Our 24-hour emergency service took a call during the week, and the on-call locksmith was asked to let someone into their house. This happens a lot of course, but this particular call was a bit unusual, because the customer asked if we had a master key to open his door. When I heard what he had asked my colleague, it took me back to a time in the 1970’s and 1980’s when certain locksmiths carried around with them huge bunches of cut keys for mortice locks, which they would use to surreptitiously unlock the door.
There was a time when basic mortice locks, with 2-lever or 3-lever mechanisms, were operated by pre-cut, numbered keys. After leaving college, I worked for a local council for a while, and all of the locks for their public buildings, offices, storerooms - even the main door of the council offices - were operated by pre-cut keys. Anyone who saw the keys, and jotted down the numbers, could have obtained their own copy without question from the local hardware shop, and let themselves into the council chamber to sit in the Lord Mayor‘s chair.
A couple of doors down from my
grandmother’s house, there was a car accessories shop where you could buy car keys, ready cut and numbered, for the doors and ignitions of a whole range of vehicles. The only security measures ever employed to rule out car thieves involved the shop’s owner asking suspicious characters to tell him their vehicle registration number. He’d look them straight in the eye, take a puff of his pipe, then when he’d decided they might be honest, he’d hand over the key and charge them 5 shillings (25 pence).
Of course, forty or fifty years ago there were burglars. But most of them were career criminals, a bit like Norman Stanley Fletcher in “Porridge” - hardly sophisticated, ruthless or violent, and certainly not as numerous as burglars now. That former generation of bumbling losers has long gone, to be replaced by nasty, vicious sneak thieves who will rob from anyone, and stop at nothing to get away.
In 1981 a lock revolution began. It rolled on for the next two decades, and changed the way Britain locked its doors. Thirty years ago, the British Standards Institute tested locks to see if they met certain stringent criteria, and introduced the kitemark accreditation labelled BS3621. The insurance companies leapt upon this new standard for security, insisting that policy holders had a kitemarked lock on their front door, resistant to a force attack, and operating from unidentified keys that couldn’t be bought as ready-made, numbered keys.
In the 1980’s, many homeowners, faced with the prospect of having to upgrade their locks, opted for uPVC doors, usually because they needed to replace their wooden front doors anyway. The rapid-growing softwoods used for doors following timber shortages during World War II were not properly treated against weathering, and deteriorated quickly. The earliest guinea pigs were led to believe that their new uPVC door would last a lifetime, and they would never have to spend money on the door ever again. They believed they would never have to paint the door again, or renew the hinges, or any kind of maintenance, or ever upgrade the new locking system. How wrong they were!
About thirty years ago, about half of the mortice keys that people asked for were pre-cut keys. Possibly half of the homes in South Wales were once “secured” with 2-lever or 3-lever locks - nowadays only used on internal doors and cupboards, or as bathroom ‘privacy’ locks. Many people who had total faith in wooden doors and mortice locks were converted to having uPVC doors because they were ‘maintenance-free’, and ‘very secure’.
Unfortunately, neither of these claims is particularly accurate. It’s true you don’t have to paint the doors, but the average locking mechanism is unlikely to last as long as the plastic, so you are going to have a new locking strip at some time, usually 5 to 10 years. In terms of security, while the modern mechanisms are usually resistant to a force attack, the cylinders that operate these locking mechanisms are almost useless - probably about the equivalent of a basic 2-lever lock for all the security they offer.
Even now, thirty years on, most of the new doors being fitted, advertised as ‘high security’ locking systems, are unlikely to keep a burglar out for more than 60 seconds. It doesn’t matter how good the mechanism is, unless you have the right cylinder, your home is unsafe. Thirty years ago, an unskilled handyman with a bunch of keys could open your door in a few minutes. Now, an unskilled handyman with an adjustable spanner could open your door in less than 60 seconds.
The original locking strips of the 1920’s were designed for steel doors. During the 1960’s many were adapted for aluminium doors when they became more popular. However, these lock systems were always intended for installation in rigid doors. When they were fitted to the first uPVC doors, they could easily be sprung open. Over the past forty years, hundreds of different types of these mechanisms, produced by dozens of different manufacturers, have come and gone, evolving from roller bolts and latches, to hooks, shootbolts and deadbolts. Modern mechanisms, designed with the great benefit of hindsight, have at last become secure - except for one final addition to the door, which is continually overlooked by uPVC companies - the cylinder. This is akin to putting all your valuables into a safe, and leaving a note with the combination stuck on the front.
We’ve had a locking revolution in the last thirty years, but the net result is that nothing has changed. Too many doors are entirely insecure against burglars, and against unqualified and inexperienced handymen who claim special skills but are, in fact, using the same technique that burglars use to open doors. At least with the burglars you know when you’ve been ripped off, but when you call someone who claims to offer security locks, and replaces a cheap and nasty cylinder with another cheap and nasty cylinder, and expects to get paid for their services, that is a form of insidious deceit. The customer has been duped. Did you know that you weren’t going to get a lock that has any security value - or were you happy to pay for 60 seconds of security?
How do you stop individuals breaking cylinders to get to the locking mechanism and open the door in less than 60 seconds? It’s time for the second locking revolution.
If you were to create a cylinder that prevents a burglar or a handyman from reaching the locking mechanism, even if they break it, hammer it, drill it, twist it, pick it, punch it…. whatever they attempt in an effort to bypass it and open the door, then the uPVC door that was previously vulnerable to this sort of attack would be very secure indeed.
The second locking revolution is led by the introduction of the ABS range of cylinders. Available in several popular sizes to replace most cylinders used for uPVC doors, they are high security items with a number of special features - anti-pick, anti-drill, and even if subjected to sufficient force to break them, they do not allow access to the door’s locking mechanism, so the burglar wastes a lot of time getting nowhere - as does the unqualified handyman.
Our customers call us, and master locksmiths throughout the UK, because they want a company that deals with security. They don’t expect a plumber who will fit a £5 cylinder bought from the local DIY store. If your current lock is vulnerable, then you need to call someone who will replace it with a lock that is invulnerable to a normal force attack. Anything less, and your money is wasted.
Now that the second locking revolution has started, make sure that you are part of it. Call us now to arrange a visit from one of our team of trained locksmith engineers. The future starts now.