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  1. #1
    Join Date
    Aug 2017
    Posts
    2
    Country: Great Britain

    Default Old Church Safe/Strongbox 19th Centrury

    Hello Lock experts. My problem - I have recently purchased an old Methodist Chapel built in 1896. There are various conditions associated with the graveyard part of the purchase. We now need to pot drains in and examining the monuments the last burial was 1974 which looks like only 50% of the consecrated ground is inhabited. So to the point - Burial records for the Church do not exist with either the local archivist or the Methodist's themselves. I am told by the Methodists that the records were usually kept locally in a safe/strong box. And we have found one - but it has no key. It weighs more than a man can lift so no point in trying to get it to a locksmith and I am avoiding cutting my way in because if the noise inside are the burial records then I don't want to damage them. So the challenge is to get it apart without heat. The safe/strong box lays on its back and the door opens upwards. It clearly wont have been opened since 1974 when the church was last used and the damp has done it no good at all. I have sprayed easing oil around the hinges, door aperture and inside the lock mechanism. So who out there knows anything at all about Church Safes from the 19th Century? A couple of attachments may help identify what we are dealing with... Maybe
    Attached Thumbnails Attached Thumbnails IMG_20170724_170251719[1].jpg   IMG_20170724_170259145[1].jpg  

  2. #2
    Join Date
    Jun 2009
    Location
    Edinburgh
    Posts
    208
    Country: UK

    Default castiron strongbox early 19c

    This is a castiron strongbox, from the late 18c-early19c. They were widely used in offices, and by the wealthy.

    Rose’s Act After much prevarication by opponents, George Rose eventually succeeded in passing though parliament an act, the Parochial Registers Act 1812, (52 Geo III Ch 146). This is commonly known as ‘Rose’s Act’ (although this Rose was also sponsor of several other Acts).
    It came into effect in 1813. This was the last of numerous church and government orders to priests and churchwardens to provide a church chest.

    The Act provided that these new registers remain in the ‘Custody of the Rector, Vicar, Curate of … each respective Parish or Chapelry as aforesaid, and shall be by him safely and securely kept in a dry well-painted Iron Chest, to be provided and repaired as Occasion may require, at the expence (sic) of the Parish’. And this chest ‘shall be constantly kept locked in some dry, safe and secure Place within the usual Place of residence of such Rector, Vicar, Curate, … or in the Parish Church’.
    Castiron chests The type of chest obtained by churches which did not already have a suitable chest was a cast-iron box. These are usually modelled as framed and panelled wooden chests, though some are completely plain.

    Such cast-iron chests appeared towards the end of the 18th century. They were originally made in Britain, principally at Coalbrookdale (Ironbridge Gorge) and the Carron Foundry near Falkirk; they were also made in America. A similar pattern of chest was also much used as a strongbox by better-off families, and some businesses.
    Two sorts of lock were commonly used on these cast-iron chests. Both types are warded, although some patent locks did exist, and were also occasionally used. One lock is a small block lock. This is mounted by large screws nearer the edge of the lid. The other would normally be called a ‘press lock’. This is longer, so that its keyhole is near the handle in the middle of the lid. It is a flanged doublehanded lock, normally used on the inside of the large doors of domestic ‘presses’. Press in this context is a mediŠval word for what we would now call a cupboard, usually tall, and often built-in (also, a library bookcase was called a press).

    Many of the chests in churches have lost their locks, but some are intact. Some of these chests were still in use by part-time village registrars into the 1970’s! Such chests also circulate in the antique trade. Evidently, the sledgehammer was not a common tool at the end of the 18th century, or the weakness of cast-iron would have been exploited. It is brittle!

    Whilst Rose’s bill was in parliament, there was extensive consultation. The Anglican parsons who would have to keep the registers protested that it was too onerous a task. As a result, the Act was eviscerated, and Nonconformists and Roman Catholics were not registered. By common consent, it was soon recognised that the Act as passed, was woefully flawed and could not achieve Rose’s aims. Eventually, increasing concern that the poor registration undermined property rights, by making it difficult to establish lines of descent, coupled with the complaints of Nonconformists and Roman Catholics, led to the 1836 creation of the modern General Register Office, originally in Somerset House.
    Several ‘Rose’s Act’ chests remain in British parish churches. They are a lasting reminder of a piece of social and technological history. A few even have ‘1813’ cast on the lid. They are often overlooked and ignored — unlike antique wooden chests which are usually highly esteemed and now carefully preserved. Antique iron chests and antique safes are just as much part of our history as wooden ones, though they no longer provide actual protection against either fire or theft.
    Castiron chests and safes, although mouse-proof, promote the damage of records by damp, being prone to condensation when the temperature drops. Indeed, with the growing number of metal thefts today, they deserve to be protected themselves. The lock is usually a warded lock; some have a lever lock. They should not be impossibly difficult for a locksmith to open.
    Last edited by Huw Eastwood; 15-08-17 at 03:41 PM. Reason: Paragraphs

  3. #3
    Join Date
    Jun 2009
    Location
    Edinburgh
    Posts
    208
    Country: UK

    Default

    Disappointing the above post has lost all its spacings. Now it's quite a chunk to read.

