Josiah Parkes & Sons


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Issue Date: 8/11/2020


AJ Parkes

Josiah Parkes & Sons 1


From Dower House Collection, 8/2004: 8



Changes: 12



This paper is a combination of two written by the archivist at Chubb Lock & Safe Company.

A later addition is en extract from a booklet produced by the Company in 1949, loosely to celebrate its centenary of 1940 when it was inappropriate to divert efforts from the war effort.

The Story:

Josiah Parkes and Sons Ltd are known worldwide as the manufacturers of Union Locks and builders and architectural hardware products. Parkes was founded around 1840 in Willenhall by Josiah Parkes (1823-99) and his brother, William, and they began their partnership as iron merchants, having premises at 28, 29 and 30 Doctor's Piece (illustration). The brothers traded very successfully with the lock and key-smiths who operated from Willenhall, and as the factoring business grew in volume and scope, new premises were acquired in Union Street in 1852 and opposite in Wood Street in 1883. The Doctors Piece property remained in use until 1890.

The Parkes family were originally from Gornal. The eldest brothers, William and Richard both served apprenticeships as locksmiths in Willenhall where William eventually set up an ironmongery business at 9 Union Street. Josiah Parkes (1823-1899) had been apprenticed to Hickman's Iron Works in Bilston, but in the evenings he helped his brothers in the ironmongery. When he was 27, he and his wife, Catherine, moved to premises at 3, Union Street and Josiah began working full-time in the ironmongers.

Richard Parkes did not stay with the business, but by 1851 (1857?) William and Josiah had a partnership and were advertising in the local papers and trade journals as:

                    William and Josiah Parkes
                    Iron, Steel and Wire Merchants
                    Union Street

The 1850's were a period of continuous economic advance for Britain and the Parkes business benefited during this boom period. They were able to take on three apprentices for the locksmithing and the merchanting products increased in variety and as well as iron and steel goods, included mole traps, clothes horses, ash pans and tool baskets and locks, which were to play a significant part in future developments.

During the 1860's the business still flourished. There were thousands of small businesses, mainly locksmiths, in Willenhall around this time (a survey estimated there were 3270 locksmiths in Willenhall alone) and the Parkes brothers traded very successfully in iron and steel with the locksmiths and also traded in the smith's finished products. Most small businesses at this time operated out of workshops at the back of their houses and this is what William and Josiah had been doing, But in 1861 they moved to larger premises - William to 78 Union St with his wife, Elizabeth and four children, and Josiah to 77 Union St with his wife and five children. The iron warehouse and shop were between the two houses. During the 1860's the Parkes brothers began to concentrate more on manufacturing and merchanting locks. An advertisement in the Wolverhampton Guide of 1864 described them as "general merchants and manufacturers of all kinds of rim, mortice, padlocks, bolts and latches".

As the business grew the Parkes children came into the Company. William had three sons - Samuel, Josiah and William Fletcher, who all joined as iron merchants clerks. Josiah Parkes had five sons, who were all younger than their cousins. Friction developed between the two families about who was going to control the business. To resolve the problem, William and Josiah dissolved the partnership around 1873 and set up two separate businesses, Josiah Parkes and Sons and Parkes, Parkes and Co. but they both traded from the same address. Parkes, Parkes and Co. traded successfully for a while and then both Samuel and Josiah started other businesses - Samuel as a hardware merchant in New Road and Josiah as a brass founder in Wood Street.
During the 1870's and 1880's, the partnership expanded when Josiah's sons joined the company and Josiah set up a company with one of his sons - William Edmund (1855-1920) - as iron merchants and hardware factors and they moved into 28 Doctor's Piece. By 1880 business was doing well enough for Josiah to employ three men and expand the premises to 18, 29 & 30 Doctor's Piece, and Josiah Parkes, jnr and John Parkes both joined the firm, which changed its name to Josiah Parkes and Sons. William Edmund concentrated on the hardware section and Josiah looked after the iron merchanting, and advertisements from 1884 refer to Josiah Parkes and Sons as "bolt, nut, screw, hinge, latch and lock furniture manufacturers". In 1887 Josiah Parkes Snr. retired and in January 1888 a new partnership under the same name was established between William Edmund, John and James Harry Parkes. Josiah Parkes Jnr. carried on the iron merchanting business by himself, whilst the other brothers decided to concentrate on the manufacture of locks. The youngest son, Ebeneezer Thomas decided to go into a career in banking.

There was a lot of foreign competition in hardware goods and iron products in the 1880s and 1890s. The Union Street business of Parkes, Parkes & Co. faded out, as did the Samuel Parkes' business, and Josiah Parkes and Sons acquired the old Union Street property and sold the Doctor's Piece property in 1890. Despite the depressed economic climate, Josiah Parkes and Sons were successful and they provided goods to shops and businesses all over the country, though the cramped conditions at Doctor's Piece had meant that goods were not always dispatched on time which promoted a lot of correspondence between Parkes and their customers. Josiah Parkes and Sons began to concentrate on the manufacture of locks in 1889 and gradually ceased trading in iron and other goods. On their first products that they manufactured, the company stamped the image of a hose coupling - a product that they also made -  and this image became the trade mark of Josiah Parkes even when they stopped hardware trading.

The company began by employing a handful of locksmiths but by the late 1890's they were employing enough people to join the British Lock Manufacturers Association, which tried to bring manufacturers together to monitor workers pay and conditions. By 1906 there were approximately 35 people employed in lock manufacture, and the numbers grew to 100 in 1913, 303 in 1919 and 505 in 1934.

