In 1784, Joseph Bramah (13 April 1748 – 9 December 1814) created and patented the Bramah lock. In the same year, he founded the Bramah Locks company at 124 Piccadilly, London. Hence, it is the oldest security company in London. This kind of lock is very intricate and significant in the history and development of physical security technology as well as lock resistance and security. At one point, Joseph held a challenge lock in his shop. The challenge was unlocking the lock. It remained locked for 67 years. Joseph’s signature also served as the trademark for his company. Today, the company and its locks are produced Fitzrovia, London and Romford, Essex.

Origins of Bramah lock and the company

Born in Yorkshire, Joseph Bramah walked 170 miles to London to seek new opportunities in 1783. Here, he made a name for himself as a locksmith and inventor. Some of his known innovations include the flush toilet and the invention of the hydraulic press.

In London, he attended lectures on the technical aspects of locks. This experience and training led to his own lock design. By 1784, he patented his lock and founded the Bramah Locks Company in the same year. He received the approval of the patent in 1787.

Unlike other locks, Joseph created a lock with a small and light key. The Bramah keys are manufactured with an attached coinbow. The standard size of the bow is 22mm in diameter. The largest reaches 33mm in diameter. In terms of length, there are various sizes from 37mm, 44mm, 50mm, 63mm, 82mm, 110mm, 133mm, 152mm, 200mm, and 230mm.

The parts of the lock were produced mechanically. Through the help of engineer Henry Maudslay, Joseph overcame the challenge of making unique tools to create the lock’s different parts. For example, the lock contained a metal tube with narrow longitudinal slots. Hence, the key pushed into the lock depresses the slides, wafers, and slots. The original design also included a tubular pin tumbler lock with fixed wafers rather than tow-part pins. Likewise, this original design had 18 various wafers, which meant 470 million possible permutations.

Bramah locks through the years

The Bramah lock was innovative during its invention. Locks, whether cheap or expensive, were liable for some to be unlocked. However, Joseph prided himself on his design and challenged people to pick his lock. He provided a challenge that began in 1890. Called a “challenge lock,” it included the inscription as follows: “The artist who can make an instrument that will pick or open this lock shall receive 200 guineas the moment it is produced.”

No one was able to overcome the challenge lock except in 1851’s Great Exhibition. Here, Alfred Charles Hobbs, an American locksmith, was able to pick and open the lock. He received the prize for the challenge but it around 51 hours for Hobbs to unlock the Bramah lock within 16 days.

Due to the effectiveness of the Bramah lock of being locked, it led to its continued use. There were certain variations made but its production and usage through the years established its ingenuity and quality. Hence, Joseph received another patent for the Bramah lock design in 1798.

Likewise, the mechanism of the locks changed through the years. In 1787, the patent granted 479,001,600 keys. By 1963, it led to 524,288 differs with the next release to be around 2,097,152 differs.

Through the next years and decades, the Bramah lock saw its presence and use in different objects and purposes. The lock was used in the following:

  • hinge and sliding doors
  • padlocks
  • display and cabinets
  • safes
  • shunted locks

Another significant use and presence of Bramah locks are with Wickwar Red boxes. There are even Wickwar Red or Black dispatch boxes from the early to mid-19th century that included Bramah locks. Hence, this kind of lock did not only cater to commercial and home use but also within the government and public life.

Recognition of the Bramah lock led to its accreditation in the United Kingdom. In particular, the Bramah MD27 was accredited to be complaints to the BS3621:1963. In other words, the said product complied with the United Kingdom standard for wooden residential entrance doors. This accreditation was the first for any lock technology. In 1980, The Bramah padlock received the UK Design Council Award.

Bramah locks today

Today, Bramah locks are used for a variety of purposes and applications from a person’s front door and jewellery safe to a World Heritage Site. Likewise, renowned Red Boxes from Wickwar still uses and includes Bramah locks to preserve its traditional design and manufacturing. Being sold at present and even in the future entails its significance.

The “challenge lock” is also present and displayed in the Science Museum in London. The said lock was rebuilt from 18 iron slides to 12 steel slides and 1 central spring to 12 springs.

The Bramah’s mechanism still confers to the traditional English mortice lock and in Cylinder format. The design of the lock remains mostly unchanged with only slight variations. For example, some locks have electric releases while others include locking plates and rebate sets. The modern keys also include a registration system. One could also order and have extra replacement keys. Yet, it is still being sold at present and even in the future. The standards that the company and its product have also added to its continuity in the market and in the lives of the people. It is apparent with Bramah locks are compliant with or better than U.K. standards for fire exit doors.

Its current partnerships lead to its presence and use for safe room doors, museum cabinets, emergency exit hardware, and Wickwar dispatch boxes. As the Bramah lock was ahead of its competition before, its unique and advanced characteristics are used and recognized today.

To know more about Bramah Locks, visit their website at


About Wickwar

Founded in 1773 , by Joseph & William Wickwar , Wickwar started as a luxury paper mill outside Newbury . In 1786 HMSO was founded and Joseph Wickwar won the contract to supply paper to Parliament .

In 1788 Joseph partnered with Joseph Bramah to produce luxury Despatch boxes for Royalty & Government and went on to produce in excess of 5,000 boxes and became the premier supplier of the Iconic red box .

The simple design of the famous Gladstone Box continues today & Wickwar manufacturers around 100 boxes per year using traditional skills & tools from its workshop in London .

October 09, 2022