A Gazetteer of Lock and Key Makers

Jim Evans

this gazetteer is copyright Jim Evans, 2002


K. W. "BOB" SIDBOTHAM AND BILL SIDBOTHAM

see entry under W.B.S. Locks Ltd.

JESSE SIMMONDS AND SONS,  93 NEW HALL STREET,  WILLENHALL

Maker of all types of locks.  In existence in 1914 and 1953 but not in 1970.  Nothing else known.

 

G. H. SKIDMORE, 4 SALISBURY STREET, WOLVERHAMPTON

An entry in the Wolverhampton Official Handbook, 1953, says that Mr. Skidmore started business in partnership in 1938, making gun locks and springs.  The partnership was dissolved in 1943 but Skidmore carried on on his own.  Since 1946 Skidmore had been making 1 in. signal pistols.  In May 1950 he acquired the business and goodwill of George Hunt "an old established lock manufacturer of Wilenhall.  "More recently" he acquired a major interest in Resilience Lock & Manufacturing Co. Ltd.  At the time it was hoped to move both of these firms to Salisbury Street.

The advert (above) which accompanied this entry refers to gun locks, gun springs, iron, steel and brass case locks; and gives the trade name "Resilience", which presumably came from the Resilience Lock company. 

 

THOMAS SKIDMORE, STAFFORDSHIRE SAFE WORKS, STEWART STREET, WOLVERHAMPTON

The company was originally named Skidmore and Langham, the two partners being brothers in law.

This advert, from the catalogue of the Wolverhampton Arts and Industrial Exhibition of 1884 seems to show a well established company operating at the heavier end of the security market.

The advert mentions "Royal Letters Patent", which refers to the patents the company held.  But they were also "by Royal Appointment", though when, to whom and for what is not known.

The firm also supplied safes to Pearl Assurance.

This plate from a safe in the Lock Museum claims that the company was established in 1850.

The company continued to make safes up until the 1920s when it was decided that the new equipment needed to make bent steel safes was not worth investing in.  Thereafter the company continued to do repairs and other work on their safes and to sell safes, with their name on them, but they were all made by other firms:  firstly, S.Withers of West Bromwich, then Stephen Cox of Sedgley, then the Dudley Safe Co..  This continued until about 1990 when all work ceased.

A small safe by Thomas Skidmore. Note the coat of arms, denoting a Royal Warrant.

Photo courtesy of Steve Cannon.

(Thanks to Dick Rhodes, sometime partner in the Wolverhampton firm of Skidmore, Auctioneers and Estate Agents, which was established by the same Skidmore family).

 

ABRAHAM SMITH,  71 ESSINGTON ROAD,  NEW INVENTION

Key maker.  Not in existence in 1921 or 1970.  Existing in 1953.  

Thomas Smith started the business in the Lichfield Road, New Invention, in the houses by the Post Office.  

Thomas' children were Abraham and Thomas, who joined him in the business;   Peter, Leonard, Dora  and Florence.  Peter was a locksmith who became the manager of Bloxwich Lock and Stamping Co.. He married Lavinia Smith (nee Whitehouse).  They had seven children of whom two, Reginald and Peter, worked at Bloxwich Lock and Stamping. 

Abraham Thomas married Caroline.  Their children were William, Percy [Ivy and Leonard’s father], Thomas, Leonard, Dora, Irene and Carry.  Ivy remembers that Caroline used to polish the keys on the kitchen table with a oily rage and then wrap them in brown paper. 

Abraham eventually took the business over when his father died.  He later moved to 72 Essington Road and built a wooden workshop behind the house.  This was next door to his sister Dora, whose husband, Mr Cook, ran a shop. They were the parents of Bill Cook.

Thomas, who continued the business after his father died in 1941, joined Abraham.  Thomas continued with the business for some years, while his wife, May, ran a drapery shop by the Gate Inn.  During the war May use to deliver keys on her bike to Bloxwich Lock and Stamping. 

(Information from Ivy Ridgway 12/5/2000;  and from Paul K Smith, the grandson of Peter Smith, 26/04/2003)

 

ARTHUR E SMITH,  37 POWLETT STREET,  WOLVERHAMPTON

Established in 1860 as makers of safe, cabinet deed box, pad and rim locks.  They also made brass furniture and fittings for the metal box and safe trade.  Existing in 1921 and 1953.  Not in existence in 1970.  Nothing else known.

 

DAVID L. SMITH,  24 STRINGERS LANE,  WILLENHALL

Key maker.  Not in existence in 1921 or 1970.  Existing in 1953.  Nothing else known.

 

JAMES H SMITH,  MERRIDALE STREET,  WOLVERHAMPTON (1895-1976)

James H Smith[2] founded his lock making firm in 1896 (Stubbs Directory 1970) at No 2 Merridale Street Wolverhampton, when he split from his father's cabinet lock making company of Jeremiah Smith[1] who had works in Sweetman Street, Wolverhampton.  The two firms continued for three quarters of a century making the same products in the same town and competing for the same customers.

