Chatwood Milner


In 1926 the Chatwood Safes Company relocated to a new factory in Harlescott from Bolton where it had been established since 1855. The company was successful and grew and merged with Milners Safe Company in 1955.

This was not a happy union and the administrator was called in in 1963 and the business was acquired by Chubb Lock and Safe and the names of Chatwood and Milner were fully absorbed by 1971.

Chubb was acquired itself in 2000 when it became part of the Swedish group Gunnebo AB.

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A Potted History by Philip John Pascoe

Samuel Chatwood - the first 50 years of Chatwood’s Safe Company. Part one

Samuel Chatwood, founder of The Chatwood Safe Company could not really be described as a genius in the way that great inventors like Theodore Kromer and Linus Yale Junior were. But it would be fair to describe him as a man with a vision, and perhaps a mission in life, which he pursued with stubbornness and tenacity to the end.

He was born on 27th September 1833 at Edenfield, near Ramsbottom in Lancashire and was the son of a wheelwright. From whom presumably, Samuel acquired his basic knowledge of engineering. After a brief flirtation with the selling and then making sewing machines in 1861 he turned his attention to making safes. In this venture he was greatly assisted by taking into partnership William Dawes, a Civil & Mechanical Engineer. The firm was then to be called Chatwood & Dawes.

To explain the nature of Chatwood’s “vision”. It was nothing less than to produce a safe or safes of superlative quality and strength. Also, not to merely add yet another name to the thousands of small safe makers already existing. Chatwood had stated publicly in 1858 that no safe could be called a safe without a body thickness of 2”. This was to be achieved by building up a compound plate between two parallel plates (each 5/8ths” thick) with a cavity between them of ”. The outer plate was made with conical cups over the whole of its inner surface. The cavity was then filled with molten “Spiegeleisen” which filled the conical holes. This effectively dovetailed the plate created from the molten metal, to the outer steel plate.

At the time it was impossible to drill this laminate or to pull out sections and Chatwood was very proud of his invention. Chatwood’s top quality “Diamond Quality” safes were described as being made of this Conically Intersected Steel.

An example of the almost impossible standards that Chatwood set himself, and for his Company’s products is that many early catalogues bear this slogan clearly stated in the opening pages: “Achievement is but another milestone on the highway of progress. The end of the journey lies ever beyond.”

Unfortunately Samuel was one of those people who, like Linus Yale Junior, always seemed to fall out with their various partners. This was to happen with William Dawes, who left Chatwood towards the end of 1862. He joined with George Price of Wolverhampton, another very famous safe maker.

Later in 1864, Chatwood’s factory in Bow Street, Liverpool was to trade under the title of “Chatwood Patent Safe & Lock Company”. Samuel’s first lock patent had been taken out on 28th May 1860, and most unusually for a lock patent, no levers were shown just Chatwood’s anti-pressure bolt stump. Years later the reason for this became obvious, another partner Robert Wharton Parkin had invented what became known as the ‘Chatwood Lever’. He left Chatwood at the same time as Dawes in 1862, possibly then moving to Lumby’s of Halifax.

At this time the lock maker, Charles St. Aubin was producing the Patent locks for both Chatwood and George Price, which caused much suspicion and animosity. Some time later, in 1888 it led Chatwood to publicly accuse Aubin of having shown his lock and lever design to Price - who had promptly re-designed his own “Ne Plus Ultra” lock to make it both Key retaining and Gunpowder proof.

Chatwood’s early locks, like those of many contemporary lock and safe makers, were really quite small and of flimsy construction. But as Chatwood’s safes became more massive, the locks quickly matched in strength the safe they were to protect.

It is interesting to note that the British Census of 1881 records that Chatwood and his family lived at 14 Wentworth Street, Little Bolton, Lancashire and the residents then were:

Samuel Chatwood - M  Head of Household Married - Age 47- Born Edenfield, Lancs.

Occupation: Bankers Engineer, Managing Director of Chatwood’s Safe Co. Ltd.    Employ: 123 Male; 26 Boys.  

Jane Chatwood Wife M 50 Brindle, Lancs.

Samuel R. Chatwood Son, Student. U 16 Bolton, Lancs..

Lucy H. Chatwood Daughter, Scholar. 11 Bolton, Lancs.

