Author: Pitt-Rivers, Augustus Henry Lane-Fox, 1827-1900
Locks and keys
On the Development and Distribution of Primitive Locks and Keys
DEVELOPMENT AND DISTRIBUTION
PRIMITIVE LOCKS AND KEYS.
Lieut.-General PITT-RIVERS, F.R.S.
ILLUSTRATED BY SPECIMENS IN THE PITT-RIVERS COLLECTION.
[The materials for this paper, together with the rest of the Museum, have been in course of Collection since the year 1851, and some of the specimens illustrated have been exhibited to the public at Bethnal Green and South Kensington for some years.]
CHATTO AND WINDUS, PICCADILLY.
HARRISON AND SONS, PRINTERS IN ORDINARY TO HER MAJESTY,
ST. MARTIN’S LANE.
DEVELOPMENT AND DISTRIBUTION
PRIMITIVE LOCKS AND KEYS.
Etymology of words for Locks and Keys:—”Klu,” the Greco-Italian base, to lock (Fick), from the Sanskrit “Klu,” to move (Benfey and Monier Williams); “Klavi,” key (Fick); “κλϵὶς,” Greek, a key; “κλϵὶστρον,” Greek, a bolt or bar; “Claustrum,” Latin, a lock, bar, or bolt; “Claudo,” Latin, to close or shut; “Clausum,” Latin, an enclosed space; “Clausura,” Latin, a castle; “Clavis,” Latin, a key; “Clavus,” Latin, a nail; “Clef,” French, a key; “Clou,” French, a nail; “Clo,” Gaelic, a nail, pin, or peg; “Clo,” Irish, a nail or pin; “Glas,” Irish, a lock; “Clo,” Welsh, a lock; “Clar,” Bourguignon, a key; “Clau,” French provincial, a key; “Clav,” old Spanish, a key; “Chiave,” Italian, a key; “Chave,” Portuguese, a key; “Close,” English, to shut. From the same root, “Klu,” to move, comes also “Sklu” (Skeat), from which is derived the Teutonic “Slut,” to shut, and from thence the Dutch “Slot,” a lock, and also a castle, from “Sluiten,” to shut; old Friesic “Slot,” from “Sluta,” to shut; Low German “Slot.” Thus also the English provincial word “Slot,” a bolt; “Schloss,” German, a lock, and also a castle; “Schlüssel,” German, a key. From the Latin “Sero,” to put, comes “Sera,” Latin, a movable bar or bolt; “Serrure,” French, a lock; “Serratura,” Italian, a lock. The French word “Verrou,” a bolt; Wallon “Verou” or “Ferou;” Bourguignon “Varullo;” Provincial “Verroth,” “Berroth,” and “Ferroth;” Portuguese “Ferrolho.” The forms in “f” appear to indicate a derivation from the Latin “ferrum,” iron. The English word “Lock” is derived from the Teutonic base, “Luck,” to lock (Fick); “Loc,” Anglo-Saxon, a lock; “Lock,” Friesic, a lock; “Lukke,” Danish, a lock; “Loca,” Icelandic, a lock or latch, or the lid of a chest; “Lock,” Swedish, a lid; “Loke,” Wallon; “Luycke,” Flemish; “Loquet,” French, a catch. In Early English it was pronounced “loke” (Skeat). The English word “Latch” is probably the same as the Danish “Laas,” a lock; “Las,” Swedish, a lock; “Luchetto,” Italian, a latch. Skeat derives it from the Anglo-Saxon word “lœccan,” to seize; in Early English it was pronounced “Lacche,” and he suggests the probability of its being derived from the Latin word “Laqueus,” a snare, but this is doubtful. “Hasp,” English, is derived from the Teutonic base, “Hapsa;” “Hæpsa,” Anglo-Saxon; “Hespa,” Icelandic; “Haspe,” Danish; “Haspe,” Swedish; “Haspe,” German. “Moraillon,” the French word for “hasp,” is of uncertain origin, but Littré supposes it to be derived from the provincial “Mor,” a muzzle, probably the French word “Mors,” a bit; “Morsum,” Latin, a bit or a little piece; “Morsus,” Latin, a bite, as well as the English “Muzzle” and “Nozzle,” are all derived from the same root. “Clef bénarde,” a key that is not piped (forée) (Hamilton and Legros) or furnished with grooves, and which can be opened from both sides, is from “Bernard,” which in old French signifies a fool, hence a “clef bernarde” or “bénarde” is an inferior kind of key (Littré). The English word “Key” was derived from the Anglo-Saxon “Cæg” by the change of “g” into “y;” old Friesic “Kai” and “Kei.” The English word “Bolt,” which is now applied to the most primitive form of the mechanism, and probably the one from which the others took their origin, appears to have been obtained from the Anglo-Saxon word “Bolt,” a catapult. Thus we have the Danish “Bolt,” an iron pin; “Bout,” Dutch, a bolt or pin; “Bolz,” German, and it appears to have been adopted from its resemblance to the bolt or arrow used with the catapult. Crabb (‘Technical Dictionary of Arts and Sciences’) thinks it comes from the Latin “Pello,” to drive, and the Greek “Ballo,” to cast, and that it has thus been applied to anything shooting, as a bolt of a door, or a bird bolt, whilst Skeat supposes it to have been named like “bolster” from its roundness.
