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“AFA”, Chelsea: ancient takeover?

“AFA Burglar Alarm” burglar alarm, Kensington and Chelsea • This AFA alarm has the same phone number – CHA 2888 – as yesterday’s Auto Call, and was found on the same bit of posh Chelsea wall, just round the corner from Harrods. Although like most AFA boxes it hasn’t worn well, the design looks more recent than Auto Call’s, so I assume AFA took them over. There’s a really interesting comments thread about the company’s long history below this AFA alarm, but it doesn’t mention Auto Call, so if anyone knows more I’d be interested to hear it. • Spotted: Beauchamp Place, Kensington and Chelsea, London, SW3, England, 2011 • Politics: In the Conservative constituency of Kensington

58 replies »

  1. I wonder if any of you could possibly offer me some information? My aunt worked for AFA MInerva (EMI) Ltd then Tyco starting in 1976 in Billet Road Walthamstow. She has been diagnosed as having malignant mesothelioma from exposure to asbestos. Could any of you confirm that asbestos was used in the manufacture of the alarms, or for any of you that may have worked there that the ceilings were made of asbestos?
    If any of you have any information the please email me @ . uk (remove spaces)
    Thank you :)

    • I’m happy to post this here, but it’s somewhat beyond the scope of this blog. If anyone wants to contribute their opinions, please email Danielle direct on the email address given above.

    • Whilst I don’t have any specific information I can tell you that there was asbestos in most things manufactured up until the last 10-15 Years in this country. It is still used in some parts of the world as part of manufacturing processes. I can only assume you want to sue AFA/Tyco for some compensation due to the asbestos, which to my mind is like trying to prove that milk gave me herpes.

  2. robert wightman
    Yes remember seeing that sweeney film,with the alarm police
    connections,I remember in the time working with AFA 1968,we had to fit these units,If I remember they came in a 10way or larger size 20 way
    They were home office approved termination units,the standard unit that ever alarm company terminating in police station had to use This got rid of the many various alarm companys own units,made it easy on the
    police.It also was more secure in the alarm signalling (As it was tone signalling on the line) It got rid of the old DC voltage signalling as this could be overcome by put a battary on the line ??? enough said##

  3. I have took the pics. Just need to find the lead for my camera.
    I was at an old wherehouse yesterday, which had an old AFA alarm fitted, all of the windows had been batterned (as Mike mentioned) – it must have took and eternity to kit the place out, just about every door had something on.
    I never had the time to hunt for the panel.
    If I get back there, I will take my camera and see.
    (Still need to find the ruddy lead though!!!)

  4. AFAs London Head Office and Central Station was in Parker Street, near Covent Garden. Unfortunatly, nothing remains as the building was demolished and has made way for modern buildings

  5. I cant beleive I have missed this whole chain of posts !!! I think it has got something to do with no acknoledging earlier mosts I have made.

    I find all this fasinating.

    As I think I have stated before, I was a Chubb Alarms man and never worked for AFA. Im sure you must have known either Peter Bundock or his father. Peter Bundock was by first business partner before my current business partner, Keith Avey purchased his shares 20 odd years ago.

    I have seen some blue internal AFA sounders in old branches of Boots the Chemists above Fire Exits, but never externally.

    Afa had a couple of the round red bell box variatants, one as shown in the above picture with the ‘button’ in the middle and the other which just had a slotted hole.

    Many years ago I was called to a job in Edgware where a shop, who stated he never had an alarm called or help as the old alarm above his shop front was ringing. I attended, climbed to the top of my double exctension ladder to try and remove the lid. The lid just spon and spun. As described, I turned it upside down and tried to feel for the allan key hiole, but to no avail. In the end, I crow barred it of the wall. No relising how heavy it was it fellto the ground. Luckily knowone was beaneth. Even on the ground I couldnt get it to stop and ending up driving down Station Road Edgware with this thing ringing in the back of my van!

    When I worked for Chubb I was a bank engineer. We used to fit huge triangle delta bells – these were double skin with the two covers electrically isolated so if anyone drilled through the cover, the drill bit would touch the first cover, then the inner cover which would cause a short, thus activating the alarm.

    Unfortunatly, the bell boxes we all use now are polycarbonate. All sounders are now self actuating with front and rear tamper switches with integral recharghable batteries to power the sounder if the cable between thesounder and the control unit is cut.

    Was the silver ‘AFA’ bell box not double skin?

