid 1920s, they had designed and made a "Thief Proof Rim Night Latch" to combat the competition from the "Yale Cylinder Pin Tumbler Lock".

This view of the factory comes from the letterhead shown above.  It can be compared with the roughly contemporary photo shown in the 1897 account of the company.  The buildings to the left do not necessarily form part of Gibbons' works.

Unusually for such drawings of factories this one has people of approximately the right size, rather than very tiny figures, often used to exaggerate the size of the buildings. And, beneath the roundel are the words "Floor space 45000 square feet".  

In the First World War the works, like nearly all of Wolverhampton's factories, was turned over to war work.  The photos from a post war catalogue show this war work and the transition back to peace time working.  The captions are from the original brochure.

Grenade Shop.  Armistice: the last of 3,000,000 grenades.

Grenade Shop in course of reconstruction.

Grenade Shop.  The first 1,000 Government "Cottage" windows.

The dangerous work of making grenades seems to have been carried out by women.  One suspects that the windows were made by men.

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Continue the firm's story after 1918