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“Chubb”, Hackney: the oldest brand of all

“Chubb” burglar alarm, Hackney • It’s ironic that I selected this iconic blue Chubb box for its Modernist design, as it turns out to be the oldest brand name of all; and also, sadly, a blueprint for the decline of British industry at the hands of high finance over the last 40 years. The company was launched in 1804 by Charles Chubb, who started out selling ships’ ironmongery, but moved into security when his brother Jeremiah invented a new type of lock. After gaining a Royal Warrant in the 1830s, the Chubb family enjoyed five generations of global growth, providing security for everything from the Crown Jewels to the Koh-i-Noor diamond to Winston Churchill’s wartime papers. By the end of the 1960s the Wolverhampton-based company had swallowed up Rely-A-Bell and many other smaller rivals and was a respected bastion of British industry. According to ex-employee David Ibbs, the rot set in during the 1970s when Chubb damaged its finances by acquiring – under government urging – the failing Gross cash register business. And so, as the era of deregulation dawned, the weakened Chubb shifted from being a proud family-run manufacturer providing careers for life, to being the financial plaything of City moguls driven only by the bottom line. Starting with a misguided acquisition by Racal in 1984, Chubb demerged and remerged with other multinationals several times, “downsizing” (ie making skilled and loyal staff redundant) each time, and gradually splitting apart so that locks, safes and alarms ended up with different owners. Today, the alarms division is just a small part of American conglomerate United Technologies Corporation (UTC), while the other pieces are owned by Swedish multinationals. Chubb’s last family boss, George Charles Hayter Chubb, aka the third Baron Hayter, was a highly-regarded Lords cross-bencher who tried to block Maggie Thatcher’s destruction of the GLC, and once chaired the Design Council. Presumably his interest in design led to the 1970s introduction of this minimalist blue branding with its striking triangular box, known for obvious reasons as the “Delta”. This powerful design has survived Chubb’s many changes of ownership and lives on still, its current incarnation being a chunky-looking round-cornered Delta in posh navy plastic. In earlier times there was also a square blue metal box bearing the same logo, and I recently spotted a distressing new pentagonal variation. The example pictured here is a classic old metal Delta with faded paint and sharp corners, possibly dating from the 1980s. The (intentionally?) “chubby” initial C is, apparently, based on the front view of a mortice lock – a last poignant link to the glory days of the original Chubb brothers and their once-great British company. • Spotted: Kings Wharf, Hackney, London, N1, England, 2006 • Politics: In the Labour constituency of Hackney South and Shoreditch

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