Blast from the Past

I have a few editions of something called the Nottingham Official Handbook – a rich source of local history information, presumably produced for the purposes of promoting the city. The image above shows the front cover of my copy of the Twelfth Edition, which was published circa 1950. As you can see, it appears that this particular copy was issued to a ‘Councillor A. E. Sellers’. The handbook’s foreword, written by the Town Clerk, makes the somewhat dubious claim (for that time) that ‘…the visitor will find that industry has laid a light hand on the city.’

Among the many interesting adverts contained in the handbook, one that caught my eye was for the Bar-Lock Typewriter Company, whose location was given simply as, ‘Bar-Lock Works, Nottingham’.

What a beauty that typewriter is!

I can’t imagine that many of today’s young people will have encountered, let alone used, a typewriter. It marks a person out as ‘getting on a bit’ if they can remember using one. As I’m in the latter category myself, the clickety-clack of a manual typewriter isn’t an entirely alien concept, and I’m sure that I even remember using an electric typewriter at work as late as the early ’90s.

Aside from the passing thought that, if I ever somehow acquired a bulk load of second hand Bar-Lock typewriters, I could quite reasonably refer to the collection as ‘a load of old Bar-Locks’, I was prompted to find out a little more about the Bar-Lock Typewriter Company.

The Bar-Lock typewriter was invented by Charles Spiro, an American, in the 1880s. Its name refers to a feature which used a set of metal pins to ensure that each individual typebar was properly aligned and locked into position when it arrived at the contact point.

The works mentioned in the advert were in Basford. The company’s products must have been held in high regard, because in early 1928 it placed adverts announcing that it had ‘been honoured with the Royal Warrant of Appointment as Typewriter Manufacturers to H.M. King George V.’

The Nottingham Journal, reporting on a visit of the Nottingham Society of Engineers to the factory in September 1948, informed its readers that, ‘Every 18 minutes, a new standard typewriter is completed at the factory of the Bar-Lock Typewriter Company, Nottingham. This rate of production means that 160 finished machines are turned out each week. Up to a month ago, 70 per cent went to the export market, but it is now hoped that more will reach the home market, and next month production of portable models, stopped since 1940, will begin. With certain adjustments the standard machines are sent to all parts of the world, including the Argentine, Sweden, Denmark, Switzerland and the Malay States… Each machine contains over 2,000 parts, and more than 10,000 operations are needed.’

By 1951, the Journal was reporting that, ‘Today, more than 500 people are employed in the works, where the Bar-Lock typewriter is manufactured from start to finish, and where every 15 minutes a new standard typewriter is completed.’ (Note the not-unimpressive reduction in the amount of time taken to produce each machine).

The company had a somewhat convoluted history thereafter, becoming Byron Business Machines in 1953 and surviving, in part at least, under a succession of names, including (amongst others) Jardine, Petite and Britains Petite – the office machine business having been sold to Oliver Typewriter Manufacturing Co. Ltd. in 1958, before that company closed in 1959. The name Petite gives us a clue as to what the firm (or whatever organisation it was subsumed into) became known for in later years – the manufacture of toy typewriters.

The Bar-Lock Typewriter Company may not still exist as a going concern, but it is remembered in the name of Barlock Road, which runs between Arnold Road and Valley Road.

Right then. Which advert is up next?