Charles Aubin was born on 29th November 1812,
his place of birth is unknown at the moment, but he was baptised
in St. Peters Church, Wolverhampton in 1817.
His father, Charles David Aubin became a "Lampworker",
or ornamental glass-blower. Although he was born and resided in St.
Omer, France, he was a British Subject. His family, mainly Merchants
and Mariners, were from Jersey. His Grandfather was a Royal Naval
Charles Snr. travelled throughout England,
demonstrating his craft and obtaining commissions for his goods. He
advertised himself as " Mr. St. Aubin ", unlike Charles Jnr. who
rarely used that title.
|Charles laboured under "humble circumstances" (Price) and first
surfaced in 1830 with a ‘Guardian’ patent lock when he was18
years old. Here was a talent more precocious than that of Joseph
Duce with his 1823 lock. Charles Aubin advertised as a locksmith
of Wolverhampton in 1838 and by the year 1842 had invented a
latch-bolt lock. It proved expensive to make. Few were sold, the
asking price of ten shillings being too expensive.
Practical costing was his besetting weakness. He lacked the
ability to design locks to an acceptable retail price. In 1845
he tried again with similar results. And there was a
predictability about the fate of his compound lever lock of
1850; but that does indicate that the lock cabinet was by no
means the sole outlet for his design resourcefulness.
Aubin’s locks were manufactured in his early and middle years
in Spicer’s Buildings, Pountney Street, Wolverhampton. A western
tributary of Dudley Road, this street was described as
‘intended’ in 1827, so by 1830, when Aubin is first found there,
the mortar of these dwellings was scarcely dry. A near neighbour
was Joseph Duce, so doubtless there would be a great deal of
professional exchanges between these men of common French
An advert from 1861.
The Aubin Trophy. Each
lock could be opened or closed individually with its own
key or all the locks could be operated together by a
single lever arm at the top.
|By the year 1847 he was manufacturing the
Bramah lock and, in 1851, the ‘best gunlocks’. He even
manufactured for George Price himself. Later George patented
Charles’s design as his own. Charles also worked for Samuel
Chatwood, another powerful competitor in the safe industry.
In 1849 what was to become known as the Aubin Trophy
was first conceived and, when built, it was displayed at
the Great Exhibition of 1851. (Further details of
the Trophy are below).
Also by 1851 he had a wife, Elizabeth (nee
Perry) and nine children to support. (He had had twelve
children but only nine survived). The eldest sons
were already working for their father by the time they
were 13 years old, and would be familiar with the steam
engine and with the then comparatively rare key cutting
machine. Like Parsons, Charles soon abolished the steel
spring in favour of those made of brass.
Aubin's wife, Elizabeth, died in 1863, and in 1865
Charles married a widow, Ann Baugh, who had a small
millinery business at 55 Dalrington Street. She called
herself Anne St Aubin, using the surname of Charles’s
grandfather. By now Charles was running his business
from 56 Darlington Streeet.
In the 1861 census Charles and Annie were living in Darlington
Street with just Charles's daughter Ann. The daughter,
Ann, married into another well known (at that time) lock-making
family, the Braziers of the Ashes, Brickkiln Street.
When he was listed in the 1860 Post Office Directory he had set
up his new ‘Guardian’ works, (using the name of his 1830 patent
lock), at 25 Great Hampton Street, where he is described as
manufacturing patent iron locks. In the 1871 census he is shown as
living in Waterloo Road with his wife, daughter Jane and son
Frederick. At one time he also set up house in Lowe St. In the
Wolverhampton Trade Directory for 1873 he is living at Fern House,
Bath Road, and still owns the Guardian works, employing 22 men and 6
boys. The electoral roll of 1877 shows him living in Hunter Street
in St. Mark's ward.
As a direct result of his prestige in the lock trade, he was
appointed works manager at Nettlefold’s Guardian Works in
Whitmore Reans, a connection that lasted until about 1879. He
then moved to West Derby, Liverpool, in the employ of the Milner
Safe Company. The old locksmiths of Milner's talked about the
Aubin trophy and the inscription on it referring to Aubin as
"The Prince of Locksmiths. Apparently Chalres Aubin and
George Boyce were classed as the two greatest locksmiths
in the high class security area in the nineteenth century and
were known as "Class X men".
Charles Aubin died in Liverpool in May 1883.