    • There are a couple Chubb “delta” boxes near where I live.
      I like the double skin idea!
      I think the silver high-security box was doubled skinned; and as you say electrically isolated from each other.

      The AFA boxes were self actuating; if the panel tripped the bell- power was devised from the batteries in the box, as would be the case if you removed the lid, or cut the cable.
      When the alarm was set, the bell cable was protected as part of the tamper loop – only a 4 core cable was run up to the bell.

      Talking of AFA – I was in Nottingham last week, and went past the old AFA office on Clarendon St; it’s now part of Clarendon College- though has nice swanky new bell boxes on.

      The Thorn office at Sparkenhoe St in Leicester had 3 or 4 variations of AFA / Thorn boxes on the front – not sure if they are still there!

      • V interesting to learn a bit about the ‘vintage’ technology. Presumably the self activating bell required a relay held in constantly to hold the bell off? It seems surprising, perhaps, that these systems were so reliable, but clearly they were. I can remember an afa alarm on a building near my parents house. I can only remember hearing it once ,in many years, that was when the place got burgled and the alarm was triggered. No false alarms.

        • The AFA “self actuating bell” wasn’t really far off the later standard SCB and SAB modules.
          The “drum” boxes all had a plastic box, measuring about 7cm long by about 4cm wide- and was resin sealed.
          Inside this box was a pair of transitors, a resistor and a diode.

          You’d connect the bell to this ‘box’, as well as the batteries in the bell-box, also a pair of wires bringing battery power from the panel end would connect to this box.
          If either voltage was removed – the bell would sound.

          So it kind of monitored itself; if the batteries in the Bell-Box were failing- the bell would sound from the power provided at panel end, if the batts at the panel end were failing – it’d sound the bell using the bell box batteries.
          On installations where you had more than one bell-box, if it was just one bell ringing, you’d know it was the external bell batteries.

          The AFA systems also had two tamper loops too; there was a closed circuit which was wired through microswitches on the panel, through switches on cabinets, and also a loop through each bell box too- via a backplate switch, and a large push switch mounted just under the cover.
          The cover had a notch welded into it which pushed the button closed when the cover was spun the correct way round.

          The other tamper loop was a Normally Open circuit, which did nothing more than make a lot of noise locally if someone was tampering with the alarm (while it was unset).

          A common problem was the large push switch in the bell box; they were known to seize in the closed position- so we had to replace no end of them with equivalents.

          It’s all flooding back now! ;-)

        • When I was a mere lad I fitted a Al;arm for Chubb on a Safe Deposit Cente in Edgware. The old huge Delta Bell is still on the wall. Vici, if you provide me with an email address Ill take a pic and email it to you :)

  6. Mike will proberly be a better person to answer; as he was actually installing the systems.
    I couldn’t tell you how many types of Panel there were- I only saw 3 versions. Though the single zone was quite common.
    Again – Mike may have seen many more.

    Compared to most alarms that were around at the time; the AFA panels were quite well thought out, and I think based on a design which had evolved over years.
    During my days with Thorn (1991-1999) there were still 100s of these systems on our books, customers preferred them becuase they were so reliable.

    A few of the other competitor systems weren’t as so sophisicated.

    AFA were the first to fit anti-false alarm relays, also I think the first to have seperate “zones” (they were known as “circuits”) to make it easy to identify which area had been activated.
    As well as this- the AFA panels were designed to be modular – so if a building was extended, all the engineer need to is add a relay inside the panel, and do a little soldering.
    Other systems tended to be a box and relay with a key switch, covering an entire premises.

    No two AFA panels were really identical, as they would be manufactured at a factory to a standard design, and then wired / soldered up on site to suit the installation requirements.

    I have seen the “G-Type” in numerous styles. The most recent was fitted in 1976 at a working mens club, had the facility of 20 zones, zoned panic alarms, a bell inside the panel itself, and also had an electronic dialer and some other bits of electronics added too.
    This was also relay / battery operated.
    The panel itself measured about 70cm wide x about 40cm deep.

    The original “G-Type” was single zone, with a lamp, circuit switch and keyswitch on the front- either painted Hammered Blue, or Hammered Black with an AFA badge at the bottom.
    It measured about 15cm wide X 25cm deep.
    A Matching coloured bell box would be positioned above the panel (providing an internal sounder and battery supply and connections)
    This all would be located in a wooden cabinet / cupboard (also protected).
    And there were some genius designs in protecting the cabinet, using switches, lace, inertia sensors etc.

