No matter how sophisticated the design of a safe or strongroom door, the security features all reduce to one element, the key*. Safes are not perfect but failure to ensure that the key* is never handled or even scrutinised by other than the lawful holder can nullify the safemakers best efforts.
It should go without saying that the safe key should never be out of the personal possession of it's rightful custodian. Nor should it ever be left in the keyway unattended. At one time it was normal to fit locks which were key retaining - in other words the key could not be removed unless the safe was locked, and the same facility can still be provided today on special request. This is not perfect of course as the safe could be locked with the door open.
In an earlier page, 'Improvements', mention was made of the fact that even the best modern safes can be subjected to covert or surreptitious attack by means of false keys or lock manipulation, and the associated fact that in such circumstances, suspicion immediately falls on the legitimate keyholder.
Not surprisingly the industry had already taken this into consideration by providing a solution to overcome the possibility. That answer was the Time Lock which, once the safe was locked, was totally inaccessable, and which restricted the permitted opening times of the safe or strongroom within normal business hours, even after all the locks had been released.
Modern safes are seldom fitted with fire-chambers, rather just a hinged sheet metal pan giving access to the mechanism for service. This pan on a security safe should normally be fitted with two keylocks in order to limit access to the mechanism to service engineers. Failure to use this facility could permit illegal access to a lock which could then be seriously compromised - key or combination -without the weakness being realised, and subsequently allowing the safe to be opened - and locked again- without indulging in noticeably suspicious behaviour.
An example of a robbery where the safe keys were left unguarded is described here.
*For key include combination settings.
The Shettleston Bank Robbery - April 1959
On the morning of 29th April 1959 the staff of the Clydesdale Bank Shettleston Road Branch arrived to find that that the cash safe was lying open and empty.
The safe was a Milner List 5 of 1910 manufacture, and fitted with 3 keylocks.
It was clear that the safe had suffered no damage and that it had probably been opened with the true keys. There were no signs of forced entry into the premises. What puzzled the police was that a filing tray containing £3,739 was lying on the manager's desk.
The Bank cleaner was immediately sent for who explained that she had found the cash lying on the Bank floor close to the manager's room. The police pressed the Bank security officials for details of duplicate keys held at Head Office and were reassured that there had been no breach of security there. The Bank was then assured by a safe expert that false keys could not be cut from impressions of the true keys because of the fine limits applied to such as the Milner locks.
We now jump forward to the 30th of June when three people are arrested for the theft of more than £38,000 from the Clydesdale Bank Shettleston Road. They were Samuel McKay (34), Alexander Gray (35), and Jean Rice (34). They came to trial on the 19th September at the High Court in Glasgow but without Samuel McKay who had escaped from Barlinnie Prison Hospital Block on July 27th, and now with the addition of Hugh Mannion and John McKay, brother of the escapee Samuel.
The Bank manager was questioned about the possibility of the Bank apprentice having access to the keys in addition to the accountant, teller, and ledger clerk. It was normal practice for the manager to hold the key for the top lock and the second key to be in the possession of the teller. It appears that the third lock was not in use. The Bank apprentice, William Rae (18), decided at this stage to give himself up at the Eastern Police Station, and whose subsequent evidence confirmed that through him, the true keys had been impressioned for false keys to be made.
In his evidence Rae stated that that he had asked the accused Gray for part-time work in his betting shop which was situated "not far from the Bank". Gray had replied by saying that he wanted to rob a Bank. Rae went on to say that Gray had taken him to 'Cairns' public house in Miller Street and 'Sloans' in the Arcade and that "I don't remember much". He was, he said, eventally talked into it and Gray gave him a chromium plated soap dish filled with plastacine and asked him to impression keys.
There then followed a series of attempts to obtain good impressions from the keys which were often hanging from the safe's keyholes or otherwise lying around. When the teller went on holiday Rae was given his keys which he took to the betting shop where more impressions were taken. Rae was then given 3 keys to try but they were too short. A few days later he was given 9 keys to try but only one partially turned in the lock.
Gray then obtained the services of William Mercer, a foreman joiner with some lock experience, and who after trying to adjust the false keys told Gray that he would need to have the true keys in his possession to do it properly. Somehow this was achieved, keys made, and taken into the Bank by Gray (later found in possession of mortice lock key for bank door) who reported that he had opened the safe but "there was not much in it"
Rae let it be known when the local Teacher's salaries were to be held at the end of the month. He had been given £100 and was to receive half the proceeds from the robbery but instead decided to give himself up.