William Cyril Parkes, elder son of William Edmund Parkes, joined the family business in 1903 and in 1911 Harry George Parkes, son of James Henry Parkes, joined and his younger brother in 1919.

The company began the manufacture of cylinder locks in 1911, one of the first companies in Britain to do so, and two years later the company was able to expand and build a new lock shop adjoining the original Union Street premises.  Just prior to the first World War the locksmiths union had managed to establish itself and in negotiations with the Lock Manufacturers Association had set new wage levels:

     Boys aged 16-17          3d per hour
     Boys aged 17-18          4d per hour
     Boys aged 18-19          5d per hour
     Boys aged 19-21          6d per hour
     Over 21                  7d per hour

Parkes enjoyed good relations with the staff and did not suffer any strikes around this time.

In common with other metalworking industries, various munitions were produced in the factory during the First World War. However, at the beginning of the war trade was depressed due to few government contracts and the decrease in exports. By 1917 so many men had enlisted that Parkes was forced to recruit women, along with most other manufacturers in the area. When the war ended the women did not automatically lose their employment. Conditions were not easy for women employees - they were not allowed to speak at work and had to meet together to walk home at the end of the day, to avoid attracting men's attention.

In 1916 Josiah Parkes & Sons was formed into a Private Limited Company with a share capital of £25000. The company was incorporated on 13 December 1916 with William Edmund Parkes as Chairman and Managing Director and William Cyril Parkes as assistant Managing Director. With the death of his father in 1920, William Cyril Parkes became Chairman and joint Managing Director with his brother Arthur Josiah Parkes.

Josiah Parkes & Sons Ltd built a thriving export business over the years and produced trade catalogues for the other countries. (illustration) In the 1928 Cyril William toured Australia, New Zealand and Canada to explore the possibilities of expansion. By the late 1940's there were representatives and agents in over 50 countries worldwide. In 1948 Josiah Parkes & Sons (South Africa) Ltd. was formed with WF Boustred as Chairman, for the purpose of manufacturing Union locks and architectural furniture in South Africa. The factory was based at Fordsburg, Johannesburg. In the 1960's Josiah Parkes & Sons Rhodesia Ltd and Josiah Parkes & Sons Nigeria Ltd. were formed. Two further factories were established in Singapore and Kenya to manufacture and assemble Union products in their respective countries.

In the 1930's the Union Street premises in Willenhall were modernised and a new office block was completed in 1933. In 1936 a new public company, under the same directorship was constituted as Josiah Parkes & Sons Ltd, to take over and run the business. It had a paid up share capital of £200000. During the Second World War the company again produced various kind of munitions, but as soon as hostilities ceased in Europe, work began on building a new factory on spare land at the Company's Sports Ground situated half a mile from the Union Street Works. This land at Portobello, a suburb of Willenhall was first rented in 1921 and the freehold acquired with a view to building a new factory in 1935. The factory started producing lock parts in 1946.

In 1956, the old established business of Edwin Showell & Sons of Stirchley, Birmingham, was acquired. Showells was founded around 1830 and manufactured door springs and architectural brass ware. The principal object of the amalgamation was to be able to offer the builders merchant, the architect and the building trade a comprehensive range of builders hardware. In 1964 Cyril Parkes retired as chairman and was succeeded by his brother Arthur who himself retired in 1967.

The company was acquired by the Chubb Group of security companies in 1965 and became a member of the Racal Group of companies in 1984 on the acquisition on Chubb & Son plc by Racal Electronics plc. In 1977 the company's excellent record in the export trade was rewarded by becoming the first lock manufacturer to be honoured by receiving the Queen's Award for Export Achievements.

Rhona Mitchell, Archivist, 1.3.89
Retyped from reports received from JP&S in late 1994.

A continuation of the above from the Willenhall Archives:

The company was acquired, along with Chubb Locks, by Williams Holdings 1997. In October 1997 William’s Holdings announced changes to the organisation of their Security Products Group. They planned to close the Union factory in Wood Street, the Yale factory in Temple Bar (this was the Yale Die Casting Division on the site of the old E Tonks factory, and had been due for closure before the William’s take over). They also closed the Planetary Road Warehouse, which had been used as a warehouse following the move of Chubb Lock making to Portobello; this was the old Albert Marston factory. The Yale Wood Street site was planned to become the company headquarters and manufacturing unit for all cylinder and padlocks locks. The Parkes Portobello site would concentrate on all mortice production and become the sole distribution site. The proposals would create 240 redundancies over the next 15 months. (E&S 9-10/10/97).
The change over to produce all cylinder locks and padlocks at Wood Street took place in May 1998 . The production of the Union Cylinder locks ceased and all locks were made to the Yale design but were marked both Yale and Union. The move to produce all mortice locks at the Portobello site was completed in July 1998, when they ceased to make Yale mortice locks and only made the Union range, although they were sold branded Yale and Ingersoll.
At this point (April 1999) the whole of the Williams Group lockmaking side was reorganised under the name Yale Security Products UK Ltd, with offices in Wood Street, Willenhall. All the administration, sales and purchasing etc. took place from there. Early in 2000 it was announced that Williams were selling this division off to Assa-Abloy, a Swedish lockmaking company. The official take over did not take place until the end of August 2000.