    During the early 1970s, AFA had been installing systems using white drum bell boxes – however I only saw two; one on a Crematorium and another was a Raid Alarm at a Rolls Royce plant.
    Believe me – if you tripped the latter without good cause- you would be in big trouble; as it was also monitored by the MOD Police, so armed cops would roll up brandishing their weapons.

    To do maintenance, we had to send in a request 2 weeks before, await the relavent security clearances, and then go through a complete security check before we even opened our toolboxes!

    • Sorry can’t remember the AFA control panels, I was only with AFA a few months because there was no overtime or bonus, also I was possibly one of only a few engineers with their own car and they put me right in the the centre of London. I remember the keyswitch was on a smaller box below the main panel.

      • Being an Ex Chubb Engineer, I remember that Rely-A-Bell and Burgot had a similar arrangement. I think they were called CA3 control Units, although CA3’s had many variants, including the lockable multiway steel cabinets as referred to in an earlier post. We used to refer to them as ‘Lock Blocks and Coffins’, with the box above the key switch called the Coffin.

        Vicki, whilst all Burgot Alarms were signalled, normally by old 999 record players a few had out side bells. These were grey boxes without any livery on them. Occasionally, and I mean occasionally you may still see one or two out and about. If I come across one I will photograph it.

        • Thanks Andy – I wondered why I had not seen any. In those days it seems they weren’t so keen to advertise their presence!

          • AFA-Minverva did an electronic panel, which was locked in a metal cabinet. It was something like “System 8000”. And was an early electronic system they designed.

            That was a large metal cabinet (kind of bathroom cabinet size), and had 4 huge black push buttons at the top, also a couple of additional switches.
            You’d finally set the alarm by locking the cabinet door.
            This had the facility for something like 40 circuits; and was connected to monitor doors on each floor of a large office block.

            Each door had a shunt lock fitted, so the status of the door could also be monitored.

            Thinking more about it, it was likely to have been a custom panel.
            Though – something different.

            I think panels these days don’t have the character of the “oldies”!!!

            When I find the lead for my camera I’ll upload the pics of the AFA system on my workshop.

            • It would be still be really interesting to see pics of your afa system RB, if you have a chance to post some anytime,( perhaps on the facebook page linked to this site.)

  7. Fascinating, so using batteries to operate relays all the time that the alarm was set, I’m wondering how long the batteries would last before dropping too low to hold the relay? They must have needed replacing regularly, surely..?

    • The ones I serviced used to use R40 “Flag Cells” which were quite large, and getting scarce then; today you can get them- but from very few places and they are very expensive.
      Vintage Radio restorers sell them- but in 1s and 2s- if you phoned them and asked for 20 odd, they’d panic (or rub their hands!)
      Each Cell was 1.5v, so for an average system you’d need 5 for each bell, (7.5v) and 3 for each zone or circuit (4.5v).
      The Flag Cells were only in use when the panel was set or bells soundning.

      From memory you could get a good 6-12months use out of them.
      The some of the more deluxe AFA panels had meters on the front (the ones with multiple circuits) had a meter on the front, which would tell you the status of the “circuit” like a “zone lamp” on a newer panel.
      Also the meter would give you an idea of how good the batteries were on each zone.

      Also- the panel had a large AFA Bell-box above it too; this contained much of the interlocking relays for keeping the bells going, operating autodialers and anything else; this was linked to the panel located below it.
      And believe me- the principles were simple; the wiring in those was on a major scale – one false move, you’d have bells ringing, police turning up and loads of explaining to do!

      All the batteries were required to do was to hold in a relay, nothing more.
      So a large battery with perhaps micro-amps being pulled from it would last quite a while.

      I did once modify an old AFA system at a Branch of Dolcis Shoes- making the entire system closed loop, and powered from a seperate Mains Power unit and large backup battery.

      The AFA system on my workshop has also been customised; only becuase of the price of the Flag Cells!!!!

      If I photos the bell boxes on my workshop- would they count to go on here??!

      • Re the bellbox on your shed, I would love to see it, and would definitely post it at some point, so make sure you get a good shot! Also you can post photos at any time to the Facebook page at (just click “Like” and then you should be able to add posts).

      • It would be interesting to see photos of the afa control panels as well. (Though probably not relevant to Vici’s current bellbox study.) What were the particular features of the G panel that made it unique to this system?

