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The Rely-A-Bell Burglar Alarm, Westminster, 2012

“The Rely-A-Bell Burglar Alarm” burglar alarm, City of Westminster • Definitely ancient – note the alphabetical phone code, BIS for Bishopsgate in London. Well-preserved, despite the rust. • Spotted: Great Portland Street, City of Westminster, London, W1, England, 2012 • Politics: In the Conservative constituency of Cities of London and Westminster

The Rely-A-Bell Burglar Alarm

94 replies »

  1. As someone commented on the AFA Panels….
    The ‘multi circuit’ AFA panels had a meter on the front, which had two uses.

    The meter was connected in parallel (via a user selector switch) with each circuit (zone) relay.
    This would confirm which circuits were open – as each circuit had it’s own battery at end of circuit.

    The meter would confirm the status of the circuit battery – if the meter fell below a certain reading, it could be reported and the battery replaced before causing false alarms.

    Inside the panel was a couple of resistors creating a Meter “Shunt”, which enabled it to measure small amounts of curren.
    The meter could measure the amount of current being drawn around the circuit, to ensure that there was no way batteries could easily be drained. A bad connection or a short could easily drain the batteries – and mean a call out at 3am!!!

    Single circuit panel measured about 20cm long x 12cm wide and about 3cm deep.
    This had a key switch, a circuit switch and a red lamp.

    The alarm relays would be located in a seperate box, usually a bell box (Blue or Black in AFA days, then Blue or White in AFA Minerva days) which would be mounted inside the building, usually high up – though in most cases above the panel in a wooden cupboard.

    To set, you would turn the “Circuit Swtich” on, if the Red lamp lit up, it would indicate that a circuit was open, so would need checking.
    If the lamp remained off when setting, you could then turn the key switch, which would set the bell circuit, and also operate a small metal bar inside the panel – which would block the circuit switch from being accidentally switched off.

    On the ‘Multi Circuit’ panels, it was a similar procedure, you would turn on the Circuit Switch, if the Red Lamp illuminated, you would check the circuits using the panel meter to find the affected circuit.

    If the Lamp remained “Off”, you would then press and hold in a “Setting Push” button while you turned the keys witch to “Arm”.
    The key switch was a 4 bank Wafer multi selector switch, – if all was OK, and you held the “Setting Push”, as the Key switch clicked through Positions 2 and 3, the circuit relays would all operate and latch in.

    You would then leave the premises by the ‘approved’ route.

    AFA-Minerva continued to manufacture panels like this until around 1977 – though with various modifications and additions.
    One such panel was called the “Jumbo”. Was designed mainly for large Post Offices / Banks / Pharmacys (Boots had quite a few of them).

    This beast measured about 70cm x 60cm x 20cm deep – and featured much of the above, but also had a Bell, 4 Flag Batteries and alarm / circuit relays inside the panel (doing away with the bell box).

    Also included was an electronic Auto Dialler – an early version of the later AFA/Thorn “Mainline” units which were still manufactured well into the late 1990s.

    For Banks and such – there was a seperate Key switch, which could switch between “Normal” and “Late Working”.#
    Most banks would have a pre agreed time that the alarm would be set and unset.
    If the system was set/unset outside of this time, the police would be summoned to investigate – and about 20 cops would roll up!!

    So, a cryptically labelled Key switch was provided to notify the police that the bank was working “Late”.
    An offer would still come – just to double check.

    The most recent of these installations I saw in my time with Thorn was one of the “Jumbo” panels fitted on a Rolls Royce Welfare Social Club in 1976.

    It was around this time AFA developed the first microprocessor controlled panel. (Shallower metal boxes!)

    I still have the circuits and bits for the old AFA panels – I’ve had to dig them out to rekindle a few of the memories!!

    Hope this helps a little.

  2. Hi Allen
    So using my 14 year old knowledge I suspect that it would of been ceramic terminals and that the terminals where on a board like a logic board or something like that I can’t rember what thay where called.
    And it was just a plane wooden box with a screw on the right hand side. Its a bit odd not to have a indicator to tell if its on. I do know afa had a panel that had milliamp meter to tell you of a break in mind you this was in the 40s not the 60s.
    This does help a lot but me only being 14 how do I know where to put no, nc, com to the bells. But I’m asking a bit much there so I’ll leave it unless your fine with giving me more info its really your choice.
    Alarms n stuff

    • Hi There
      Your last e.mail reminded me that the customer setting procedure would explain why there were no test lights or meters on the main master control (coffen)unit which was sited high up on walls or in stairs/ cupboards out of harm’s way.also there was a final setting button or lock fitted external to final exit door
      The setting wood box with lock,meter and push button worked as follows
      The customer would close all alarmed doors windows including final exit /entrance door then press the push button on the the setting box if the meter arm moved to the 3/6 volt reading then he new alarm circuit was all OK.
      They then turned lock to on position
      As they opened front final exit door the internal and external bells operated
      On leaving and closing the final exit door they then pressed the external button that was usually fitted in the door frame at high level or used the external lock which operated the main relays in the master control box and stopped the external and internal bells ringing, alarm now set.
      All cables used in the control boxs from relays to terminals were some times colour coded in other brown or white cable was used
      Which ever cable was available.
      Other items that mite interests you all 5amp cables linking contact points ect were twisted cables and stapled to walls at point of wall joining ceaing if you had two separate circuits on site then it was not unusual to plate the two cables together if we had to use conduct it was half inch split and silver in colour
      In the early 50s flashing lights were fitted to to external bells the idear being that where there we’re multi external bells to same high buildings the police could tell which floor the alarm was operated from the flashing light.
      When the 999 ,recorder battery operated, with relays machine was interduced with a 78 record and a telephone dial fitted in the unit on the alarm acttivating a metal arm that dropped into the dial number 9 and dialed 999 the record message on the recording stated the name and address of the alarmed premises over a over to the police as time past the record became a 45 record type then onto a tape machine then onto BT Redcar and now the last I worked with Direct Centre Station BT lines.
      Thats what happens when you ask us old ones we go on and on
      Hope it was of some intrest

        • I’m not sure on the Rely-A-Bell stuff as I never really saw any of it.