By 2012, the only factory remaining was the Portobello plant, still operating and producing the Union brand builders hardware. (A Maitland)

Walsall Archives note on the history of Parkes, prepared by them from reports received from the company in 1994
Catalogues and brochures issued by the company, and a photo collection, all in the Lock Museum, Willenhall (undated but about 1950s and 1960s)
We are grateful to Yale Security Products for permission to reproduce images which are still in their copyright.

From JP&S Booklet, 1840-1949:

Continuing from the reference to CWP, before which the content of the booklet is very similar to the text above:

His (CWP) experience, extending over forty-five years, is of great value to the Company, as is that of his brother Arthur Josiah, now the other managing director, who entered the business in 1919. Another member of the family had come into the business a few years previously. This was the son of James Harry, namely, Harry George, whose early death in 1946  was a great loss to the company.

By 1913 the number of workpeople had increased to 100 and the growth during the early years of lock making, which this figure indicates, has continued regularly since. There were 550 employees in 1934 and at the present time the number amounts to more than 900, constituting Josiah Parkes & Sons Ltd., as the largest lock manufacturing concern which is entirely British.

At the present time the other members of the board of directors are William Ewart Egar, appointed in 1946, who is also secretary of the Company, having held the office for fifteen years, and Edward Camden Fryer, appointed in 1947, who is works director, with valuable engineering and technical knowledge which has been at the service of the Company for more than twenty years.

In 1916 the business was formed into a private company, which in 1936 was converted into a public company. It now has a paid up capital of £200,000.

For the benefit of readers at a distance it may be said that Willenhall is a town in Staffordshire, midway between and three miles from Wolverhampton to the west and Walsall to the east. It has been the centre of the lock industry for more than four centuries and, with a population of 30,000, remains the most important lock-making town in Great Britain. In it are produced perhaps ninety per cent of the locks made in this country.  Portobello, a suburb of Willenhall, where we now have a factory, of which more is told elsewhere in this booklet, is about half a mile from our main works in the Wolverhampton direction.

Willenhall was named in the Domesday Book as Winehala. George Borrow gives it a place in literature, for Mumpers Dingle, where the Flaming Tinman had the fight which is described in Lavengro, was in Willenhall, although there is doubt about its exact locality.

Modern lock making on a large scale which is scientifically planned requires people of many crafts and accomplishments for its fulfilment.  In addition to skilled locksmiths and keysmiths who make or complete the locks of superior qualities there are in our factories workers of both sexes engaged on power and hand presses, capstan and automatic lathes, drilling and milling machines, key-cutting and other special purpose machines. Foundry work, brass finishing, and electric welding are among the other occupations. To these must be added polishing, electro-plating, enamelling and lacquering, which constitute some of the final processes on locks and builders' hardware. The completion of many kinds of locks and other articles by fitting together the parts which have been accurately machined in quantities, provides employment for a large number of workpeople.

In the tool room highly skilled men operate numerous kinds of precision machines which are necessary for exact and intricate tool making, and others are engaged in the final fitting and hardening of the tools, without which cheap and exact products are impossible. The tools when made must be fixed and adjusted in the machines every time that they are required. This important work is done by trained tool setters.

The organisation requires also foremen, charge hands, store-keepers, routers and progress chasers in the various departments. The maintenance staff which looks after the buildings as well as the plant, comprises bricklayers, carpenters, painters, millwrights, electricians and so forth. In the warehouse and despatch departments there is employment for cardboard box makers, wrappers and packers.

In addition to all these we have a laboratory staffed by qualified chemists for the regular tests and analyses of chemicals and other materials, and for experimental work and trials with proposed new finishes and processes; a test room for proving the strength, performance and durability of our products; a large inspection staff for the systematic examination and trial of every article made and an experimental shop for the development of new patterns.

All office and works stationery, forms, pamphlets and notices and many of the advertising circulars are printed on the premises. Only the more important printing of  books and catalogues is done by professional printers. Routine calculations and verifications of different kinds are made on calculating machines by a trained staff.
Recordings of sales, purchases and payments as well as wages and analyses, etc., are made by a punch card system. In the drawing office draughtsmen are engaged on designing not only the articles which are made but the tools to produce them.

A working week of forty-four hours spread over five days has been in operation at our works since it became general in so many industrial establishments throughout the land. The arrangement leaves Saturday free for all except those of the maintenance staff, who have to take advantage of the week-end for urgent work which cannot be done at other times without stopping production. In this connection it is interesting to recall that the length of a working week was fifty-five hours in 1840. It had come down to fifty hours by 1900 and was further reduced to forty-seven hours when that figure was widely adopted in industry, soon after the end of the first world war.

All employees get as holidays with pay, an annual holiday of one week and in addition six other days in each year.

All employees, staff and workpeople alike and directors included, who have been in the service of the Company for twenty years receive a silver badge—it is a brooch for women—which records the occasion, a silver gilt badge or brooch after thirty years and a gold one after forty years. These insignia are presented at an annual social gathering to which all possessors of them and those who have recently qualified are invited. At the present time there are 117 persons with over twenty years' service to their credit. Of these thirty have served more than thirty years and five more than forty years.

In the 1914-1918 war a large number of the Company's employees joined up and the following made the great sacrifice: Ashbrooke, F. and Highway, R. In the 1939-1945 war there were 152 men and eight women serving in the armed forces of whom the following lost their lives in action: Barker, H., Dudley, D., johnson, D., Ray, L., Rowley, T. and Ward, S. One of our employees, Stanford, R. R., served in both wars.

