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“Shorrock”, Camden: red star of Blackburn

“Shorrock” burglar alarm, Camden • I’ve always been attracted by this subtly stylish pentagon with its flaring red sun, but most examples have faded to blank-faced anonymity. Originally called Shorrock Develoments, the firm was founded in 1962 by Stanley Shorrock, said by some to have invented the first UK burglar alarm (though there had been several UK alarm firms before this, so I’m not sure if that’s true). I could find virtually nothing about Stanley Shorrock on the internet, despite an obsessive search; I think he ended up a Sir, and probably started life in Blackburn, which is where he based the firm. Shorrock is an old local place name, cropping up regularly for hundreds of years around the Lancashire town, where there’s a Shorrock Lane to this day. It’s also a common surname in the area; in fact the current Labour councillor for Shadsworth, the ward where Shorrock’s factory was based, is called Jim Shorrock – coincidence? I did turn up a textile machinery designer from Blackburn called Stanley Shorrock, who in the 1950s co-developed the first British tufted carpet manufacturing machine with Brian Mercer, but I have no idea if that’s the alarm firm’s founder – the dates tie in, so it’s entirely possible. The known facts are less intriguing, being – as with all these big security firms – mainly a string of post-1980s mergers and acquisitions. Shorrock, under the mysterious but successful Stanley, expanded thoughout the 1960s to become a large and respected firm. They designed and manufactured their own security systems, building two factories in the Blackburn suburb of Shadsworth in the early 1970s; the blue metal Shorrock boxes with faded white lettering still occasionally seen perhaps date from this era. In 1985 Shorrock listed on the stock exchange, and in 1986 they were snapped up by BET PLC, a UK conglomerate once called British Electric Traction and better known for its bus operations. This must have led to the era of the fine pentagonal box shown here, its hint of the launderette harking back to the days when modernist graphics were considered suitable for everything from electronics to detergent. In fact that spiky star is a twin of the once-familiar logo of Rediffusion, a TV company owned by BET until the mid-1980s. In 1996, BET got taken over in a hostile bid by Rentokil Initial PLC, the unholy alliance of a pest-control firm and an industrial launderer (perhaps they were attracted by the washaday-style logo). At this point their alarms became branded Initial Shorrock, and by 2000 just Initial; they retained the chic pentagons, but the graphics became an undistinguished 90s affair, still much in evidence on the high street today. After several years of grumbles about under-investment and poor management, the division was bought out in 2007 by serial security-firm-gobbler UTC, a US leviathan on a roll after their 2003 aquisition of Chubb alarms. By 2010 all UTC’s security brands had been rationalised under the venerable blue triangle of Chubb Systems (perhaps that’s why I’ve recently seen an unhappy pentagonal Chubb) – and so Initial Shorrock was no more. Maybe one day I’ll find out what happened to Stanley Shorrock, too. • Spotted: Covent Garden area, Camden, London, WC2, England, 2004 • Politics: In the Labour constituency of Holborn and St Pancras

18 replies »

  1. I worked at Shorrocks 1976 until 1987. Jerry is right about the Shorrock MW fence, was a great peice of kit installed thoughtout the UK and europe. I was employed as a CCTV engineer to maintain and repair CCTV systems, on my own with a ladder and a van, never be allowed today! Shorrock made all their own equipment from door contacts to micro processors for early integrated systems ADACs. Names I remember, apart from Jerry, John Refern ( regional Manager) , Bob Betty Reg Engineer, and he’s predecessor ( cant remember the name). Colin Bennet, Don Richardson RIP, alan Borer Steve from Hemel senior eng.

    • Hi Dave,
      I can share an amusing story about John Redfern the Regional Manager who was a very good manager and whilst he was at Shorrock he helped me a lot in my career.

      Shorrock had a new management team installed at Blackburn after an ownership change if I recall correctly, and they dispatched a new guy to take over and displace John Redfern, telling him he was redundant and his contract would not be renewed as he was on a yearly contract of employment.

      Later John told me the thing they had overlooked was they had just renewed John’s contract so when the new hatchet man said to John you are out the door John said fine. Hatchet man whose name I cannot recall said to John give me the keys to your company vehicle and John said no I have a contract of employment for a year which has just been renewed and that includes a vehicle, all fuel and maintenance as well as my pay for the remainder of my contract, and despite considerable teeth gnashing and displays of anger by said hatchet man there was nothing they could do to break the contract terms.

      I recall bumping into John about a year later when he told me the above and he also said he greatly enjoyed driving all over the UK for nearly a year in his company car whilst working for a competitor and there was nothing they could do about it.

      Other people I recall working at Shorrock were Phil Clark who was an ex alarm engineer who managed the City Branch in Britton Street and Jim Walder who was in charge of the installation team at Britton Street, both really good men.

      I learnt so much at Shorrock and met amazing people both inside the company and amongst our customers. I ultimately left Shorrock and went to work for Honeywell another great company to work for travelling all over the Middle East for them and ending up in New Zealand.

  2. worked there from 1980 to 1999 I was regional engineer for Scotland and Ireland, one of the most innovative companies of their day, the Mk 7 microwave fence was a great bit of equipment set up hundreds of sets over the years, they manufactured their own PIR’s, Microwave detectors, door contacts and control panels, R&D based in Blackburn Lancs. The original bell was a large blue metal bell the one above as said was once Redifusion took them over, the down side was that the star and words deteriorated in sun light, One of my best employments.

