"Jensen Security Systems" burglar alarm, Cambridge • Today I proceed from keys to locks, which on burglar alarms are usually presented as keyholes or padlocks. This vintage sounder combines both, with two Js reflected round a keyhole to create a padlock-cum-shield. Sadly the logo looks more like a chunky wheel clamp, which despite sharing a name with 1970s super-car the Jensen Interceptor and (sort of) top racing car driver Jenson Button, isn't the world's most reassuring image. • Spotted: Regent Street, Cambridge, Cambridgeshire, CB2, England, 2010 • Politics: In the Liberal Democrat constituency of South Cambridgeshire
"HBSS" burglar alarm, Southwark • Last week I was lamenting a side-on shot I'd taken of a vintage HBSS alarm. Then a couple of days ago I came across this updated version, which I've managed to photograph head on. It's just as random as its predecessor, with the main change being thinner lines and a giant phone number replacing the proud boast of "Grays Thurrock" (local references are so passé these days). Most importantly from an iconographic point of view, the keys have been updated, though these are now so fine they're hard to see. Previously two clumsy little key silhouettes hovered around the logo, like stranded sperm or spacecraft awaiting re-entry. These have now been replaced with two pairs of carefully-drawn linked door keys, conjuring up images of the coffee table at a 1970s wife-swapping party. • Spotted: Southwark Street, Southwark, London, SE1, England, 2011 • Politics: In the Liberal Democrat constituency of Bermondsey and Old Southwark
"Keyways" burglar alarm, Manchester • Here's an updated, less-basic version of yesterday's Keyways Alarm, though the obsolete 0161 Manchester code indicates it's still quite old. It's a more sophisticated design, although the Greek key aspect has been somewhat lost due to the white-on-white portion of the spiral (unless it's just faded). Also missing is the word "alarm" – I've noticed that when firms modernise their identities, that's usually the first thing to go. Presumably mere burglar alarms are considered hopelessly outmoded in today's world of high-tech multi-functional security systems. Thanks to a nice comment from Keyways' boss Mike Greaves on yesterday's post, I now know that this classical key reference was chosen by his late father Brian in the 1960s, and is absolutely intentional; it relates to the firm's origins in developing a specialised form of key safe, of which there's a potted history on the informative Keyways website. That geometric spiral was a cleverly-chosen and far-sighted piece of branding, because unlike all the other keys depicted in this Locksmithery section, Greek keys – being both abstract, and so ancient they're effectively timeless – don't date. • Spotted: Canal path, Great Ancoats Street, Manchester, Lancashire, M4, England, 2010 • Politics: In the Labour constituency of Manchester Central
"Keyways Alarms" burglar alarm, Manchester • We've had visual keys, verbal keys, and now, from Manchester's "gay village" of Canal Street, an abstract key. It's a Greek key to be precise, as featured in this frieze below a vintage Panda sounder in Liverpool. According to Wikipedia, the correct term is a "meander" pattern or Greek fret (which sounds like a bailout-related sulk), though I've never seen those terms used in the UK. Whatever, it's an erudite visual reference for a burglar alarm, although the design is otherwise pretty basic. • Spotted: Canal Street, Manchester, Lancashire, M1, England, 2010 • Politics: In the Labour constituency of Manchester Central
"Key Stone Security" burglar alarm, Sheffield • Architecturally speaking, a key stone is the piece at the top of an arch which holds it up. However, given it's on a vintage burglar-catching device, this instead suggests the Keystone Kops – not in their original 1912 silent film guise, but the classic 1983 Atari "video game cartridge" Keystone Kapers, in which Officer Keystone Kelly has to apprehend light-fingered Harry Hooligan (who looks like a typical "pantomime burglar") before he flees a department store. It's not the first alarm I've come across that conjures up ancient computer games: there are also a couple suspiciously resembling Pac-Men. • Spotted: North Church Street, Sheffield, South Yorkshire, S1, England, 2010 • Politics: In the Labour constituency of Sheffield Central
"Bath Key Security Alarm" burglar alarm, Bath • I'm beginning to think that key-based titles are the last redoubt of the uninspired. Bath Key Security Alarm Bath? What kind of hopeless, repetitive name is that? It sounds like a washroom warning system for Alzheimers victims (probably living in Old Coulsdon). • Spotted: Lansdown Road, Bath, Avon, BA1, England, 2011 • Politics: In the Liberal Democrat constituency of Bath
"Key Alarms" burglar alarm, Old Coulsdon • We now move from visual keys to verbal keys, and this is as basic as it gets: the ragged urine-hued simplicity of Key Alarms, yet another aged specimen from the half-timbered land of superannuated security systems that is Old Coulsdon. • Spotted: Coulsdon Road, Old Coulsdon, Surrey, CR5, England, 2010 • Politics: In the Conservative constituency of Croydon South
