When considering church locks it appears especially appropriate that the earliest representation of a lock was to be discovered on a bas-relief in an Egyptian temple at Kamak dating from 2000BC. Although not immediately recognisable to modern eyes, and being rather troublesome in operation, it operated effectively. The concept, that of raising pins to create a shearline to permit movement, was rediscovered by Linus Yale Senior in 1848 and further developed and refined by his boy 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 key being inserted through a little hole in the door, and, with a slight rotary movement, closing or withdrawing a big bolt A Linear B tablet dating to 1300BC, excavated in Crete, was equated.
Therefore the Mayors and their wives and the Vice-Mayors and key-bearers and managers of figs and hoeing will provide bronze for ships and the points of arrows and spears.
Keys are discussed in the Old Testimony, significantly in Judges ch3 v25, written around 1170BC and Isaiah ch22 v22, from about 740BC. The earliest lock excavated originated from the Palace of Sargon at Khorsabad in Iraq, dating from 700BC. By the time that Vesuvius appeared in 79AD, when a metal worker’s store was overwhelmed, locks had been established and had presumed a kind recognisable to modern eyes. Numerous have actually been excavated both from Pompeii and from the various Roman dig sites in Europe and the Middle East. As they were made from metal a great deal have survived. Padlocks with a spring system were found at York when the Jorvik Viking settlement of 850 was discovered.
A small however helpful source of information from this duration through to medieval times originates from the art of the period; carvings, wall paintings, lit up manuscripts and stained glass. Representations of everyday life often show modern locks and keys and representations of St Peter can be a rich source. Even the Bayeux Tapestry shows Duke Conan of Brittany giving up the keys of the town of Dinan to William on the point of his lance. Written records begin to appear in the medieval age. The surviving accounts for the refurbishment of Portchester Castle in 1385 record the purchase of locks, and in 1394 London smiths were prohibited to make keys from an impression ‘by reason of the mischiefs which have actually occurred’. In 1411 Charles IV of Germany developed the title of ‘Master Locksmith professional’ and by 1422 the London Guilds included the ‘Lockyers’.
Some locks still in usage do endure from this time, in historic college and university buildings along with churches, but the majority of are in personal 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 set up on his chamber door any place he stayed to guarantee 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 Remediation of the monarchy in the 17th century saw a blooming of architecture and the arts, which extended even to locks and secrets. Locks were made of an intricacy and beauty hardly ever equalled, typically with the system as extremely embellished and etched as the case.
Even until the mid 18th century and beyond, when sophistication ruled, a degree of decor of the mechanism often persisted, enclosed within the plain, easy lockcase. The latter half of the 18th century saw the starts of the Industrial Revolution. In 1778 Robert Barron got a patent to improve the security of locks, earning him the appellation ‘Father of the English Lever System’ (see Figure 5). A few of the locks with his ‘contemporary’ and unique mechanism and keys can still be found in churches. In 1784 Joseph Bramah, the inventive Yorkshireman, patented the Bramah lock, a completely new concept in lock style which utilized a series of sliders in a circular pattern to provide remarkable security. Building upon these significant advances the 19th century saw an expansion of patents for ‘new and enhanced’ mechanisms and advancements, not all which have actually stood the test of time. This duration likewise saw advances in the manufacture of key blanks. Previously all hand created, the development of water and steam powered drop hammers brought a stamping procedure to key making, superseded by the discovery of malleableising cast iron which came into use for casting essential blanks from around 1816: these processes are reflected in the altering shape of crucial bows as mass production was presented.
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