Our products are not confined to, but consist mainly of, locks, latches and keys. The variety of these is very large, for not only are there many kinds according to manner of fixing and the way in which they work, but they are made in numerous sizes and qualities. Different buildings, like municipal and larger houses, flats, factories, offices, hospitals, hotels and banks require different sorts of locks on the doors, furniture and fittings. For ships, motor cars, filing cabinets, workmens' clothes lockers and so forth, other kinds are needed. A few of the Buildings and Ships on which UNION locks are fitted are illustrated.

We describe ourselves as manufacturers of locks and builders' hardware. The second term includes lock and door furniture, such as knobs, handles and postal knockers, catches and fastenings for cupboard doors, hat and coat hooks. For a very long period we made a larger range of articles of builders' hardware among which were door bolts, window fasteners, stays and openers, door holders and stops, drawer handles, finger plates, gate fittings, hinges and kicking plates. These and other things were made in numerous patterns, but their manufacture has been suspended and our energies are now concentrated on a smaller field.

Our policy is to make, as far as possible, those varieties that are in greatest demand so that manufacture may be conducted on quantity production lines at a minimum cost. It is a condition, however, that this shall be done without sacrifice of quality.

In order to carry into effect this policy, which is clearly to the users' benefit, manufacture is scientifically planned so that every detail shall be watched and every operation performed in the best possible way to achieve and maintain the required standards of accuracy and quality. Before this is done our design and inspection staffs must be satisfied that the various models function properly under test and have the necessary properties of durability.

For articles which in other departments are made in somewhat smaller quantities, though still in good numbers, the same repetition methods are followed in the main but some modifications according to circumstances are often necessary. Then we have a large department which is an important part of the organisation where the best hand-made locks and other fittings demanding exceptional craftsmanship in their fabrication are produced.  The final fitting and adjustment of these is given to highly skilled locksmiths and keysmiths whose intensive training and experience have qualified them for work of the highest grade. In this department of which we and the workpeople are proud, the deep-rooted traditions of locksmiths' art are honoured and carefully preserved.

An important step in manufacturing development was taken in 1911 when we began to make cylinder locks and latches of which comparatively few at that time were being produced in this country. The many millions of UNION brand made since then are in use in nearly all parts of the world.

We make a very considerable proportion of the twenty million locks and latches which is the approximate number produced annually in these islands. That a very good proportion of the output is for export becomes clear from the fact that our order book shows orders from eighty-three separate countries including all the Dominions and nearly every foreign country in the world.

We believe that the actions, mechanisms, constructions and processes incorporated in or applied to many of our products show novelty and merit in which we have valuable proprietary rights, so numerous patents have been taken out for their protection in this and other lands.

From our early beginnings as manufacturers we have striven to maintain the highest standards in the design, construction and workmanship of all our products. Our trade mark UNION which is so well known and registered all over the world is universally recognized as the symbol of lasting excellence. We are justly proud of this reputation and endeavour continually to deserve it by taking care that every article which we make is the best of its kind. Consequently, we guarantee to replace any which have faults for which we are responsible.

Our colours, red oxide and deep cream, are familiar to many thousands of buyers and sellers, for they give distinction to our catalogues, pamphlets, cartons and labels. We paint our lorries and show-boards with the same tints.

Our products in the main are distributed through builders' merchants and ironmongers in whatever quarters of the world we are doing business. Others, such as locks for motor cars, ships and steel furniture, are supplied to large manufacturers who require them to complete their own products.

During the 1914-1918 war we produced a great variety of munitions of many kinds, notably grenades, fuzes for shells, gas checks, detonators for aero bombs, shrapnel tubes, rifle rods, transit plugs, strombus horns and turnbuckles.

A large portion of the factory was set apart and a great quantity of new plant obtained during the 1939-1945 war for the production of munitions and other articles to help the cause of Empire. There were fuzes of several kinds for land mines, naval and aerial warfare, grenades, gas checks, tracers, primers and bomb release mechanisms. Among other things that could be named were locks to secure the spinners to aeroplanes, switches for booby traps and wireless aerial gear for tanks. Besides all these, many thousands of padlocks were made to secure kit bags and for numerous other purposes. The grand total of complete units and assemblies made directly for the fighting forces exceeded 5,000,000 in number.

London Gazette, 14 January 1896:
Notice is hereby given, that the Partnership heretofore subsisting between us the Undersigned William Edmund Parkes and Josiah Parkes carrying on business as Lock Manufacturers and Hardware Factors at Willenhall under the style or firm of Josiah Parkes and Sons has been dissolved by mutual consent as and from the 22nd day of November 1895. All debts due to and owing by the said firm will be received and paid by the said William Edmund Parkes and the said business will in future be carried on by the said William Edmund Parkes in the name of Josiah Parkes and Sons. Dated this 22nd day of November, WEP.

From Dower House Collection, 8/2004:


On JP&S Holdings paper:

1st. September 1965

To: All Shareholders
         I am pleased to be able to report further progress by the company in the first half of 1965. Group turnover during the period January to June was 12% higher than in the corresponding period of 1964 and our orders in hand at 30th. June were considerably more than at 31st.December last.
         The estimated group profit for the 6 months subject to audit, before providing for taxation, was £311,500 compared with £296,000 for the corresponding period of 1964 on a similar basis. These figures do not take account of any differences between actual and book stocks or for fluctuations in metal prices, all of which are brought into account at 31st.December.
         So far as we can judge at the moment the introduction of corporation tax is not likely to increase, and may in fact reduce, the company's tax burden on the assumption that the distribution policy of recent years is maintained.
         Despite some slight indications of a fall in home demand from the construction industry, the outlook for the remainder of the year is reasonably promising and I see no reason to change my forecast of April last that we may expect a small increase in the profit for the full year of 1965.
         Your Directors have declared an Interim Dividend of 5% less tax, as was paid last year, payable on 14th.0ctober 1965 to shareholders on record on 27th.September 1965.


