ASSA ABLOY UK’s Lockmaking Heritage

The introduction of the lock trade into Staffordshire took place as early as the reign of Queen Elizabeth; the history of lock making in Willenhall and Wolverhampton had become well established by the end of the 17th century. Originally the locks were made by individual manufacturers and were purchased by chapmen who travelled from place to place with packhorses. By the start of the 18th century the merchants had begun to establish store rooms in Wolverhampton and Birmingham, where the locks were conveyed by smiths, in wallets. The Adams trade directory of 1770 shows that the predominating industry was lock making, with 118 names listed, closely followed by buckle making, with 116. At this time 24 different types of lock are recorded, from the ordinary gate lock to the secret bag lock and the tea chest lock and often a single person represented an entire branch of the trade.  By 1855 the number of lock making concerns was recorded as Wolverhampton having 110, Bilston 2 and Willenhall 340. Based on data from the Encyclopaedia of Locks compiled by Josiah Parkes and Sons Limited in 1968, the number of different types of locks was over 120, with some examples being the asylum lock, bank lock, church door lock, miner’s locker lock, museum lock, railway point lock and ship lock.

The Company’s history of lock making can be traced back to 1868 with the formation of Yale and Towne, and the first factory in Willenhall was established in 1929, when they purchased H and T Vaughan Limited, then the largest manufacturer in Willenhall. H & T Vaughan Limited was listed as a lock maker in the 1851 census, employing 4, including an 11 and 13 year old. During 1963 the Company was acquired by Eaton Manufacturing and named Eaton Yale and Towne. In 1979 the lock making division was sold to Scovill Security Products and 1985 brought the acquisition of W J Goodwin and Son Limited, in a move to break into the aluminium and plastic door and window market. The Company was then sold to Valor in 1987 followed by the acquisition of Ingersoll Locks in 1988 and Century Locks in 1990. In 1991 the Company was purchased by Williams Holdings, who  also acquired Chubb Locks, Josiah Parkes and C E Marshall.

The original trade of the Parkes family, who were from Gornal, can be traced back to 1840. Records show that just prior to the First World War, wages varied from 3d per hour for 16 year olds to 7d per hour for over 21s. By 1917 so many men had enlisted that Parkes, like most manufacturers in the area, had to employ women workers, but conditions were not easy for women – they were not allowed to speak at work and had to meet together to walk home at the end of the day, to avoid attracting men’s attention!

The original trade of the Chubb brothers can be traced back to 1804, and in 1818 Jeremiah Chubb patented a detector lock, which 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 was to deter the nefarious interloper and also warn the owner of an attempt on his property. In 1835 Chubb’s took out a patent on a burglar resistant safe and from this time the manufacture of safes and vaults assumed equal importance with that of locks. One of the many specials made by Chubb was the huge security cage for the Koh-i-Noor diamond at the Great Exhibition of 1851, where at night the diamond descended into a vault. The first ever Post Office letter box, installed in 1851 and shown below was fitted with a Chubb lock, as most pillar boxes continued to be.

In 1997 Williams Holdings acquired Chubb Security plc and adopter a policy of importing cheap safes from Indonesia. By 1999 the Williams Group lock making was reorganised under the name of Yale Security Products UK Limited, and sold to ASSA ABLOY, a Swedish company, in August 2000. ASSA ABLOY had no interest in the production of safes and immediately sold the Chubb safe making division to Gunnebo, another Swedish company, while retaining the high security locks division.