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“AFA Minerva EMI”, Lambeth: warrior woman

“AFA Minerva EMI” burglar alarm, Lambeth • This is one of only three burglar alarms I’ve found featuring women, the others being Siren and Liberty. Minerva was the multi-talented pan-Italian goddess of poetry, medicine, commerce, weaving, crafts, magic and music, but primarily of wisdom. Only in Rome was she considered, like her Greek prototype Athena, a goddess of war – an idea the Roman Empire exported, hence her regular appearance sporting helmet and spear, and her suitability for burglar alarms. In Britain she was conflated with Bath’s local deity Sulis, and the famous thermal baths there are dedicated to her. Britain also has Western Europe’s only Athena shrine remaining in situ, an extremely worn structure carved into the side of a quarry near Chester. Mythology apart, I’m interested in the big red drum, which is also associated with Thorn, on whom I wrote a corporate history here. I know Thorn were absorbed by EMI, who clearly took over AFA Minerva too. But though I’ve seen vintage sounders saying simply AFA, I’ve never seen one saying AFA Minerva without the EMI at the bottom, or a standalone Minerva alarm. I’d be interested to know some more about the histories of AFA and Minerva – perhaps one of the burglar alarm fraternity can shed some light on this. • Spotted: Lower Marsh, Lambeth, London, SE1, England, 2010 • Politics: In the Labour constituency of Vauxhall


Above: Images of Minerva – warlike, wise, and popular in Britain. Left: a no-nonsense, helmet-toting Minerva from the destroyed city of Herculanum, near Pompeii. Above right: head of Sulis Minerva found in 1727 in Bath, and now displayed at the Roman Baths there. Below right: Minerva’s very worn-out shrine in Edgar’s Field, Handbridge, near Chester.

27 replies »

  1. Hello, I’ve seen Pat Curran’s name, who I know, didn’t recognise any other names. I started working for Clarion Equipment as Trainee installation eng in 1960. Clarion, who also owned Univalve, was subsequently bought out, along with Auto Call, who owned Ideal and Central Alarms by a Mr McPhail, who also bought out Sentinal Alarms and Associated Fire Alarms which I understood was a public Company, hence all coming under the banner of AFA. Minerva being bought at a later date.

    AFA got into accounting difficulties around 1965, with a great deal of redundancies. We were subsequently temp taken over by Barclays who were a large customer until we were back on keel. The round bell cover (the dustbin) as we called it came about, so we understood, came from an idea by a Barclays director running the company at the time, who apparently had a farm, and got the idea looking at a milk churn one day, seems about right considering the stupid ideas they were coming out with at the time.

    The first dustbins came out with no guide to putting the up straight, hence the logo being crooked when the cover was put on. They then added a piece at the top which allowed the cover to be slotted into a series of grooves to allow it to be straightened, so in fact there are two types of (dustbin) outside covers.

    Hope this helps.

  2. Hi, my name is John Burnett. I am a Jazz radio host on 90.9FM WDCB Public Radio in Chicago, Illinois. I am also a big band leader and owner of the John Burnett Orchestra who has recorded with Buddy Defranco, and performed with Louie Bellson, and many others. I am on the air between 6am to 10am Chicago time (noon to 4pm British time). Access to the station is online at http://www.wdcb.org . I was a sales manager at AFA Minerva, operating out of Twickenham back in 1965 and was with the firm for 13 years. I have been trying to locate Peter Baxter who was also with AFA Minerva. There were others including Pat Smythe, Michael Berry, Robin Bazely White and many more who I would like to hear from. I have had a wonderful life and often look back on all those folks I loved in England. My home email address is burnett162@aol.com I am almost 76 years old and have no intention of ever retiring. Hope you all are well
    John Burnett
    1460 Golden Oaks Parkway
    Aurora, Illinois 60506 USA
    burnett162@aol.com

  3. Hi All, I was a travelling Australian , living in London, and worked on a casual basis with AFA Minerva in Parker St in 1975. I worked in a room with about 8 other casuals – Aussies, Kiwis, two Jamaicans girls, and a South African! Our main work was filling in squares on the old computer input forms. Our supervisor was Peter…? (surname escapes me). The Manager was Mike Sharman. The wages – one pound an hour, which was more than some full timers were taking home in those days.
    Hope this helps in some way……..

  4. As a former engineer with AFA Minerva then Thorn then ADT since the early 70s I can see a potential hazard with AFA pressed steel “drum” type external bells!
    There are still a few fitted and forgotten across the country and due to weight of unit including 5 flag cells rotting away inside, the securing screws (3″ x 8 or 10 mild steel wood screws) will surely eventually rust away completely allowing unit to fall onto a passer-by or vehicle!

  5. Hi
    I started at AFA in 1963 in Parker Street, WC2 and I can give you some insight into the history if you still need it. what would you like to know?