          The “multi circuit” AFA panels, had a GPO relay, with two sets of N/O Contacts – for each circuit/zone.

          One set of contacts were used to provide a “latch on” when set, the other set of contacts were wired in series with the same contacts on the other circuit relays, and then through the panel tamper switch, creating a Tamper/Alarm loop.

          Inside the Master box (Blue or Black Bell box above the panel in AFA days. Blue or White in AFA Minerva days for some reason)- was a small relay that was held closed by this circuit, this small relay was wired to another similar Changeover relay wired in a latch form.

          When the circuit was opened (zone activated) the small relay opened inside the master box, breaking the latch on the 2nd relay.
          Providing the Keyswitch was set to on, this would supply a -Ve to a larger GPO relay containing various sets of contacts – which would operate the bells.

          If you have an email address, or something – I can scan in some circuits of the Master box and Multi Circuit “Gtype”.

          AFA-Minerva modified the master box in the early 1970s, putting the guts of it inside a smaller square box that would sit beside the panel.

          Also – newer “solid” state SCBs were designed to run from rechargeable ni-cads.
          All this came in after BS4737 was introduced in 1972.

            • On the panel, there also should have been a “Circuit Test” wafer switch.
              Most panels had a 12position switch fitted as standard, and (obviously) the positions wired for use would depend on how many “circuits” were used.

              The Volt Meter was wired to the common contacts on the “Circuit Test” switch, and each ” “position” on the switch was wired to an individual circuit relay. By turning through the circuit positions, you could view the status of each circuit/zone and also monitor the condition of the circuit batteries.

              The meter read out had a green scale in the centre, and a red scale reading either side.

              I saw a a few modifications using resistors to create a shunt, so the meter could be switched to measure small amounts of current.

              All AFA panels had a red lamp at the top of them, this was to warn you that a circuit was open before you did a final set.
              So you’d use the circuit switch and meter to check the affected circuit.

              Single circuit AFA panels didn’t have a meter – just the lamp.

              Hope this helps.

              I have some circuits for a multi circuit AFA panel and master bell.
              If Vikki can send you my email address – drop me an email, and I will try and scan them in.

      • HI allen
        Sorry to bother you again but on the master key switch box.
        Was thestablished volt meter in series with the kerry springs?
        I do know that there was a two position key switch put was there any pigmy bulb indicators on the box.
        I’d love to hear from you again and thanks for all the help you have given me.
        By the way the panel project is going perfect!
        Alarms n stuff.

      • Hi Allan. I think we may have met over the years. I’m an ex Chubb engineer out of Clifton Street many moons ago.
        Did Rely-a-Bell ever have self actuating bells? I sent to think that they were what we used to call open circuit bells with 12 volts to the bell and a tamper loop going through the over.

    • I didn’t work for AFA – they had been taken over by Thorn EMI by the time I joined them.

      The Blue AFA box was effectively a ‘master box’, which contained the bell switching and alarm relays.
      There were three relays inside, one large GPO relay with various sets of contacts for switching bells, auto diallers etc.

      A smaller relay was wired in latch form and would energize once the alarm was set…

      The third relay was very small and would be energized when the “circuit switch” was on, and the circuits were closed.
      In multi circuit panels, contacts on zone relays would be series wired to provide a loop that would energize this small relay – this loop also included the tamper loop too.

      The contacts of this relay would provide a voltage to keep the “latch relay” energized.

      A key switch on the panel enabled power to the bell relay.

      So – when the alarm was activated, a zone relay would open, thus opening the loop to the small relay in the master box, which would de-energize the latch relay.
      The N/C contacts here would then provide a voltage to energize the large bell relay.
      And the bells would ring.

      This circuit idea (I am informed) was designed by Auto-Call (Pre AFA) and pitched in their sales patter as “the only system having an Anti-False alarm relay circuit”…..
      So you could set the alarm without having bells ringing.

      In a single zone setup, the “zone” would be wired back to the master box.
      In a multi zone panel, each “zone” is wired directly to the panel.

      I have a circuit for the master box too.

      Best of luck with building one!

      • I recently got another thorn box but I want to refurbish it and screen print on it afa minerva because I’ve already got a thorn is there anything different about a plastic drum afa minerva that I should know about like sab maby?

        • Most of the plastic AFA-Minerva boxes I saw had a bell inside and a crude SCB, a set of Ni-Cads and a small strobe in the blue window.

          AFA developed a myriad of different SCBs & SABs – which Thorn continued to use until sometime during the late 1980s..

          By then, Thorn scaled back it’s own manufacturing – and brought in equipment from an ‘approved’ manufacturer.
          Scantronic was one of the first major suppliers.

          Just as I joined them, they had changed to the Galaxy “site guard” equipment (which I think you can still buy), that consisted of a remote Keypad, and a metal box for the terminations.
          That was standard spec on all new installs from around 1992/3, well up until ADT took them over (I think ADT continued with Site Guard for a little while).

          The bell boxes were the only thing Thorn had manufactured – and they wouldn’t sell them ‘outside’.