By 1921 Jeremiah Smith and Sons Ltd are listed in Kelly’s Directory as being at No 9 Newbridge Street, Whitmore Reans, Wolverhampton.  James had premises in Retreat Street.  Both Jeremiah[1] and James[2] were Methodist local preachers in the Wolverhampton area.  The business was taken over by James son[3].  By 1953 the company were at No 2 Merridale Street West, manufacturing cabinet and brass ships locks.  The business then passed into the hand of his son David[4].  In 1973, for sentimental reasons David purchased the goodwill of Jeremiah Smith and Sons Ltd from Ernest Smith[2], who by this time had virtually finished making locks.  In 1976 David merged his business with Thomas Benton and Co. Ltd to form Benton Smith (Locks) Ltd. (Information from David Smith)

 

JEREMIAH SMITH AND SON LTD,  9 NEWBRIDGE STREET, WOLVERHAMPTON

Brass cabinet lock makers.  In 1880 (Kelly’s) Jeremiah Smith had an address in Sweetman Street, Wolverhampton.  By 1921(Kelly’s) he is listed as being 9 Newbridge Street, Whitmore Reans, Wolverhampton.  There is a possibility that the works were always at Newbridge Street and that Jeremiah lived in Sweetman Street, where he may have had an office.  The firm specialised in the manufacture of brass cabinet locks, they made their own brass casings and by the 1890s were employing over 100 people.  In the 1920s the business was being run by Jeremiah William Jones (possibly Jeremiah Smith's son in law) and Fred and Ernest Smith, Jeremiah's sons.  They then employed about 30 people.  It remained in the family until 1973, when Ernest Smith, who by that time had virtually finished making locks, sold the goodwill of the business to David Smith of James H Smith .

A. V. J. (Tony) Whitehouse, a great grandson of Jeremiah William Jones, remembers the works in the late 1920s and early 1930s. 

Read the description
of the works

JOSEPH SMITH AND SONS,  7 GOUGH STREET,  WILLENHALL

Key maker. In existence in 1913 and 1953, but not 1970. Nothing else known.

 

SMITH,  DERITEND BRIDGE WORKS,  BIRMINGHAM

(Was this Smith Wallis?)  Makers of heavy mortice locks.  Mrs Davis wrote to Maurice Hartland saying that her husband worked there and, when they were married in 1930, his wages were 3-7-6 per week.  The factory was very run down and often rats kept the locksmiths company. When it was closed the business was transferred to Marley Brothers and then sold to Tonks, who eventually amalgamated with William Newman to form Newman Tonks.

In 1940 there was a Charles Smith and Co at Franchise Street Birmingham 22. Was there any connection?

In 1940 Tonks (Birmingham) Ltd, making coin-feed locks, were at 201 Moseley Road, Birmingham 12.

In 2001 Smith Wallis were members of the Basta Parsons Group

 

GEORGE SPENCER,  ST ANN’S ROAD,  WILLENHALL

In 1917 they were making rim and night latches at 51 Union Street.  They started to manufacture cylinder night latches, possibly under the APEX & ALTUS brands.

In May 1931 the CLMA reported that J Waine and Sons, Brittania Works, Lower Lichfield Street, Willenhall were selling a Brittannia latch.  George Spencer of Union Street, Willenhall, was making them for them.  Both companies were invited to join the association but declined.

By 1953 had moved to new premises in St Ann’s Road, Willenhall.

Not in existence in 1970. Nothing else known.

 

A & E SQUIRE,  LITTLE LANE,  SHORT HEATH,  WILLENHALL

Brass cabinet lock makers.  The Squire family have been making locks in Willenhall for over 300 years but it was not until March 1927 that A & E Squire Ltd was originally founded as a partnership by two brothers, Alzo & Elroy Squire.

They began part-time working in a brick outbuilding at the back of their parent’s house at 1 Little Lane, Short Heath, Willenhall, Staffordshire.  Like many of their neighbours the brothers were outworkers, working in the early morning and in the evening when they had finished working in the lock factories of Willenhall.

Elroy, who was the younger of the two brothers, worked at Hargrave & Fox, Willenhall, where he became one of their best locksmiths.  When he was 20 he asked for a rise as befitted his ability. When this was not forthcoming Elroy decided to leave and start his own business.

Whilst running his business, and being less than 21 years old, he was unable by law to sign cheques in his own right.  Therefore his father (Arthur Squire) signed on his behalf.  When Elroy became 21 he told his father he would sign himself but Arthur insisted he would still sign.  This continued until one day Charles Pinson of Josiah Parkes asked Elroy: "Who’s the gaffer at your place? It's him who signs the cheques is the gaffer?"

At this time Elroy asked Alzo to join him in the business.  To this end they obtained a mandate from the bank, which they signed, and in effect took complete control of the business from their father.  A short time later Arthur asked why he hadn’t had any cheques to sign lately?

This was the beginning of A & E Squire.

