THE LOCK PROFESSIONALS
In theory, it is perfectly feasible to make a lock that can’t be picked or forced to get it open without a key. The big problem with such a lock is, what do you do if you lose the key, or if the lock goes wrong? How do you get in without ruining the door?
The first locks, dating from nearly 4000 years ago, were rather basic compared to modern locks, but the workings remained a complete mystery to all but the craftsmen who constructed it, who were often sworn to secrecy on pain of death.
Most locks still follow the same fundamental principle as these early models, using a key to move several pieces up and down until they line up and allow another piece to move across. This technology started with wood, and in 40 centuries, we have advanced by substituting metal parts. There have been many refinements to this principle over the millennia, as lockmakers aimed to keep at least one step ahead of thieves.
In the late 18th century, Joseph Bramah, the famous inventor of the hydraulic press, and an improved water closet, turned his hand to the manufacture of locks. In 1784 he patented a new lock design, claiming it to be ‘unpickable’, and Bramah was so confident of this claim that he offered a prize of 200 Guineas (worth approximately £60,000 today) to anyone who could pick his lock.
Like Bramah a generation before him, Jeremiah Chubb invented locks that were designed to be ‘unpickable’ for the growing middle classes, newly affluent on the wave of the Industrial Revolution. In 1818, Chubb exhibited his ‘detector’ lock, with an anti-tamper feature that ‘detected’ when any foreign object, such as a lock pick, was inserted into the mechanism. Following any attempt to open the lock without the key, it would go into a ‘failsafe’ mode, and had to be reset using a special key before it could be used normally again.
In 1851, Victorian Britain wanted to show the empire, and the rest of the world, why Britain could rightly claim to be the foremost nation of the age. A huge glass structure was built in London’s Hyde Park for the Great Exhibition. Here, in the ‘Crystal Palace’, as it was popularly known, the achievements of British ingenuity, inventiveness and enterprise were paraded for all the world to see.
Both Bramah and Chubb proudly exhibited their ‘unpickable’ locks, representing a peak of engineering excellence. The 200 Guinea Bramah prize had been unclaimed for over 60 years at that point, but the ‘Challenge Lock’ was finally picked by an American locksmith, Alfred Charles Hobbs, after 51 hours of effort spread over 16 days. The prize, however, represented several years’ wages, and would allow Hobbs the means to set up in business for himself. But Hobbs wasn’t finished there. Next, he turned to the Chubb ‘detector’ lock, and picked that open, much to the annoyance of the British lock fraternity. Neither Joseph Bramah or Jeremiah Chubb lived to see these defeats, but with their egos bruised the technicians of both companies set out to restore their reputations.
In the following years, Hobbs went on to invent the ‘Protector’ lock. A degree of British pride was restored when, in 1854, Hobbs’ lock was in turn picked by one of the skilled locksmiths who worked for the Chubb company, by this time relocated in Wolverhampton.
It may shock many people to learn that such locks, dating from the 18th and 19th centuries, were greatly superior to the locks that most people now have on their doors.
So, after nearly two centuries of having very secure locks at our disposal, why are most homes left so vulnerable to burglary? There are several factors that have contributed to this state of affairs: the emergence of a DIY ethic, the growth of the uPVC industry, and a distrust of professionals.
At the end of World War II, young American men returning from war service after four gruelling years often found themselves with no jobs and no prospects. For many, there was always the chance to use what they’d learned in the armed forces and work for themselves - as builders, carpenters, roofers, electricians, plumbers, painters - rebuilding their country after 15 years of the Depression and war.
Unfortunately, many of these tradesmen were no more skilled than their customers, and there were some notable failures - buildings, walls and roofs collapsing, families getting electrocuted, and homes being flooded. Rather than pay for poor work, many people opted to do the work themselves. The retail sector responded by making materials available in smaller quantities - a pack of 20 screws rather than a box of 1000 - and the ‘Do-It-Yourself’ movement was born.
The popularity of TV programmes showing consumers how to do various home repairs and improvements spread across the Atlantic. In 1960’s Britain, we had Barry Bucknell presenting a live show every week, complete with occasional mishaps on air (although none were ever as serious as those depicted by comedian Kenny Everett in sketches where the Reg Prescott character - reputedly based on Bucknell - usually ended up wrapped in blood-stained bandages). But he wasn’t incompetent by any means. In 1962, Bucknell (along with Jack Holt) designed the 2-man Mirror dinghy, a DIY project available as a kit. It was very successful, with over 70,000 produced, and is still raced at Olympic level. In the late 1960’s and early 1970’s I won several trophies in Mirror class racing and I can assure you it was perfectly seaworthy.