2. There are 3 parties with whom we here are concerned. The customer though I am not sure that he should, come first, the people who work here, and the shareholders, but on balance I think all 3 are equal because without any one of them the place would not function.
   We here produce the goods, we are the workers, the shareholders provide the money with which to run the place, and the customers of course use our product, and I am glad to think as I do that all 3 bodies are well satisfied with the result.
  I am reminded of the parson who was called to the bedside of a dying man, and what I believe is the usual way the minister said to the man do you renounce the devil and all his works; the poor dying man said I cannot afford to antagonise anybody. He was obviously hedging and quite unable to take a firm stand either way.

   Now I have many bees in my bonnet, they keep me awake at night trying to get out, and frequently the fabric of the bonnet gives way and the bees do come out, and I want to tell you about one which is particularly connected with us here tonight, but I have no doubt that you all here have the same sort of problem.
  My particular bee at the moment is that I have an insatiable ambition for the success of this Company.  Now that may not be an unusual sort of bee but it is a very big one and it does make a great deal of noise.
  The success of this Company and my ambition is that our product should be as perfect as possible, and that we should, lead the world in design, and that we should beat the foreigner in his own market and so do all that we possibly can to put right the National balance of trade which has got into such a mess of recent months and years.
   I think you will all agree that this is a very worthy bee and a very laudable ambition, and I am glad to believe that every-body in the whole organization has a similar ambition.
   I am by some people considered to be a pessimist but in spite of that I always am hopeful, you know that hope is one of St. Paul's three great requirements of life. After all my hope is based on a very long experience, in fact although I know that our name is already well respected in nearly the whole world in the lock and builders hardware trade I want it to become even the greatest name. I hope it will be so.

  I referred to the leadership of the world in the matter of design.
   Now most of you people here must be very conscious of door and window fittings because we earn our living at making them, and I want now to appeal to you to think how our product can be improved, and I do not mean here only in the reducing of the cost of manufacture though of course that is vital, I mean the introduction of new and different methods of closing and securing doors and windows.
   I very much regret to say that in recent years the Americans have lead the field in this respect. I think that we all of us ought to bend our energies and thinking to see if we cannot reverse this trend.


  You know that various developments have taken place recently in our Organization.
   A year or two ago we formed a Holding Company, this was in order mainly  to develop in overseas territories.
   There are now 5 Companies in the Group -  Josiah Parkes & Sons of Willenhall, Showells of Birmingham,  Josiah Parkes & Sons of Johannesburg, Salisbury and Lagos.
   It is an interesting fact that in the case of South Africa even though we have quite a sizeable manufacturing plant there and the total turnover is about one-quarter of ours at Willenhall, we are still sending to them component parts in value 2 or 3 times as much as we sent in finished goods before the formation of the Company.
   So, the employment at Willenhall and Birmingham has actually increased because of the South African Company. This tendency will I think grow also in the other markets.
   It happens that I am going to visit Johannesburg, Salisbury and Lagos early next year. They are all following almost exactly in our steps, and in fact they are chips of the old block, and reckoning the Willenhall Company as being the old block the chips will warm the cockles of the old block's heart, because even in high summer we still need a little extra, warmth.
    You also know presumably that we have recently acquired a factory in Gypsy Lane from Arthur Shaw & Co. This is being refurbished and will we hope be ready for occupation early in the Spring.
   The result of this must be increased output and efficiency, and this  will mean that more orders will have to be obtained not only from the Home market but from many countries overseas.


 I referred earlier on to the question of age.
   At these parties that is always in my mind, though so many of you here look quite ridiculously young.
    It does happen that I heard a statement made at the Church Assembly which I have been attending for a few days this week, listening to the most erudite talks.
    One bishop told a story though in what connection I cannot now remember. It was about an old lag who was accused of some serious offence, and the jury in due course convicted - he was 70. He was given 10 years imprisonment,
    The old rogue said to the judge - you realize my age and that I may not be able to complete the sentence - the judge replied - well my good man I feel sure that you will do your best - do as much as you can.  

The "Union Unit" 2 Stroke Engine

The company made a lightweight single cylinder 2 stroke of 290 cc's in about 1919. It was a design of R.S. Whaley of Edgbaston, Birmingham. It was sold with and without gearbox. It was fitted to various cycles: Sirrah, OK, Gough, CMM, Hoskinson, Pearson and Sopwith, Edmundson and Coulson-Union. Production was taken over by Alfred Wiseman. A damming report by consulting engineers revealed that by mid 1920, the production was so slow and loss making as to cause real concern over the rest of the business.

