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  1. Date- I would guess 1960s.
    The use of “HOLborn 542” telephone number is a bit before my time.
    I haven’t a clue when that system was replaced by the GPO.
    It certainly wasn’t in use during the 1970s- London was by then “01”.

    On the technology question – it wouldn’t be a great deal back then.
    Mike will proberly know himself, having fitted them.
    Most alarm control systems from that time used Batteries, Micro switches (for tamper), GPO relays and Rotary sequence wafer switches.

    The AFA S and G type controllers, were nothing more than a metal box with a keyswitch and a red lamp.
    Larger versions had a key switch, rotary circuit switch, and a push button to set the alarm – which you held down while you turned the key switch, some also had a small meter used to check the battery voltage too.

    The clever bit was how this was all wired inside the panel.
    AFAs included an ‘anti-false’ alarm relay, which prevented the user setting the alarm off while setting it, as well as a master relay that controlled the bells and other connections.
    There was no timed entry or exit either – each door would have either a shunt lock (a lock with a switch inside) or a pass key (key switch in the door frame), where the user would operate when leaving/re-entering the premises.

    I don’t think all Burglars are technically apt – there always was (and still are) burglars who specialize in tinkering in Alarm systems (Wire men, they are called in their ‘trade’).
    Safe Crackers were known as “Peter Men”.

    The difference I think, is technology. It’s harder to mess about with alarms.
    Buildings don’t just have a bell box on the side, many are fenced, razor wired, security guarded too – so it simply wouldn’t be worth the hassle.

    These days it seems easier to kick someones front door in and steal their car keys; or threaten someone with a knife for their wallet or purse.

    • Thanks for a thoughtful and rather philosophical comment. I hadn’t heard before of Wire Men and Peter Men – great terms. It’s sad when ingenious technology becomes superannuated, all that cleverness and engineering expertise made redundant, which is why it’s still nice to celebrate the old stuff sometimes. Like steam engines and film cameras, for instance. Though, to be fair, I wouldn’t even have started photographing burglar alarms if I had to travel there by steam engine, then use a film camera!

    • Up to the early 70s alarm engineers/fitters were mostly very good carpenters having to wire & hardboard doors, tube & batten frames, safes & control panel wired cabinets, fitting a shunt lock on most jobs to set the system with. The systems were battery operated so they didn’t even have to know about mains electricity.

      Then the first of two major advancements in the industry, the introduction of British Standard 4737:1971 when control panels had to be metal and powered by 240 volts with the batteries only for stand-by, also ultra sonics & microwave detectors were gradually being introduced in the early 70s and then mid 70s the introduction of the entry/exit timer which done away with the shunt lock.

      The introduction of all three movement detectors, inertia switches, break glass detectors during the 70s did away with wiring doors, ceiling etc, foil on windows, fitting of locks on the majority of systems, so the carpenters gradually faded away and now I suspect a lot of engineers could not even fit a lock, which is not all bad.

      By the way the second major advancement in the industry was the introduction of British Standard 5750, although not everyone would agree with me.

      • Whilst BS5750 is before my time, it does appear to be a good idea. Everyone gets a set of instructions to follow to do a job. If this was still around today and worked like that then everything would be peachy, as long as the people writing the instructions have a decent grasp of the end product. Therein lies the problem with what BS5750 has become, the people who write the “instructions” have no idea what any of them mean and no-one cares as it’s only there so you can blame someone else when it all goes wrong.

        You’ll notice I stuck instructions in quotes when referring to ISO9000, this is where it all goes downhill as they’re not instructions any more. They’re guidelines that don’t necessarily have to provide specific instructions on how to do a job properly. The current incarnation of BS5750 has basically pushed everything back to pre BS5750 days.

        Progress I think they call it!

        I could carry on for days about this……..

        • We could talk about this subject for days, I’ll try and be brief. I believe it was the right move when Maggie Thatcher took the idea of quality procedures from USA and introduced in the UK as BS5750.

          Once a Quality Manual is written for a company then everyone can work and refer to their relevant sections of the manual which is better than having nothing to refer to as it was previously. You are right the manual has to be written by a competent person/s which probably is not the reality.

          I personally wrote Quality Manuals for three companies and I’m sure they improved the efficiency and quality of the companies. Before BS5750 a new employee of a company would be given the keys to car a few spares and sent out to sell, install or service systems, after BS5750 a new employee would spend a day with me and other staff going through all the relevant company procedures, this definitely was an example of the improvements.

          I have retired to the lovely island of Menorca where the Spanish have no QS, many people here have attended appointments at the hospital with an anesetist only to be turned away and await another appointment because they had not had an xray done, if the hospital had a QS with a checklist that simply ensured an xray was done before the administrator made the anesitist appointment. This simple task would save the Spanish health system thousands of Euros.

      • I never realised the industry was /forced/ into using mains by the regs, I’d always assumed that the growing number of features required and the increasing current consumption was the driver. Ironic as a fair few systems like Videofied and Daitem run entirely off primary cells again..;

        • This why companies had to do 4 maintenance visits a year otherwise the batteries would run down and the system not work when there was a break-in. As you know it was then changed to 1 or 2 visits a year, so the industry has batteries to thank for all the revenue they now receive from maintenance visits.

          • I was going to say how long did these cells actually last? Not that long by the sounds of it, not a surprise I guess if they were having to hold relays overnight or all weekend etc… although I’m sure there were latching ones or economisers. I guess the availability of SLAs helped the move too. Funny how with all the fancy microchip controlled charging technology built into panels now they are petty no much better now than the 80s in terms of how long they last.

            • Battery technology has moved on but in order to charge an SLA you can use a handful of components and build quite a decent automatic SLA charging circuit. To charge a better, more modern battery you need a more complex charging circuit, and the cells need to be well looked after and can suffer quite badly from being treated like some SLA’s do.

              Basically it’s down to the bottom line, cuple of quid extra for the charging circuits, few quid more for batteries and slightly more complex servicing routines would probably make quite a difference over time.

  2. I used to see loads of these Brocks boxes in London in my student days.{ 1980s) I wonder what technology such systems employed compared to today’s high tech systems. Would they have been effective in detecting intruders ? Were burglars of those days less tech knowledgeable ?

    • It’s all relative. People designing and building burglar alarms and computers were less technically knowledgeable as well, just the same as we all are now compared to people 30 years from now.

      • I could write a book on this subject, but to expand the topic further what has mankind INVENTED in the last 20 years.

    • Richard I have no idea, but I think 61 is too early. You’re right about the history, the telephone number alone stirs memories of another world.

  3. There hasn’t been much discussion lately, so to get the ball rolling what year would this box have been fitted.

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