  8. As someone interested in electronics I’m wondering how these systems generally worked, not having modern pir’s etc, would they still be considered effective? I remember working at a place in the late 70s, the alarm control was a lockable steel box with rows of silver toggle switches, so different to todyay’s digital keypad!

    • As Mike will proberly also say; the older systems (pre-transistor) were alamost all Relay operated; anyone with a bit of common sense in Electronics would be able to build such kit.
      However – the systems themselves used basic principles; they were quite involved- such as having additional wiring here and there for extra anti-tamper loops- basically if someone did manage to access the panel- there was a strong chance it would be set off if it was tinkered with. And I have done that numerous times!!!!

      I have loads of circuits for tne AFA panels (I had to draw them up myself to aid in servicing)- no 2 panels may have looked the same cosmetically, but inside; they were totally different affairs.

      These panels didn’t have the luxury of Entry/Exit timers; simply you “armed” the alarm, closed the cabinet it was in, “armed” the cabinet, and then you vacated the premises; where the alarm would be finally armed once you locked the door (via a shunt switch inside the antitamper lock).

      It wasn’t until the 1970s that electronics came in- such as with the introduction of stuff like 555timer chips, and 4001/4011 logic chips; which could do the same job on a smaller scale than a big box of relays.
      Also most systems functioned ONLY from batteries too.

      The AFA systems also used a slightly different principle (and quite a clever idea too) than the usual ‘closed loop’ alarms.
      Each protected area (or Circuit) would have it’s own set of batteries connected at the end of it- this returning the power to the panel to hold in the respective relay; if this voltage was lost- via cutting the circuit/shorting it out etc, the bells would ring.

      For detection; I suppose it would have been stuff like “kick lace” lining the doors in a loop, door magnets / switches, batterns/tube on windows, and window foil & pressure mats.

      The oldest electronic detection I saw was an “AFA Minerva” ‘Fidela 3’ – Ultrasonic detector. Which required external power.
      These things were prone to false alarms, as even rat, or poster falling from a wall would trip them.
      Again- this is another for Mike I think!.

      While I was at Thorn; it was known to modify some of the older systems and fit Mains power supplies / Lead Acid batteries- so they could use PIRs (as the conventional Flag batteries on the main system would only be enough to operate the panel)

      I hope there isn’t too many criminals reading this; mind you – how many banks and Jewellers still have the old AFA systems chugging away- I think ADT replaced most of the ones left anyway!!
      Also- a good “wireman” (criminal who specialises in alarms) would know all this anyway!

      • Yes the control panels were full of old telephone exchange relays and hard wired no printed circuit board. I fitted an ultra sonic detector in a Grosvenor Square jewellers which was powered from the mains.
        The first microwave detector I fitted was in 1969 but they didn’t become popular till around 1971 when the industry started using power supplies to power the controls and detectors.
        High streets used to be noisy around 5.30 when shop alarms were being set with the outside bell ringing until switched off by someone at the alarm company’s central station.
        There is no harm talking about the old systems, I was really just pointing it out before some one got carried away, which is easy to do when talking about the old days.

  9. I read that RB has not seen many AFA boxes in the midlands, I fitted numerous AFA alarms in houses in the 60s probably because that was where the rich lived. The first house I worked in near Dorking had a fountain in the middle of the master bedroom and thought this was how the rich lived, never ever saw one again. For many years now approximately 45% of NSI certificates were issued in the Metropolitan Police area and approximately 8% in Surrey Police area, this why I started my companies in South West London.
    In the 60s AFA did have record players that would dial 999 and autodiallers with tapes appeared around 1970. I started in the security industry in the 60s with the Post Office alarm department which only employed electricians, at that time Post Offices were audible only. Vici the bell box fitted in the 60s is still fitted today (I believe this is right but as I’ve retired to Menorca I can’t verify) do you have a photo of one?

    • Aha! Mike was one of the guys responsible for fitting AFA alarms!
      Many of the *younger* engineers at Thorn, including myself admired the installation work by the AFA guys.
      I must admit, EVERY AFA installation I saw, was neat, tidy and in some respects a peice of art!!!
      TBH I think that was a time when tradesmen took pride in their work.

      More recent installations I have seen are appalling. They seem to be just slung in.

      As I said; I only ever saw 2 AFA installations in houses; there could have been more. Not sure.
      I ended up at Shops, Schools, Commercial properties etc.

