Locksmith deene


Valerie Olifent

Figure 1 The Banbury Lock
Above, a close up photograph of an 18th century Banbury lock mechanism (cap removed) from Theddlethorpe Church in Lincolnshire which is in the care of The Churches Conservation Trust. Note the decoration to the tumbler and spring.
Below, a diagram of the Banbury lock, showing mechanism set into a wooden stock, and the distinctive key with a collar set within the width of the bit.

When considering church locks it seems particularly appropriate that the earliest depiction of a lock should be found on a bas-relief in an Egyptian temple at Kamak dating from 2000BC. Although not immediately recognisable to modern eyes, and being somewhat cumbersome in operation, it functioned effectively. The principle, that of raising pins to create a shearline to allow movement, was rediscovered by Linus Yale Senior in 1848 and further developed and refined by his son Linus Junior between 1861 and 1865 to give the pin tumbler cylinder lock so widely used today. The Greeks are credited with the invention of the keyhole, the point of a sickle shaped implement being inserted through a small hole in the door, and, with a slight rotary motion, closing or withdrawing a large bolt A Linear B tablet dating to 1300BC, excavated in Crete, was translated.

Thus the Mayors and their wives and the Vice-Mayors and key-bearers and supervisors of figs and hoeing will contribute bronze for ships and the points of arrows and spears.

Keys are mentioned in the Old Testament, notably in Judges ch3 v25, written around 1170BC and Isaiah ch22 v22, from about 740BC. The earliest lock excavated came from the Palace of Sargon at Khorsabad in Iraq, dating from 700BC. By the time that Vesuvius erupted in 79AD, when a metal worker's shop was overwhelmed, locks had been developed and had assumed a form recognisable to modern eyes. Many have been excavated both from Pompeii and from the numerous Roman sites in Europe and the Middle East. As they were now made from metal a large number have survived. Padlocks with a spring tine mechanism were found at York when the Jorvik Viking settlement of 850 was discovered.

A small but useful source of information from this period through to medieval times comes from the art of the period; carvings, wall paintings, illuminated manuscripts and stained glass. Depictions of everyday life sometimes show contemporary locks and keys and portrayals of St Peter can be a rich source. Even the Bayeux Tapestry shows Duke Conan of Brittany surrendering the keys of the town of Dinan to William on the point of his lance. Written records start to appear in the medieval period. The surviving accounts for the refurbishment of Portchester Castle in 1385 record the purchase of locks, and in 1394 London smiths were forbidden to make keys from an impression 'by reason of the mischiefs which have happened'. In 1411 Charles IV of Germany created the title of 'Master Locksmith' and by 1422 the London Guilds included the 'Lockyers'.

Some locks still in use do survive from this time, in historic college and university buildings as well as churches, but most are in private collections or museums. In the Victoria and Albert Museum you can see the 'Beddington Lock' which accompanied Henry VIII on his travels through the kingdom, being installed on his chamber door wherever he stayed to ensure his security and privacy. In the accounts for July 1532 is written 'Item - paid to the smythe that carryeth the lock about wh the King in reward VIIsVIc'. After the distress of the Civil War and the privations of the Commonwealth, the Restoration of the monarchy in the 17th century saw a flowering of architecture and the arts, which extended even to locks and keys. Locks were made of an intricacy and beauty rarely equalled, often with the mechanism as highly decorated and engraved as the case.

Figure 2 The parts of a key

Even until the mid 18th century and beyond, when elegance ruled, a degree of decoration of the mechanism sometimes persisted, enclosed within the plain, simple lockcase. The latter half of the 18th century saw the beginnings of the Industrial Revolution. In 1778 Robert Barron took out a patent to improve the security of locks, earning him the appellation 'Father of the English Lever System' (see Figure 5). Some of the locks with his 'modern' and distinctive mechanism and keys can still be found in churches. In 1784 Joseph Bramah, the inventive Yorkshireman, patented the Bramah lock, an entirely new concept in lock design which utilized a series of sliders in a circular pattern to provide exceptional security. Building upon these major advances the 19th century saw a proliferation of patents for 'new and improved' mechanisms and developments, not all of which have stood the test of time. This period also saw advances in the manufacture of key blanks. Previously all hand forged, the advent of water and steam powered drop hammers brought a stamping process to key making, superseded by the discovery of malleableising cast iron which came into use for casting key blanks from around 1816: these processes are reflected in the changing shape of key bows as mass production was introduced.


Many different types of locks can be found on church doors, depending on age, location and patronage. They may be either rim locks, mortice locks or even padlocks, and be of completely metal construction or of wood and iron. The doors of many historic churches still carry an old wooden lock although often you find that a modem 5-lever mortice lock has been installed along side it to meet insurance requirements. Some of these old locks will date from the foundation of the church and some from when the original door was last replaced, but many are the result of a Victorian makeover.

Figure 3 A cast iron safe: this safe is typical
of those produced in response to the George
Rose Act of 1812

The generic name for the family of wooden locks is 'woodstock locks' a term dating back to the specialisation of trades springing from smithing, with some terms in common between the various branches. The earliest form is the 'Banbury lock' (Figure 1) in which the wooden stock is an integral part, with the metal components of the lock being mounted in the wood; the key is of a very distinctive form, with the collar being located within the width of the bit. Before industrialisation many Banbury locks were made by local craftsmen and so, especially amongst early ones, there are many variations to the standard deadbolt pattern, some having latchbolts in addition, operated by the key; some having double bolts and some double-handed for use in either a right-hand or left-hand application. There were also great differences, especially in the 18th century in the external shape of the keyhole, necessitating special keys, an additional security measure.

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