From Dower House collection:




Directors' Holding       Own name    Nominee    Total

C.W. Parkes               62226      22224       84450

A.J. Parkes              121068                 121068

W.E. Egar                  8700       1000        9700

E.C. Fryer                 6935       3780       10715

D.S. Maitland             10837                  10837

                         206766      27004      236770


C.W. Parkes, E.G. Willcock, R.E. Bennett         89920

(executors of H.G. Parkes, dec'd)


A.J. Parkes, Mrs R.J.L. Maitland & Mrs E.U. Waddell

(executors of Ethel Ann Parkes)                  28752


D.S. Maitland & Mrs R.J.L. Maitland              20475







Mrs S.B. Parkes (nominees)                       32085

Mrs J.B. Power  (nominees)           64080

                (Personal)           12219       76299

Mr N.A. Power                                    18900

Mr & Mrs N.A. Power (re Christopher)             21000

Mr & Mrs N.A. Power (re Michael)                 21000

R.E. Beckett & G. Fellows (re Trust)             23625


Mrs R.J.L. Maitland                  17673

Mrs E.U. Waddell                     23936

Mr P.L. Waddell                       3000

Mr & Mrs P.L. Waddell (A a/c)        10237

Mrs C.A. Moore                       15915

Miss Elizabeth L. Maitland            3000

Mr A.A. Maitland                      3000

Miss Angela R. Waddell                3000       79761


Mrs K.M. Fryer                                    2797




Midland Bank (re GH Lister)                       8032



Showell Family and others                       104041


BALANCE SHEET 31 Dec 1966: 2480361 (2480069 1965). Turnover 3891344

Profit 338518


Had London Office in Bush House, Strand.


1936: service agreement with Josiah Parkes & Co. AJP as Joint MD. Annual salary £1600 plus 5% of net profits in excess of 10% of issued and paid up capital wef 2 September 1936, the date from which the company acquired the business.

WCP: similar but £1700.

HGP: similar but £1500.


From Letter 27/10/1936:

Shareholdings in JP&S Ltd were adjusted in late 1936 to enable a public flotation of part of the business:

The several classes of shares were grouped as one type with holdings:


      Original  New Ord     Add Cap    Total    Shares    Cash

AJP   14197     42591       10901      53492     22463   35642

CWP   13415     40245       11324      51587     21664   33542

HGP    6487     19461        4757      24218     10170   16315


Joy    2052      6156                   6156

Mrs E   667      2001                   2001


The 3 Directors then put on £27000 Additional Capital pro rata on their family holdings.


The resulting £150,000 nominal capital would be split 50/50 and half sold to brokers at 50% premium, £112500. Shares 10/- nominal.

£35000 in 1936 = £1.5M 2005.


This arrangement seemed to go ahead with small changes in the totals.

Willenhall History Society

Willenhall - The Town of Locks and Keys


There is just one claim to fame that the town of Willenhall possesses in the minds of most people up and down the land. This claim centres on the production of locks and keys. Put another way, where is it that business concerns, not only in the British Isles but in various parts of the world, look to when thinking of security and more particularly locks and keys? The answer is "Willenhall", a name well known to many people who have never visited it and who possibly have no desire to do so. The fact is that the town produces the goods and that is what matters. Was Willenhall born then under the security of lock and key? It appears not. In fact there was a time, believe it or not, when Willenhall did not exist, with or without locks or keys.

Until man had possessions he had no need for locks. What's more the earliest form of lock was as simple as a stone rolled across the mouth of a cave to keep out intruders.

The first lock with any degree of complexity however, was the Egyptian lock of about 4,000 years ago. This was made of wood and worked on the same principle as the modern pin tumbler lock. A hollow wooden bolt which slid into a staple, had several holes in it, and the staple above the bolt contained weighted tumblers. These dropped into the holes when the bolt was in its shut position, this preventing the bolt from being drawn back. The wooden key had pegs to match the weighted tumblers. When the key was pushed into the hollow bolt, it could be lifted to raise the tumblers and the bolt could then be drawn back. Variations on this have been found from comparatively early times in such diverse parts of the world as Scotland , Japan , Norway and America .

It is thought that lockmaking in this country began with rough specimens being made before the reign of King Alfred. The products became more important and were greatly improved by the time of Queen Elizabeth I when locks were made by blacksmiths. The Willenhall blacksmiths relied on locally made wrought iron for the manufacture of the locks. This was produced from the coal and iron found nearby in abundant quantities.

As the blacksmiths evolved into specialised locksmiths and keysmiths so their work became progressively more intricate. All parts required for locks were hammered out to rough sizes and then filed down to shape. The file and the hammer were the most important tools of the locksmith. Many weeks must have been spent making some of the intricate locks and keys of Elizabethan times. The best locks by now possessed keys with numerous fine splits and perforations and the manufacturers of these needed to serve long apprenticeships. It was written that Queen Elizabeth granted to the township of Wllenhall the privilege of making all the locks required for state purposes. Although this has not been substantiated, the writer argued that this profitable piece of state patronage saw the rapid growth of Willenhall, and so lock making became the staple trade of Wolverhampton and Willenhall.

The dramatic rise in the population in the eighteenth century as industry expanded after the discovery of coal and iron, had its effect on Willenhall. Parish registers record a figure of 3,143 inhabitants in Willenhall and Short Heath in 1801. By 1861 this figure had risen to 17,256. Suffice it to say for the moment that for some one thousand years Willenhall seems to have stood waiting for a specific identity. During the latter part of this time it survived a serious fire of 1659. Willenhall rose bravely from the ashes and stood, waiting. In the fullness of time the 'lock and key' industry arrived.