"Lockstock Alarm" burglar alarm, Old Coulsdon • Along with Radam, this unusual vintage alarm is another locksmithery winner: the highly stylised key logo wouldn't look out of place on a 1960s Scandinavian boutique. The nearest I can find to such a shape in real life is the so-called paracentric key, which has a slot up the middle and complicated teeth – however not as spiky as these. The name "Lockstock" presumably derives from the phrase "lock, stock and barrel", meaning "the whole lot"; however although it sounds plausibly lock-related, the saying in fact refers to musket parts. • Spotted: Coulsdon Road, Old Coulsdon, Surrey, CR5, England, 2010 • Politics: In the Conservative constituency of Croydon South
"Strathand" burglar alarm, Glasgow • This uninspired design scrapes into the locksmithery category because its crossed keys have been reproduced directly from yesterday's vintage SOS alarm – the proof being the tiny S just visible below the keys in both designs. Strathand is a well-established family firm based in Paisley, Scotland, though what their relationship to SOS was, or indeed whether one of the letters in SOS stood for Strathand, I haven't been able to ascertain – although I have learned, for what it's worth, that this is a Texecom Odyssey 1E external sounder. • Spotted: Merchant City area, Glasgow, Lanarkshire, G1, Scotland, 2010 • Politics: In the Labour constituency of Glasgow Central
"SOS" burglar alarm, Glasgow • After a run of single keys come two crossed castle keys on a shield-shaped lock escutcheon. In Roman Catholic tradition, crossed keys represent the silver and gold keys of heaven, given by Jesus to St Peter as a symbol of holy power. In heraldry, they are always presented in saltire – that is, arranged in a St Andrew's Cross, as here – and can be read as a symbol of Papal authority. Given that this alarm was found in Glasgow, a city long simmering with Catholic versus Protestant sectarianism, and also capital of Scotland, whose flag is a blue-and-white St Andrew's cross, the symbolism may not be coincidence. • Spotted: Govan Road, Glasgow, Lanarkshire, G51, Scotland, 2010 • Politics: In the Labour constituency of Glasgow South West
"Peter Weare Ltd" burglar alarm, Dorking • This is the most wordy alarm in my collection, stopping just short of giving the engineer's shoe size. Slotted within the essay is a key, and even that contains verbiage, with a "W" decorating the handle. The key itself is of the grand medieval type associated with castles and cathedrals – in poignant contrast to its distinctly humdrum place of origin, the unlovely post-war "new town" of Crawley. That's not to say Crawley is without interest: there's someone posting as ~notes and also *notes on Flickr who takes fascinating architectural photos of the area, including old burglar alarms such as Protectall. • Spotted: Town centre, Dorking, Surrey, RH4, England, 2008 • Politics: In the Conservative constituency of Mole Valley
"Home Counties Monitored Security" burglar alarm, Islington • This is a grainy digital enlargement, as the box was positioned high up on a block of private flats (you never see alarms on council flats). It's the most modern alarm I've found depicting a key, which means that in design terms it's old-fashioned. It's also the only key with flat teeth, denoting a chunky lever lock rather than a dainty but less-secure pin-tumbler one. Note also a little house roof over the letter "H", emphasising the "Home" in that smug term, "Home Counties" – where does that leave all the other counties, then? So, a paean to stolid home ownership and southern civic pride, on a supremely boring alarm. • Spotted: Crouch Hill, Islington, London, N4, England, 2010 • Politics: In the Labour constituency of Islington North
"HBSS Grays Thurrock" burglar alarm, Tower Hamlets • I could only take an angled shot of this, as it was in a gated car park, and for some reason alarms with keys on are all really high up. I've seen a few more in the area – I'll have to try and get a front-on shot some day. Still, you can see that it's vintage, and a pretty random design featuring two floating keys, an awkward diagonal logo, an unexplained acronym incorporating the popular "SS" trope, and a huge dangling bulb. Richard Wilson, commenting below, says he thinks HBSS stands for Homes and Business Security Services. There's not much else to report except that Grays Thurrock (aka Grays) is in Essex, a county from which I have few burglar alarms; and that Thurrock is a Saxon name meaning "the bottom of a ship". • Spotted: Autumn Street, Tower Hamlets, London, E3, England, 2010 • Politics: In the Labour constituency of Bethnal Green and Bow
"Hurleys Security" burglar alarm, Herne Bay • A seasidey logo for a seaside town, with jaunty 1950s-style lettering and what appears to be a beach hut in the key's handle. Some people may think of starlet Elizabeth Hurley when they see this logo, and some may wonder where the apostrophe has gone. I however am reminded of Frank Hurley, the brilliant Australian cinematographer who accompanied Ernest Shackleton's catastrophic 1914 expedition to the South Pole (although after a heroic journey Shackleton, unlike Captain Scott, brought all his men back alive). Hurley recorded all the stunning images of icy strife that help keep the legend alive today, and basically invented the Antarctic documentary – along the way being confined in various snow-bound shacks not unlike the one on the alarm. • Spotted: William Street, Herne Bay, Kent, CT6, England, 2004 • Politics: In the Conservative constituency of Thanet North
