Iconic Belfast shops have survived through the generations by the acquisition of skills old and new.
Established in the Smithfield Market, described by Rev O’Hanlon in 1853 as “a sort of tumour in the heart of our city”, Havlins was opened in 1866, five years after the shipyard. Smithfield was destroyed by fire in 1974 but the company has remained in the area in Berry Street.
From its position beside Castel Court, the shop window is functional and well-ordered, the main items being safes of different sizes.
On entry there is a vast array of keys behind the counter and elsewhere locks of varying complexity with attributes unfamiliar to most of us.
Those of us barely familiar with Chubb and Yale will be apprised of rim cylinders and mortice locks, even of Bluetooth-activated locks for the front door; no key required. The customer, once distracted from keys, safes and, indeed, a display of ancient keys and large locks from old doors, will be aware of a large workshop in the room beyond.
Havlins services the corporate world as well as those of us locked out of our houses. The company has a mobile operation and its marketing area is primarily Greater Belfast.
Businesses adapt over time and Ray, fifth generation of the Havlin family, points out that replacing car keys is almost a thing of the past as manufacturers have them chipped today.
Havlins is well aware that they are used by individuals making ‘grudge purchases’ and they are both sensitive and diplomatic. People fortunate enough to require safe-keeping of jewellery or perhaps, gold and silver in a domestic safe, can visit Havlins for advice.
The Havlin family members have generally had training in other disciplines before returning to the firm. Ray, a graduate in electronic engineering, has brought his skills to the trade. Today Havlins has considerable expertise in electronic access systems, be they automatic doors, key-entry hotel rooms or safes.
That is all very different from the Havlin skill used in the Clifton Nursing Home where the complex locking system of an old chest from a Spanish Armada ship was successfully picked and a new key made. To the locksmith there is a sense of satisfaction in solving the puzzle. It was Eddie Havlin who cut a large key to Crumlin Road Jail by using a press photograph of a warder’s uniform to make it to scale.
Those who are in an emergency after a loss of keys or a burglary, who might want to upgrade their home security or buy a safe, can pop down for good advice. Or, just phone.
Havlins, 66 Berry Street, Belfast