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Marvellous mechanisms

Close up of door lock

The Royal Collection contains some seemingly ordinary objects, inside which marvellous mechanics can be found, hiding where you would least expect to find them!

At first glance this desk looks like a beautifully ornate piece of furniture. But could there be more to it than meets the eye?

Roll-top desk of oak veneered with mahogany and with chased gilt bronze mounts of striated bands, laurel swags, flutes, rosettes, bands of imbricated disks and a medallion, possibly of Denis Diderot. The break-front superstructure, with hinged front panel

Mechanical cylinder bureau


Watch this short film to see the desk spring to life when it is unlocked. It might look like magic, but there is a special mechanical function inside that creates the impressive effect.


Unlock another secret mechanism by discovering the mystery of this special door lock.

This lock was specially designed as a hidden defence against intruders. If someone tried to tamper with it by opening it without its key, a mechanism would activate alarm bells (now missing), and two small pistols would fire! The lock was presented as gift in 1765 to George III, who was interested in scientific instruments and machinery.

The lock was probably designed to guard a door to an important room. What kind of a room do you think it might have protected? And what do you think might have been kept inside such a room?

Find out more

Attributed to David Roentgen (1743-1807)

Mechanical cylinder bureau c. 1785

William Walls (active 1761)

Door lock 1761