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“Masco”, Lambeth: fin-de-siecle skate-punk

Masco burglar alarm, London SE1, 2007“Masco Security Systems” burglar alarm, Lambeth, 2002 • An attractively distressed tableau from faded yet quietly groovy Lower Marsh market behind Waterloo Station (there’s more about this lovely area on my other blog, Art Anorak). The box doesn’t quite date from the days when William Blake lived nearby, but 01 phone codes disappeared in 1990, so no wonder it’s rusty. The decorations date from around 2000, when there was a spate of artful graffiti in the area, probably related to customers of the uber-cool Cide skateshop (since closed down). The alarm itself falls into the ever-popular “unexplained acronym” category: MASCO could stand for anything, though I bet the S stands for Security – it always does. • Spotted: Lower Marsh, Lambeth, London, SE1, England, 2007 • Politics: In the Labour constituency of Vauxhall

Masco burglar alarm, London SE1, 2007

13 replies »

  1. Ahhhhhh Masco. As previously stated, ‘Master Machinery Co (Cobham) Limited’ (just found a 1997 NACOSS List of Firms. Owned by the Statham family. Based in Woolwich South London Bell boxes sprung up like a rash, doing all the Puns and Off Licenses. Used the ‘S’ Type Metal Bell Box. I always wondered, as to why, on the right side of the bell box towards the back they had an extra screw. Any one know?

    After the Metal ‘S’ type, they used the Polycarbonate S type (previously commented on as being as good as steel!!!!)

    The bell box shown was made by Masco and was the High Security sounder used on the Thresher Off Licences. It was double skin, anti drill, anti foam, secured using raw bolts. They tried to sell it to other installers. I have a sales leaflet somewhere.

    MASCO eventually opened there own Monitoring Station and went Nationwide before selling out to Protection One (who were bought by ADT). They used those horrible Microtec panels).

    After using the ‘S’ Type Polycarbonate Bell boxes they finally, before selling, used the Delta Shape Nintek bells.

  2. Old one to reply to, I know…..

    Master Machinery Services, Cobham was the original title way back in the very late 60s, early 70s before incorporation in the early 70s as Masco Security Systems Ltd.

    I worked for them for a time in the mid 80s – at the time they had Courage pubs, Whitbread, and Threshers among other then current brands on their books. They only ever used the S Type box featured above, although the white one didn’t come in until around 89 – they were always red prior to that.

    To my knowledge, the graffiti is an optional extra – most of the engineers at the time barely knew how to use a crayon (judging by the quality of their service reports), much less a tin of paint.

    After losing the big contracts, they went through a number of changes, gradually losing what little other contract base they had. I believe they dissolved the business in 2007 in the end, having shrunk to a fraction of the size of their 80s level.

      • The “S” type was a generic housing, way back in the day – there was a choice really, of “S”, “C” and “H” – or minor variations on them. Only the big boys could afford the luxury of anything custom as the tooling costs for steel pressing were enormous, and even for poly-carbonate as that started coming in around the late 80s.

        I think most were made by the likes of Elmdene, and possibly a couple of companies no longer around or now swallowed up. They were all “self-build” affairs too initially – you’d get the back plate, a bell or siren, an “SAB” module, tamper switches, and finally a blank cover in a choice of white, blue, red, or yellow.

        S Type boxes were the most compact, followed by the C Type which was pretty much the standard “upright” affair, and finally the H type which was a horizontal version of the C.

        We were a really imaginative bunch back then :)


        • Cheers Bill, I did ask elsewhere what the upright version of the H was – so it was a ‘C’ then? I only came into alarms in about 1996/7 but remember H box covers (don’t remember the make) in vivid colours being pocket money prices at Gardiners! As for self build, I know that even recently a lot of those covers only hide a 2 wire Maplins siren (‘Alarms fitted from £99.99…’) but surely the DIY approach must be the ultimate “security by obscurity” and can’t be discounted!

          • Yeah – it was a C Type – quite the most popular housing of the 80s I think. When the exodus from steel to plastic happened, there was two variants of each – polycarbonate, and polypropolene.

            Polycarb was BS4737 approved as being equivalent (somehow) to 3mm steel, whereas polyprop was commonly used for dummy boxes (and was considerably cheaper).

            They did indeed spawn a whole weekend industry of private jobs – most Saturday mornings would have tow guaranteed things in them – a trip to the nearest Gardiners, and a quick meeting at the nearest breakfast haunt – followed by a hard few hours rushing out a PJ to pay for the Saturday night!

            The joys of the “build it on site” bell housing were such that you’d often find components inside hanging on by the merest of grips – double sided sticky tape, one screw if lucky, self adhesive “posts” – and such that you learned very quickly to open them carefully, because you never knew what was going to fly out of the box at you – 1.2Ah batteries, whole sirens, Friedland Master Bells, could be anything.

            I think one of the best “security by obscurity” efforts had to be Telecom Security – who went to the lengths of providing an H Type box with nothing in it – relying on a fairly standard digi albeit with fastscan signalling – of course, you could “upgrade” to a working version for an extra hundred quid or so……


            • Ah… So thats maybe why you often see the dummy H or C boxes almost sun bleached to brittle nothingness, whereas the real ones live on – just? Oh, and you’re right – I had forgotten the bodge up brigade – must have been living on the edge everytime you opened a cover as you say. No doubt the whole box was only attatched to the wall by slotted 1″ 8s anyway!!

              I really think someone should be writing all this down! I think its little bits of social history liek this that often get overlooked by accident or misconstrued as sentimentalism. ‘An oral history of Security Alarm Installation, 1960 to 2012’. Come on Vici, you know you owe it to society ;-) Seriously though, it it wasn’t for this site, and a few ‘old timers pub story corner’ bits of installer forums, could any impartial record of the skills, materials and methods of the recent past be lost within a couple of generations?

              • Well, I keep this blog backed up, including all comments, so it’s safe for now. I have enough alarms for at least another two years (more fool me), so there’s time for plenty of knowledge to build up, easily available by Google. At some point I may well summarise various threads, but it’s all a matter of time, I do have to earn a living too (sadly writing about burglar alarms is not a viable career path). But keep posting your knowledge here and at least it’s on record!

            • When I first started up, like most, I used the Red ‘S’ Type metal bell box. I used to sit on the floor in my Mums living room assembling them. They had a Freidland 6″ Master bell. An ERL ER403 Universal bell module, two Microswitches, one protecting the left bolt, the other, via bracket, protecting from removal from the wall. A 6volt 1ah vattery and a clear strobe srilled and secured to the bottom….the good old days.

              How anyone can say polycarbonate is as strong as steel is beyond me.

  3. I feel sure the word “Machine” was part of the name eg Machine Security Company. I believe they specialised in alarm systems for pubs and with some alleged benefit in their system managed to to sell it to some of the big brewery chains in the 80’s.

    • You are a fount of knowledge. There are loads of old Masco boxes still hanging around, most extremely rusted, so I always assumed it was a big firm once.

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