There is a very interesting footnote however. Knowing that suspicion would immediately fall on the Bank staff and which no doubt stood in the way of Rae's cooperation, it was decided to arrange for the safe to be blown after the money had been safely removed thereby diverting suspicion. To this end it was planned that the safe be robbed around 6 p.m. and that the safe blower would then arrive between 7 and 8 p.m. to blow it open. His fee for his work was to be left on the floor of the Bank. £3,739 to be exact! Most unusually however, the cleaner elected to carry out her work in the evening instead of her usual morning routine. The peterman, just about to let himself into the Bank, spotted that all the lights were on and beat a hasty retreat. The gang meantime were all setting themselves up with their alibis for mid evening, some creating a disturbance in the city centre, and others at Glasgow Airport.
As it happens, the plot would have unravelled in any case. The Milner List 5 as stated earlier has three locks running vertically down the door. It is also fitted with 3-way boltwork, operated by the handle and spindle through a cast steel triple bolt thrower which invariably breaks off when the centre lock which is situated right next to it is blown, leaving the bottom bolts irretrievably in the locked position.
The three main accused were each sentenced to 10 years imprisonment. Rae's sentence is not known.
Following this incident the Clydesdale Bank cash safes were all fitted with two 4-wheel keyless combination locks with spy-proof dials and dial check locks.
The security was taken to an even higher level after the Premises Manager of the Bank attended a seminar in London by the President of Sargent & Greenleaf, Harry Miller. The main point of his presentation was to introduce to the security world his company's new manipulation-proof combination lock, but the reaction of the Bank's security chief was - well if you're now telling me that your standard combination locks can be manipulated I'll take this into account and go one step further - which he did. He had every cash safe retro-fitted with a time lock, but not one by S&G!
In having taken just one example it should not be assumed that a key has to be actually handled to be compromised. There have been instances where keys have been photographed through ultra long focus lenses as they were being entered into the keyhole, and where a pattern has been sufficiently clear to allow a copy to be made. In one case it was a Chubb 3G110 mortice key on a door of first entry which also acted as a shunt control for the intruder alarm system. Keyless combination locks being dialled up are just as vulnerable using similar methods, and in one case the action was recorded from a peep-hole in the false ceiling in front of the strong room door vestibule.
There has even been a case where it is believed that a 7-lever Kromer Novum key lying on a desk was visually memorised with sufficient accuracy to allow a highly skilled locksmith to apply the description of the sequence of the height of the steps (7 lifts each) to the making of a replica, which, although not perfect, was accurate enough to allow the key to be adjusted on site, using the top hinge carriage as an anvil, with the resultant filings leaving a tell-tale sign around the bottom hinge and without which the method of entry might never have been disclosed.
It is thought to have been an employee of a floral display service, who, having regular daytime access to the Building Society premises, had made the mental picture of the key.
Dual control locking should be standard on any high security safe. The ideal arrangement is by having both combination lock and keylock - the easy changeability of the first for overnight security and the convenience of the keylock for day use. Change-Key locks of course have the same facility as the combination locks although with fewer permutations. Having been available since the mid 1800's with the like of Hobbs & Co's Transmutation Changeable Keylock and the various but similar designs of all the leading British makers, their popularity is returning through the influence of the European and Scandinavian conglomorate which has sadly swallowed up most of the British safemaking industry.
Chatwood Safes from 1861 - 1939
Chatwood & Dawes 1861 - 1864
List 2 - Holdfast Quality. Made of strong wrought iron plates ⅛" to 3/16 " : door ½" and fitted with 8 lever gunpowder-proof and unpickable locks which are ⅜" to ½ " and protected by strong hardened steel plates.
List 3 – Strong Holdfast Quality. As above with bodies ¼ inch and doors ½ inch. Fitted with 10 lever unpickable and gunpowder-proof locks protected by the best hardened steel plates which are perfectly drill-proof..
List 4 – First-Class Extra Strong Holdfast Quality with “Patent Gunpowder Escapement”. The Strongest Safe in the World being made of the best boiler plates, bodies 5/16ths to ½ inch “dovetailed” further strengthened by angle iron frames, doors 5/8" to ½"solid, the lock cases of which are also made of strong boiler plates instead of sheet iron, fitted with 12 lever unpickable and gunpowder-proof escapement locks protected by ½"strong best cast steel plates, tempered to resist the hardest drill .
Chatwood Patent Safe & Lock Co. 1864 – 1909
List - circa 1870
List 1 Chatwood’s Patent Fire-Resisting Chests made in 9 sizes from 18" long to 36" long.
List 2 Wrought iron boiler plate ¼" thick body machine fitted dovetails. Doors ½", fire-resisting composition chambers 3" thick locking into ‘T’ girder frame. Tann Museum No.7855.
List 3 Chatwood’s Fire, Fall & Thief-Resisting Safes. Treble Patented, outer bodies wrought iron boiler plates ¼" to 3/8" thick machine-fitted dovetails and strong angle iron plus ‘T’” girder frame. Doors ½" thick with solid flange lockcase. (Patented 1862)
List 4A Bodies ½” boiler plate machine dovetailed . ‘T’ frame, door ¾" + compound steel. 3" x ¾" parallel sliding bolts.
