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British Industrial History

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Bramah and Co

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Early 1800s hydraulic press dispalyed at Kelham Island Museum.
August 1926.
1927.
Photo in 2010 in Oldbury Place, London.
The gates at Wellington Arch, London produced by the company.
The gates at Wellington Arch, London produced by the company.
The gates (detail) at Wellington Arch, London produced by the company.

of 7 Goodge Place, Fitzrovia, London, W1T 4SF. The showroom had for along time been at 128 Piccadilly, London

Famous for their locks, also a hydraulic press, a type of flush toilet, and other inventions including some which were eventually handled by subsidiary and spin-out companies.

1784 Company established by Joseph Bramah at Denmark Street, St Giles, London, soon afterwards moved to 124 Piccadilly.

1787 Bramah's catalogue included water closets[1].

Partly due to the precision requirements of his locks, Joseph Bramah developed many tools to improve various manufacturing processes. He relied heavily on the expertise of Henry Maudslay whom he employed in his workshop from the age of 18. Just before Bramah died, his workshops also employed Joseph Clement who among other things made several contributions in the field of lathe design.

1790 the company famously had a "Challenge Lock" which was displayed in the window of their London shop from 1790 mounted on a board containing the inscription: The artist who can make an instrument that will pick or open this lock shall receive 200 guineas the moment it is produced. The "Challenge" withstood attempts to open it for over 60 years.

1793 Supplied water closets to the Anson family (later Viscount Lichfield)[2].

1798 Henry Maudslay left Bramah's and set up business in Wells Road as Henry Maudslay and Co.

1808 J. Braham and Son, of West End, Piccadilly and Pimlico, patent engine, lock, etc manufacturers[3]

1813 Eldest son Timothy joined the business; name changed to J. Bramah and Son.

1814 Joseph Bramah died on 9 December at his house in Pimlico[4].

1815 Wharves, warehouse and manufactory, leased by Joseph Bramah on the banks of the Thames near Vauxhall Bridge, were advertised for sale in part or as whole by order of the executors of his estate. As well as buildings, a 8 h.p. engine and a 12 h.p. engine, and machinery for sawing deals and stone, cutting wood, grinding mill for glazing bars, with connecting machinery invented by Mr Braham were included in the sale [5]. Similar advert in March 1816. The business had a counting house in Pimlico.

1817 The works in Belgrave Place, Pimlico were described as 'the manufactory of the ingenious Bramah, whose locks baffle knavery, and whose condensing engines promise such important results to philosophy and the mechanic arts'. These works were 180 feet in length and were destroyed by a fire in 1843.[6]

1818-20 Name changed to J. Bramah and Sons; addresses: 14 Piccadilly and of Pimlico were given on accounts that the company submitted[7].

Joseph's sons Francis and Edward joined the business.

1825 Receipted bill from J. Bramah and Sons, Piccadilly to Mr Martin (for Lord Willoughby de Broke) for new and replacement locks for furniture, doors and windows[8].

1824-27 Letters from Joseph Bramah and Sons of London, concerning the treadmill, well and pumping engine for Norfolk County Gaol[9].

1826 Timothy Bramah wrote to the Times on behalf of J. Bramah and Sons and Self, Pimlico, challenging a report that a Braham lock had been picked[10].

1828 A letter to the Times referred to the large amount of cast iron Bramah and Co had manufactured for the roof of London University[11]. As this letter was from a third party, it does not necessarily indicate the legal name of the company, rather the familiar name of the business.

1830 Dissolution of the Partnership carried on under the firm of Joseph Bramah and Sons, at Pimlico and Piccadilly, in so far as regards Timothy Bramah; the business would be conducted in future under the same firm by Francis, Edward, and John Joseph Bramah[12]

1832 Court of Chancery: Bramah v Bramah [13].

1832 John Joseph Bramah left the partnership with Francis Bramah and Edward Bramah of Pimlico, London, engineers, millwrights, iron-founders, smiths, and plumbers[14]

1835 Advertisement for Vaucher's Swiss Portable Fire Engine, manufactured by Joseph Bramah and Sons, Pimlico [15].

1836 Lease from F. Bramah to F. Bramah junior and John T. Prestage [16]. Around this time there seems to have been a separation of the business into various separate enterprises; presumably this marked the beginning of Bramah and Prestage.

1837 Charles Robinson joined the business as partner; Bramah and Robinson established.

1837 Francis Bramah wrote a paper on experiments on the strength of cast iron girders [17].

c.1838 Death of Timothy Bramah of Chelsea; date of will 27 November 1838[18].

