Hiatt and Co. Ltd.
A Possible History of Hiatt
and its Birmingham Competitors

Hiatt & Co. Ltd.
T & A Longmore
A Time Line

Introduction. The origins of Hiatt and Company Ltd. lie in the late eighteenth century, 1780, as stated in vintage and contemporary company advertisements. According to both the Hiatt and the American Hiatt-Thompson web pages, the company was begun by a "Mr. Hiat" with one T. Supposedly he set up shop in 1780 at 26 Masshouse Lane in Birmingham.

"In the year 1780 when Birmingham, England was little more than a village, any passer-by walking down the well known thoroughfare called Masshouse Lane, might have stopped out of curiosity to look at a new sign which had recently gone up at Number 26.

This intimated that a certain Mr. Hiat was a maker of Prisoners' Handcuffs, Felons' Leg Irons and Gang Chains to the Trade."

This quote as taken from the Hiatt-Thompson web page. The quote originally comes from a newspaper article that appeared in the "Black County Survey" published in 1958. It was part of a series of articles devoted to the "Histories of Famous Firms." Although the article is fascinating to read, it gives no documentation for the company's earliest history. The article does make reference to entry for "Hiat" (with one T) in an 1832 trade directory.

Unfortunately this entire story seems to be mostly myth. Collectors have searched for and speculated about early Hiatt restraints. Shouldn't the earliest examples be marked "Hiat" with one T? As far as I know, no such cuffs have ever been found.

It seemed that some original research was needed. I had two types of evidence to examine, written records in the form of old trade directories and advertisements, and actual examples of old handcuffs. A close examination of their markings revealed important clues.

The results of this research led me to write a book on the subject entitled, "British Handcuffs, A Collector's Guide to Vintage Handcuffs." The "possible history" that is presented here is based upon information that appears in this new book. The book also includes pictures of about a hundred vintage British handcuffs taken from my collection.

Hiatt & Co. Ltd. Perhaps the best documentation of early 19th century Birmingham are the early trade directories published by Wrightson. Significantly there is no mention of Hiatt in Wrightson's Triennial Directory of Birmingham, published in 1815. However, the 1815 directory does include a listing for Thomas Griffin and Co., horse and dog collar, fetter and gate lock makers, located on Digbeth Street.

In 1818 Thomas Griffin Hiatt appears in the Wrightson Directory for the first time as a manufacturer of felon's irons and gate locks, located on Moor St. in Birmingham. Some time in the next few years Hiatt moved around the corner to 26 Masshouse Lane, where he is located in the next edition of the Wrightson's Birmingham directory as a manufacturer of felon's irons, gate lock, handcuffs, horse and dog collars. The Hiatt Company remained at the 26 Masshouse Lane address until the premises were destroyed by the World War II German bombing in 1941.

As mentioned above the spelling of the name Hiatt, with one "t" or two is a matter of some confusion. Some sources, including the present day Hiatt web sites, claim that early cuffs were issued with only one "t" in the name. However, I have never seen a cuff marked with an original "Hiat" mark and I am not convinced that they exist.

From Chris Gower's Collection

Even cuffs marked with the very early "MOOR STREET BIRM" address have a Hiatt with two "t's" logo. One possible reason for the confusion is due to spelling errors in the Wrightson directories, the spelling is Hiatt in the 1818 and 1839 directories of the series, but in the intermediate years the name is listed as "Hiat," with one "t". These misspellings may be responsible for the one "t" myth. The directories are actually full of misspellings. In one place Hiatt name is listed as T. G. Hart.

A clue to Hiatt's earliest years may be found in his full name, Thomas Griffin Hiatt. There must be a relationship between Hiatt and the previously mentioned Thomas Griffin and Co. on Digbeth Street. Perhaps Thomas Griffin was Hiatt's grandfather and taught Hiatt the trade. According to an entry in Alex Nichols' book, examples of cuffs marked Hiatt and Griffin exist. Such cuffs may predate the independent Hiatt operation and represent work done by Thomas Griffin Hiatt working with Thomas Griffin and Co.

The independent Hiatt Company prospered. By 1845 William John Hiatt was running the company and in 1858 the Dix Birmingham Directory contained this listing.

"Hiatt William John, (successor to the late Thos. Griffin Hiatt) handcuff manufacr to Her Majesty's Honorable Board of Ordanace and original manufacturer of all kinds of police and other handcuffs, police leg, and, travelling irons, police staves, sabers, pistols rattles, and lanterns, 16 Masshouseln; h, Moseley rd. Balsallheath"

Griffin. The history of the Griffin handcuffs has been rather obscure, but it turns out that Griffin may be one of the most important Birmingham handcuff companies.