Ann Salt Servant (Cook) U 26 Bellow Port, Shrops.

Hannah Boardman Servant (Housemaid) U 14 Haydock, Lancs. 

In Mike Fincher’s 1st Part of this article we dealt with the first 50 years of Samuel Chatwood’s Safe Company (1858 to 1908). This brief historical account picks up on what happened afterwards. Firstly in this Issue, with the period leading to the firm deciding to move away from Bolton, to Shrewsbury.

Chatwood’s Safe Company - Part 2.

(1) The Final Years at Bolton. 

Following Samuel Chatwood's death in 1909 control of the firm passed to his two sons, Samuel R. Chatwood (who became Managing Director) and Arthur Brunel Chatwood, who was in charge of the London sales office. At this period the firm's financial position seems    to have been very far from secure and, it went into voluntary liquidation that same year.

Just before this, in 1907 Arthur Brunel's seat on the Chatwood Board was taken over by William Cumming-Craig of Edinburgh who was married to one of Chatwood's daughters. Following the liquidation, the company emerged in 1910 as "The Chatwood Safe Co Ltd". During these Board changes a fundamental decision had been taken. This was to introduce  a "Tee" steel lock case, or steel angle section seating for their safe doors in conjunction with the front flange of the bent steel body. Plus the use of round steel bolts in place of the flat (rectangular) bolts previously used.

Both Chatwood sons died within a year or so of each other and Cumming-Craig was appoin- ted Managing Director. All the major changes planned by the Board had to be suspended due to the advent of the 1914/18 War, when the Company was switched to munitions production. During the war it was under the direction of John Hall, an Iron Merchant of Altrincham in Cheshire. He was eventually to head Hall and Pickles Ltd, whose successors were destined to become owners of Chatwood.

Hall's son, Ernest B. Hall, who was also in the business with his father, invited Jabez Edward Sixsmith to join the Board.  Sixsmith had been trained as a chemist with Burroughs Well- come & Co. and had been Personal Assistant to Sir Henry Wellcome. These changes soon paid off due to his well developed commercial and administrative expertise and resulted in the expansion of the workforce and the need to move to larger premises at Shrewsbury.

Another man who made major contributions to the newly formed Chatwood Company was the Bolton engineer, Herbert S. Bruckshaw. He had been seconded to Chatwood during the 1914/18 War from John Musgraves (Engineers), Bolton to organise munitions production. Bruckshaw greatly assisted the company's future success. When the war ended he was invited to join Chatwood as Works Manager; three years later he became a member of the Board, as Technical Director.

When safe-making was resumed once again, the dormant plans of J. Edward Sixsmith were put into practice. Production was concentrated at Foundry Street in Bolton and the old Bark Street Works was sold off to Messrs Bronilow and Edwards in 1919. Chatwood had planned to move to a larger site at Bradley Ford, near to Bolton, intending to have a model village there to house the workforce of 1,000. However this plan was cancelled and instead it was resolved to move to Harlescott, near Shrewsbury.

Following the decision to move from Bolton, plans were activated to develop a large plot of 385 acres between the two main railway lines at Harlescott. Chatwood had complete freedom to expand in a less congested area, had adequate space for manufacture, and works that were to be equipped with modern machinery for the production of high quality safes and strong rooms.

In a 1926 Shrewsbury Chronicle announced that two large bays of the factory had been completed and that the transfer of workmen from Bolton was expected in May and a number of new houses would be ready by then. The newspaper stated on 16th July 1926 that the Council had approved plans for a new power house and that four large workshops were in use. Also, the first section of the Model Housing Village was nearly completed. The transfer of the Works was done in stages to avoid disruption to production, and by 1928 Chatwood had finally left Bolton.

(2) Harlescott - a New Era.

Strong Room Development:

In 1924 Herbert Bruckshaw went to America to get an overview of safe and strong room technology, and on his return the manufacture of a 35 ton circular strong room door was started. Despite its huge weight this door could be moved by a child! After first being shown at Wembley’s British Empire Exhibition it was in 1928 put in place at the Midland Bank's head office in London as the door to their Safe Deposit installation and was in use by 1930.