One of its strongholds was New Invention, a small area two miles North East of the centre of Willenhall but within its township. The origin of the name New Invention has been a matter of considerable debate. The historian Hackwood favoured the legend that the name commemorated the invention of a new kind of chimney pot, while others believe that it relates to a new kind of pump used in the local mines or even a machine for the manufacture of locks and keys. The name is certainly old - it was current as early as the 17th century - but its meaning will probably always remain a mystery. There is one other village called New Invention, in Shropshire but this place name has a local origin of no significance to the Willenhall area,

Of course the skill of locksmiths was being continually challenged by thieves with increasing degrees of cunning. The locksmiths needed to keep a step or two ahead of the thieves. Robert Barron a Yorkshire man certainly moved them a long stride ahead when he patented a lever lock in 1778. This had two pivoted tumblers which were double acting, i.e. they had to be lifted simultaneously to precisely the correct height before the bolt could be withdrawn.

Jeremiah Chubb made a further advance on this in 1818 with his famous detector lock. This had an extra safeguard in that over lifting of any of the levers caused the detector lever to be caught and held up in the over lift position, thus preventing withdrawal of the bolts. When the owner tried to turn the lock he realised immediately that an attempt had been made to pick the lock. He then had to turn the correct key to return the lock to its original position before he could turn it to open the door.

In 1830 Willenhall resident James Carpenter along with inventor John Young of Wolverhampton designed the famous perpendicular action rim lock for doors. The striker did not move in and out as in modern locks but, instead moved up and down. The direct development from this patent saw the beginning of the mortice lock we know today. As Carpenters business grew he built a new large factory in New Road , known as Summerford Works. On his death in 1844 the firm was transferred to his son-in-law James Tildesley, he continued trading under the name of Carpenter and Tildesley. James Carpenter was an ardent Methodist and gave generously to Union Street Church . He lies buried with his wife in a vault on the east side of the Church, in the centre of the lockmaking area of the town. James Carpenter also took out patents for the manufacture of Currycombs, a device used for the combing of horse's coats. With the decline of horses as a means of transport the market for these disappeared.

With the introduction of the blast furnace new ways of making iron were developed, and it became possible to stamp out key blanks and other lock parts with the development of the drop hammer in 1806. In 1812 John Grimley from Birmingham settled in the town and commenced to manufacture parts by means of a drop hammer. This marked the commencement of the drop forging business which became one of the most thriving industries in the town.

The development of malleable iron was perfected by 1836 and brought further progress. This is a cast iron with the properties of wrought iron that could be moulded and cast into small intricate shapes. The industry found its roots in Walsall and Willenhall and the castings produced were small as used in the saddle, harness and lock trades. Repetitive production enabled large numbers of lock parts and keys to be produced cheaply. Key making has always been a separate trade from lock making. Key castings would be purchased for finishing and then passed to the locksmith for final fitting to the locks. The key maker would carry out his work by the use of the file and very primitive machinery. The file was used to clean up the castings and make them bright, while the wards were cut with either a file or hammer and chisel. This work was entrusted to boys in the case of the simpler work. The castings and stampings were drilled to make the pipe or barrel needed for keys which were intended to open a lock from one side only (as most of them were). The hole was drilled by a small machine worked with the foot like a lathe or sewing machine. The key makers use of the file led to them becoming known locally as "Key Filer"

By this stage locks and keys of every variety had become utilitarian rather than ornate. The locksmiths and key makers in general worked in small isolated groups of ones and twos, independent of each other, but all engaged in one aspect or other of providing locks and keys. In many cases this work was combined with work of an entirely different nature. We find individuals listed in the 1818 trade directory, Joseph Hodson, Red Lion Public House and Padlock Maker, Lichfield Street . John Phillips, Kings Head Public House and Lock and keysmith, Wolverhampton Street . Joseph Read, truss maker, draper & locksmith, Bilston Road . In 1864, Samuel Davenport, Brown Jug Public House and Keymaker, Sandbeds. John Langley, Keymaker and shopkeeper, Newhall Street . Letitia Ordidge,Padlock maker and shopkeeper, John Street .

Where a retail shop was involved it was the wife who attended to the shop while the husband plied his lock and key work in the workshop at the rear. Many of these locksmiths and keymakers made use of apprentices and when the latter had served their time they were replaced by new ones so that the 'master' did not have to pay the much higher wages of a journeyman. As a result the former would be almost forced to become a small master himself. This accounts for the relatively small numbers of journeymen or large manufacturers in the West Midlands , but large numbers of 'small' masters.












Wolverhampton and Wednesfield




















Bilston and Wednesbury










Bloxwich and Walsall










The above tables make fascinating reading, showing the development of Willenhall and Wolverhampton as the home of the British Lock and Key industry.

The conditions in the numerous workshops to which the figures of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries refer were often poor. Young children would be set to work when they were strong enough to hold a file. The fact that Willenhall was known colloquially as 'Humpshire' is evidence, of course, of the toll that this took in causing deformity. A contemporary observer of this characteristic gave the following grim details:

"The right shoulder blade becomes displaced and projects. The right leg crooks and bends inwards at the knee like the letter V; this is the leg which is hindmost in standing at the vice. The right hand also has, frequently, a marked distortion, almost everything it holds takes the position of the file. If the poor man carries a limp lettuce or a limper mackerel from Wolverhampton market they are never dangled, but always held like the file. If he carries nothing, his right hand is in just the same position".