      As for the dialers- I heard about the record players!!!
      I did come across the odd tape dialer though. Didn’t they have the GPO pulses recorded to them, played them down the line and then play a recorded message?

      I still have an old AFA alarm protecting my workshop – though batteries are getting awkward to find now. ;-) So a subtle mod may be on the cards soon.

      • Thanks RB for your comments, when I joined AFA in the late 60s I was the only engineer that had an electric drill, the engineers in those days were carpenters, making tube & batten frames, safe cabinets, fitting locks etc., with a hand drill.
        An autodialler would connect to the telephone line, dial 999 to the local police headquarters, where a police officer would listen to the tape message that repeated it self for 4 minutes which was a standard message that gave the name, address & telephone number of the alarm premises.

    • I once knew someone who had a fountain in their hall, but that was because they lived in an embassy! Trust someone in Dorking to have one in their bedroom (sounds a bit dodgy, actually). My mum lived in nearby Reigate so I am familiar with the popularity of burglar alarms in wealthy Surrey, it’s the reason I started this blog.

      Re the AFA box you’re asking about Mike, most I have photographed are like the oblong one above and there’s an AFA Minerva here. Or do you mean a round old AFA, as in the terrible pic below (the only one I have to hand)? I haven’t posted a large one of these yet, though I do have a few photos of them. They are always rusty and usually seem to have rotated to one side a bit.

      AFA alarm

      • Vici I meant the Post Office box, its a plain large rectangular box sloping down at the top with vents on the front, it’s a grey/brown/ bronzey colour from memory, it will only be on main P.O. in the high street.

        • Ah, I didn’t twig you meant they were actually ON post offices. It wouldn’t have occurred to me to look for such a thing, so I shall now go on the hunt. Funnily enough I used to take loads of photos of post offices, because they were often in such grand old buildings before they started being closed down and replaced with counters in pound shops etc. But I wasn’t specifically looking for burglar alarms at that point… and of course nowadays most old POs are Weatherspoons etc so the alarms may have gone!

    • Dear Mike;
      Was reading your email,I believe you were a AFA engineer,I started
      with AFA security system in the glasgow branch in 1968,just left school and went into the burglar alarm section,fitted many 999 autodialers,the small plastic record type,and diect lines to police stations with the (Home office approved alarm termination units).
      Used then ultrasonic movement units,remember the first(MWD)
      radar units coming in.As you know fitted a lot of tube & wire,,remember the knock out rods with stem micoswitchs,pressure pads//lots of wall and roof lace wiring //wiring back of doors covering with hardboard//used radiovisor beams 240 volt type,then later 12volt radiovisor beams ///worked on some of the old autocall
      systems came across once 999 autodialler very old type which
      had wind up handle spring like old gramaphone;no battaries
      brings back happy memories working in banks,jeweller shops
      large factories,houses,etc Yours all the best bob wightman

      • Hi Robert
        I joined AFA around 1969 just before MWDs started becoming popular, I remember the first popular one made by MESL in Scotland they fitted on an ugly bracket no good for houses, then early 70s Frowds in Teddington brought out a smarter unit that could fit in a corner. I only saw a record autodialler at AFA’s school in Walthamstow because tape autodiallers were just starting to be used then.
        I read your comments on the Banham post about Radiovisor. The first company I joined after AFA used the Monive system and when I started my own company I used them right up to when we sold to Landers in 1982. Because Mr Ives died his forward thinking input was laking at Radiovisor, the company & it’s products just never recovered the Monive panel from the late 70s fell behind it’s competition.
        Robert I have posted info about Radiovisor in three other posts if you are interested and want to search – 2 x Enright & Lockstock

        • Dear Mike
          Was speaking about the 999 autodiallers which had records
          used,came accross //I think first one made by burgot alarms 1939
          it in the science museum,the old wind up spring gramaphone
          If you type in on web//Science Museum/ home /Gramophone burglar alarm,c 1939 you will see it,all best bob wightman

          • Yes it looks similar to one I worked on at AFA, except it had a stiff wire over the record that would be going round & round with the turntable, so when the needle reached the end of the record the arm would drop onto the wire lift the arm up slide it to the edge of the record and drop the needle on the start of the record so it could keep repeating the address etc. for four minutes.

      • You see them as a form of art, when inside the box they are really one of the main signalling devices of a security system and deterrent, which must conform to numerous British & European Standards and function correctly when attacked (and I don’t mean by the Daleks).