Although for publicity purposes this was claimed to be "The first circular door to be made in England", Chatwood had in fact made several circular doors before this one. A crude circular door in laminated steel plates was made in the early years of the 20th century at Bolton. This was installed at Cox and Kings Bank (now Lloyds) at Waterloo Place, London - see below:

Also two rectangular stepped edge, crane hinged doors were made at this time. They all incorporated circular stepped, machined and tapered emergency doors within the main door structures. So the credit for circular doors was inherited by H.S. Bruckshaw from Samuel Chatwood.

However Bruckshaw did gain much technical know-how from his visit to America where such doors were widely used. Two new techniques in strong room design were introduced during this era. One was making use of interlocking railway lines, fixed to steel plate armour lining and set in concrete. Several were installed in the City of London after the First World War (ie. Swiss Bank, the Standard Bank of South Africa, and Credito Italiano). All these installations had machined stepped main and circular emergency doors of 6", 10" or 12" thickness.

This heavy security work was not generally undertaken by other safe makers and between the two Wars the City of London had numerous installations performed by Chatwood including three major Bank's head offices, the Bank of England and many Merchant and Overseas Banks.

The introduction of 'spiral reinforcement' just prior to 1930 had a great impact on security work for its sheer strength and simplicity of design. Half inch diameter steel rods woven into 5" coils of 3.5" pitch and then woven into "Mattresses" allowed continuous reinforcement providing the greatest degree of resistance to penetration then known. The first spiral reinforced strong room built in the U.K. about 1930 was for Morgan, Grenfell & Co., in London.

Safe Design Improvements:

The most dramatic advance in safe design came early in the 20th century with the introduction of 12 corner bent body construction; and Chatwood never used less than half an inch thickness. This was a great improvement on the 4 and 8 corner bent bodies, for no obvious point of attack was presented. One-sixteenth, one-tenth and one-eighth of an inch thickness steel sheet was commonplace at that time.

In the late 1920s Herbert Bruckshaw reversed the traditional safe design of using a thick outer body and sheet steel interior with fire resisting chambers between. He designed the "Duplex" safe whose inner body was twice the thickness of the outer body. The door was a hollow casting filled with fire resisting material and the face curved round the perimeter, and edges machine curved, again making the use of wedges impossible. This was a real tour-de-force and during the late-1930s/early-1940s Chatwood held around 85% of the market for a safe of this quality (excluding the light safe trade of course).

The safe weighed about 8 cwts and originally cost ‚£15!!!! Many safes in the period 1900 to 1940 used sand as the fire resisting barrier! Sand and sawdust, or common sawdust with Alum or soda granules was commonly used. Chatwood only used dried cedar wood sawdust and alum granules vibrated into the safe bodies to ensure compaction and eliminate hollow tops to the safes; a common source of failure during fires.

In 1930 Chatwood introduced the first night safes, which were taken up by the Midland Bank, who eventually installed over 1,250 of them. Chatwood had a monopoly on these for two years before being copied by Chubb and then by other makers.

Chatwood Safe Company - Part 3, - the End of an Era! 

After the Second World War, J. Edward Sixsmith retired and his son, Brian took over from him. Frank Dixon was brought in as a director at this time, which was fortunate as Brian Sixsmith was badly injured in a car accident and retired. Dixon who had come to Chatwood from Briggs Motor Bodies of Dagenham then tried to run the factory on car production lines. His ideas whilst being revolutionary did not suit the safe industry and they failed. He then left and went to the U.S.A.

There then followed a period when Chatwood was to amalgamate with the Milner Safe Company. This came about as a result of Hall Engineering Industries having gained control of both companies. They formed a public company (16th November 1955) to group together their disparate and independently operating holdings: Hall & Pickles, steel stockholders; Composite Forgings Ltd; British Reinforced Concrete; the Chatwood Safe & Engineering Co Ltd., and the Milners Safe Co. Ltd.

It was not too long after this that the Financial Times newspaper announced (4th April 1956) that a merger between Chatwood and Milner had taken place. Thus the firm Chatwood-Milner came into being! Frank Chisholm was the Managing Director with Sir James Ritchie as Chairman.