"Chiswick Security" burglar alarm, Hackney • Another key with an initial in its handle, though much cruder than yesterday's elegant example. The zig-zag notches on its blade suggest that, like the other keys featured so far, it is for opening a pin-tumbler cylinder lock, typical of house front doors. Inspired by 4,000-year-old wooden devices from ancient Egypt, the definitive cylinder lock was patented by Linus Yale Junior in 1861 and remains little changed to this day – a design even older than this alarm. • Spotted: Clifton Street, Hackney, London, EC2, England, 2008 • Politics: In the Labour constituency of Hackney South and Shoreditch
"Radam Security Systems" burglar alarm, Tower Hamlets • This vintage alarm, found near Petticoat Lane market, is my favourite key example. Although presumably dating from the 1960s, the lettered key has a pre-war look, evoking a genteel age of locksmithery – you can almost imagine a butler answering the alarm bell. There's attention to detail, too: the grooves on the shaft are streamlined into the design, and the notches on the blade echo the "am" of "Radam" – which sounds like a completely made-up name. • Spotted: Goulston Street, Tower Hamlets, London, E1, England, 2010 • Politics: In the Labour constituency of Bethnal Green and Bow
"SDT Securities" burglar alarm, Dorking • Another alarm featuring a literal depiction of a key, this time with an awkward unexplained acronym squeezed in. I like the way the screw caps are popping off and casting their own little shadows – they look like tiny alien eyes. I featured a wide-angle shot of this device in the "Beautiful Decay" category – it's on a wire-swathed wall that's even more olde worlde than the alarm. But that's Dorking for you. • Spotted: Town centre, Dorking, Surrey, RH4, England, 2008 • Politics: In the Conservative constituency of Mole Valley
"Keymaster" burglar alarm, Exeter • After the flights of fantasy of my previous subject, mythological alarms, this week's theme comes bang down to earth with that most literal of security tropes, the lock and key. Although the vast majority of front doors still rely on this combination for security – as opposed to key cards or number pads, let alone anything more futuristic – alluding to locksmithery on burglar alarms has long fallen from fashion, which means most featuring this ancient trade are pleasingly vintage (although not quite dating back 4,000 years to the original Egyptian wooden locks). This is the only example I've found that refers to a key in both name and image (and one inside the other, too) – a fine retro double whammy. • Spotted: Town centre, Exeter, Devon, EX1, England, 2009 • Politics: In the Labour constituency of Exeter
"Gemeni Alarms" burglar alarm, Islington • Finally, scraping the bottom of the zodiacal barrel, a very basic and mis-spelled Gemini alarm – unless I’m missing something, and it says Gemeni for good reason, eg it's written in Romanian. So we’ve had Gemini the twins not once, but twice – one boring, and one boring and dyslexic. Uncanny! That’s it for astrological alarms, just the four: Zodiac, Scorpio, Gemini and Gemeni. I have found no more, whereas there are scores of animals on burglar alarms, which share similar – if less mystical – iconography. As I pointed out in the Zodiac entry, that leaves a gap in the naming market. I hope someone takes it up – and remembers to illustrate it. • Spotted: Goswell Road, Islington, London, EC1, England, 2008 • Politics: In the Labour constituency of Islington South and Finsbury Above: the constellation of Gemini visualised as twins holding hands (not the usual depiction, which is abstract – see yesterday), by the children's author H.A. Rey. Realistic!
"Gemini Security Systems" burglar alarm, Liverpool • Apart from the name, this is supremely boring – it could at least have included a picture of some twins. Astronomically, Gemini is one of the oldest-named constellations, dating far back into the Bronze Age and called "The Great Twins" by the Babylonians. To the Greeks they were the talented horsemen Castor and Pollux, who despite being twin brothers had different dads, meaning only Pollux was immortal; when Castor died, Zeus allowed him to share Pollux's immortality, bonding them together in heaven as the constellation the Romans called Gemini. Astrologically, it's the versatile third sign of the zodiac, ruled by fleet-footed messenger god Mercury. Gemini types are meant to be lively, inquisitive, communicative, inconsistent, and a bit unreliable – not all of which are useful traits for security firms. My theory for why Gemini is one of the few signs represented on burglar alarms, and a popular business name in general, is that Geminis are inordinately proud of their dual-natured and slightly annoying star sign characteristics. And, to prove my point, there will be another one along tomorrow... • Spotted: Town centre, Liverpool, Merseyside, L1, England, 2008 • Politics: In the Labour constituency of Liverpool Riverside Above: the not-very-twinlike constellation of Gemini as it is usually depicted, from the digital sky images at www.allthesky.com.
