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Alfred Charles Hobbs

​Alfred Charles Hobbs

​An American lock-picker's legacy: archives of Hobbs Hart and Company Limited, lock and safe makers

Richard Wiltshire, Senior Archivist

History

Hobbs Hart was founded by Alfred Charles Hobbs, an American lock dealer having famously picked the rival, and previously regarded as impregnable, Bramah and Chubb locks at the 1851 Great Exhibition. He established the firm in 1852 as Hobbs and Company to manufacture locks based on his patents. By 1855 there was a factory at 33 Lawrence Lane, City of London with showrooms at 97 Cheapside. In 1860, following Hobbs’ death, John Matthias Hart took over management of the firm and began manufacturing safes and strong room doors. The company held a Royal Warrant from 1861 and supplied safes to the Bank of England. The firm was incorporated in 1887 as Hobbs Hart and Company Limited, the year Hart died. The registered address was 76-77 Cheapside, City of London, with manufacturing of safe and strong-room doors at Wharncliffe Works, Arlington Street, Islington. Operations moved to works and offices built in Staffa Road, Leyton in 1936. The range of products was increased and supplied to major banks, the royal household, government, hospitals and railways, and overseas exports developed.

The company was acquired by Hobbs Hart’s main rival firm Chubb and Son Lock and Safe Company Limited in 1956. The Hobbs Hart departments later moved to 231-237 Cambridge Heath Road and operations continued until 1983 as one of the two safe manufacturing centres of Chubb Group.

The records were in the custody of the Chubb Archive until 1999 when they were transferred and gifted to the City of London via the Business Archives Council. They remain part of the wider archive of Chubb and Son, and of its subsidiaries and acquired firms.

Highlights

The collection consists mainly of minutes, annual reports, correspondence, and records of finance, production, premises and staff. Most records date after the registration as a limited company in 1887. The earliest item is a manuscript copy agreement, Alfred Charles Hobbs versus W Garbutt, for picking one of "Newell and Day's Patent Parantopic Locks" (1851) (CLC/B/002/HH01/01/03/001). The only other material concerning Alfred C Hobbs relates to a claim brought in 1898 by Jane Mason, an inmate of St George's Hanover Square Union Workhouse, who claimed to be his sister. Correspondence includes a signed memorandum by Alfred J Hobbs, The Union Metallic Cartridge Company, Bridgeport, Connecticut, United States of America, on the family of John J and Elizabeth Hobbs including dates and places of birth and death (CLC/B/002/HH03/02/01/004).

Other highlights include John Matthias Hart’s correspondence documenting his request in 1885 for a knighthood (CLC/B/002/HH03/01/002). Letters include his dismay and the action taken when a knighthood was conferred on his rival George Hayter Chubb of Chubb and Son's Lock and Safe Company Limited. Included are letters from Sir John Clayton Cowell, Master of the Queen's Household, Windsor Castle, Berkshire and Osborne House, Isle of Wight, and a memorandum by Hart’s cousin William Albert Hart on the history of the firm's works including Windsor Castle.

Further correspondence and reports kept by the Company Secretary, General Manager and Directors include subject files on the Bank of Spain, Madrid, 1901 (CLC/B/002/HH03/02/01/007) and the safe makers strike containing petitions for a reduction in hours from the Society of Iron Safe Engineers in 1897 (CLC/B/002/HH03/02/05/001). There are comprehensive series of staff records (1871-1970) covering office and manufacturing employees (CLC/B/002/HH08) including archives of the pension and life assurance scheme (CLC/B/002/HH08/08). These records are subject to access restrictions under Data Protection legislation.

Hobbs, Hart and Company Manufactories

​Hobbs, Hart and Co. manufactories, 1882

​The manufacturing records include factory safe order books from 1880 to 1959 (CLC/B/002/HH05/01/01). This series gives the serial numbers of safe and door products, order numbers and customer names (often abbreviated), descriptions of jobs with measurements and some sketches, the engineer's names and details of delivery and date. This series is complemented by customer safe order books (1894-1959) (CLC/B/002/HH05/01/02) and other series including cost price and sales ledgers. For lock products there is only one main customer order series (1944-1959) (CLC/B/002/HH05/01/03).

The archive includes extensive product catalogues and photographs (CLC/B/002/HH07). An unusual example is the supply of Crumpet Making Machines from John Pelkman Engineering Company Limited during 1950s, documented in a cost book (CLC/B/002/HH05/08/03/002), Director’s contract file (CLC/B/002/HH03/03/005) and photographs (CLC/B/002/HH07/06/06/005).

Access

The full catalogue can be found on the LMA’s online catalogue at reference CLC/B/002/HH01 through to CLC/B/002/HH10. Please note that the collection is mainly stored off-site and available for consultation with 48 hours’ notice. Photographs are stored onsite and available without prior notice to researchers with a valid History Card.

Further information on the firm’s history can be found in printed booklets and unpublished articles (CLC/B/002/HH09). Related items including further sales catalogues can be found in the Chubb Collectanea Scrapbooks series (CLC/B/002/10/01). See also 'A Lock Collectors Guide to A. C. Hobbs A Man of Genius' by Mike Fincher 2008 (LMA Library reference: Store 35.133/HOB).

Further information

You can find out more about records relating to business and employment held at LMA on our collections pages.

Published:
15 April 2014
Last Modified:
05 September 2018

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