In 1964 , 3 years before I was even born, I feel that my destiny of becoming a locksmith was in the making.
At that time my father was owner of a painters and decorators shop in the middle of The Fens in a small market town called Wisbech in Cambridgeshire.
Just by off chance an American tourist who was in the area called Fred Patterson came into his shop and got talking to him and asked him why he hadn’t thought about cutting keys and becoming a locksmith like himself in America.
Obviously my father hadn’t got a clue how to become a locksmith, so this was the start of a long term friendship as Fred taught my father via sending him many lessons, locks and keys from overseas for him to complete and return to Fred for marking.
As he got more confident in locksmithing the shop turned from being a painters and decorators into an old fashioned ironmongers and locksmiths. and renamed to Anglia Locksmiths. Still to this day people can come in and buy one screw, one hinge or one picture pin rather than having to buy large expensive packets like the sheds sell and it also makes stock-taking very interesting .
All through my childhood I grew up in the shop environment, having to work on Saturdays and during my school holidays cutting simple cylinder keys and dealing with the public, even at home the conversations were mostly regarding work. I fondly remember going to the MLA conferences in Nottingham with my father stopping in hotels and listening to the many lectures over the weekend and occasionally falling asleep during the longer lectures.
At Primary school I remember putting my English teacher through hell as we were asked to write a story about what we did during our school holidays. I did a vivid account of going out with my father and breaking into this enormous safe and when she came to mark this obviously she thought that I was being forced into a world of crime and immediately went to report it to the headmaster. Luckily the headmaster knew my father, and explained the truth to her.
This safe was also memorable for me as when my father opened it, it was full of Green Shield stamps, which he took as payment for opening it. If I ever wanted a new bag or trousers etc. I would have to spend the weekend tearing, licking and sticking these stamps into a book to get that item. Looking back this job must have saved my father no end on school items and I can still taste the gum of those stamps to this day.
One of my first ever jobs was cutting the padlock off a bike, so with bolt cutters hanging over my shoulder and feeling very proud off I went. Unfortunately I didn’t get very far as I got stopped by the local police and questioned about what I was up to. After being frog marched back to my shop to confirm my story I was eventually allowed to go back and complete the job.
When I left school my apprenticeship began as my father took me on under the YTS scheme. This was on old fashioned apprenticeship where for the first year all I was allowed to do was watch and learn and any mistakes I made ended up with a rap over the fingers with a screwdriver or similar tool. It is never easy growing up in a family business as you are never away from work even at home. Once my apprenticeship finished my father’s health deteriorated, and I was very suddenly left at the deep end to run the business along with my Mother.
During this time I often felt very lonely and wished I had known other locksmiths for guidance, but it was years before the mass training courses, internet forums and DVD’s were plentiful. One of my ambitions was to join the MLA, but with having to run the existing business and not being confident enough to take the exam it was a matter of self -learning.
During the 1990’s I went into key cutting big time by building up a stock of over 18,000 blanks and starting our 100% Guarantee which still stands today.
I do remember turning up at the shop one morning and seeing someone asleep in my doorway, when he got up I could see he was handcuffed. Apparently he had been out on a stag do and ended up like this and had been waiting till I opened my shop to free him from his misery – obviously all of his mates had abandoned him.
During the 2000’s we began to see the start of the 2 /3 day locksmith courses and many tools readily available off the internet and competition was getting fierce with part -timers undercutting prices all the time as well as the start up of all the national call centres. This was the time I needed to have a good look into what areas we could develop to try and make us stand out from the crowd. One avenue I went down was vehicle transponders and programming which we still do today, although very expensive to initially set up I feel it has given us an edge over most new start ups and brought in many new customers. Utility warrant work was also on the increase, as we all know with a drill anyone can open a lock but this was what I wanted to change to make us really stand out from the rest of the new start ups and the ICL seemed the perfect solution.
In all my years of trading I feel joining the ICL was my most important decision I have ever made. Not only with the friends I have made, the regular meet ups and training I’ve had but with the many things I have learnt which I didn‘t think were possible before. I have never met so many locksmiths who are constantly trying to be on top of their game like these guys are and are always looking to improve standards.
In the last 5 years of doing warrants I can still count how many locks I’ve had to replace on one hand and this is something I’m very proud of.
For many years I grew up with the impression that other locksmith’s were always competition, but the ICL has proven me wrong and one of my next steps, and very belated, is to join the MLA as I feel that any trading full time locksmith should be part of an organisation like the ICL or MLA or even better both.
Most mornings are taken up by warrants which I really enjoy as this keeps me at the top of my game even with having to travel up to 100 miles for my first warrant and this then leaves the afternoons so I can concentrate on vehicle programming and other general locksmithing work closer to home. Covering all of PE postcodes and also having the odd full days in Norwich and Ipswich certainly keeps me away from the shop which I’m sure my staff would prefer. I cannot say how much I’ve spent on tools in just the last few years or so but I am always adding new bits of kit which is quite surprising considering I’ve been going now for over 25 years – and just goes to show that the figures some people are quoted on starting a locksmith’s business are way off the mark.
Over the years I have built up quite a large collection of old warded keys, padlocks, church locks etc but my prized ones are keys from The RMS Titanic, Sandringham House and The Bastille.
I am also a collector of old carpentry tools, including wooden planes, spoke shaves and Coopers tools – in those days the quality of the tools were made to last a lifetime and if ever broken were repaired with great care and skill as most of these tools when bought cost a man his weeks wages.
One important thing I am having to learn after all of these years is how to try and balance work and family, as for many years I have been ruled by my mobile phone being constantly on 24 hrs a day 365 days a year.
I don’t just eat, sleep and breath locks, I spent 10 years in the TA – Royal Anglian Regt, (4 years as a Combat Medic and 6 years as a Battalion sniper). I also support Norwich City FC, and collect rocks & minerals – so if anyone willing to send me any from the four corners of Great Britain they will always be welcome as I tend to polish quite a few and hopefuly in time my wife will be able to make jewellery out of them!