          The SABs changed when the Galaxy Kit was taken on board – most I saw were manufactured by CQR.
          I have one fitted to our home alarm inside a new Thorn bell box – though would need to get the ladders up to take a photo!!!!

          The CQR module is pretty similar to the modules they manufacture today.

          So – in a nutshell, if you wanted to kit out your Thorn box as an AFA, you’d need a 12v AFA bell (on the oval base), a crude SAB and a set of Ni-cads.

          Hope this helps!

          • The AFA bell boxes I was always interested in and have never seen inside of are a) The round red AFA box with a single screw in the centre, I seem to think that this had a square box behind the round cover. Wasnt as deep as the big drum with the flag cells. Can you confirm and provide any details. b) The stainless steel version of the box above – this had what looked like a strobe near the bottom on the front face and what looked like a black piece of plastic sticking out the front. c) The High security round unpainted stainless steel box which looked like it had a hinged cover like a door. Both b) and c) always appeared to have rawl bolt hooks in the wall next to them. I guess to either hand the cover onto or to tie the ladder for support. Assume that these were double skin with anti drill protection.
            I have also see (but only a few times) big square metal AFA black bell boxes.

          • If you could take a picture of the sab that would be so great and would be very thankful. The thorn bell box I’ve got has a clip on strobe module on it when I got but no back wall temper or sab so the closest I’ve ever got to one of those monford n white sabs is a scanny sab and I had to buy the back wall tamper. As for the afa minerva all I’ve got is a bell so the tamper switch is a main priority until I know what one of those afa minerva sabs look like and also in what way was the bell rebranded.
            Thanks for all the help by the way!.

          • Was the relay quite big or was it one of the smaller ones on the sab circuit board also what did the set of nicads look like?

  3. There’s a way to tell the colour of the Rely-a-Bell, if the letters are yellow then it would of been red with white letters, if the letters areally white then it would of been a blue rely a bell.
    The reason this happens is because when thay used to paint there bell boxs, thay put so much primer and paint thay the letters would be the colour of the primer after a while.

    • PS
      Don’t give up in trying to build the control panel that’s how we learn
      and gain experience and satisfaction?
      Just remember it’s not printed cicuit boards its open wires from cicuits to 1st relay, external/internal bells/to 2nd relay final setting box is part of circuit .
      2 core cable from circuit to 1st relay,.4core cable from external bell to 2nd relay,2 core cable to internal bell and 2nd relay.
      Just keep trying if you do want any help let me know and I try to help were I can

      • PS
        Don’t give up in trying to build the control panel that’s how we learn
        and gain experience and satisfaction?
        Just remember it’s not printed cicuit boards its open wires from cicuits to 1st relay, external/internal bells/to 2nd relay final setting box is part of circuit .
        2 core cable from circuit to 1st relay,.4core cable from external bell to 2nd relay,2 core cable to internal bell and 2nd relay.
        Just keep trying if you do want any help let me know and I try to help were I can

        • Hi Allen
          That quite moral boosting thanks. Is there a way to send you the pictures of the rely a bell because while I make the box you can see the progress and if I’ve done anything wrong you can tell me just makes it easy.
          Alarms n stuff

      • Hi Allen
        Sent you the picture, also what pin do I need the two 6v relays to be, 3/6v is that 3× 6v batt or is it 3.6v batt, what’s a relay spring and where can I get them
        Alarms n stuff

      • Hi allen is the second relay needed because I just made the circutry using one relay and it works even the tamper loop and also the door contacts
        Alarms n stuff

    • The AFA drum boxes I saw had a 6v Friedland Bell.
      The AFA oblong fibre glass boxes – again the ones I saw, (and there weren’t that many in service by the time I joined Thorn) – had a Gent Tangent bell with hammer on the outside.

      Later “AFA-Minerva” drum boxes had a newer Friedland Bell, the type with the oval shaped base.
      A cheap and cheerful SCB “module” made up of a couple of transistors, and a small set of NI-Cads (kept on charge from the panel end)

      Inside premesis, AFAs also fitted a small metal domed Friedland “aggro” Buzzer, during AFA Minerva days, this was replaced with an AFA designed box – about Single gang socket sized, which had a bleeptone sounder inside, covered by a grey metal grille, and had “AFA” embossed on the top.

      The large multi circuit panels – the Jumbo “G-Type” had a Bell inside the panel – this was a slimline bell – like the new motorised ones, and painted black.

      All bells were badged/lablled “AFA” or “AFA Minerva”

      When newer panels were installed, the bells were upgraded to 12v ones.

      Hope this helps

      • Well for the fiberglass bell box it was actually a gents of Leicester fig.145 bell but you were close ive always wanted a afa drum for my collection I’ve already got a thorn so why not add an afa to the fold.
        the the slim black motorised bell is a synachrome bell I’ve seen quite alot of them and the friedland bell in the afa drum would be a series one bell then probably to a series 4 in the metal afa minerva then to a series 6 in the plastic one. Was there a sab in the afa drum and what was the tamper switch like.

    • A) Round AFA-Minverva box with screw in centre.
      The cover fitted flush to the wall, these began to appear during the late 70s with the development of electronic panels. I haven’t seen many of these myself, though the ones I had saw did have a square box in, which was held in by the centre screw.
      Small bell and SAB.
      The last one I saw was on the side of a Poundstretcher shop- and it had gone pink!

      B) Don’t remember seeing one of these.

      C) The High Security ones, usually painted grey, with a strobe on the bottom?
      These were double skinned, but I don’t recall them being hinged. They were a higher security version of the shallow drum AFAs brought in during the mid 70s.
      The SAB was also in a metallic box with a lid too.