        • To be fair, when I started doing this blog I viewed bell boxes not as art, but as a form of design history and visual anthropology: a way to explore the signs and symbols our society uses to denote security, and where they derive from. I have never personally had a burglar alarm, and knew them only as things that annoyed friends who did, due to random settings-off and dealings with service centres.

          Thus I saw them only as mysterious, strangely decorated devices: I had as little conception of what went on beneath the casing as an Aztec beholding a galleon. (Aside: I’ve discovered several Aztec alarms, but no Galleon ones yet.) I was surprised and pleased when real-life security professionals started reading and commenting on the blog, as I admit from your point if view it’s ultimately trivialising a highly technical global industry.

          As a non-techie, I will never understand the inner workings, though I am very happy for contributors to discuss them and add them to the internet’s historical record (until the next big sun storm, anyway). But what HAS gripped me as I have learned more about the industry, is just what a long, rich and evolving history it has: and especially the personal and business stories behind the brands. So please do keep coming with those anecdotes and memories!

          • Mike is quite right in his comment about Alarm boxes being a deterrant.

            Early ‘Intruder’ alarm systems consisted of a mechanically operated / spring loaded bell fixed to a door (like an old shop door bell)- and that was it.
            The earliest “electronic” systems I have ever seen were produced in the late 1940s. And were quite expensive bits of kit. The “Wasp” was one if I remember rightly.

            There were no Microchips, No Transistors – so all that was available was Relays and Valves.
            The latter required very high voltages to operate, so (to my knowledge) was never used with Intruder Alarms.

            Those more sophisticated systems that did exist- such as “AutoCall” (later AFA) was quite expensive- so only places such as Banks, Post Offices, Jewellers and houses “of the rich” would have systems installed.
            In fact – while at Thorn, I think on our books in the entire midlands we only had two AFA installations in houses. One in Derby and another somewhere near Birmingham.
            Everything else was Banks, Payroll offices at factories, Jewellers, some Schools, Shops etc
            I suppose, at one time a would be Burglar would think twice about breaking into a building that had an alarm box on the outside- these days they don’t seem to really bother.

            As a form of “art”; I think more they were ‘brands’ of the time.
            Companies fought to be seen as more and more Alarm companies went into business- so came up with ways to be noticed.
            “Chubb” for years had blue boxes, then went onto triangular boxes, AFA kept with their “round” bright red boxes, “Modern” used to use wedged shaped yellow boxes before moving to the familiar hexagonal boxes.

            Looking at the different boxes on your site is facinating; and is a great catalogue of brands and styles through the years.

            Also- a lot of these companies were around before British Standards, NACOSS (the alarm companies regulator)- so they could pretty much do what they thought best- without having to comply to tons of rules and regs.

      • I wasn’t implying that you Vici need to guess but the undesirable that may be reading our comments. I don’t want to be an old fart, but guys remember we are talking about security systems. Also like me you may have signed some documents during your career that could put you in a sticky position if you disclose too much. Please see this as advice not a moan.

        • No offence was taken Mike, I just sometimes am aware how trivial my comments must seem! And I hadn’t even thought about the possibility of villains reading this. Honestly, I just thought bell boxes were boxes with bells in, I never even gave a thought to how they might work, and now I am being educated…

    • The old AFA boxes ALL had anti-tamper devices.
      The oblong boxes had a push to make switch held on a bracket; this was fixed to the backbox; and was pushed “to operate” when the cover was present.
      The backplate also had a microswitch, which would be closed when the box was mounted on the wall; these were series AND parallel wired and created a tamper loop through the series wiring; and the parallel wiring was connected directly to the bellbox battery- so if the box was removed from the wall or the lid removed, it would make to sound the bell directly from the battery in the box.
      If the alarm was set, the break in the closed loop would trip that.