What would a Trade Union of today have to say of these working conditions, as the locksmith worked frenetically towards the end of the week for sixteen or eighteen hours a day? The anonymous observer, quoted above, has this to say:

"Towards the end of the week, when hurry and drive are the order of the day, they eat their meals while at work and bolt their victuals standing. You see a man and his two apprentices with a plate before each of them heaped with potatoes and turnips or something or other (but seldom meat) and a large slice of bread in one hand; your attention is called off for one or two minutes and, on turning round again, you see the man and boys filing away at their vices again".

vaughan letterheadCheap labour enabled the locksmiths to put out their products in large numbers and at cheap prices. They might well have had orders for up to 10,000 padlocks, which were sold in the plantations of South America and India for as little as a penny each. Despite all this the picture was not totally black, many apprentices were well fed, clothed and kindly treated, and went on to become successful business men.

By the end of the 19th century the most important lockmaking firms in the town were Messrs Carpenter & Tildesley; H & T. Vaughan; John Miners & Sons; J. Waive & Sons; Beddows & Sturmey; J, Legge & Co; and Enoch Tonks & Sons. In the casting trade there was John Harper & Co. Ltd.; Wm. Harper; C & L Hill; H & J Hill; T Pedley & Co. Ltd.; and Arthur Tipper.

Currycomb manufacture was shrinking, but was more than being made up for by the rapid growth of the trade in stampings, producing keys, parts for locks, and hardware articles. The main firms in this trade were Armstrong Stevens and Co, John Harper & Co. Ltd. and Vaughan Brothers.

The age of mechanism was a long time coming to the lock trade, but towards the end of the eighteenth century came the hand press. Isaac Mason, a native of Bilston, moved to Willenhall in 1796, and brought with him a new method of pressing out lock parts. The operation was effected by means of a punch and die fixed to a hand press whereby it was possible to produce plates and other parts at a single blow. The hand press was later replaced by the power press, while sheet steel replaced wrought iron. All these developments meant that the small independent master with his manual skills, was in decline. Women were employed more and more in the trade, making parts for machine made locks, as better production methods were introduced.


The next important step forward was made in the middle of the nineteenth century. The credit for solving the problem must go to an American, Linus Yale Junior. The Yale Cylinder Pin Tumbler Lock was to bring about great changes in the lock trade when in 1865 Linus Yale Junior patented his new lock. In fact, it was hardly new. The basic principle was that of the Egyptian pin tumbler device, moveable pins held the bolt in place until raised by the correct key. Yale improved on the design and introduced the cylinder key we know today, paving the way for mass production of locks.

The development of the Cylinder pin tumbler lock in Willenhall took place in the early 1900s, H & T. Vaughan and Josiah Parkes & Sons leading the way as they gradually built up a large overseas trade in their products. Other companies who soon started to manufacture this type of lock in large quantities were Enoch Tonks & Sons, Humphry & J. Fox Ltd, Arthur Shaw & Co. Ltd and J. E. Reynolds & Sons, later to be joined by J. Legge. By 1929 H & T. Vaughan had grown to be the largest lock makers in Willenhall, and when Joseph Starkey their managing director died, the Vaughan family decided to sell the business to the Yale & Towne Manufacturing Company of USA . This gave the American company production facilities with a ready made workforce to expand their manufacture of the "Yale" cylinder pin tumbler lock.

Working conditions have changed dramatically over the last hundred and fifty years, and prices have risen out of all recognition. The development of locks during the second half of the 20th century has shown itself in the production of numerous new patterns, new manufacturing techniques and the increased use of specialised machinery. These, together with the application of new materials and treatments transformed lock manufacture and allowed the Willenhall industry to become competitively priced in a world market, meeting the competition From Europe and the Third World .

The recession of the late 1980s saw unemployment rise. Linked with this was an increase in burglaries. This in turn saw Insurance companies specifying locks that conformed to a higher British Standard specification, the challenge was met by the lockmakers with renewed vigour.

As we approach the millennium the industry has stabilised, companies have merged or been absorbed by large groups. It is estimated that around 10 manufacturers account for most of the UK production of locks and keys. The amalgamation in 1997 of Chubb Locks Ltd. (which includes Josiah Parkes and Sons Ltd and C.E.Marshall Ltd) and Yale Security Products Ltd. as part of the William's Holdings Group has seen the lock industry become concentrated in Willenhall, and between them this group accounts for about 70% of the locks manufactured in the UK. There are still other lock makers making significant contributions to the wide range of locks produced in Willenhall, including Guardian Lock and Engineering Ltd. Legge (now part of the Ingersol Rand group), J E Reynolds & Sons Ltd, Security Engineering Ltd. (Formerly Securefast and Enoch Pinson). Benton Smith Ltd. Willenhall Locks Ltd, and padlock makers Henry Squire Ltd and B & G. Tool Ltd, plus seven other small lock makers who employ ten people or less.

Total employment by the industry in Willenhall is estimated at over 4000, and although the industry is not a large employer in national terms, it is an important provider of jobs in the area, and is the most important lock making town in Great Britain .

Jim Evans 3/9/99

Since this was written lock manufacture is greatly reduced in Willenhall, with even the old Yale works now demolished to make way for new developments.

There are still lock companies operating in the area, some distributing imported locks and others producing high quality specialist products.





13/1/2003: final paragraph
11/8/2004: added extract from JP&S 1840-1949
2/9/2004: 1965 interim report
5/11/2004: AJP Speech
3/2/2006: additions, Union engine etc.
21/1/2013: edited.