Products are known with the Griffin name only, but there are also cuffs marked Griffin & Nichols. And in addition according to the Alex Nichols book there are cuffs marked Hiatt & Griffin. How are these cuffs related?

The story turns out to be rather fascinating. Griffin is certainly one of the earliest handcuffs companies. In Wrightson's Triennial Directory for 1815 there is a listing for Thomas Griffin and Co., horse and dog collar, fetter and gate lock makers, on Digbeth Street. This same directory does not have any listing for Hiatt. Since the directory is rather thorough, this suggests that perhaps the Hiatt Company did not exist in 1815.

Three years later the 1818 directory lists a changed company name, Griffin appears to have taken a partner. The new company is Griffin & Nichols, at the same address and with the same products. (The name Griffin is misspelled in the 1818 directory, but correct in later editions.) The 1818 directory also lists T. G. Hiatt (Thomas Griffin Hiatt) as an irons and gate lock manufacturer, on Moor Street. This is the earliest directory listing for Hiatt.

The similarity of the two names cannot be a coincidence. Thomas Griffin Hiatt and Thomas Griffin must have been related. Perhaps Griffin was Hiatt's grandfather. A family relationship would certainly explain the existence of cuffs marked Hiatt and Griffin. Indeed it is possible that the supposed 1780 beginning date for Hiatt & Co. Ltd. may actually be traced through some Griffin lineage. After all, it is significant that none of the existing literature can assign a name to the instigator of the Hiatt Company. The Hiatt web site simply refers to him a "Mr. Hiat", with one "t". Perhaps "Mr. Hiat" was actually "Mr. Griffin", Thomas Griffin (with two F's), Hiatt's grandfather or some other close relative.

In 1823 Griffin & Nichols, are listed as makers of horse and dog collars, fetter, and D. locks, handcuffs and boot tips, at 62, Digbeth Street. The partnership between Griffin & Nichols was relatively short lived, and handcuffs marked Griffin & Nichols are rare. In the 1829 Birmingham directory, Griffin is gone and James Nichols is listed alone as a chain, horse and dog collar, and felon's iron maker, still at the Digbeth Street address. This double change in company names over about a fifteen-year period shows that that Griffin cuffs come first predating cuffs marked Griffin & Nichols. Nichols cuffs come later postdating the partnership.

Nichols. The history of Nichols handcuffs is tied up with the history of Griffin and Hiatt. Sometime between 1815 and 1818 it appears that Thomas Griffin formed a partnership with James Nichols. The company was located in Birmingham on Digbeth Street. Sometime later in the late 1820s the Griffin name was dropped and James Nichols becomes the sole proprietor of the Digbeth Street operation.

I have two types of Nichols handcuffs, a very nice back strap Darby, and a couple of pairs of standard Darby cuffs. They carry a characteristic curved Nichols trademark as shown above. One of my standard Darby handcuffs has the curved Nichols logo and the date 1859. This date is important because in 1861, the T & A Longmore Company placed an advertisement in the Birmingham corporate directory with a reference to the "Late James Nichols." The implication of the advertisement is that James Nichols has just left the business, likely due to his retirement or death, and that T & A Longmore has taken over the company.

However, the story gets more complicated than this. I also have a pair nicely plated Nichols Darby handcuffs that look like they were made in the late nineteenth century or even the early twentieth. Significantly they do not have the curved Nichols trademark. Instead they have the Nichols name printed in bold letters along with an equally large Birmingham Police designation.

So how do we interpret this information? Perhaps there were two Nichols operations. One began with Griffin in the early nineteenth century and then ended with the death of James Nichols. The second separate operation, perhaps founded by another member of the same family, may have come into existence in the later nineteenth century. Or perhaps this odd Nichols cuff is not made by Nichols at all; maybe it was merely owned or sold by someone named Nichols. More research is needed.

T & A Longmore. Thomas and Arthur Longmore were ironwork makers through out much of the mid nineteenth century. In the 1861 Corporation Birmingham directory, an advertisement for T & A Longmore appears listing them as manufacturers of police handcuffs. Most interesting is a reference to the "Late James Nichols." The address in Digbeth corresponds to the address listed for Griffin and Nichols in the early nineteenth century .

This likely means that upon James Nichols' retirement or perhaps his death, the company that began as Thomas Griffin and Co. was purchased by T & A Longmore. However, it appears that the venture was very short lived. As soon as 1865, the Longmore handcuff references are gone from Birmingham directories and the Longmores are listed only as iron founders and "heavy steel toy manufacturers."