      In the Round metal drum type; this was very much the same; though the switches were heavier duty; and to access the boxes you needed a special tool (similar to an extended modified allen key) – when I was at Thorn I had to have one made up by a mate with a welder as these keys were rare.
      To remove the box, you’d twist the front cover (so the logo was upside down)- the bell would ring (of course) and you had to stick this tool in to loosen an allen bolt set at 45degrees. (If you notice on the AFA drum boxes they have a small hole just off centre)

      The silver boxes mentioned previously came along much later on; I only ever saw them with later AFA Minerva and l Thorn equipment connected to them.
      They were made using toughened steel, contained the usual micro-switches – the cover ones were held closed by a long bolt, which took an eternity to remove, though would operate the tamper switch after about 3 turns!
      Light sensors would cause false alarms if insects started building webs and wandering around across the sensor- and also some had “inertia” sensors (set to detect a predetermined level of shock), most had anti-foam and flame detection too. (As a classic criminal trick was to stuff the alarm box full of Expanding foam to stop it).
      During the AFA days, two boxes were often situated side-by-side on high security installations, and wired together; so if one bell was disabled- the other would still sound and trip the main alarm.

      The Nat-West installations were (as pointed out) tailor made to each installation.
      No two AFA installations were ever the same – basically the panels were soldered up to suit a particular site.
      In my experience, most Nat-West installations had door switches (micro switches mounted in the rear of door frames), each door was wired with “kick lace” (to prevent it being kicked in), the safes would be enclosed in wooden cases (protected by kick lace and switches) and then the safes themselves had inertia sensors on.

      On a seperate loop would be the “Raid Alarm”; which was permanently energised; this could be operated by cashiers pushing a panic switch, or a kickswitch under the counter (AKA “Letterboxes”)- this was connected to a seperate relay at the panel end, and would signal the police station panel “Raid” and not sound any bells at the Bank End (Duress Alarm as I think it was called).

      These were the constant cause of call-outs, as with them being permanently energised; the batteries failed quickly- and it was regarded as a priority call out. (with a lengthy explanation to 20 or so police officers who had arrived at the bank like the Sweeney armed to the teeth!!)

      Many people forget; we didn’t have “autodialers” of such then; most high security installations were linked by a direct “ABC” wire to the local police station; who had a panel in their control room monitoring local Banks, Jewellers, Post Offices etc.
      The panel would monitor each alarm for “Alarm”, “Raid” and “Line Fault”.
      More sophisticated ones monitored if the alarm was set & had a “Late working” lamp. Many banks (such as Midland) had a security rule that their premises closed at (say 5pm) and the alarm would be set by (say) 5.30pm.
      IF for some reason the alarm wasn’t set at 5.30pm- and the “Late working” lamp wasn’t illuminated, or someone had phoned through- the police would attend to investigate why.

      If anyone watches ITV4; look out for an episode of the “Sweeney”; called ‘Country Boy’ from aroun 1975; the opening scene is a police control room and shows the bog standard AFA monitoring panel….

      Apologies for the longwinded explanations!!!

  10. Around the time AFA were in trouble and sold to EMI, part of the company was brought by one or more banks like National Westminster. They did this because AFA installed & maintained the burglar alarms in their banks and they could not risk their alarm company along with it’s unique security system tailored made for their banks go into liquidation etc.
    They used a high security bell box on the banks it was similar to the round red type but was silver with no logo and made of a stronger metal along with some other gadgets.

      • I would guess they could have also had light sensor, heat sensor, vibration sensor etc., in those days the direct GPO line to the central station was not very reliable or secure like today, Ha Ha.

        • Wierd, remember one of those exact silver round alarms on a Natwest in Bath as a lad (when I first started tinkering with the new fangled plastic and keypad stuff!) and wondering why there wasnt a name on it. I guess back in 1992 it might /just/ have still been in use?

    • Hi, I’m an alarm engineer and worked for a few different companies in my time and like you all, I have always had a fascination for the way old alarm systems worked and the way they were installed which i must say i cant recall any of them be a lashed install they have always been a work of art!

      The best install i ever saw and to this day would have still been working had the building not had a refit !! was a building in mile end road london e3, it was fitted by afa. The place was a club called purple e3 although it was some sort of engineering firm when it was installed. It had two control panels, the one in second floor office had the old tape to tape comunicator next to it and a box under the panel had 8 big blue 1.5v round batteries with something cloride wrote on them. They looked like a stick of dynamite but blue! All the tubes, window batterns and door contacts still worked!

