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The Generation Game – A Brief History

The Davenport Burgess of today is renowned as the country’s market leader in the key blank and manufacture and wholesale industry, supplying full range of keys, key blanks, key cutting machines and a complimentary range of locks and associated hardware, from its purpose built office and warehouse on Wednesfield Road, Willenhall.

However, the origins of Davenport-Burgess can be traced back to early generations of the Davenport family, who lived in Wednesfield, Wolverhampton in the mid 19th Century. At this time Wednesfield was well known for both key and trap making. All kinds of traps were made there, including “mantraps”, which were mainly exported to Africa.

Although traps were big business, key making was also prominent but existed as a “cottage” industry and was often a secondary occupation. The key making industry in Wednesfield catered for the needs of the lock industry, which was mainly based in the neighbouring town of Willenhall. As the Willenhall lock industry grew with the likes of Josiah Parkes, Union, Chubb etc., so too did the key industry.

The Davenport family, who were known as publicans in the area, produced keys in the outhouse of the pub they owned. In those days, everything was made by hand using simple hand tools but even today in its modern form, Davenport-Burgess still receives a healthy demand for duplicates of these old keys. 

The traditional occupation of key making continued throughout the Davenport family but it was not until after the Second World War that the firm of H. Davenport & Sons began to develop into the type of organisation we know today.

The firm was located in a small workshop behind a terraced house in Victoria Road, Wednesfield. During the post war years, production of malleable iron keys and key blanks was expanded to include exports to Australia and South Africa. However, with the increasing demand for locks and keys, faster methods of production were needed, and during the 1950’s the fabricated welded steel blank was developed. This is now the main method of production for the common mortice key, which is particularly popular here in the UK. 

At the same time, the market for ‘cylinder’ or ‘Yale’ type keys was increasing, so the firm continued to develop throughout the 1960’s, widening the range of keys and key blanks on offer.

But the 1970’s were the most significant decade in the history of Davenport-Burgess, for several reasons. In 1978, Steve and Jim Davenport took control of Davenport Burgess from their father, Stanley Davenport and made the decision to become a distributor for Dominion Lock of Montreal, who was, at that time, the world’s largest manufacturer of cylinder key blanks. Davenport’s also became the first distributor for J & A Engineering of London, the originators of Jakey key cutting machines. It was around this time that Davenport’s Ltd had outgrown the extended workshop in Victoria Road. 

The firm then acquired the business of B. Burgess & Sons Ltd, the family business of current Sales Manager, Matt’s grandmother, in Temple Bar, Willenhall. The existing premises were extended and the two companies moved in together and began trading as Davenport-Burgess. B. Burgess and Sons Ltd specialised in lock distribution and therefore complemented the traditional key and key blank business of H. Davenport & Sons Ltd.

By the end of the 1980’s, Davenport-Burgess had outgrown the premises at Temple Bar and a large piece of derelict land a few hundred yards away in Wednesfield Road was acquired. Since January 1st 1990, Davenport-Burgess has been supplying from these premises, continuing to move with the times and adapt to a changing market.

Both families are still very much active in the business, with Jim and Steve Davenport as co-Chairmen and sons Andy and Matt Davenport as Procurement Manager and Sales Manager. But in 2008, the business appointed its first non-family Managing Director, Tony Wright. Tony has a strong background in business and I.T. and has been instrumental in improving processes, making the company’s activities more time efficient. 

More recently the business has embarked on a skilled based recruitment drive to ensure it maintains a skilled workforce, preserving the traditional skills and craftsmanship of its heritage, while keeping abreast of modern techniques.

Old picture Wednesfield frame5

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