A Gazetteer of Lock and Key Makers

George Price's Treatise - the Locksmith's Bible

by Pat Tempest

page 4

Where to find a  George Price safe

Because Milner bought up the only piece of land Price might have used to extend the Cleveland Works, he never extended his work force above thirty men. In later years, the company specialised in building bank strong rooms. Many of these are bricked up now, out of sight in basements under banks which have been turned into bistros and employment agencies. George Price safes are far less common than Milners or Chatwoods. He probably spent far too much time writing his books to build up his works to its full potential. For that we have to be grateful, for without Price there would be very little information on the competition which surrounded the development of safe safes and secure locks.

And what about William Milner, who Price saw as his torturer? My research has shown that unknown to Price, Milner had lived much of the time since the early 1850's in Port Erin on the Isle of Man, and was fully absorbed in spending the fortune provided by his father's invention on projects well away from locks, keys and safes. He was known as 'the godfather of Port Erin'. He brought all his influence to bear on a campaign to build a breakwater across the bay which was very vulnerable to storms.

He set up charities to help the poverty stricken fishermen and in 1871 a tower was built out of local slate as a memorial "to his many charities". Milner's Tower is a local landmark and stands high on Bradda Head, impersonating a lighthouse. In fact it is built in the shape of a key, with a spiral staircase inside. St. Catherine's church in Port Erin was erected around 1879 with money from Milner's will.

An advert from 1896.

Price died, still very prosperous, in 1887. He and William Dawes produced first class safes, and his best ne plus ultra locks remain unpickable to this day. Chubb has survived, Chatwood and Milner survived as Chatwood-Milner, while Price was taken over by Gibbons, in 1906, and the company name disappeared.

It seems that once George Price became old and frail, no-one else had his fanatical drive and his sons were not interested. Price's third son, Bertie, in charge at the time of the takeover, worked as office manager for Gibbons until some time during the Second World War, when he was over eighty.

He lived in mildly distressed circumstances in a rented house, furnished with the relics of his father's collection of clocks, musical boxes, tapestries, stuffed squirrels and salmon in glass cases, beautiful dressers and a creaky old safe full of Elkington plate silver. In the attic were three large oil paintings: two of Price and one of his father, Joseph, together with Price's copy of his Treatise.

An advert from 1897.


Grateful thanks for invaluable help are due to Trevor Dowson, Peter Scholefield, Tom Watson and Michael Chatwood.

Many of the illustrations come from the copies of George Price's Treatises in the Wolverhampton City Archives.


Joseph Price A summary of Mr. Leigh 's History of the Cholera in Bilston in 1832.Bilston, 1833. Available in Wolverhampton City Archives
Joseph Price A Historical Account of Bilston from Alfred the Great to 1831. Published 1835. Available in Wolverhampton City Archives
George Price A treatise on fire and thief proof depositories and locks and keys.  Published by Simpkin, Marshall and Hall, London, 1856. Available in Wolverhampton City Archives and the British Museum. Occasionally available on internet antiquarian book sites.
George Price Forty Burglaries of the years 1863-4-5. Available in Wolverhampton City Archives
George Price Gunpowder Proof Locks. 1860. Reprint available from Syd Waterman, email: syd@lockcollectors.com
Barnsby, G. The working class movement in the Black Country 1750-1867. Wolverhampton, 1977
Burritt, E. Walks in the Black Country and its green surroundings. Published circa 1870, reprinted by Roundwood, 1976. (Burritt was the American Consul)
Clare, A.C. The Chatwood Story. A.C.Clare, 1999
Hackwood, F. The Annals of Willenhall. Published by Walsall Local History Centre, 1990
Haddon-Riddoch, S. Rural Reflections - a history of traps, trapmakers and gamekeeping in Britain. Published by Argyll Publishing, 2001. Available from the author at 1, Main Street East, Inverary, Argyll, Scotland PA32 8TP
Hobbs, A.C. Construction of locks. Reprinted 1974 by Kingsmead Prints, Bath
Raven, J. The book of the Black Country. Published by Broadside, Wolverhampton ,1989
Rees, E. Bilston in old photographs. Published by Wolverhampton Borough Council 1988

Videos on antique locks and keys:

Watson, T. Antique Locks and Keys. Published by Tom Watson, Master Locksmith.
Email: detector1818@tiscali.co.uk 

Places to visit:

The Locksmith's House, Willenhall
Science Museum, London, has a complete set of George Price locks.
British Museum, London, has a copy of The Treatise.

Pat Tempest, who is the great-granddaughter of George Price, has expanded this website to a lavishly illustrated 120 page book,.
George Price – Victorian Champion of the Security Trade is the second book in a series on Great Victorian Locksmiths and is available from Brian Morland’s History of Locks and Locksmithing Museum.
Price: £15.00 plus postage.

The website address is www.historyoflocks.com
The email address is info@morlands.demon.co.uk
Any comments about this gazetteer website are very welcome at: pat.tempest@gmail.com

A Review of 'George Price – Victorian Champion of the Security Trade' by Pat Tempest

Pat Tempest has written an excellent book about her great grandfather George Price. It gives the reader a unique insight into the world of Victorian lock and safe making, and brings it all back to life.

At this time, safe technology was in its infancy, and many improvements were being made. There was great competition between the leading manufacturers, many of whom made exaggerated claims about the security of their products.

There were public trials and demonstrations of the latest safes, which were often tested to destruction in front of a large audience.

Pat describes the often fraught relationship between the leading safe makers, and the trials and tribulations of her great grandfather, a perfectionist, who always strived to be one step ahead of the competition.

The book will fascinate anyone who is interested in Victorian locks, safes, or the security industry.

Bev Parker

Since this article first appeared on this web site, Paul Beasmore has kindly supplied an extract from the 1881 British Census, showing 1 Millington Place, Upper Penn, where the following people were listed:

George Price, Iron Safe and Lockmaster, employing 30 men and 5 boys; aged 62; born Bilston.
Jane Price, wife; aged 60; born St. Georges, Shropshire
Lottie Price, daughter, aged 23, born Wolverhampton
Eva Price, daughter, aged 21, born Wolverhampton
Bessie Mills, visitor, aged 41, born Chelsea, Middlesex
Emma Jane Bowen, general domestic servant, aged 21, born Wednesfield
Sarah Hayward, nurse domestic, aged 49, born Ledstall Heath, Shropshire

Upper Penn is a more up-market place to live than Wolverhampton itself.  It also had a more salubrious atmosphere - and it seems, from the presence of a nurse domestic, that someone in the family was suffering ill health.

Return to
page 3
Return to the
list of makers
Return to the articles menu