      Messing around with it i worked out that from what was the workshop area on the first floor rear of the building was the first step to setting the alarm. You made sure all the external and a couple of the internal doors where closed then at the top of the stairs there was a box with afa 3×3 burglar alarm circuit modual wrote on it and had 2 orange lights on that indicated the circuits were clear ie 1 being reeds + lace and 2 being roof lace / window batterns and shutter. You would then push the set latch button, next step to the office making sure the 4 clear to set indicators were on 1st being main entrance control and basement, 2nd packaging + pressing ground floor, 3rd cutting and machine room 1st floor and 4th being 2nd, 3rd and 4th floor office doors reed switches and batterns. All lit turn to set exit out office door assisted by exit buzzer down to reception where the 2nd panel was. Turn key to set exit front main door assisted by buzzer (although the buzzer didnt buzz!!) turning the shunt look key. All done system set! Lot of work but worked a treat bells rang in and out of the place it was a magical moment a real treat to the high pitched sounder nowadays!!

      Now i was sent to destroy this thing by installing the new menvier panel in its place and hacking out any wiring / contacts on doors etc that were in the way or would maybe upset the new system, but i just couldnt do it, i relocated the panel and avoided it as best i could left the system as i found it, working!! Then a year or so a see on a website that the building was about to have a complete refurb! So i contacted the new owners, told them there alarm was still under service contract, little lie to get in there lol by all means never got to install a new one after what i said to him!

      Agreed to visit the site a week later all the time thinking im having that system when i get there and when i did i couldnt believe what i saw both panels destroyed, i actually got really annoyed by it and confronted the the site agent although its nothing to do with me!! But had comfort in knowing that when they started pulling the place apart it started ringing and they couldnt stop it!

      I took what i could of it being the external bell box which is a round heavy metal box and some papers from inside the panel which explains in detail how the wiring was run and where the batterys for the circuits starts from which im going to upload for you all plus the picture of the bell box which inside is a mean bit of kit!!! Anti foam mec, tamper switches and anti drill circuit like andy mentioned earlier, ratling on a bit now lol, anyway great site enjoyed readings peoples views on the subject and hope you enjoy reading my encounter!!

      Regards jon

      • Hi Jon, thanks for contributing details of your vintage AFA find to the site, feel free to comment in future!

      • Criminal action ripping that out!!!
        I still have circuit diagrams for the AFA panels. So if you want to get any salvaged bits working, get Viki to forward my email address to you.
        I used to service 100s of those systems. Many still running during the 1990s/2000s.
        Our corner shop has one too.

        The batteries you mention were R40A Flag cells.
        Very hard to get hold of these days, and therefore really expensive.

        My workshop has an old AFA system running; though had to slightly modify it so it could run from a charger/battery set up.
        Still works fine.

  11. Yeah – it certainly looks like a Fibre-Glass one; as there is a wooden backboard in which the bell was screwed too and a plate to hold a battery and resin sealed box (about 6x6cm) containing some bits of electronics.
    The Metal ones were far and few between when I was working for Thorn; these days I’d be surprised if many have survived at all.

    My apologies; my posting in the “AFA Minerva” section didn’t mention Autocall. I think that was due to us discussing the AFA & Minerva / EMI thing (which came along later of course).

    For reference;
    The oblong boxes were fireproofed (asbestos) to prevent attempts of setting the box on fire to disable it…..
    These days they are made out of cheap plastic anyway….. ;-)

  12. As I pointed out in a previous post;
    “Autocall” was taken over by “AFA Security Systems” sometime in the early 1960s- I heard it was around 1963.
    “AFA” at the time were manufacturing Fire Alarm equipment; and took on all of the designs of security equipment from “Autocall”.

    Hence why you will see ex-Autocall boxes with AFA stickers on, and also boxes badged up as AFA.
    It was only a little later on when AFA introduced the familiar round metal drum boxes – as they introduced different equipment.

    Autocall designed the “G-Type” alarm control panel; a design that was more or less unchanged even during the “AFA Minerva” era well into the 1980s.
    While I was working for Thorn during the 1990s; there were still tons of these systems working, and giving much less problems than the electronic counterparts introduced much later on.

    Many of the Autocall boxes had been replaced as they had weathered and rotted away; though AFA did try using fibreglass/asbestos (yes that stuff) oblong boxes shortly before the “drum” box era. *cough splutter*!

    • Thanks for helping fill in the AFA picture even more Roddy – I’ll try and keep away from any asbestos boxes! (Though I can see their relevance to AFA’s fire alarm business.)

    • I buy my coffee in Beauchamp Place (expensive tastes) so I am very familiar with its plethora of old boxes, many of which have now been photographed. Re the “half” an Auto Call on Google Street View, well spotted… it’s been caught in the join between two camera shots. Lucky I took a proper photo!

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