Wednesday, 24 February 2010

Security that was made to last ...

In every age the security of documents and premises is very important. In the 21st century we protect buildings with alarms and computer files with passwords. Security in the 19th century was also vital and C Brandauer & Co was very conscious of protecting both the building and its patents and trade mark documents, ledgers and cash held on the premises.

In order to protect the building a two-up-two-down gate house was built into the fabric of the original building in 1862.  This was still in use in the 1960s and I have met the daughter of the last person employed to do the job and live in the gate house. You can see the gate house in the photo - just to the right of the arch. It had its own front door on to the road and another into the yard behind.

The security measures for paper documents, ledgers and cash were also put in when the original building was built in 1862.  A vault on the ground floor with a steel door behind a wooden one and no windows was designed with shelving.  I understand that at the end of each day the huge and heavy ledgers that had been used were removed from the offices and placed in the strong room over night.  In 1898 Mr Petit (no initial is given in the letter but I assume it would be Mr Joseph Letiere Petit) agreed to buy from the 'wrought iron and burglar resisting safe & door manufacturers' Frederic Whitfield & Co Ltd a very large safe. 

We still have the letter from F Whitfield and the hand-drawn design of the safe to be purchased.  Frederic Whitfield was the 2nd generation of Whitfields to run the business.  With help from a very interesting website - http://www.lockcollectors.eu/ and the entry by R A Beck, I have been able to discover that Whitfields is thought to have been established in the 1840s by Frederic's Father Samuel, described in the 1851 Census as a 'brass founder'. 

The specification of the safe from F Whitfield & Co, Oxford Street, Birmingham is as follows:

"May 11th 1898

One Wrought Iron Fire & Thief Resisting Safe, No 18 quality as on page 13 of List.  Outside measure 66 1/2 "[approximately 2 meters] + 31 1/2" + 25 1/2".  Inside measure 57" + 22" + 16".  Fitted internally with two Drawers 14" from top, and one shelf below Drawers.  Door to be hung on the left.  Locks fitted with 3 keys to each.  Painted and finished in best style and delivered into your Strong Room, price £49.0.0 net cash.  We understand that you will remove all the neccessary shelving which at present exists inside the vault."

So the safe arrived (and it is incredibly heavy) and was installed in all its finery in the vault and was in use until December 2000 when C Brandauer & Co Ltd moved to new premises in Bridge Street West.  I remember being shown the strong room for the first time in my teens and it being piled high with leather bound Victorian ledgers and minute books covered in a century of dust.  There was something particularly special about opening the outer door, turning on the dim light and the keys on the ring being turned over one by one as the safe keys were found.  Having unlocked the safe a handle was turned and the heavy door opened and inside were to be found the most precious things, both current and from the past.
 
So what happened to the safe?
 
After such amazing service it would have been impossible to leave it all alone in the empty factory and so just before Christmas 2000 I arranged, with the Finance Director, to have it removed from its vault/strong room and to be lifted by crane onto a transporter and re-instated in my archive room in the new factory.  She now sits in another small room without windows and is surrounded by many of the ledgers that have been with her for generations.
 
Little did Mr Petit or Mr Whitfield realise that the safe ordered in May 1898 would still be in use in 2010.  I call that 'worth every penny' of the £49 is cost!

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