Not surprisingly the T & A handcuffs appear to be very rare. The lone example I have in my collection is the only one I have ever seen.

Field. Field & Sons was also founded in the eighteenth century, but in London, not Birmingham. In the 1794 Directory of London and Westminster & Borough of Southwark, the company was listed as Field & Parker, located at 233 High Holborn, London. According to a note from Chris Gower, the name of the company changed to Parker, Field & Sons from 1842 -1877, although their products were often marked just Field, 233 Holborn, London. From 1877-1883 the company relocated to 59 Lehman Street and the company name changed to Field & Sons. At this point the company seems to have gone out of business.

Field handcuffs are relatively plentiful, but most interestingly there is no real evidence that they ever manufactured cuffs. All their products are very similar to Hiatt products and it seems likely that Field simply acted as Hiatt's London agent.

It is interesting to note a comment from Houdini made in the October 1906 issue of his Conjurer's Magazine. Houdini

"Herewith is presented the "Plug eight Handcuff." This is an extraordinary broad one, was used in South Africa during the Boer war, and they say the cuff is used on the Kaffir diamond thieves. No matter how heavy the manacle may be, the locking arrangement is generally the same. This cuff is made by Hiatt, of Birmingham, Froggatt of Boardsley and the one time Handcuff maker Fields. Strange, but almost all of the English cuffs are made in Birmingham or its vicinity."

In this quote Houdini refers to Fields as a former handcuff maker and implies that their cuffs came from Birmingham. But here is no evidence of a Fields operation in Birmingham, Hiatt most likely made cuffs of Fields.

Froggatt. William West's 1830 Directory of Warwickshire lists William Froggatt, of 4 Court Bordesley St. Birmingham as a manufacturer of dog and horse collars and felon's iron maker. Later in the 1830s Froggatt moved to Bartholomew St. and then on to 289 Bradford Street where they remained. Ownership of the company stayed in the family and came eventually to William's grandson Thomas Froggatt, who was born in 1864.

Thomas Froggatt & Co. became Hiatt's main competitor in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. In 1937 Thomas Froggatt sold the company to Hiatt, but Froggatt continued on as employee. He finally retired in 1948 at the age of 84, when Hiatt moved to their new suburban location on Baltimore Road, Great Barr.

Thomas Froggatt was said to have been a good friend of Harry Houdini and to have supplied Houdini with many of the handcuffs and leg irons that he used in his act.

Judged by the abundance and ease of finding Froggatt cuffs today, Froggatt sold a lot of handcuffs. In particular Froggatt Plug 8 cuffs are nearly as plentiful as are Hiatt Plug 8's. Froggatt must have also been a major exporter to America, because Froggatt cuffs turn up relatively frequently on this side of the Atlantic.

Other Companies. There were other Birmingham handcuffs companies in addition to those discussed here, Thompson, Dowler and Hudson are the most important. However, as far as I know they have no direct links to Hiatt. More details about these other companies can be found in my book.

Time Line. The figure below shows an approximate time line for the various interlinked Birmingham handcuff companies. Remember this is a "possible history." Don't take anything you read here as fact. At least not until more research has been completed.

A possible time line for major handcuff companies.

  1. Thomas Griffin and Co. founded in late 18th century on Digbeth Street.
  2. About 1815, Thomas Griffin takes on James Nichols as a partner, forming Griffin & Nichols
  3. In the late 1820s, James Nichols assumes ownership of the company forming James Nichols & Co.
  4. Early 1860s, T & A Longmore acquires the James Nichols company, but the Digbeth Street business closes after only a few years.
  5. About 1818, Thomas Griffin Hiatt establishes new operation, first on Moor Street, but soon moves to Masshouse Lane.
  6. In 1840s William John Hiatt assumes ownership of Hiatt & Co. Ltd.
  7. Field & Parker founded in London in the 18th century. Becomes Hiatt's London agency, selling Hiatt cuffs under the Parker name.
  8. In 1842 the company name changes to Parker, Field & Sons.
  9. In 1877 company name changes to Field & Sons and goes out of business in 1883.
  10. In 1830s William Froggatt Co. forms on Bordesley Street.
  11. In the late 19th century Thomas Froggatt forms Thomas Froggatt and Co.
  12. In 1937 Hiatt & Co. buys out Thomas Froggatt.

Joseph W. Lauher
June 2004



Thanks to go to Chris Gower for providing a copy of the Black County Survey article as well as other important information.