Suddenly, everyone in Britain was doing DIY, and new stores emerged - B & Q in 1969, Texas Homecare and Wickes in 1972, Homebase in 1979, and Focus DIY in the early 1980’s. This had a devastating effect on hundreds of lock and hardware businesses across the UK. However, the worst aspect of this move towards DIY was that customers were replacing well-made locks with cheaper alternatives. Even the best-known companies in the lock industry, under pressure from the big DIY chains, were cutting corners to produce cheaper locks, adding other metals to brass and steel to cut costs. Durable and secure locks of good quality are still made, but they cost markedly more than the budget versions available to DIY enthusiasts.
When it comes to buying from a DIY store, men hate asking for advice. So DIY stores don’t provide any qualified advice. Why should they? If you’re not sure what you want, you’ll probably buy something. If it’s the wrong thing, you’ll buy it anyway, because it‘s so cheap, and chances are, you won’t take it back if it‘s the wrong thing because you don‘t want to look silly.
These big stores don’t care if you buy the wrong thing, just as long as you keep buying - cheaper items will always sell. This is why so many DIY handymen had 2-lever bathroom locks on their front doors, and why they couldn’t get spare keys anywhere, while better quality, more expensive items stayed on the shelves. DIY store managers know that most people will risk a small amount for something they’re not sure about, but not for expensive items, which gather dust on the shelves. So the public end up with cheap locks that have limited security value.
When uPVC doors were first introduced, the manufacturers used a locking system that was designed for a steel door, and modified it to fit in a uPVC door. The cylinders, first introduced in 1924, were intended as a ‘quick change’ lock for medium to high security applications. When fitted in a steel door, the cylinder is secure. When fitted to a uPVC door, the cylinder is not secure. They never have been secure, but now, the secret is out. Too many people know how to open them. Yet most of these insecure cylinders will be opened in seconds, and replaced with others that are equally insecure.
The reason these DIY cylinders are so cheap is that they’re made from a mixture of scrap metals - a bit of brass, old iron, a strip of lead, baked bean tins - anything goes into the melting pot. They are poorly made, fragile, and they wear out in a very short time. But because they’re so cheap, you’ll be back to buy another one at the same low price, and not worry about it. No wonder there are DIY stores on every street corner. The people who settle for this are dream customers - happy to pay for rubbish time and time again.
What you may not know is that such cheap cylinders won’t provide even 60 seconds of security. If we define a security lock as one that stops a burglar, then this lock would fail the test in a shocking way. These cylinders serve no purpose except to keep you out of your own home. If the key is lost, then ANYONE who knows the trick can open the door in under a minute! Some will charge you for this, and others will take whatever they can carry from your house - and neither of them will leave you secure when they finish. One way or the other, you‘ve been ripped off.
There are experts you can consult, but DIY thinking means that you’re supposed to know as much about it as the experts. The problem is that there are lots of tradesmen who think the same way. In recent years, numerous individuals all over the UK have set themselves up in business, man and van, lacking professional training or experience. The DIY thinking they follow means they believe they can do what the professionals do, but for less money. It wouldn’t be so bad if the customer saved money and still received the same quality of goods and service, but they don’t.
Too many people will go to a DIY store for what they want, and probably buy the wrong thing. However, if you’re not careful, you could call an ‘expert’ who is actually a DIY enthusiast calling at the local DIY store to collect his stock. Why buy the wrong thing when you can hire a professional to save you the journey and buy the wrong thing for you? These ‘experts’ are no more qualified than the people who engage them, and can’t provide better quality goods or services.
Customers who have a dislike of ‘being ripped off’ usually go for the cheapest quote rather than the best qualified professionals, and so, end up being cheated. They don’t FEEL cheated, because they think they’ve saved money. Unfortunately it’s too late to find out that you’ve paid for cylinders that have zero security value when you come home to a house that’s been burgled.
Joseph Bramah and Jeremiah Chubb were two of the earliest inventors creating locks designed to keep people secure in their homes. A burglar aiming to pick one of their locks would have wasted his time and soon given up. None of their locks were ‘cheap’, but they were tested by the most incredibly skilled technicians of the day, and proved to be of outstanding quality. You won’t find locks of this quality in a DIY store, but they are still available from true lock professionals.
At PPM Locksmiths we are happy to hear your locking problems and offer secure solutions. You may be surprised at our prices, because we supply affordable quality locking products. Our aim, first and foremost, is to help our customers to achieve a goal of being secure in homes and workplaces. Visit our shop to see what we can offer, and feel free to discuss your locking requirements with an experienced and knowledgeable member of our team.