The Aubin "Trophy"
This famous trophy was conceived in 1849 for display at the
Great Exhibition of 1851. Aubin used more than 3,000 parts in
the compilation of his chosen locks and their connecting
mechanisms. Very likely he would have employed apprentices to
help him in its assembly. It was a demonstration as to how alike
locks were and, as Price remarked, '… how one inventor has
"The Crystal Palace and its Contents" (published
by W. M. Clark, London, 1852) says: "A contrivance by Aubin, of
Wolverhampton, contained the movements of the most celebrated
locks (37 specimens) which, with their connected mechanism,
contained upwards of 3,000 parts, all put in motion by the arm
of a lever communicating by hidden works". This was what became
known as the Aubin "trophy".
In the 1961 edition of the Complete Oxford
Dictionary a ‘cabinet’ is described as ‘… ornamental piece …
fitted with shelves … for the proper preservation and display of
a collection of specimens…’. This definition describes exactly
what Aubin was trying to achieve in his lock presentation.
However the ‘cabinet’ in question is now almost
invariably called a ‘trophy’, a definition with connotations
nearer to spoil, loot, valour, and the prizes of victory in war.
Tomlinson called Aubin’s collection a ‘trophy’ in 1853, as did
Price in 1856, Hobbs in 1868, the Commissioners of Patents for
Inventions in 1873.
A part of the trophy
showing Aubin's lock no.26, the lock he introduced in 1830.
Note the intricate detail.
For the duration of the Great Exhibition in Hyde
Park, the lock trophy was in all probability seen as a
sophisticated mechanical toy by many of the 42,381 visitors who
were in average daily attendance. Price’s reaction is on record.
He thought the trophy ‘ingenious’. It is an artefact which
cannot be overlooked by the lock historian. Doubters should
examine it and observe that in strong light it still burns like
gold. Aubin himself complained of its ‘glare’ in 1851. The
trophy is an intimate work of a size easily accommodated in a
modern living room and its mechanism displays craftsmanship of a
kind expected from a man of Huguenot background, a breed of men
excelling in areas like engraving, gunsmithing, clockmaking,
tapestry work and designing in precious metals.
During the exhibition the American locksmith, A.
C. Hobbs, insisted on buying the trophy. Hobbs' company, Hobbs
Hart, was bought out by Chubbs and the trophy went to that
company. It is now with Chubbs Safes and, I understand, is
about to be restored to its original glory.
Whilst working with Milner's, Chalres Aubin made
another three centres, the same as that in the original Trophy, as
he was going to build another three trophies for Milner's. But
they were never completed.
Locks invented by Charles Aubin
as listed in "Fire and Thief Proof Depositories"
by George Price, 1856.
c. 1830 Lock consisting of one tumbler
under the bolt and three more levers on the top of the bolt; the
whole working in combination with each other, together with a
barrel and curtain.
c. 1842 Latch bolt. This was an
improvement in the construction of lever latches, consisted of
placing the latch bolt at the back of the levers, making it
impossible to reach the bolt by any surreptitious instrument.
c. 1845 Sliding Stump lock. This was
an improvement on the Marrs lock.
c. 1846 Curtain lever lock, This lock
was constructed with several discs on a revolving barrel, so
that the levers had a circular motion.
c. 1850 Vibration guard lock. This was
constructed in the Bramah principle but with levers or vibrating
guards in the place of sliders.
c. 1850 Compound lever lock. A balance
detector locks which was constructed on the principle of the
LOCAL LOCK MANUFACTURERS
Charles Aubin and Frederick
Neafield Cookson , of the Guardian Works, Great
Hampton Street, Wolverhampton, Lock Manufacturers,
trading under the style of “Charles Aubin and Co”,
have filed their petition for liquidation, with
liabilities estimated at £1,000 and assets at
£1,000. Upon the application of Mr. Southall for the
firm of Southall, Thomas and Southall, of 21
Waterloo Street, Birmingham, solicitors for the
debtors, the Registrar appointed Mr. A. ?. Gibson,
(of the firm Baker and Gibson, Accountants, of New
Street, Birmingham) receiver of the estate.
|This is a copy of the liquidation
notice, transcribed from a poor photocopy by June James. The
date appears to be 16th October, 1877.
Four of Charles Aubin's
descendants with his trophy. left to right: Me
(June James), my sisters, Pam Collins and Pat Wollaston, and
my mother, Eileen Jenkins.
Some of the information in this article is based
on an article in the Black Countryman by John Duce, a descendant
of Joseph Duce, cabinet lockmaker, referred to above.
Many thanks to Peter Gunn of the Chubb Archive for
all his help.
My thanks to Messrs Chubbs for letting us see and
photograph the trophy.
I am still researching Charles Aubin and his
family, including his gun lock making days - Charles was my
great great grandfather. If anyone has any further information
of any sort I would be very glad to hear from them. My email