      The Mid 70s shallow drum (with a screw in the bottom and no strobe window), was an update to the Large drum.
      As Flag Cells were becoming obsolete, to be replaced with Smaller Ni-Cads etc, you didn’t need a huge box to house everything.

      All of the metallic boxes had a short length of thin rope inside with a metal clip, this would clip to the bell box frame while the cover was removed.

      The Plastic boxes had a large tie wrap to hang the lid.

      There can’t be many square huge AFA boxes about!

      As for the Rawl bolts, many of the older installs seemed to have these lurking nearby, I was told this was used to tie your ladder off to…….

      Talking of High Security installs.
      Early AFA “High Security” installs would consist of having two large “drum” boxes mounted side by side externally, these would be wired together for the tamper loop, and also each have a cable run back to the panel end.

      If you ever see any AFA “drums” mounted side by side on a building – chances are it’d be a High Security install.
      Most of these installs were also linked directly to the local nick too.
      At one Rolls Royce site – the local nick was across the road!

    • In AFA Minerva stuff:

      The Nicads were mounted in a strip, and covered in a clear plastic (to hold them together), and a pair of wires would connect to the SCB.

      The batteries were very much the same as the rechargable Ni-cad battery strips you can/could buy for top end Model Remote Control Cars.

      The SCB relay was small and sealed, no more than about 2cm long x about 2cm deep x 1cm wide. You couldn’t see inside it – and it was soldered to the PCB.
      I never went to the trouble of pulling an old SCB apart and back-engineering it!

      The above would only work with an external power supply being fitted -such as on “upgrades” or newer AFA-Minerva installs.

      Earlier AFA external bells (60s fitted drums) had a small plastic module, sealed in resin, with 4 terminals on the top, where you would connect your Bell, Bell box battery, and external power (from the panel end).
      I managed to break open one of these boxes years ago….

      Inside was nothing more than a small PCB, with 1 transistor, 2 resistors and diode.

      How this worked:

      6v came up from the panel to the module.
      6v was also connected to the module from the batteries in the bell box.

      The 6v supply from the panel would “hold off” the bell box power via the transistor and resistor. (The 2nd transistor was used to ‘bleed’ excess voltage in an alarm condition- so the bell would turn off when it was reset – otherwise, it would just ring regardless.)

      So – if the panel activated when set, a relay in the master box (panel end) would open a contact which would open circuit this voltage – cause the transistor to conduct (using the bell box battery power)

      These were wired in 4 core, a pair for the 12v DC from the panel, and a pair for a closed loop via the Tamper switch.

      In all the “drums” – the Tamper switch was “make to operate” in day mode – they would just ring the bell that had been opened up.
      In Night mode, it worked the same way, but also included the closed loop to activate the panel.

      Hope this sheds some light!

  4. To Mike, Jeremy,vici and Richard Hewes who started it all off by e.mailing me about the Rely-A-Bell bell covers.
    Just like to say thanks for ‘ll the correspondence the last few days it’s brought Back a lot of great memories iI had in the alarm industry and I made a lot of great friend’s over the years so hope you have a Happy Christmas and Health New year
    Regard Allen Plumb

    Let’s keep writing and get more of the others involved

    • I didn’t really take any notice of what bells were fitted inside the boxes – so I apologise for my inaccurate guesses!

      Inside the drum was 4 x 1.5v Flag Batteries, a Bell, 2 tamper switches (one on the back plate pushed in against the wall), and the other mounted on the frame that holds the cover.

      Inside the Drum cover, was a square of metal welded in, so when the box cover was fitted and rotated to it’s correct position – it would hold in the cover tamper loop.

      From the Panel a 4 core cable was run, 2 cores with 6v supplied from the panel end (more on that in a moment) and the other 2 cores wired the bell tamper switches back to the panel relays.

      The AFA “Drum” boxes (labelled “AFA Burglar Alarm”) – from the 1960s era, had what may be the first SAB/SCB. Not sure who claims to have the first one!

      This was a small module that was sealed with resin inside a plastic box, measuring about 6cm x 4cm.
      To this module, the bell was connected, as well as the bell box batteries, and the external voltage from the panel.

      I managed to break into one of these small modules years ago, and all it contained was a couple of resistors and a transistor.

      So – the voltage from the panel end, would “hold off” the bell box battery power
      If the cable between the bell box was cut, or even the alarm panel activated (a relay would open circuit this voltage), the external bell should sound.

      In ‘newer’ “AFA Minverva – EMI” labelled drums (from around 1969 onwards), the module was modified – the flag batteries were replaced with Ni-Cad batteries.

      At the time “AFA Minerva” had just introduced a new power supply (a real workhorse – I still have one running my AFA Panel/drums in the workshop).

      This power supply, provided mains power, and battery backup – was used to power panels/ and also supply a voltage to charge ni-cads.
      Via a link inside the power supply, you can also select to charge Lead Acid Batteries too.

      • You have a very good memory, perhaps because I only worked for AFA 1970/1 for less than a year, so I didn’t fit many. I remember the blue box inside shops that rang when setting until the set button or lock was operated, in those days a high street would be noisy with all the shops closing around 5.30.

        One reason I didn’t stay long with them was because I was one of only a few engineers that had a car and the installation manager gave me jobs in Grosvenor Square and across W1 whilst engineers with no car were having to find there way with their tools on public transport out as far as Windsor, just crazy.

      • It seems simple. I like the way as you turn the box the tamper loop goes round the box that’s quite clever. Now as for the sab I think brocks might of had that honor. You mentioned that you still have an afa in your workshop is it still operational?

