Object Title

Iron strongbox

Iron strongbox



Object Number



Not clear. No evidence can be found of more than one such chest (XVIII.6) being in the Armouries at any previous time. The chest was returned to the Armouries on 19th November 1975 after being on loan to various R.A.O.C. depots in the Feltham, Middlesex area since 1948. A note in the loan folder, dated 1948 and addressed to the commandant of an RAOC depot at Feltham agrees to the transfer of this chest from C.O.D (Cental Ordnance Depot?) Greenford to the depot at Feltham. No trace of a loan to greenford can be found, however, so presumably it had been a very long-standing one, the documents for which having long disappeared. See loan no 54 for the cancelled loan file.

Physical Description

The outer surfaces of all six sides are reinforced by iron bands rivetted to the sheet iron panels. Many of these bands are decorated with two crudely forged lines.

Each end panel is bordered with iron and has one vertical and one horizontal band, each horizontal one being fitted with two iron eyes which carry a heavy iron carrying handle. The back, front, lid and bottom panels are all bordered with iron, and each has one central band from end to end and three from side to side. The two outer bands on the front panel have iron eyes to which are attached heavy hasps. These locate onto staples projecting from lugs beneath the forward end of the lid, to enable the use of padlocks. The centre band widens at its mid-point and is formed into a raised circular boss pierced with a keyhole, giving the appearance of a lock, though it is in fact a dummy.

The lid is attached by three hinges, and its inner surface is entirely covered by a very complex arrangement of sliding bars, levers, and flat iron springs which, operated by a central lock, release ten sliding catches from engagement under the rim of the body of the box. The keyhole for this lock is hidden by a spring-located circular iron plate. Two additional rigid catches are attached to the hinge side of the lid, engaging as the lid is closed. The locking catches are all spring-loaded, therefore the lid locks automatically when closed.
The components of the lock are retained by many iron plates and staples rivetted to the lid. Theses are finished bright and have engraved and crudely embossed foliate terminals.

In the bottom left hand end of the box is a small iron conpartment, with a keyhole of similar shape but smaller than that in the lid. The key for this compartment is missing, but it would appear from the number of rivets visible that its lid is fitted with a similar locking system as the main lid, but with fewer catches.

A prop for the lid is rivetted to the inside of the right hand end of the box, but is now bent and no longer effective. Two irregular holes approximately one inch in diameter have been cut in the bottom, presumably to permit bolting to the floor.

The original key remains (XVIII.127 a), the bit is almost as long as the stem, is of inverted T section, and is cut with a central six armed figure resembling a snowflake, flanked by figures resembling the letter E. The originallly oval ring handle has been flattened, apparently by the lid being opened against a wall while the key was still in the lock.


Dimensions: Width: approx 480 mm (19 in), Length: approx 950 mm (37.5 in), Depth: approx 455 mm (18 in)

Component parts


Places Germany


See XVIII.6 for a similar chest.
This is an example of what have often, since the 19th century, been termed 'Armada Chests', probably from the erroneous belief that they were coffers intended to hold bullion for the financing of the Spanish Armada and which were washed ashore from wrecked ships.

These chests were in fact the forerunners of the modern sfae, and were made in various sizes for different uses, from a few inches long to hold jewellry, to five or six feet to hold a banker's reserve.

Large numbers of these chests were made in Southern Germany, particularly Nuremburg, from the end of the XVIth century to the last quarter of the XVIIIth century, and many of them still exist. Because their design changed little during this period it is rarely possible to date them with any degree of accuracy.