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Safe and secure/burglars beware – 200 years of Chubb

Charles Chubb

​Charles Chubb, founder of the firm.

​2018 marks the 200th anniversary of the founding of Chubb and Son Limited, lock and safe makers. Richard Wiltshire, Senior Archivist gives an overview of the collection held at London Metropolitan Archives and celebrates the completion of a major volunteer project on a key series of scrapbooks or ‘Collectanea’ which form part of the archive. He also presents the experiences of the volunteers in their own words on their work and what volunteering means to them, as well as exploring some of the collection’s highlights. 

Chubb and the ‘Chubb Collectanea’

Chubb and Son Limited, lock and safe manufacturers was established in 1818 by Charles Chubb (1772-1846) of Portsea, Hampshire following the grant of a patent to his brother Jeremiah Chubb for a detector lock. In 1827 Charles Chubb opened a shop at 57 St Paul's Churchyard, in the heart of the City of London. From that time the firm and members of the Chubb family kept a series of scrapbooks to document their achievements and wider concerns which became known as the 'Chubb Collectanea' (series CLC/B/002/10/01). There are 110 volumes containing press cuttings, articles, original documents including letters, photographs, sketches and drawings, brochures, handbills, price lists and a wealth of other printed material relating to the company and history of security thinking and practice dating from 1819 to 1987. Some items relate to the Chubb family and directors' wider interests in other firms and membership organisations.

The wealth of documents contained within the books meant that they were prime candidates for listing to item level. This is something that professional staff do not have the time to do, so it was decided to set up a volunteer project. The project began in April 2010 and involves describing each item and inputting the descriptions on to cataloguing software. Six volunteers devoted over 30 hours a month of time to the project. In May 2017 the project was completed with full descriptions available to view online for the period 1819-1964 (CLC/B/002/10/01/001-073). The volunteers achieved over an incredible 22,200 individual item descriptions on the catalogue.


​Pam Dobby, Chubb Collectanea volunteer.

​Here are the thoughts of three current volunteers in their own words:

Why did I want to volunteer in archives?

Pam Dobby: ‘I came upon this opportunity by accident, after attending a lecture at the London Metropolitan Archives (LMA), and thought that this would provide an opportunity to use my existing skills, and increase my knowledge of the history of London. As a retired librarian, with a career in Westminster Libraries, I chose to volunteer for the LMA, rather than for a public library, as I’m rather uneasy about replacing paid professional staff in the library environment.’

Paddy Johnson: ‘I wanted to volunteer as I had recently stopped full-time employed work and usually had some days free each week. Also, I wanted to use some of the skills I had gained when doing my Maritime History MA five years before at the Greenwich Maritime Institute.’

Mary Marinkov:  ‘As a retired local government accountant with a master’s degree in Classics and a BA in humanities, both of which I did with the Open University whilst working, I can't sit around at home without getting bored and wanting to find something new and interesting to keep me happy and my mind engaged…I looked around for something a bit different to volunteer for, and looking through the internet I came up with the John Soane Museum, a place I love, Somerset House, a building that I also love and the opportunity to be involved in all types of interesting exhibitions. What else did I want? …perhaps something in an office, which after 40 years is a way of life that I can't help but feel rather lost without…Out popped the LMA looking for volunteers to help with archiving. Great idea, being involved in research from the other end sounded good.’

Chubb poster

​Chubb and Son's new electric alarm, 1880.

What attracted me to cataloguing the Chubb Collectanea scrapbooks?

Pam Dobby: ‘My very first task as a library assistant was in the days of the library card catalogue, amalgamating card catalogues from the City of Westminster, St. Marylebone and Paddington Libraries, after the 1965 amalgamation of the three boroughs. My final post in Westminster was as Central Music Librarian (which I always thought was the best job in the world), specialising in the cataloguing of printed music.’

Paddy Johnson: ‘The material…[is of a] diverse nature… and gives a flavour of wider contemporaneous events. Interesting examples relate to civil disorder during the late 1840s when European Revolutionary activity began to have influence in Britain; the huge losses of art and other valuables in the Pantechnicon warehouse fire of the 1870s. Other items relate to the state of the economy and competition from other countries - and how these impacted on wages and employment. In addition there are numerous accounts of fraud and theft, from railways to banks, and the measures put in place to try and prevent their recurrence.’

Mary Marinkov: ‘I checked my e-mails and there was an offer to come and see if I would like to work on the Chubb Archives. Chubb Locks? how bizarre! My friends couldn't stop laughing…Despite how it sounds the scrapbooks are fascinating, everything you could want to know about Victorian burglaries, working conditions, indeed anything with the word lock in it, that results in all kinds of unexpected treasures, plus the challenge to write a short paragraph that picks up all the important facts and includes words that will enable a potential researcher on any subject to be able to be guided to the scrapbooks. What else could you want? Oh yes, the LMA is also situated in a really interesting part of London to wander through at lunch times. My friends still laugh but I really enjoy it.’

Fire damaged safe

​Safe shown in fire damaged premises, Watling Street, London, 1878.

​Collection highlights

Highlights include the reports of ‘Lock controversies’ between rival companies, including Mr Hobbs’ successful attempt to pick the Bramah lock, manufactured by Bramah and Company as described  in a pamphlet of 1851 (CLC/B/002/10/01/004/008). One newspaper cutting which particularly entertained Pam Dobby was a cutting titled 'Dangerous bon-bons' from 'The Times' July 10 1877: a Parisian lady had been sent a packet of chocolate creams, together with an invitation to dine out. While she was out, her maid's lover, a locksmith, had used one of the chocolate creams to take a casting of the lock to her strong-box and opened the box with the duplicate key (CLC/B/002/10/01/016/080A).

Other highlights include documenting product diversity from jewel safes for women to special ceremonial keys and walk-in gleaming bank safes; the rise of safe deposit companies, the methods of burglars in use of new devices such as blow pipes to break in to safes and new inventions for protection against risk of fire. During the twentieth century the scrapbooks document wartime and developments in security on an international scale particularly in Australia, India, North America and South Africa.

In addition to the Chubb Collectanea, the archive includes key production records including order books and registers giving the serial numbers and manufacturing details for locks and safes. These sources are important in the dating of late Georgian to early 20th century antique furniture where Chubb locks are fitted and Chubb products. There are also important administrative files on the post Second World War global expansion of Chubb and diversification in security products. A fully catalogued section of the collection are the records of Chubb’s rival firm Hobbs Hart and Company Limited which Chubb finally acquired in 1956.

The Chubb Collectanea and other key series in the archive are available for consultation with 48 hours’ notice with Chubb lock registers available to view on microfilm. Other parts of the collection are uncatalogued. Please contact staff for further details.

London Metropolitan Archives would like to thank all the volunteers for their time and support to making this series more accessible to users.

To register interest in volunteering at LMA please contact us at

10 April 2013
Last Modified:
01 August 2018