  3. I worked there from mid 1985 until end of 1986 in test the department briefly, then RnD. I remember the MW fence…a transmitter and receiver housed in robust, metal cylinders sealed with screw caps at the end. They also had another outdoor system…I think they called it T-line….the electronics monitored a balanced capacitance bridge, where the capacitance was between the perimeter wires and ground. These were also installed at high security bases. Don’t know if they still use that principle. They had an outdoor test site, a field at the Blackburn site where they tested detection profiles for different set-ups of MW fence and the capacitance bridge system and monitored them for immunity to wildlife, weather conditions etc.
    An interesting character called Fred (Hoyle?) was in charge of that. I built some of the capacitance bridge system ideas on the test site with a good guy called Stuart and we tested them crawling around in the mud, balancing on ladders and stuff to try and defeat the system, capturing the profiles on chart recorders. I often wonder what happened to those guys and if they still use those systems or derivatives.

  4. Those are quite rare from where I live but that doesn’t mean I know about them.
    There made out of plastic or polycarbonate and inside there’s a strobe, black horn siren and a SAB module but it has no nicad battery on the board so you’d have to put a 12v battery in the bell box. I assume there’s two or three tamper switches in the box but I don’t know where.

  5. I started with Shorrocks in the early 60’s as an apprentice and 50 years on am still working for Chubb at their South Coast branch as a pensioner. One piece of equipment I still fit is the 1960’s Shorrock design safe limpet now made by Elmdene.
    The very first Shorrock bell boxes were actually square with a domed lid and rusted very easily. At one point all the engineers at Christchurch branch were sent out for a couple of days to paint the bells and fit new stickers.
    Shorrock also built high quality radios, aircraft navigation beacons and gun cabinets with integral alarms.
    Other names around in the early days were Ian Buckley in developments, Jim Redfern in accounts and Christene in wages.
    Stanley Shorrock unfortunately passed away on the Chewton Glen golf course near Bournemouth about 25 years ago.

  6. Hi, I’ve worked for the company since 1983 at Head Office in Blackburn. The Shorrock Bell Box shown is one which was produced when Shorrock Security was bought by British Electric Traction [BET] who also owned Rediffusion.

    The original Bell Box was Blue Metal rectangle box, there are, still some about. Next time I see one I’ll get a picture.

    BET was acquired by Rentokil Initial in 1996.

    Shorrock Security’s name was changed to Initial Shorrock Various branches of the Shorrock organisation had their names changed to [Initial Electronic Security Systems, Initial Communications, Initial Customer Care, Initial Community Care etc].

    In 2007 the company was purchased by United Technologies Corporation [UTC] and as UTC already owned CHUBB we became part of the CHUBB brand.

    What was Shorrock Security is still based at the same Head Office on Shadsworth Industrial Estate in Blackburn

    • Thanks and welcome to the blog. I’m sure many other readers will be interested in your post. Re the older shorrock boxes, there are a few scattered round the blog and more to come.

    • Hi
      I’ve been searching for current day company information and history about Shorrock’s Security
      in Blackburn – I actually designed and manufactured the plastic injection mould tool which produced the
      Shorrock Red Star alarm box cover – Small world and involved in a little history

      Thanks Jim Kelly ADM Precision tools

      • Hi,
        Very interesting information. What happens to injection molds like the one for the shorrock box when the bell box is discontinued. Has tge mold for tge shorrock been scrapped or will someone still have it do you think?

        Thanks, the wondering jake.

  7. I worked for Shorrock for a number of years in their London North branch and then in their City branch just along the road from Shield. Stanley Shorrock was indeed a developer of tufted carpets and carpet making machinery. They needed a burglar alarm for their factory and got such huge quotes from the “big boys” Stan and David Best a very talented electronic engineer designed and installed their own alarm and realised they could make a business of making and installing alarm equipment.

    A lot of very good equipment came out of the Shadsworth Road factory and their alarm panels were very reliable. Shorrock were at one time owned by Hawker Siddley Aviation and at the time of TSR2 a very high technology bomber designed by Hawkers they had the first stripline antenna microwave transmitter and receiver for mounting in the wings as a terrain following radar system designed to fly in the “knap of the earth”. When TSR2 was cancelled by the British Government of the day Hawkers offered their stripline antenna to other members of the Hawker group. David Best realised this could be made into a very effective point to point microwave “fence” to detect intruders outdoors. These were introduced to market at the same time a US company launched their lower technology dish antenna point to point microwave fence. The Shorrock microwave fence was another example of Britian leading the world in technology. The microwave fences were installed at hundreds and finally thousands of high security establishments around the UK and overseas.

    Early Shorrock bell boxes were square and huge some 24 inches wide and about 10 inches high and about 8 inches deep and were very heavy. The later truncated oblong pyramid design was invented by Shorrock because there had been some attacks with ropes pulling bell boxes off the wall and the truncated pyramid design from Shorrock was immune to that type of attack. Early pyramid bell boxes can be recognised because they had a lock and two bolts on the front and were very robust. Shorrock was a great company and I was proud to work there as they made so much of their own equipment including microwave intruder detectors for use indoors. A great firm!

    • That’s interesting about the MW fence. They had minor ideas like a magnet all the way down the inside of the control panel cover & when you unfixed the actual panel the front side would then fixed to the magnet strip on the hinged cover to enable an engineer to work on it with both hands.

  8. Pretty sure there was a 70’s / 80’s looking branch of Shorrock on the Goldhawk Road in London that still had the frontage and signs, long, long after the occupants appeared to have left…. That was in 2005, so no doubt finally gone now.

  9. yes i worked there from 1970 till 74 first on east park road blackburn and it moved to shadsworth road a lot of devolopments went on there but primative by todays standard great fun hope to hear from anyone who worhed there from this period

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