A History Of The Suffolk Latch – Suffolk Latch Company

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A History Of The Suffolk Latch

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Q: When did the name “Suffolk Latch” first come into existence?

I have been researching the history of all kinds of early rudimentary ironmongery over the years, if we care to look around us the development of ironmongery is all around for us to see, simply pop into any parish church and you will see examples going back for hundreds of years.

As early as the 13th century early examples of iron latches have been found in china and Europe. By the early 1700s, iron latches were in common use in England, It was at this time that the generic term “Suffolk Latch” came into existence.

The first latches used in the country were rudimentary devices usually made of wood. With earliest examples the latch bar could be raised on the opposite side of the door by pulling a latch string that was threaded through the door and attached to the latch bar.

Houses built before 1840 were more likely to have had Suffolk latched installed. Post 1840 in the era of mass production and the industrial revolution hand forged items became uneconomical to produce. Suffolk latches were still used, but this tended to be in more isolated rural locations.

01 - A History Of The Suffolk Latch | Suffolk Latch Company

Q: What are the correct names for the suffolk latch components?

The five pieces of the latch we supply are hammered out by skilled blacksmiths, you have the curved grasp and the thumb latch which has a press end, this passes through the door, and allows the latch bar to be released from either side of the door. On the reverse of the door is the latch bar and staple, the staple (sometimes called the retainer) is used to hold the latch bar against the door. Finally a keeper is attached to the doorframe, this has a sloping face that allows the latch bar easily slide up then drop into place to secure the door closed. The ends of the latch bar as well as the ends of the grasp called “cusps” these were often hammered into attractive shaped, this allowed the artisan a little licenses to show off there skill, by far the most prevalent shape was the bean or penny end, the same design would often be replicated on the cusp end of the T hinge. Other shapes commonly used to decorate the cusps were heart, diamond or spade.

02 - A History Of The Suffolk Latch | Suffolk Latch Company

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Q: How is the “Norfolk Latch” different from the “Suffolk Latch”

The Norfolk Latch was a marked transition away from the hand crafted hardware to machine-made hardware. Although nearly identical in it operation to Suffolk Latches. The major parts were no longer hand forged. The grasp of the Norfolk Latch was often made from cast iron and attached to a back plate made from machine rolled steel. Norfolk Latches were cheaper to manufacture and therefore more readily available to the average homeowner. This transition was down to improved mass production techniques that became available during the industrial revolution.

Q: Why do we use strap hinges not butt hinges when using suffolk latches.

The reason strap hinges or (more commonly known as penny or bean end T hinges) were used on traditional ledged and braced doors was due to the fact that early doors would have been nailed together, as apposed the being mechanically fixed. The idea of the strap was to prevent the individual boards from slipping and dragging across the floor. For those of you who can remember elm trees, the planks they produced were extremely wide, doors would commonly consist or two planks, therefor the hinge would pick up on both boards.

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Q: Are the current ledge and braced doors and ironmongery the same as they wherein the 17th century?

The original Suffolk Latch, Penny End T Hinge and ledged and braced would have been a fairly primitive affair, local materials and craftsmen would have been used. For the doors the timber of choice would have certainly been elm, and all hardware would have come from the local blacksmith. Door openings would have probably been rough sawn oak beams that the hinges would have been screwed/nailed directly onto. Today with the demise of the elm tree, doors tend to be made from either European oak or Scandinavian red wood. Modern door openings usually consist of door surround, door stop, threshold and architrave. What we have today is essentially gentrified version of a poor persons cottage door.


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The Suffolk Latch Company is based in the picturesque town of Clare on the Suffolk/Essex Border. We specialise in the supply of traditional hand forged black ironmongery.

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