  5. Hi I started in the alarm industrial with the. Sentinel Alarm com at Stratford london E15 at the age of 15 in 1956 at a wage £3-15 a week although while at school at14years I worked there in the offices on certain nights and all weekends ansewering the 24 hour service calls from customers who required an engineer to carry out repairs to the alarm system.After2 years as a mate to an engineer Les King and John Gorman and working in Bishopgate Les told me I would better off to approaching Rely-A-Bell as they had a very good reputation I joined them a week latter on £5 per week which at the time was excellent money for a17year old at 19 and a fully fledged engineer on a wage of £15-15 per week plus as much over time that you wanted.And I fitted plenty of the external bells as shown above other items included Kerry springs as door contacts,knock out roofs to glazed front door glazed areas which were removed by customers during day and replaced when closed ,spring vibros to plate glass windows or a foil strip across windows fixed by clear vanish in high risk areas dealings and wall were wired at 5 inch intervals by galvanize staples when working in the West End of London materials were taken on the tube train and the splits conduit had to be cut in half o get it on the train or the stores would deliver by 2wheel barrow well more latter if your interested
    Allen Plumb

    • I joined AFA around 1970 just as electronics was starting to be used, in your early days of the 50s & 60s an alarm engineer was more of a carpenter. AFA used to send out a job kit to each site before you arrived, there was always a plastic bag of screws, fixing plugs, staples etc in the kit plus an item with a spring on it, never fitted one & didn’t know what they were for, were they Kerry spring contacts then.

      • No by the seventys we were using concealed contacts fitted in door jams
        By the late 60 s I then worked for Brocks Alarms as a surveyor Brocks at that time were the most technical advance company as all there equipment was printed circuit and the first company to design and use Micro Wave Movement detector units.
        Guys i knew at that time on Auto Call/AFA we’re.
        John Hand-Alf Udall-Ron Cotton-Alf Rogson-Vic Bevan-Alf Shipman
        And Richard Hewes.

      • Hello. I also joined AFA, a little before MH, in 1968 and stayed until late 191976. The mention of Kerry springs took me back a long time. During this period Bob Kerry was a foreman ( the best of the bunch) for AFA. The name “Kerry” comes from the fella who designed them and was Bob Kerry’s uncle George, who worked for Rely A Bell during the war and was there throughout my time there 1961/1967. He also designed the device used with Kerry springs for use on double doors, an “M/O” bar for mouth organ as that was what it looked like. It is doubtful if any of the present generation would understand the need for a piece of emery cloth in a toolkit? As MH has said it was normal for the equipment to be delivered to site before the installation date. Sometimes, and not unusually, the equipment had been there for months and having been left outside on many occasions was utterly rotten and need to be re-delivered but it eas all a different time I guess.


        Peter Read

    • Hi Allen,
      At Shorrock we used to call those knock out aluminium bars in wood frames “tube and wire frames” some were fixed and some as you say were designed and fitted so as to be removable by the customer when they opened up.
      The principle of tube and wire frames for those who have not seen them was that they prevented a person entering a shop without displacing the frame or forcing a tube out of the frame. The frame was fastened to the door with anti tamper loops and the higher security frames had dual wiring with an end of line circuit back at the panel cabled as a four wire circuit so that attempts to break any wire or short the wrong pair would trigger the alarm.

      They were quite fiddly to construct in situ and as another commentator says one needed to be a bit of a carpenter to build alarms. I recall going to a tobacco warehouse that had wood battened roof and walls entirely covered by closed circuit wiring. When putting this in the wires were stapled in place by the engineer whilst the apprentice carried a bit of broom handle with half a dozen or so reels of plastic coated hard drawn copper wire walking backwards as the tradesman stapled each wire. We calculated that warehouse had 19 MILES of copper wire on the roof and walls.

      We also used to construct double skin wooden safe cabinets around the sides and top of safes and for high value safes we used wiring run both vertically and horizontally to form squares of around 3 inches by 3 inches again run with the end of line in the panel as a four wire system. The anti-tamper loops were fixed to the floor and the wires were stapled to the inner skin and covered in hardboard. Stapling was not done at the crossover to avoid crushing the two circuit wires against each other in case the plastic insulation flowed under the pressure of the staple causing a short between the two poles of the wires.

      Shorrock also used to build “limpet” safe sensors with a plastic mount which was glued to the door with a hole in which was aligned with the keyhole for the key on the safe and a reed switch magnet. When the limpet was put in place the magnet in the mounting plate aligned with the reed switch in the limpet to close the circuit. They also had a shock sensor inside, initially a spring vibro and then later an inertia sensor with a gold plated ball resting on three wires inside a capsule connected to an analyser in the panel.

      Good times and great fun to work on.

      • Hi Jeremy
        In my early years the tube and batten frames were made on site as follows a 2×1 Batton was screw fixed to the both sides of the window or door glazed area and each tube fitted across was individually cut to size and fitted across area at 5inch spacing and fixed to the battons by saddles if the width was over 4ft then you had to fit a centre Batton and you had a double saddle fixing to the tube on the centre Batton and as you said the frame was anchored to the brick work ect. It was in the late 60s that drilled and groved Batton was used were the tube was fitted into th Batton, as a matter of interest ADT up until the 80s still used wood Dale tube with a centre grove cut out and the durro wire was glued into the grove .
        With regards the knock out tubes to the front glazed door we fitted micro contacts to the lower part of the door again at 5 inch centres
        In 2×2 battons at the top of the door again in2x2 Barton we fitted. ball catches and at each end of each tube we fitted brass concave ferrious.
        Later in the mid 60s the pie micro switches were used with a designed metal plate fitted to the micro contact by nuts as door and opening window contacts ,wheel contacts fitted to lift-roller shutter and goods doods , before the safe limping contact came into beening we Made on site blockboard cabinets to fit round safe and mesh wired at 2inch spacings ,what used to a waist of Time and money was railway arches 6foot thick walls had to be slot Batton wired and covered with hardboard to protect car repair business.
        Thanks for replying and one of my best friends worked for Shorrick as branch manager at Tottenham you mite no him Brian Fitzpatrick
        Allen Plumb

        • I remember Brian, there were a lot of great characters in the security industry in our day, guys like Mike Cahalane at Shield, Ron Leather at Ariel, too many to mention.