The word “Padlock” is important in relation to our subject. This kind of lock is especially suitable as a fastening for baskets and saddle bags; being a hanging lock, less liable to injury from knocks than a fixed lock, it is used in preference to this day for travelling purposes. The word “Pad” is a provincial Norfolk word used for “Pannier” (Halliwell and Skeat). It hangs about all words relating to early modes of travelling, thus we have, “Pad,” a stuffed saddle for carrying a pannier on horseback; “Pad-nag,” a road horse; “Pad,” a thief on the high road; “Pad,” Dutch, a path, “Pæth,” Anglo-Saxon, a path; “Pfad,” German, a path, which latter English word is also itself cognate with pad; “Pod,” a bag carried on horseback; “Pedlar,” a travelling hawker. The word “Padlock” therefore means “Road lock,” and it is significant in relation to the way in which padlocks of like form may have become distributed over wide areas in early times. The French word “Cadenas,” a padlock, comes from the Latin “Catena,” a chain, and the connection is obvious; “Catenaccio,” Italian; “Candado” and “Cadena,” Spanish; “Cadenat,” French provincial; Berry “Chadaine,” a cord; Picard “Cagne” and “Caine;” hence also the French word “Chaîne,” and the English “Chain.”
We see from this, that, as is usual in like cases, the words have followed lines of their own, and afford but little evidence of the forms of the objects to which they have been applied, excepting in so far that the common word “Klu” or “Clo” for lock and pin, and its connection with the base “Klu,” to move, implies that the earliest form consisted of a movable bolt. But, in any case, whether we take the Latin word “Sero”, to put, or the Sanskrit “Klu,” to move, as independent origins of words for locks, we are carried back to a time when it consisted of a simple bar or bolt put up or slipped through staples to close a door. The passage in the ‘Odyssey,’ so often quoted in relation to the construction of Greek door locks, does not in reality throw much light upon the subject so long as it is unassisted by archæological discoveries. It has been variously translated, and we are left very much to conjecture for the forms of the most primitive kinds of locks which preceded those of which the relics are to be found in our collections of antiquities. It is noteworthy, however, that the earliest vestiges of apparatus connected with door fastenings in metal, that are discovered, consist of keys, which leads to the inference that the locks themselves may have been made of wood, and have therefore perished. But we have survivals of primitive wooden locks in use at the present time in different countries, which show us, with great probability, the uses to which the keys were put, and it is to these that we must turn in any attempt to trace back the history of the mechanism from the commencement. The process is one, the merits and demerits of which have been too often discussed to need comment here. In the absence of direct archæological evidence we have no alternative but to avail ourselves of survivals as far as possible. The materials, however, in the case of locks are so abundant that it will not be necessary to tax our imagination unduly in order to fill in the links that are found wanting.
