Back in July I got an excited phone call from Ally: “Hello! I think you need to come over the Archive, we’ve received a really interesting donation!”.
I arrived in the archive to find Ally, and our then Oral History intern Sarah, heads bowed over the table examining the mystery item, which turned out to be a lock and key. Doesn’t sound particularly exciting, but this lock is very special in design and we believed it to be part of one of the original doors that existed in the Mill before it was turned into offices or units for various companies in the mid-20th century. At that time there were roughly twenty different local companies working out of the Mill, including Robert Greg & Co., Styal Engineering, WHK Products and Bollin Engineering, who rented Unit 16 from 1956-1965 for £100pa- today it is the location of the Greg Room and the Exhibition Gallery.
Hugh Breland worked for Bollin Engineering, who according to Hugh’s son worked in “precision machining with lathes and milling machines etc., probably only 2 or 3 people I’m guessing in the early days at the Mill.” In 1965 after an unsuccessful attempt to renegotiate the lease, Bollin Engineering moved to Macclesfield. However it seems Hugh took a keepsake of his time at Quarry Bank; the lock and key. Hugh’s son has kindly donated the lock to us, and we have added it to our collection. Ally and I assumed that the lock belonged to one of the original doors in the Mill, but couldn’t work out which one.
Ally made some enquiries in other museums about the lock, and we were lucky enough to receive a reply from The Locksmith’s House, part of the Black Country Living Museum. They informed us it was a ‘stock lock’, and as the key has a ‘wire bow’ (the ‘handle’ of the key as it were), it is likely that the lock was made in the Georgian era, which means it was created for the Mill in the first 50 years of its existence.
The ‘bit’ of the key – the part which locks/unlocks the mechanism – has been made in the continental style of the time – the ‘S’ shape, which was used to prevent the wrong key entering the lock. The shank of the key has a hole at the end and slots onto a pin on the lock and acts as a bearing for the key to turn on.
The mystery of which door the lock belonged to has been solved – it wasn’t part of a door at all, as the expert from Locksmith’s House pointed out that the lock only operates from one side, and therefore would have been used for something like a cupboard. Sadly we don’t know what happened to the cupboard or if it had belonged to the Gregs when the Mill was still owned and run by them.
Hugh also took several photos of Quarry Bank during his nine year stint, including those below of his friend Roger Lowe’s car workshop that operated out of the Inner Mill Yard, where the toilets are located today!