          Your comment on the railway arches reminded me of those places, often grim places to work, noisy when the trains were coming over the top and the noise of air chisels when they cut bits off the crashed cars. More than a few times there was blood to be hosed out of the wrecks before they commenced the cut and shut operation grafting two cars into one.

          You are right it was 2 inch centres for the wired cabinets not three, memory playing me false and trying to adapt to metric measurements I guess. The old Risk Surveyors had their likes and dislikes and when you when to a job surveyed by someone you knew, you knew before you got in pretty much what they were going to ask for one guy used to insist on limpets on the safe inside the wooden safe cabinet on a different zone as belt and braces.

          The oddest job we ever did was a maggot factory where they grew maggots for fishing, apparently there was a bit of aggressive competition between the main suppliers and raids where fly sprays were used to kill off stock resulted in big price jumps and profits to the suppliers left. So one of the suppliers came to us and had a quite comprehensive security system fitted to protect the maggots.

          • I possibly joined the industry at the right time the late 60s. I only wired one ceiling, an antique shop in Kensington which was packed with antiques so it took a few days to wire. For many years though I did fit tube & batten frames and wired & covered doors until Inertia sensors were invented and accepted by the insurance companies.
            One of the worst place I worked was a factory where they made lard, you had to change your shoes from the car as even the pavement was covered in grease and inside it was like working inside a candle, to make things worse the company were keyholders as well.

            • Thanks for these incredible memories you are all sharing, a fascinating slice of history. Lard, tobacco, antique shop ceilings, all that wiring – I had no idea!

              Sent from my iPhone

          • Hi Jeremy
            Sorry can’t complete with the maggot factory but I can boast about
            All the Beatles premises even cooked breakfast for Rlngo.
            Dusty Springfield-Eric Skyes-Norman Wisdom-Spike Milligan
            Ave Gardener-Lords -lady’s
            As a matter of interest did you belong to 97% intruder club

            • Hi Allen, I suspect we all met some really good people, those that stand out for me in my memories as really nice people who were good to the alarm technicians were Elton John, Michael Caine and John Mills. I remember when the techs turned up at Elton Johns House one of the cheeky ones said “Give us a tune Elton” and he sat down at his piano and played and sung for us for about 15 minutes – pure magic a really top man and very talented entertainer.

        • I knew Brian Fitzpatrick quite well during my time at Rely-A-Bell in the 1960’s. His name came up during a conversation with a much later colleague, Mike Bullock who had been in contact with him in more recent times. Unfortunately Mike and I left the company that we were with and my mobile, a hated Blackberry, crashed and took more than 200 contacts of my old friends and colleagues numbers with it. I do remember that Mike told me that Brian is now retired and lives in Enfield. Just a thought here. Does any one remember how we traced faults, specifically during my time at RAB, with a pair of wires with the ends stripped and held in your mouth, with the other ends connected to a couple of sharpened hacksaw blades? the method being that you could feel the 3v on your tongue and when you couldn’t you worked back along the circuit bit by bit until you found the break. Another method that I saw quite often, although I never worked up the nerve to try it, for clearing earths was to unscrew the top of the nearest light switch thus exposing a live terminal and with one end of piece of Dura wire ( the stuff that we wired walls etc with) connected to the earthed wiring flashed the live terminal resulting in a satisfying spark. This would result in, either, welding the earth and its HR joint shut or blowing it open circuit, in which case, back to the hacksaw blades. It has occurred to me occasionally over the years and wondered what the H & E crowd would have made of this. Still it all seemed a good idea at the time. Having just re read what I have written it has made me feel old so off to get a beer. Best wishes to all.

          • Yes I remember these old methods, we had a more technical method in the 70s when we were given meters by the company. We would connect one lead of the meter to an open circuit cable in the panel, the other lead to a long piece of wire which was attached to a needle then go around the ceiling pushing the needle through the insulation to get or not get a reading.

          • Two funny stories about Brian, he was talking to an insurance surveyor who was quite a dapper dresser and was wearing a brand new suit jacket and Brian mage a swinging gesture downwards and his finger caught in the guys breast pocket and such was the speed that he ripped the pocket downwards leaving it as a flap sewn across its base. The guy was not best pleased! The other one was he was surveying a brand new spec built house for the builder and Brian leaned against a closed door and the door and frame came out of the wall it had not been screwed or nailed in place it was only a bit of plaster gap filler that held it in, oops!

    • I used to enjoy foiling shop windows, sometimes we would arrive before the shop opened and start drawing a line 100 mm (4″ before BS4737) all the way round the external glass edge with felt tip pen, when the manager arrived he would go into one until we explained what we were doing and that it was temporary.
      As you are aware the foil near the door handle would get damaged quite regularly, one day when watching Kojak or Starsky & Hutch on the tv I noticed the Americans just fitted a foil box at the top the plate glass door, so I copied this, never received any complaints from insurance co’s or NACOSS.