Of the bar, whether of wood or iron, used for fastening up the door on the inside, little need be said, nor are we at a loss for a commencement in the common door bolt. Figs. 2 and 3, Plate I., represent the inside view and section of a wooden bolt now in use on barns and outhouses at Gastein, in Austria, and like many of the ordinary appliances which in most countries are now made of metal, it is there constructed entirely of wood, and is such a bolt as might have been used in the most primitive state of society. It is intended to open from the outside, where the handle, consisting of a flat oblong piece of wood (fig. 3, a, Plate I.), communicates, by means of a neck of wood, with the bolt b on the inside, and when shoved home to fasten the door, the neck moves along a slit in the door shown by the dotted line, fig. 2, c c, Plate I. Such a bolt can of course be opened by any one whether from within or without, and it has the further insecurity of being liable to be forced open accidentally by anything that might catch the handle, there being no fastening within to keep it securely in its place when shut. The simplest contrivance for remedying this latter defect would be to insert a peg or pin into the bolt, which might be left hanging by a string fastened to a staple when the door is open, and when bolted, inserted vertically into a hole in the top of the bolt in front of the upright guide or staple through which the bolt slides, as represented in figs. 4 and 5, Plate I., and it could be got at from without through a hole in the door. By this means the bolt would be kept securely in its place when shut, but it would require two motions both in opening and shutting the door.
Anything calculated to save time in a process of such ordinary occurrence as the opening and shutting of a door would be speedily adopted, and it would soon be found that by fixing the pin vertically in a slide, so as to fall freely, and making the lower end smooth, so as to slide along the upper surface of the bolt as the latter was drawn back, it might easily be so contrived that when shut it should fall by its own weight into the hole in the bolt, as represented in figs. 6, 7, 8, Plate I.; in the former of which it is shown open, and in fig. 7, shut, with the pin down in the hole, so as to secure it from being drawn back until the pin is raised, which might be done from the outside by means of a hole in the door, through which the string might be made to pass, as shown in the section, fig. 8. By this contrivance the bolt would only require one motion to shut it securely, and it might also be placed in the inside; but to open it again two motions would be necessary as before.
Still, however, the fastening would be accessible to everyone, and in a condition of society in which property must always have been insecure, it would become a great desideratum to construct a bolt which could be drawn back only by the use of a key, which the owner might carry about with him, and thereby secure his goods and chattels whilst he himself was absent in the fields, or in the hunting grounds. So necessary a requirement of every day life must have forced itself upon the notice of the greater part of mankind, and it is not surprising, therefore, to find that this stage of the development of the lock forms the point of trifurcation of three separate branches of improvement. Two of these are of the nature of tumbler locks, and consist of apparatus for raising the pin or pins by which the bolt is secured when they fall into the holes provided for them on the upper surface of it. It was for this reason that they were termed tumblers, because they tumble into the holes when the lock is closed. The third branch led off in another direction.
In order that the mind may not wander from the lines of continuity whilst I treat each of these three branches separately, I shall class them as A, B, and C in the diagrams, at the same time allowing the numbers of the figures to run on continuously from this point of departure. By this means I shall be best able to show the ramifications into which this mechanism, like all similar contrivances to which these papers relate, separate as they increase in complexity.
The common door bolt (figs. 2 and 3, Plate I.) having continued to be available as an inside fastening, in addition to more complex contrivances for securing doors, has continued to be universally employed up to the present time, and may be compared in nature to those fossil species, which, having never become unsuited to their environment, have survived throughout successive geological periods, whilst the forms represented in figs. 4 to 8, Plate I., being makeshifts, have disappeared as soon as they were superseded, and thus they constitute the “missing links” of our developmental series.
The two great desiderata in the stage of the lock that we are now considering were security and rapidity, both of which must have forced themselves on the notice of the primeval householder each time he crossed the threshold of his door. I shall begin with branch A in which security only appears to have been aimed at, and then proceed to those in which security and rapidity were combined. The first idea which suggested itself was to put a bolt in a box, so that no one could get at it to lift the tumbler without a key especially adapted to enter the box and raise it, but as long as only one tumbler was used it must have been very easy to pick such a lock by raising the tumbler with any sharp-pointed instrument that might be introduced into the hole. By using two tumblers, it would be impossible to raise them both at once, except by a key constructed with projections or teeth to fit into notches or holes in the tumblers, which teeth must necessarily be at the same distance apart as the notches, and as the tumblers were hidden in the box, no one unacquainted with the contrivance could make a key to fit the lock, which by this means afforded to some extent the security that was requisite.