The products were now so diverse that the combined sales force were so stretched that they faced collapse. They sold safes, fireproof equipment, spiral reinforcement, block strong rooms, fire doors, strong room doors, steel office equipment, roller shutters, etc. Their factories at Harlescott and Speke in Liverpool made tools and dies, chocolate grinding machinery, concrete safes for the trade, giant multiple welding jigs, and so on.

This complicated set-up came to an end in 1959 when Chubb bought Chatwood-Milner under Harry Thorpe as Managing Director and Sir James Ritchie as Chairman. Chatwood-Milner operated as a separate Company for some 11 years before they became fully integrated into Chubbs in 1970.  So the name Chatwood at last vanished. They had introduced most of the major improvements to safes and strong rooms in England, most of which were then copied by their rivals.

Reproduced from Internet website,

PJP, 06-04-05



The Chubb Archive Website

See the  website at for more information about old Chubb Locks or Safes.

Comments (12)

  1. Hello. I have a very old Chatwood safe with patent #76 on it. Have tried to do some research on it but am struggling. Would you please be able to help?
  2. I wonder if it might be possible, please, for you to kindly put me in touch with my old colleague, David Jones who worked at Hall Engineering, Chatwood-Milner and later Chubb before retiring to runa Cheshire Home in Knutsford. I last saw David in London about 20 years ago. Thanking you.
  3. We have a C.M. key opening safe with a single lever handle to open on the front. The safe is in regular use and we have a key.
    Who could change the lock on the safe for us?
  4. I believe we own the only Chatwood safe left insitue any where in the world it was fitted inaprox1888 at the London and Midland Bank in Aire Street in Goole in East Yorkshire we found it 4 years ago behind panelling the door is about 5ft 6" tall and the room behind it must be 8ft tall and 9ft deep in there are two more safes but I don't know what they are . Could any one help I am looking for a plate to go on the safe door what we today would call a "Logo" even a copy would do .Any information on it would be useful as it is soon to be listed. It opens soon as a restaurant and it would be nice for people to see what it is and how rare it is
    1. if you do measurements and send me a picture then I may be able to help you
  5. We have a Chatwood Invincible safe that is surplus to requirements. Any idea of value and who may be interested in it? In perfect working order. Can send pictures to interested parties.
  6. I've got a chatwood and Milner safe, with a dial combination lock, is it worth more than just scrap value?
    1. If the safe is in working order and decent condition then it would be worth more than scrap to the right buyer ... but it depends on model / size / age / location etc .
      Thanks, Lee .

  7. I have bought a safe which was once owned by Woolworths and I have the combination but find it impossible to use the dial correctly and would be grateful for advice on how to achieve this. I now need to open the safe and start using it
    1. Hi, use the mark at the 12 o'clock position on the dial ring to open the lock .

      If you have 3 numbers :
      Turn dial anti clockwise stopping on the first number the fourth time it appears at the 12 o'clock mark .
      Turn dial clockwise stopping on the second combination number the third time it appears at mark.
      Turn dial anti clockwise stopping on the third combination number the second time it appears at the mark .
      Turn clockwise until dial comes to a dead stop and won't turn any further ( do not force dial ).

      If you have 4 combination numbers :
      Turn dial clockwise stopping on the first combination number the fifth time it appears .
      Then anti clockwise stop on 2nd No 4th time it appears.
      Clockwise stop on third No the 3rd time it appears.
      Anti clockwise stop on 4th number 2nd time it appears .
      Then clockwise to unlock .

      Or if it says manifoil then its different again !
      Any probs just email and I should be able to halo
  8. We have an abandoned Chatwood & Milner safe in our workplace which we have no key - There is a ref number of Y35760 painted on the front. Is there any way that we could obtain access by calling out someone or getting a duplicate key?
    1. Hi, a key could not be created from the serial number . The safe would have to be opened first then a key could be cut to the lock . The price would depend on what model / grade the safe is..
      Does the safe have 1 or 2 locks fitted ? Or if you could send a clear picture I could provide more info . Thanks, Lee
  9. LIKE IT

  10. Most informative
  11. We at Trans Guyana Airways Limited (Correia Group Of Companies) have a walk in safe with combination locks and a gate. We have only one key for this gate. The # is 616. Is it posible for us to have 2 spare keys? What other information would you require?
  12. Read by David Jones Ex Chatwood who joined the Shrewsbury Works in 1955.
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