      • Hi Mike I told you of a company I worked for in the 60 S and 70 S and how they were always inventing new ideas or trying out new products that came on the market,well this is about a product they brought in and tried out in the early 70 S There was a large office suite above 4 shops in Hadleigh Essex it was fitted with a smoke alarm and I don’t mean the ceiling mounted type I mean a machine that covered the whole area with smoke when the alarm activated well there was a false alarm during office hours and the whole area was covered with smoke and caused pandemonium as you can image the front windows to the premises were open and the smoke pored out and a person walking bye phoned the fire brigade (sorry I cant stop laughing while writing this) no was was injured and the unit was never used again (true story)

        Regards Allen

        Have a good Christmas and a Health New Year

        To: Sent: Tue, 23 Dec 2014 16:54 Subject: [New comment] The Rely-A-Bell Burglar Alarm, Westminster, 2012

    • I’ve still got a rely a bell that I picked up for 80 pounds and the bell box is still new along with the gent bell and the birds nest looking backplate. One thing I don’t have is the panel hell I don’t even know what it is let along seen one so I’d like to know more about the panel so I can be on the look out for one

      • The rely a bell control panel was nick named the coffin as the very early. Ones (1940s)were made of wood and quite long .Believe me when I say the wood came from Covent garden market and were originally apple/Orange box’s if you were lucky when you opened the control box the inside door had outspan oranges stamped on and it was painted off white.
        Remember at that time metal was hard to come by and was expensive.due to the war.
        The Nick name coffin stayed with the new metal control box in the 50s only the colour was deep yellow.
        Both control panels were assembled in the office as and when required and contained coil relays, that were hand wired into terminal strips, all the alarm circuits, external/inside bells were wired to the controls box and connected to the terminal points the whole of the installation were run of 3 volt large flag cell batteries, external and internal bells were run of large 6 volt cells
        To set the alarm there was a hidden light switch and approximately 6feet away from the switch you had a final lock switch both wired back to the control (coffin) box
        I doubt very much if there are any of that type of control (coffins) around today as like me would be well over70 years old
        Frank the gentleman that made up all the equipment by hand in them days such as Kerry spring door contacts,floor pressure pads wired up all control box’s, pa buttons wheels contacts and so on.
        Anyway hope the above is of interest and help.
        Allen Plumb

        • So the one that would of been wired to the one shown here would of been yellow or apple made out of wood and had a light switch on the box with a led or a pigmy light correct. If this is the case than I might make one

          • H
            Yes the control box would have been metal and a deep yellow in colour, as regards to making one I think I leave that up to you ?

          • Hi
            Possible after all these year’s, have I any of this type of equipment needed
            no?Do I really want to build a panel NO
            Any way have fun trying.

            • I didn’t say that you where gona make me one all I’m saying is I’m gona make one since the early one is wooden so it be easy to put together. Was it just a red bulb on the box or was there a milliamp meter as well

              • Hi alarms n stuff
                There seems to be some confusion on my part, what type of control box do you want infomation on the wood box made from Orange boxs or the dark yellow metal control box
                A name would be nice to answer to.
                Cheers Allen

                • Wooden because its easy to put together. If you could tell what height, width, what was on the coffin it self (logo, lights, etc), what was in the coffin relays how to wire the terminals up to the right bits so it works etc. I know its a lot to ask for but rely a bells are like my favorite alarms because that look nice and its a piece of history so by helping out it would mean a great deal.
                  Alarms n stuff

                  • Hi
                    Give me a few days and I try to give you the total requirements inculding relays,wireing and so on

                    • Hi
                      Please bear in mind this is from memory some sixty years back when I was was seventeen.
                      The control box (coffin) was approximately 14 x 12 x 6 this included the opening cabnet door that was screw closed as I said was made of wood.
                      The inner part of the cabinet contained a wood back base with two 6volt coiled relays with 2 double sets of relay springs to each, both mounted on back base.
                      One relay controlled the alarm circuits,the other controlled the alarm internal/external bells plus the final setting,both relays were linked by the relay springs so when alarm was in set position, when alarm circuits were broken second relay operated which in turn set bells off.
                      Circuits were operated by as we called in them days, by end of line flag celler 3/6 volt battery mounted in a wood battery open box.
                      The batterys that operated the bells ect were mounted in the control box 6volt.
                      There were no lights or meters on the control box.

                      The main alarm setting wood box which was about 6×6 x4 inches with lockl setting if I remember had a circuit meter operated by push button to check circuit ok before customer setting system this was linked to main control box relays.
                      I not sure if all the termainals in both control box’s were brass bolt with washers connections or ceramic terminal blocks.

                      Hope this gives you enough info, if I remember any more details I let you know


        • Allen
          At Solar Security we used wooden Radiovisor Monive panels in the early 70s, then the new BS 4737 said metal boxes must be used or of equivalent strength, they had no pcb only a small encapsulated plug in module that contained the components.
          I had one in my loft until 7 years ago when I had a clear out to move to Menorca.
          I seem to remember still using stair pressure mats in 2001 to remind people to switch the alarm off in the morning when coming down the stairs.

          • Hi Mike
            Nice to hear from you, why move To Menorca the weathers great hear and the country’s going to pot ?
            If you have any spare room we are on our way.

            • The difference here is it’s hot from May to October, my long trousers are in moth balls till November, wouldn’t like to work here though.
              Villa is all tiled floors and no attic so had to fit a Honeywell Response wireless alarm system, no FAs in 7 years (yes it does work).

    • I have never seen a Vikor 5 zone panel – so wouldn’t be able to comment on that!

      The AFA panel on my workshop is the single zone box. It was removed from an old Collectors Record Shop (due to be demolished and redeveloped) in 1998.
      The chap who owned the shop had opened the shop in 1965 – when the small concrete eyesore shopping precinct was first built.
      It was he who had the AFA alarm fitted back then.