    It was mainly written about Anglican parish church chests, but such chests were widely used by others also. By the mid-19c they would old-fashioned, but still serviceable and many continued to be used. Being old-fashioned, their price would have declined, so they could have been acquired inexpensively, which might have appealed to your church's Elders.

    Wouldn't count on the rest of the churchyard not having any burials. This possibility is probably covered in your sale conditions. Might be wise to talk to your county archaeologist about what to do if you encounter human remains. It is not an uncommon situation for civil engineers and builders.

    Burning is about the last method that would be used to open such a chest. If it has to be forced, drilling is usual.

  4. #4
    Join Date
    Jun 2009
    Location
    Edinburgh
    Posts
    208
    Country: UK

    Default

    Now I can see your photos (poor Internet connection last night wouldn't open them), I'm unsure whether you have a chest with a lid, or a safe with a door.
    Are there handles on the ends? If not, it was meant to stand upright. It will have a large lock, with a box of wards, the key moving the bolt directly. These were on the way out by c1840's onwards.

  5. #5
    Join Date
    Aug 2013
    Posts
    1,337
    Country: Wales

    Default

    Chubbbramah, PM me if you want spaces added in your post or other edits to get it back how you intended.

  6. #6
    Join Date
    Jun 2009
    Location
    Edinburgh
    Posts
    208
    Country: UK

    Default

    Thanks Huw, it's just lost the paragraphs, so looks a mouthful. I'm away a while now, I'll look when I come back.

    I was looking for a pic to show the OP the inside of a castiron safe, and the large lock, but I don't have one. I've sold my big one, but when I can, I'll photograph my wallsafe lock. Maybe you have one?

  7. #7
    Join Date
    Aug 2013
    Posts
    1,337
    Country: Wales

    Default

    I have a smallest size Carron but it's been inaccessible for about 10 years or so now- a classic "seemed like a good idea at the time"...

    I've got a similar lock somewhere thats off a much larger one, the key bits badly twisted and cracked into several parts on the weak spots of the wards, never got around to sorting it but a picture should give some rough idea for the OP. I'll see if I can dig it out and post one.

  8. #8
    Join Date
    Sep 2007
    Location
    Aberdeenshire
    Posts
    332
    Country: Great Britain

    Default Cast Iron Chests,

    Here are some illustrations.

    Click image for larger version. 

Name:	Carron-Chest-(2)_edited-1.jpg 
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ID:	18279 This is the most basic form with simple warding which is prone to manipulation, The key when turned clockwise lifts a spring loaded tumbler to allow the boltwork to pass.

    Click image for larger version. 

Name:	Box of Wards.jpg 
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ID:	18283 The mechanism on the right is more or less what could be expected. The one on the left is of a much higher quality having bridge wards and a double gated tumbler.

    Click image for larger version. 

Name:	First Museum 6.jpg 
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ID:	18285 Cast iron is very easy to drill. A close look at lock case on the right gives a clue on how this particular chest was opened.
    Attached Thumbnails Attached Thumbnails Box of Wards.Price..JPG  

  9. #9
    Join Date
    Aug 2013
    Posts
    1,337
    Country: Wales

    Default

    Here's the lock only off a bigger example
    Click image for larger version. 

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ID:	18280

    Click image for larger version. 

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ID:	18281

    Click image for larger version. 

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ID:	18282
    The smaller intact key fits the baby upright Carron and gives you an idea of the wards, although they were a fair bit tighter on the larger(broken) one- qualities vary considerably.

    Ideally you need a picture of the boltcase complete to see how the key drives the tail bar directly and the powerful sprung lever that has to be overcome.

    Edit: I can see safeman's already responded with clear pictures as I'm typing this...

  10. #10
    Join Date
    Nov 2014
    Posts
    592
    Country: Bulgaria

    Default

    Burning cast iron is not an option. It is about the worst material to try and burn.

    Your best course of action is probably to call in a local locksmith.

    Is it definitely locked? A bit of rough treatment can sometimes open such a unit.

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