At first Alzo continued to work as a foreman at Vaughan Bros in Willenhall in order to bring in a steady wage until their business was on a firm footing.  He enjoyed going to sales where he purchased various items for tooling their workshop.  These he then donated as his contribution to the assets of the partnership.

Their father, Arthur, who was working as foreman in the lock shop at Thomas Tuckleys, Willenhall, was dismissed when it became known that his sons had started a business in opposition to them. Following this he was employed full time by A & E Squire.

As time went on and space became at a premium, the brothers bought their neighbours' workshops and covered yards to create more space for more machines and employees.  Eventually most of the surrounding houses and buildings in Little Lane and Bloxwich Road North were acquired and bigger and newer shops were built.

In the early days, Alzo and Elroy’s mother Sarah, and their wives to be, Barbara and Olive, helped to wrap the locks and pack them into boxes on a Friday evening ready for Elroy to deliver to Willenhall on the back of his bike.  Elroy insisted on being paid in cash there and then, so that when he returned back to work he would be able to pay the waiting employees their wages.

During the Second World War A & E Squire worked for the Government making ammunition cases.  

The business was incorporated as a limited company in 1960.  They are still on the same site today as we were in 1927 and the original workshop at the rear of 1, Little Lane is still in use as part of the finishing department.  The house was demolished many years ago and they no longer have an entrance in Little Lane.

Throughout the years many of the Squire family have worked in the family business.  As well as the parents and wives of the founders already mentioned, their brother Lionel and sister Iris, children and grandchildren have all been employed at the company.

Elroy’s son Derek, and Alzo’s son Keith, joined the firm in 1951 & 1953 and now the firm is managed by the third successive generation of the family.  Alzo died in 1974 and Elroy died in 1980, leaving Derek and Keith to continue their good work.  In more recent times Derek’s children have sustained the tradition of joining the family business (Diane 1976, Martin 1977 and Craig 1986).  Unfortunately the Managing Director Derek died in 1996.  This left the following members of the family running the business: Martin Squire - Sales Director; Craig Squire - Financial Director; Keith Squire - Technical Director Diane Sims - Company Secretary.

(Information from A & E Squire web site 31/1/2001)

 

HENRY SQUIRE AND SONS,  NEW INVENTION,  WILLENHALL

The firm was established in 1780 by William Squire, who started to make locks in a building on the site of the present factory.  The company has been owned and run by his descendants ever since.

Thomas took over the firm in 1820 and in 1848 another Squire, whose first name is not recorded, took over.  Then came Henry (b1824 in Willenhall) in 1870.  It was he who gave the company the title of Henry Squire and Sons.  He was running the company in 1881 when he employed 12 men and 6 boys and it was his son, also James, who took over in 1900.

The series of letterheads below gives some indication of the company's activities in the 1920s.

This letterhead is on a letter dated 1922.  The company describe themselves not only as general lock makers but also as brass founders and stampers.  
This heading is on a letter dated 1924.  The view of the works indicates that some building and rebuilding work has been going on.

This letterhead is not dated but seems to be somewhat later than the previous two.

The letterheads show the company's trade mark telescope.

The advert (right) is from 1920.  It probably shows only a few of their total range of locks.

The advert (left) is from a trade directory of 1924, again probably showing a small part of the their range but also showing hinges.

Percival Squire, the fifth descendent of William took over in 1940, and recalls the days his father worked with a labour force of 12 in the old premises.  His son Gordon then took over the running of the company in 1960, with John Squire taking over the managing director's role in 2002. (Express and Star 8/1/2002)

Two pages of adverts from the catalogue of the British Industries Fair, 1950.  The one on the right illustrates the company's later specialisation in padlocks.  The one on the left shows the blue blades can opener and a vegetable peeler.

In October 1930, while under the control of James, the company suffered a setback when the works were completely gutted by fire, resulting in about 80 people being put out of work.  The estimated damage was 18000.  They recovered from the fire and continued making a selection of locks, being particularly strong in furniture locks, from the 19th. century until the 1930s.  But competition from Germany, the changes induced in furniture, induced a change in specification in padlocks.  The firm then developed into one of the leading manufactures of padlocks, including accessories such as the patented Squire Clamp and Miniclamp range of hasps and staples, and a range of locks designed for the cycle and motor cycle trade. 
They also had a range of kitchen tools, including the patented Blue Blade can opener. 

This item is made of wood, screen printed, and seems to date from about the 1950s.  It appears to be a point of sale item of some sort.
An advert from The Ironmonger Guide, 1950.

During the war production was switched to the manufacture of precision gauge tools and submarine nuts.

In 1985 the company had a work force of 310 and exported to over 100 countries throughout the world.  Times were getting difficult with cheap padlocks being imported from the Far East so that by 1998 the workforce was down to 140. (Brian Lavender 19/8/98)

In March 2005 it was reported in the Express and Star that the company was proposing to sell off the site it had occupied since the eighteenth century for housing.  They are reported to have produced plans for housing but not to have decided where to relocate, though they indicated they were looking for premises in either Walsall or Wolverhampton.


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