    I have just recently completed 50 years in the security industry !!

    • Aha, you should wait till January, when I will be posting a series of old AFA boxes (in a no doubt inaccurate attempt at date order), and I daresay there will be interest from other commenters too. Then you can answer any queries that arise!

  6. Slight diversion but does anyone remember the massive Thorn Security advert visible from the Chiswick section of the M4 going into London? It was a white billboard with a huge red drum sounder on steroids (it must have been at least 1-2m in diameter) with the blue strobe going overtime! Someone might have a picture perhaps? This was about 1993 I think – and it wasn’t permanent, just one of an array of ‘high budget’ ads in the same spot.

  7. Dear Viki MacDonald
    I may be able help you in the Afa red drum bell units, I was employed with AFA security systems in 1968,after I left school,as a apprentice
    alarm engineer.The red oblong bell boxes,were made of glassfibre
    construction.The base was glassfibre,on which a 6 inch frieland bell
    was fitted,the cover was red glasfibre and had a anti tamper circuit
    fitted.They were proceeded by the red drum metal bell units,these units were the first (self contained bell units).Meaning they had internal battaries (4 or 5 flagcell battaries) They were a nightmare to fit and very
    heavy when fitted to the wall had to be careful in your three fixing
    to the wall.In regard to minerva it was a fire alarm company,which I believe,AFA took over or came together,then later emi thorn took over
    afa minerva.In regard to autocall alarm I worked on some of the old
    systems as AFA took them over in early sixties .The autocall alarm
    company goes way back to the 1937 time ?? The blue drum bell
    boxes were fitted in the inside of the premises and housed alarm control
    relays,battaries,ect were normaly fitted high up the wall and had conduit
    drop to the control panel (AFA used what we called a G TYPE system)
    which was common to there system at that time.
    The other outside red drum bell units we used were call (S TYPE SYSTEM) this consisted of normal bell,anti tampers on back and cover of
    the red drom units but,it had inside a control module,which ment
    setting of the alarm was done by a mortise shunt lock on exit door,or
    a keyswitch fitted on outside of door,on doorpost drilled in,this system
    was used in low risk small shops.
    In regard to opening the red bell drum unit,in you picture you will see
    a small button below the sign,this was springloaded,you pushed the button in.Then you rotated the drum until the sign was upside down
    you then through the hole on drum cover had access to a hexagon
    screw head,you used a hexagon key to unscrew,as you rotated the
    drum the bell would ring,as anti tamper was activated.Took drum of
    this exsposed inside ,,,alarm bell,bell electronic module,,and 4 or 5
    flagcell battatries. Hope this will be of help to you

    Refer you to (Intruder alarms 1852 to 2004 Mike Cahalane) on
    the web Yours sincerely Bob Wightman please excuse spelling

    • Thanks for your memories of the eternally fascinating AFA Minerva systems, Robert – I’m sure they will be of great interest to the other readers of this blog. Please feel free to comment at any time, your comments will now go straight through without being moderated.

  8. Many AFA engineers did carry a tin of red paint around with them in their van to touch up the bell box if it was looking a bit shabby- hence you may come across some unbranded but painted red.
    I have seen a couple of old AFA boxes cleaned up and some engineer has stuck a Thorn sticker on it.

    There was also one I missed out; it was shallow, unbranded and painted silver- you are more than likely to still find 100s of these around- in particular on Nat-West banks; this was for High Security installations.
    But these date from the late 1980s onwards.

    My list isn’t gospel- it’s how I came across the particular systems; I may have missed something out. But they are the only boxes I have come across.

  9. I think the “style” of boxes AFA / Thorn used overlapped- as certain boxes at first were only designed to operate with certain control equipment.
    Bearing in mind, the early days of AFA-Minerva were long before any British Standard for security alarms was ever considered.

    As I see it, the timeline would run kind of like as follows (earliest to recent)

    ‘oblong boxes’ branded “AFA Security Systems” (1950s)
    ‘drum’ box branded “AFA Security Systems” (early 60s)
    ‘drum’ box branded “AFA Burglar Alarm” – (early-late 60s)
    ‘drum’ box branded “AFA-Minerva EMI” – (early-mid 70s)
    ‘drum’ box mk1 shallow branded “AFA Minerva” – (mid-late 70s)
    ‘drum’ box mk2 shallow, branded “AFA Minerva EMI” (late 70s onwards)
    Plastic round box, branded “AFA Minerva – EMI” – (early-mid 80s)
    Plastic round box, branded “Thorn – EMI” (mid-late 80s)
    Plastic round box, branded “Thorn Security” (late 80s- early 90s)
    Plastic round box, branded “Thorn” (early-mid 90s)
    Plastic round box, branded “Thorn Security” in new logo (mid-late 90s)

    The shallower ‘dum’ boxes were designed to fit on newer equipment; there were two versions- the Mk1 being a shallower version of the familiar large box (with the flanges at the bottom of the lid)
    The Mk 2, was slightly shallower, lighter red, and the lid fitted flush to the wall.

