Saturday, December 26, 2015

Bar the Door! The Ancient History of Door Locks and Bolts

In writing my current manuscript (a.k.a., Grímr and Vika's story), among the plethora of need-to-know details about which I've set out on a research expedition, are the various means by which doors were bolted against those on the outside of the domicile or chamber. Here's an excerpt I found very helpful from the website of The Keyless Lock Store™, which they in turn had taken from the Chubb Encyclopaedia of Locks and Builders Hardware. First published in 1958.

“ ...Of earlier and other means than locks and keys to protect valuables it must suffice to mention only a few. Primitive man's treasures were often buried or hidden in caverns, the hollow trunks of trees or elsewhere. Cords and ropers were used in various ways to fasten doors and for other measures of security. The Gordian knot comes to mind. Then there was the wooden latch on the inside face of a door which would be lifted or drawn back from the outside by a cord passing through a hole in the door. To prevent opening from outside no more was needed than pulling in the cord.


In a history of locks it is interesting and important to trace the means adopted to make the lock secure, as age succeeded age. There are and have been throughout the centuries, only two mechanical principles by which security in key operated locks is obtained. One is by means of fixed obstructions to prevent wrong keys from entering or turning in the locks. The other, which is superior, employs one or more movable detainers which must be arranged in pre-selected positions by the key before the bolt will move. The earliest locks, although crude, ungainly and inartistic, demand notice for the admirable means adopted by their makers to provide the security. After these, through another long period, appeared locks which, according to present ideas, were inferior in respect of security to the primitive forms. On the other hand, many of these later locks were so beautifully fashioned that the work of the artist overlaid and sometimes obscured the mechanical intention. This is true no less of Roman times than when French and German smiths of the Middle Ages encrusted their lock plates with Gothic mouldings and carved their delicately shaped keybows. As the styles of architecture and its kindred arts succeeded one another, the decoration and treatment of locks and keys were affected by the same changes. Mechanically they altered also, if not always for the better. In a much later age, which showed itself more utilitarian than artistic, the mechanical features of locks and the need to provide greater security gained a new importance.

It is quite reasonable to suppose that the first barring of a door was done by means of a cross beam, either dropped into sockets of sliding in staples fixed on the door; and it is equally reasonable to suppose that if it slid, a vertical pin dropping into a hole through the staple and beam together, kept the beam in place. If the beam was on the outside of the door, the locking pin must be hidden, and reached either through a hole in the beam, or else through a hole in the staple. This is the kind of primitive lock as made by the Egyptians.

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