      I was amazed on the quality of the installation, as the bell boxes, panel, wiring etc looked as if it was brand new.
      This chap kept the entire shop spotless.
      The external bell was also not exposed to the weather – so bright red, with no rust.

      When we came to remove the installation – at the time it was leased from Thorn Security under a leasing agreement set up with AFA in 1965 – the chap was concerned about it being skipped.
      In usual cases it would be all returned to head office, as it was classed as assets, so needed to be accounted for and disposed of accordingly.

      In this case, the shop owner agreed with “those higher up” at Thorn, that due to the quality of the equipment, it could be removed – and was going to be donated to the Police Museum – to include on one of their displays.
      They did have one of the ‘approved’ “Alarm monitoring” panels from a police station. If anyone remembers them?

      I had to make out a written report on the overall quality to pass on to my service manager.
      In the report, I had offered to also (in my own time) re-fit the installation for the museum.
      So – the panel/bells and as much as I could, was painstakingly removed over a weekend – boxed up etc – and I kept it all under the stairs, awaiting further instructions.
      We removed all of the original wiring, contacts, Dialler, shunt locks and tubing.

      Sadly, the police museum (that was in Derby) was forced to close by the local council – so everything from there went into storage while a new site was found by the council.
      That was in 1999/2000- as far as I am aware, still no location has been offered.
      My contact at the Museum, sadly passed on.

      So – the panel, drums, PSU is fitted “AFA” style on my workshop, doing the job it has done since 1965. And still being kept clean!

      I did promise some photos to pass on to here.

      • Never heard about the possibility of a museum, sadly as time marches on the equipment that would be of interest in any future museum are diminishing. Any equipment we may have kept in the attic will probably be thrown away by our children or in my case when I moved to Menorca I threw away what I had saved like a wooden Monive control panel.

        Perhaps the BSIA, NSI etc should at least collect what people have for any future museum, not much chance of that happening though. I wonder if they have anything in the Science museum.

      • Thanks that would be cool. In fact my grandfather just before he died had an afa and for some reason he liked the look of it so when he was offered to get a new system he said no and just kept the afa drum. I remember each year year he brought it down and cleaned it and updated the bell. Mad that. I guess it was sentimental. I was too young to remember though that’s just what my mum tells me.

        • While I worked at Thorn Security during the 90s, we had (literally) 100s of the old AFA installations still on our service books – and that was only in the midlands patch!
          Most, if not all of the old Autocall/very early AFA installs had been ‘upgraded’ during the 1970s to newer AFA-Minerva equipment.

          Though – many key holders weren’t too keen to replace the equipment – as it had proved reliable, and it had been kept serviced.

          The only snag we began to find, was that the Flag Batteries were getting very hard to get hold of.
          And when they could be found – they were very expensive – customers refused to pay for them – so some engineers improvised and used large square Ever Ready dry batteries (even 6v lamp batteries – from roadwork lamps).

          I did see a handful of AFA installs that had been modified – removing the circuit Flag Batteries, and making each circuit “closed loop”, fitting SCBs in the Bell boxes, and also installing a Power Supply and Rechargable Lead Acid batteries.
          That kept them running for another 10 or so years.

          By the time ADT took over Thorn – I wasn’t working for them. Though did notice that suddenly over a very short period of time, many of the AFA drums were vanishing, to be replaced by ADT’s hexagonal box.
          I would assume, the equipment was also swept away also.
          Boots were one company who kept most of their original AFA kit right until the end!

          There are a few AFA installs I know of, which are currently still fitted inside derelict shops.
          So am keeping my eye on those buildings.

          • We don’t get many afa round where I live in think there’s only two. A box afa with vents and one of what looks to be very first afa burglar alarm.

  6. Hi,
    Interestingly Rely-A-Bell was a play on the words relay and bell because the company produced the first protected bell designed to alarm if the wires were cut. They were a good company one of the very first and an old neighbour of mine Jack Minett worked for them from a boy. They became part of the Chubb group and the name as a separate trading entity disappeared after that.

      • There was a Police Museum in Derby for a number of years, and was well worth a visit.
        They did have one of those Home Office Approved receiver units, removed from a Police Station.

        They did not have any alarm equipment as such- but did have a selection of small safes and other security equipment.

        The chap at the Record Shop knew someone at the museum, and had mentioned the possibility of including the alarm from his shop.
        He agreed with Thorn to donate the equipment to the museum.

        I offered my time to remove the kit over a weekend that I was “on call” (so couldn’t do too much!), and re-install it on a display for them at a later date.

        As I said, the Police Museum was forced to close by the local council (Starbucks / Subway / Tescos offered were interested in the site).
        So the kit ended up sat in a couple of cardboard boxes under the stairs – while a new site was sorted.

        This still hasn’t happened.

        The Science Museum does have a Burgot Alarms Alarm on display – the record player in a wooden box type!
        It’d be nice to seem some old kit – along side some new kit.

    • Like everything about this one – the bad pun of the name, the old metal box, the slightly naive sign-writing style of the lettering. And, of course, the old phone code.

    • Mike. You’re quite right. This one is indeed of the 60’s. I fitted hundreds of these with exactly the same design and paint job. The telephone code BIS is, as Sarah points out, for Bishopsgate as the company at that time was based at 54 Wilson Street EC2. Under the cover is a great lump of metal called a Gents bell, a most ungainly thing with an open hammer to strike the gong. The cover was “protected” by means of a tamper loop going through the holes in the sides of the cover and being twisted together and taped over. No micro switches in those days . Happy days.

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