Scandinavia appears to have been the headquarters of this class of locks, or at any rate the part of the world in which they have chiefly survived at the present time; one of the simplest of which is represented in figs. 9A, 10A, and 11A, Plate I., from the Faroe Islands. e is the wooden block into which is cut a horizontal groove for the bolt a, and two vertical grooves in which the pins or tumblers, d d, play, and when the bolt is shut to, they fall of their own accord into the holes f f. The key, c, is passed horizontally into another groove cut for it in the block, above and parallel to the one for the bolt. Two notches are cut in the tumblers to enable the key to pass, and when pressed in horizontally as far as it will go, the teeth of the key, b b, coincide exactly with the notches in the tumblers, so that when the key is afterwards raised vertically, it raises the tumblers, by means of the notches, out of the holes, f f, on the upper surface of the bolt, and the bolt can then be drawn out by the hand. It will be seen that this lock requires as many motions as the bolt (figs. 6, 7, and 8, Plate I.). It requires only one motion to shut it, when the two tumblers fall into the holes and keep it fast, but to open it, it is necessary to use both hands, one to raise the key and the other to draw out the bolt. It may therefore be termed for distinction a hand-drawn lock. No time is saved by this process, but the lock, for such we must now begin to call it rather than bolt, is rendered more secure. Different kinds of these locks, but all on the same principle, are in use in out of the way parts of Scotland. Figs. 12A to 17A, Plate I., similar to the last but having a slight difference in the shape of the notches, is a Scotch wooden lock in the Patent Museum at South Kensington, a facsimile of which is in my collection. Figs. 18A to 22A, Plate II., is another, also in the Patent Museum, in which three tumblers instead of two are raised by the same key, as shown in the sections, figs. 21A and 22A, Plate II. Mr. Romilly Allen, who has written a paper on Scotch tumbler locks in the 2nd volume, New Series, of the ‘Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland,’ figures several others of the same class. One from North Ronaldsay has four tumblers in line; another from the Faroe Islands has three tumblers in line; another from Snizort, in Skye, has six tumblers working independently of each other but raised with the same key, and consists simply of two ordinary locks put face to face with the bolt between them; another from Harris is still more complicated in its construction, and is formed by five tumblers in line with two holes running through the whole of them, and the key has two limbs, one for each line of holes.
It is unnecessary for my present purpose to describe all these locks in detail. Though varying in character they are all constructed on one principle. As with the more complicated contrivances in metal, hereafter noticed, variety is an element of security, the greater the variety, the greater the difficulty of making a key which will fit them all; and this is another point in which the processes of the arts resemble the processes of nature, variety adapts the mechanism to a wider sphere of utility, and by encouraging change, promotes improvement. In the one, as in the other, variation is a necessary element of progress.
I see no reason to suppose that this class of locks was confined to Scotland or to Scandinavia. They may probably have existed in other parts of Europe, where, being made entirely of wood, they have long since decayed, and their representations may have survived only on the outskirts of civilisation. The law of geographical distribution is inexorable—nothing can make the North of Scotland or of Norway or the West of Ireland centres of the arts, and it is to such places we must look for the survival of primitive contrivances. A precisely similar key to those here described, but of iron, was found with Roman remains near Gloucester, and is figured in Lysons’s ‘Magna Britannia,’ vol. ii., Plate 11, showing that a wooden lock of this kind must have been in use in England at that time. Figs. 23A to 25A, Plate II., is a similar lock used in Norway, and copied by me from a specimen in the Hazilius Museum at Stockholm. Figs. 26 to 28A, Plate II., is another in the Museum at Kew Gardens, copied by permission of Sir Joseph Hooker; it was made by the negroes in Jamaica. Figs. 29A to 31A, Plate II., is a similar one from British Guiana, in the Christy Collection. One is tempted by the presence of these locks in the West Indies to suppose that they may have been carried by the negroes from their African homes, and the resemblance commonly attributed to them to the Egyptian wooden lock, constructed on nearly the same principle, might lead to the inference that they may have passed in that way to the West Indies; but it will be seen hereafter that they differ in detail from the Egyptian pin-locks. They are of the Scotch or Scandinavian type, and in all probability were imported into the New World by Scotchmen rather than negroes.
It is now necessary to return to figs. 6 and 7, Plate I., which represent the bolt with the single pin or tumbler, in order to trace the origin and development of Class B. Whilst in Scandinavia and the north of Europe, the key was applied to the upper part of the tumblers, above the bolt, as shown in the preceding examples of the hand-drawn lock; in Egypt, Asia, and probably in parts of Europe also, anoth