    • Wow, thanks Roddy – that is an incredibly helpful list. I am going to see if I can find enough examples to illustrate it. However I think I have just found an old-style metal drum saying simply “Thorn” (though I’ll have to go back and check), in which case it’s not comprehensive…

  10. Both the White & Blue boxes were normally used indoors- usually located inside a wooden cupboard- above the panel; older ‘unbranded’ ones were often painted black.
    These provided the power for the panel, and also a tamperproof bell inside.

    I have only seen two installations with them outdoor- one with a white box was at a Funeral Directors in Derbyshire (which we pulled out in the late 90s) and a Blue one on the front of “Kieren & Mullen” hair dressers in Derby Market Place- which may be still there as it’s so high up.
    We replaced the original installation in there during the 90s.

    • Yes, that rules them out – I am limiting my blog to external alarms for obvious reasons… sounds like Derby’s worth a look though. And I saw a superb old Thorn non-EMI of a type I’ve not got from a bus today, and photographed a very big, blackened old square AFA – so the collection’s adding up.

  11. I worked for Thorn Security between 1993 and 1999; and I serviced many of these systems around the Midlands- they were the most reliable alarm systems I have ever worked with- providing they were looked after!

    The oblong “AFA Burglar” alarm boxes I think were a bit before the merger of AFA and Minerva.

    However- the round “drum” type boxes are also from the 1960s-
    AFA were in fact Fire Detection (as mentioned by Mike), but may have dabbled in security alarms too (hence the oblong boxes)- they acquired a security alarm company and it’s products during the early 1960s – called “Autocall Systems”- where they took on the designs of the “G-Type” control panel, and I would assume the familiar round “drum” type box- as these boxes were only designed to function with the “G-Type”.

    There are also blue, and white coloured round boxes too, but quite rare these days- these were tailored to suit a particular installation- ie Domestic/Commercial (usually Red), or even High Security – such as banks etc (usually white), and internal bells (blue) for panic/raid alarms.

    The AFA-Minerva merger happened during the late 1960s/early 1970s- and the “G-Type” was still manufactured; the newest system I came across using that equipment was installed in 1976.

    By 1977- AFA-Minerva had designed newer electronic equipment; such as “System 9000” etc- but round metal boxes were still fitted; though shallower than the AFA counterparts. A few of them are still around.

    AFA then replaced the metal boxes with AFA-Minerva EMI branded plastic ones- identical in design to the Thorn ones of the late 80s/90s.

    • Hi Roddy – thanks for all the first-hand information, very helpful. I’m collating all the info people give me and at some point will attempt to sum up the AFA/Minerva/Thorn timeline, with examples. Sadly I’ve never seen any of the blue or white boxes you mention, and from your description of their placing it sounds unlikely I’ll find any.

  12. AFA stands for Associated Fire Alarms which I believe goes back over a hundred years, it’s correct EMI did aquire AFA in the 1960s which at the time was possibly the largest alarm company. AFA’s head office was in Holborn London.

  13. AFA and Minerva were formed by two companies;
    AFA Security systems (who were responsible for the familiar round/red AFA Burglar alarm boxes) which were coupled to a small, reasonably clever box called a “G-Type” alarm system.

    AFA also manufactured fire detection and panels.

    Minerva Fire Defence – were a seperate entity; manufacturing Fire Detection, suppression, Alarm systems- their pioneer system, the CT system introduced around 1968 can be found in a few places today.

    The two were taken over by EMI, and merged together.

    The Minerva CT panels were all badged up as “AFA-Minerva”, intruder alarm systems were also badged up the same.

    The box in the picture is so large, because it holds a bell, small bit of electronics to trigger the bell, and 5 x Flag Batteries to power the bell measuring around 20cm in length by about 7cm wide.

    As newer systems were introduced during the later 1970s, the bell box size was reduced.

    • Thanks – that’s incredibly detailed and helpful, if a bit complex! Do you know anything about the really old-looking red vertical oblong boxes that say “AFA BURGLAR ALARM”? There’s a picture of a nice mossy one here

      As I say in my answer to your other extremely helpful AFA-related post here, one day I will do a timeline of AFA / Minerva / Thorn / Thorn EMI / Thorn / ADT if I can get enough information from those in the know!

      • Also, another question – if I am hunting for Minerva alarms, do you mean they only did FIRE alarms and not BURGLAR alarms? Because I tend to ignore vintage fire alarms, but if that’s the case I’ll start looking at them more closely.

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