1839 Charles Fox entered into partnership with Francis Bramah to form Bramah, Fox and Co [19]. This seems to have handled the civil engineering side of the Bramah business.

1840 Death of Francis Bramah, age 56 [20].

1841 Directory entry for Charles Robinson late Bramah and Robinson, engineer, millwright, founder, etc, Pimlico Road[21].

1842 Charles Robinson described as being late Bramah and Robinson, Pimlico, London, in a contract to supply warm water apparatus installation for Shire Hall, Bury St Edmunds[22].

1845 Bramah, Fox and Co renamed Fox, Henderson and Co [23].

At some point John Joseph Bramah is reported to have taken over his deceased uncle's business. He was said to possess his uncle's business skills and love of mechanisms if not his inventiveness. He gathered together a huge business in railway plant at Pimlico, with the help of George and Robert Stephenson, and subsequently transferred it to Smethwick as the London Works, joining himself with Charles Fox and John Henderson as partners[24].

1845 John Joseph Bramah of Ashwood House, Kingswinford purchased Horseley Ironworks and will put them into full operation, according to the Wolverhampton Chronicle [25].

1846 13th September: Death of Mr John Joseph Bramah, an extensive ironmaster and celebrated engineer, at Ashwood House, Kingswinford in his 48th year [26].

1848 Tipton. Horseley Ironworks, belonging to Messrs. Bramah and Co, are also extensive (not sure of the source of this).

1851 The "Challenge Lock" stood for over 60 years until, at the 1851 Great Exhibition an American by the name of Alfred Charles Hobbs was able to open the lock and, following some argument about the circumstances under which he had opened it (which continued for several years), he was awarded the prize. Hobbs attempt still took him some 45 hours, spread over 16 days. The Challenge Lock (or at least a version of it, as it was probably updated over time) still resides in the Bramah shop in London.

1873 Hayward, Tyler and Co, licensees of the Bramah patent for soda water machine, were described as successors to celebrated Bramah[27].

1874 The lock company was owned by J. T. Needs and Co

1887 J. T. Needs and Co moved the shop from 128 Piccadilly to 100 New Bond St [28].

1901 Whitfield Safe and Lock Co[29] bought the company.

1910 Name changed to Bramah and Co. Engineering works moved to Oldbury Place.

1914 Manufacturers of the celebrated Bramah Lock, the Bramah valve water closet, the Bramah hydraulic press, the beer engine, all invented by the founder; also manufacture steel safes, steel doors for strong rooms, deed and despatch boxes, jewel and writing cases, bags, trunks and travelling requisites of all kinds. [30]

1926 Company took over premises at 2 Nottingham St.

1934 Company incorporated as Bramah Manufacturing Co Ltd; name changed to Bramah's Ltd.

1936 Moved to 11 Old Bond St.

1966 Purchased by J. R. Bramah and Co Ltd; renamed Bramah Security Equipment Ltd, 31 Oldbury Place.

1986 Purchased by Jeremy Bramah.

1987 Assembly moved from 31,Oldbury Place W1 to Hornchurch, Essex.

2016 Company website

See Also

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Sources of Information

  • A Topographical Dictionary of England (1848) by Samuel Lewis
  • A Gazetteer of Lock and Key Makers by Jim Evans
  1. National Archives
  2. National Archives: Records of the Anson Family of Shugborough, Earls of Lichfield
  3. Post Office Annual Directory, 1808
  4. The Morning Post 12 December 1814
  5. Morning Post 18 July 1815
  6. Worthies of Barnsley and District by Joseph Wilkinson. 1883?
  7. National Archives
  8. National Archives
  9. National Archives
  10. The Times 21 November 1826
  11. The Times 3 March 1828
  12. London Gazette 9 April 1830
  13. National Archives
  14. Birmingham Gazette 15 October 1832
  15. National Archives
  16. National Archives
  17. Institution of Civil Engineers
  18. National Archives
  19. Charles Fox by Robert Thorne, ODNB[1]
  20. The Era, 20 December 1840
  21. Post Office London Directory, 1841
  22. National Archives
  23. Charles Fox by Robert Thorne, ODNB[2]
  24. Glasgow Herald 25 October 1862
  25. The Standard 5 December 1845
  26. Berrow's Worcester Journal 24 September 1846
  27. The Times 9 August 1911
  28. The Times, 7 Oct 1887
  29. presumably this could be a successor of Samuel Whitfield and Sons or F. Whitfield and Co
  30. 1914 Whitakers Red Book