List 5 As above but with dovetail sliding claw. (Patented 1865)
List 6 Bodies 1” to 1⅛" made up of ½"or ⅝" plates dovetailed and lined throughout with D.R. plates ½" thick. Doors ¾"thick and ½" D.R.plate + additional ½" over lock. Lockcase ⅜" to ½" giving total thickness of 1.3/4"and 2" in vital parts. 1.1/4" elsewhere. Parallel bolts + Patent Block Cam. (£10 extra per lock).
List 7 As above but with Dovetail Sliding Claw Bolt. (Septiple Patent).
List 8 OCTUPLE PATENT. Conically Intersected Steel in square dovetailed body. Sliding claw. (Superior to 1867 - Battle of the Safes , Paris 1867)
LIST (circa 1895) address 76, Newgate Street. London.
List 5 New Series in-house test using purpose made forcing screw (le Pont) in order to prove advantages of steel 8 corner bend construction. A new competitor had made an enormous special version of the screw and had torn the door from the earlier square wrought iron List 5 after having been sued by Chatwood for defamation regarding drill resistance.
(see Safeman 'Unfair Tactics')
List 4 (new series) Now appearing with 4 corner and 8 corner bent bodies.
List 5 (new series) Described as ½” 8 corner bent plus “T” frame. Doors ¾" plus ½" Compound Hammer
and D.R. steel – 1.1/4" total.
List 6 No description given.
List 7 “ “ “ appears to have complete inner door.
List 8 “ “ “ sliding dovetail claw bolts.
Apart from List 8 have dispensed with Dovetail Bolts because of new stronger body construction.
LIST (circa 1900)
Merchant Quality . 8 Corner bent from ½” plate. Door ½" plate + angle frame. 4 c/bent.
Securities 8 Corner bent from ½" plate plus ½" Compound D.R.. Door ¾" plus ½" D.R. plus ⅜" D.R.
Treasury 2 Intersected Steel body of 8 corner bend construction. 2 5/8" over
door (not curvilinear)
Diamond 12 Corner bent with 2" Intersected Steel and sliding dovetail. (Patent No.12297 of 1884 for 'Diamond' Lock & Boltwork.) (Tann Museum No.26696- 1905 - picture right))
1907 Address 56 Gracechurch Street.
The Chatwood Safe Company Ltd. 1909 – 1939
List. (circa 1920)
Standard Quality ½" 12 corner bent body, ½" door + 3/8” D.R..
Standard Securities ½" + ½" DR. Door 1 ½" + ½" DR + ½" Add ⅜" over lock.
Standard Treasury 2"steel and Spiegel door and body.
Special Diamond 3" Intersected steel body. Door 4" with 2Dia. Bolts.
List. (circa 1932)
Duplex 25"x 19"x 18 ½" Minor. Major to follow.
Chatwood Household Safe. Body all cast concrete on metal lining.. (Made mainly for Times Furnishing )
Chatwood Texagen Safe, as above. White plastic door furniture. (one small size only)
Chatwood Cylinder Safe. Cast Steel body and circular door. Tann Museum No.37404 – 1928
Plus the items in the 1920 List with the exception of the Special Diamond
Special Treasury. Probably made around 1935 same time as C.B Special. Specification not known but appears to consist of 2" concrete + 2"compound hammer & DR steel. Door corners radiused. Around this time Chatwood also developed an altenative barrier material which incorporated extremely hard star shaped inclusions within the main alloy casting. Quite separately in 1929, Milners Patent No.329154 specifies Spiegel and Copper in various cast form mixtures.
Left : Special Diamond - 4" protection
Right : C.B Special - 10" protection
From 1845 to 1919
an aid to dating and identification
Thomas Milner must be credited for the greatest advances in safe design in the middle of the 19th Century.
* Effective fire-resistance
to the iron chests and cupboards
of the day.
* Locks resistant to the effects of gunpowder and locking into handle operated boltwork instead of into the body.
* Heavy hinges in the thief-resisting grades instead of carriages and centres.
The founder, Thomas Milner was a tinner, or whitesmith, to trade, his earliest products being chests and cupboards with linings and chambers containing a chemical mix which would emit moisture and lower the flash point of papers and documents within. Patent No.8401 – 1840.
Locking was by a single rim lock in the centre of the door. These early locks were made by Thos.Turner & Co. of Wolverhampton and shown on early Lists as Milner's 6-lever Detector Locks.
Milners's Treble Patents, as referred to in adverts of the day, brought about significant changes in safe construction. It is not the purpose here to enter into any great detail regarding lock or safe patents, but the most important changes took place as a result of Milner’s Patent No.405 of 1854 for a gunpowder-proof lock, manufactured originally by Hobbs as the "Protector" Lock and which locked directly into the main boltwork securing the door.
