Locksmithing is an ancient profession which is believed to have begun in ancient Egypt and Babylon over 4000 years ago. The oldest lock was found in the Assyrian city of Khorsabad around 704BC. These locks were made of wood and used pins of different lengths to prevent the lock turning without the right key. The keys to access the lock were large cumbersome and also wooden. The use of locks spread to Greece Rome and even China. Wealthy Romans kept valuables under lock and key, they wore the keys as rings so they had them on them at all times this displayed their state of wealth and that they had valuables worth stealing.
By 870-900AD simple metal locks start to appear. They tended to be simple lock bolts and were attributed to English craftsmen, they were soon seen throughout Europe and as far as China.
From 14th to 17th century saw the rise in intricate design work on keys and locks whereby royal crests and symbols could be added for wealthy clients.
The basic design of locks stayed relatively the same for centuries until the industrial revolution. Willenhall in the black country was the home of the lock making industry from 1855 and still is today. in 1855 there were around 340 lock making businesses in Willenhall mostly backyard workshops whole families were employed in the business, and small children filed keys.In the mid eighteenth century most households were involved in lock making. More locks were made in Willenhall than any town in England or Europe. Locksmiths were paid less in Willenhall than in midlands generally as their locks were simple in design and sold more cheaply than locks manufactured in Wolverhampton which were of better quality.Willenhall turned out cheap locks of different types orders of 10,000 locks were shipped to plantations in south America and India and were sold for a penny each. There philosophy was quantity better than quality. Locksmith apprentices young boys would work 14-16 hour days humped over a bench this led to humped back deformities earning Willenhall the nickname of Humpshire.
Early 19th century saw new firms established and original smaller firms expanded with the introduction of precision engineering and component standardisation it was possible to create locks and keys with greater complexity and sophistication. This gave better security features and factories were created to mass produce for the increased demand.
Chubb famous for high quality locks made a detector lock in 1818 a lock which prevented picking and would show the owner if it had been picked.
Trading under the name Union Josiah Parkes advertised as a manufacturer of all kinds of locks in the Wolverhampton guide of 1864.
By 1860 the industry was confined to Willenhall and Wolverhampton with 90% of the locks produced in England being made there and 85% of these were made in large factories. In 1911 Josiah Parkes manufactured cylinder locks and latches which we refer to as Yale locks. The American company Yale began manufacturing locks in England when it took over british company H & T Vaughan in 1929.
Today locksmiths no longer make locks but are involved in the repair and replacement of locks and locking mechanisms. They also advise on home security and install alarm equipment.