The History of Locks

12th December 2015

It's nearly Christmas and you might be expecting me to do a blog relating to the festive season. Well perhaps this locksmith isn't going to play by those rules. They don't call me the Renegade Locksmith for nothing, you know. Okay, they don't call me that at all. But if they knew I wasn't doing a Christmas-related blog they might. Instead, I'm going to talk about *big intake of breath*.... a brief history of locks. *waits for stunned silence followed by rapturous applause*. Oh..okay, maybe the applause comes later.

A Brief Look Back In Time

Locks go back a long, long way, to a time before even Bruce Forsyth was alive - around 4,000 years to be more or less precise. An ancient Egyptian palace is the location for the first known lock although, much to my dismay, when archaeologists discovered it, they found it wasn't an anti-snap lock. Indeed, compared to the locks we have today it was a very crude example, comprising a bolt securing the door with a wooden pin which would then fall into a small hole, making the door secure. A very primitive key (of up to 2 feet in length) could then be used to raise the pin up to gain entry.

The Ancient Greeks also entered the lock-making game, and it appears they came up with the idea of having the bolt on the inside of the door rather than the outside. The key could still be inserted from the outside to work the mechanism, and this hiding of the workings helped improve security, even if the locks were actually easier to pick than the Egyptian examples. 

Not to be outdone, the Romans took the Greek design and added a twist - this time by making the  locks out of iron rather than wood, leading to a greater robustness. They also created keys made out of metal and, perhaps more importantly, keys that were a lot smaller than their forerunners. Now, instead of being a couple of feet in length, keys could be carried round more easily. The drawback of course, was they could also be more easily lost so next time you misplace your keys, give a silent curse to the Romans for making them so losable. 

It seems that for many centuries, the lock did not really change much in design until a flurry of activity in the late 18th Century. One of the major failings of the lock over this period was that they were still easy to breach and no-one seemed able to make them more difficult to pick. Instead, the focus was more on hiding the lock so that thieves could not find it rather than improving the actual mechanism itself. 

A Shift In Lock Making

This all changed in the late 18th Century though. First, a designer called Robert Barron invented the Barron Lock (weird coincidence how they shared a name, I know). The Barron lock consisted of a double acting tumbler lock, and so was much more secure than previous designs.  After Barron came Jeremiah Chubb, a name synonymous with lock designs. He added a tamper-proof spring that, when anyone tried to pick the lock, would catch and prevent access. It would also leave signs that there had been an attempted picking. Chubb locks are still very much around today - one of the major names in the industry. 

It took a Yorkshireman to really shake things up of course. Yes,  Barnsley lad Joseph Bramah was at work on his new "Safety Lock" at around the same time as Barron was making his own advances. Bramagh's safety lock was, at its most basic, a metallic tube with thin slots in one end. When a key was inserted, then slides would slip through the slots. If the key matched the lock then the slides would all end up being the correct length, allowing the key to turn and the bolt to be withdrawn. However, if the key wasn't quite right and any of the slides did not match up, the key could not turn and the door remained locked. The design of the Bramah lock was the most secure ever seen, and it was half a century before anyone was able to pick it.

The Start Of Yale

Over the Atlantic, a chap called Linus Yale took Bramah's design as a basis (along with the early pin-tumbler Egyptian model) and, along with his son (also named Linus), developed the Yale compact cylinder lock. This design has really stood the test of time and nearly 2 centuries later, Yale is still a name very much associated with locks in all their forms. I'm sure we're all familiar with the look of a Yale key, and the serrations on these keys are able to raise pin tumblers inside the lock when the key is inserted. These tumblers are very precise and it's only when the tumblers are at the exact height that the cylinder can rotate. A millimetre either way and the door remains locked. Being so precise means that countless variations of key can be produced so the chances of one key fitting a different lock are infinitely small. 

Today, almost all mechanisms are based on the Bramah, Chubb or Yale systems. Electronic, magnetic and digital systems are a different kettle of fish, but when you're talking about manual systems, we still return to these designs that have proven their wroth over the last 200 years. Will they still be around in 200 years? Who knows? But let's hope there is still a place for the humble locksmith in 2200! 

Merry Christmas to all readers, colleagues, and customers.

For further advice, or for a free quote on any locksmith Doncaster related work, call today on 01302 378 067.

 


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