Subsequent Milner safe locks have always locking down, but unusually at the beginning the Hobbs locked up.
In the same year Milner also patented a wooden fitment to take up any free space in the fire chamber and prevent the insertion of excessive amounts of gunpowder.
The Hobbs escutchon profile indicates a production period between 1852 and 1872 after which Milner began making their own locks with the more commonly identifiable escutcheon. The reason was that Hobbs & Co. started manufacturing their own safes at this time. They first used a lock designed by Aubin and made by Nettlefolds in which the design of the lever incorporated the spring.
1852 LIST 1 was described as “a one-chambered fire-resisting sheet iron box” made in 6 sizes from 20 " long to 30 " long and the LIST 2 as “double-chambered fire-resisting strong sheet iron boxes and safes in 8 sizes from 16 " to 30 "long. They were offered with Milner’s 6 lever locks or Hobbs’ locks, 10s.extra.
The term List 1 was also used by other makers such as Tann, Chatwood, and later Ratner for chests.
In addition to chests were “Milner’s
Patent Fire-resisting Double Chambered Strong Sheet Iron Book or Deed safes.
Thos.Turner 6 lever detector lock in front. From 24 " to 32"high and 3 Double-door from 24" to 32" high.
1852 LIST 2 ½ is described as being of Medium Strength between Lists 2 & 3.
Now consisting of Strong Wrought Iron Plate, ⅛" body, ⅜" door, “wellconstructed,
stronger than most of the safes sold as ‘Thiefproof’. Fitted with Milner’s 6 Lever
Detector Locks or Hobbs’ Protector Locks 10s extra.
1852 MILNER’S HOLDFAST , Fire, Violence, Robbery, and Fraud-Resisting Safes
and Closets, for Cash and Valuables.“The Strongest Wrought Iron Safeguards in the
World” No Body less than 1/4 " thick wrought iron nor Doors less than 1/2 " thick wrought
iron. In 8 sizes 24 " to 36 ".
The LIST 2 of the 1850's had body plates of 3/16"wrought iron. The body thickness was increased to 1/4” in the larger sizes to increase the rigidity in building collapse. The door plate was 1/2" wrought iron. Until about 1871 the lock was the Hobbs Protector and locked up. Keyhole as shown above. Milner made their own locks from then on locking down and with the more commonly seen keyway – five to seven o’clock style. The wooden filled lock-case was incorporated from 1854 for a short period as shown in photograph..
The LIST 3 at this period is more difficult to pin down but appears to have been similar to the LIST 2 but with the addition of external iron bands and body thickness increased to 1/4". It was described as Strong Holdfast and Fire Resisting. When Milners used the term Holdfast it indicated that what had previously been made of sheet iron plates were now of strong plate iron. Other makers also used the term Holdfast to indicate external banding.
Instead of the lockcase chamber being attached to the door plate by iron lugs rivetted through the door, the LIST 3 lockcase is attached direct by cheese head screws. After 1866 anti wedging blocks were also fitted as standard. It appears that in some instances the door plate thickness was reduced to 3/8".
LIST 4 - ½" thick square dovetailed banded bodies with 1 ½" thick doors with DR plate in sandwich. Hex½.bolts replace cheese head.
LIST 5 - body ½" + ½" sandwiched ¼" DR plate. Door as above.
1890 (all bolt-on lockcases)
LIST 2 - appears to have changed little at all but probably steel plates instead of wrought iron.
LIST 3 - as above.
LIST 4 - (photo above) "Improved" Described as Extra Strong Holdfast Fire resisting. Wedge and crowbar resisting with "Toledo" steel door
1" thick. Patent wedge guards.
LIST 5 - BANKERS - all "Toledo" with 1 1/8 " body and 1 1/2" door. Flat bolts but with rounded edges - front only.
LIST 2 -- 4 corner bent body with 1/2" door - ( 12 corner bent in 1915 illustrated.)
1919 catalogue - (angle-iron lockcases)
LIST 2 -
Now 12 corner bent still with rectangular bolts. Body 3/16" to 3/8" depending on size. Door, 3/8" to 1/2" depending on size. 3/8" ply steel over lock. Angle lockcase 2¼ " x 2¼" x .¼.e. door edge thickness either 5/8" or 3/4" depending on size.
LIST 3 - 4 corner bent banded. (Improved Patent) Round bolts. (below)
Body 1/4" to 5/16" depending on size. ½"angle lockcase 'T' bars and wedge guards.
LIST 4 - Door 1½ " DR sandwich. Body 1/2".
LIST 5 - as above - body 1.1/8"
LIST 6 - as above - body 1 1/4" + 5ply DR.
BANK SAFE - As LIST 5 complete with 3 shelves, 2 drws, 1 cupd. 60"x 32"x 28".
Edw.Tann & Son.