"Scorpio Security" burglar alarm, Hackney • In my entry on the weird Pac-Man-esque Orion alarm, I explained how the giant hunter was killed by a scorpion and turned into a constellation by Zeus. And now we come to the unfortunate arthropod which stung him, also flung into the heavens by Zeus, where it became the constellation of Scorpius, eternally snapping at Orion's heels. Astrologically, it represents the mysterious eighth sign of the zodiac, ruled by the Greek god Pluto – aka Hades, lord of the underworld – and reputedly the most powerful star sign. Scorpios are supposed to be intense, secretive, power-loving, cunning, unforgiving, vengeful and, as the alarm probably wants to suggest, with a considerable sting in their tail. This strange logo, like a J with horns, could almost be the symbol for some obscure occult sect – thus living up to Scorpio’s sinister image. • Spotted: Hackney area, Hackney, London, England, 2008 • Politics: In the Labour constituency of Hackney South and Shoreditch Above: A nice 1825 etching of the constellation Scorpio from the Library of Congress, Washington DC.
"Zodiac Security" burglar alarm, Ealing • The stories behind the various star signs are pretty convoluted, but they're all based on ancient folklore and superstition, so astrology is a fitting follow-up to my previous theme of mythological alarms. Zodiac is a Greek word for the constellations meaning "circle of animals", an idea drawn from the Babylonians, who first divided the heavens into 12 parts. It was originally an astronomical concept, but the great Romano-Egyptian scholar Ptolomy systemised the personality-based astrological system that remains hugely popular today. However, as we shall see, there are surprisingly few burglar alarms named after star signs – odd, as there are many good strong names: Taurus, Aries, Capricorn, Leo... though maybe not Cancer. I haven't even come across a security firm called Libra, and not name-checking the divine scales of justice seems a serious omission. So, unless security engineers are such a militantly rational lot that they won't even contemplate zodiac-based names, they're missing a trick in the burglar alarm branding stakes – and there's room to start an astrological trend. • Spotted: Ashbourne Parade, Ealing, London, W5, England, 2006 • Politics: In the Conservative constituency of Ealing Central and Acton Above: Look at all the brilliant potential burglar alarm logos on this 16th century woodcut showing the signs of the zodiac. They're just begging to be used...
"www.Classic-Security.com" burglar alarm, Camden • How perfect is this? Such a witty match between burglar alarm and business can be no coincidence. Not only does Classic Security's name allude to the shop it protects, which specialises in ancient Greek-style gifts, but the Parthenon logo that decorates it looks just like the portico of the grand building opposite: that neo-classical repository of Greek and Roman loot, The British Museum. Not quite mythology perhaps, but a nice summation of the subject. Tomorrow: the Zodiac (so more mythology, really). • Spotted: Bury Place, Camden, London, WC1, England, 2011 • Politics: In the Labour constituency of Holborn and St Pancras Above: It's All Greek (left), a gift shop in Bloomsbury, whose classical burglar alarm matches the building opposite (right) – The British Museum
"Eros Security Systems" burglar alarm, Lambeth • After a couple of sensible mythological burglar alarms, we're back to the bonkers ones. Eros? What on earth has Eros, Greek god of sexual love, got to do with security services? And anyway, this looks more like his boyish Roman counterpart Cupid, who was often portrayed as younger than the fully-formed teenage Eros. The resemblance to the Evening Standard's venerable logo makes me think this is a reference to the so-called Eros statue at Piccadilly Circus, that icon of tourist London. However, hard though it is to believe, what Wikipedia says about Alfred Gilbert's piece of high Victorian camp is true. I've double-checked, and the statue that stands surrounded by the horrible hurly burly of Piccadilly is not intended to be Eros, but his butterfly-winged twin brother Anteros, who was associated with selfless and requited love (although he sounds like a half-baked deity the Greeks made up to impress the Romans). For all its faults, this silly, cheeky alarm is one of my all-time favourites – so naughty Cupid has worked his mischievous magic. • Spotted: Lower Marsh, Lambeth, London, SE1, England, 2007 • Politics: In the Labour constituency of Vauxhall Above: Eros and his twin in London. Top left: "Eros Stringing His Bow", a Roman copy of a Greek statue at the British Museum. Top right: ''The Angel of Christian Charity'' aka "The Shaftesbury Memorial" (1893) by Alfred Gilbert at Picadilly Circus, colloquially known as the Eros statue, but actually depicting his selfless twin bro Anteros. Above: London's familiar Evening Standard "Eros" logo (recently dropped from their masthead), which depicts the Piccadilly Circus statue and is therefore actually Anteros.
"Aegis" burglar alarm, Camden • "Under the aegis of" is commonly understood to mean "under the protection of", so like yesterday's Argus, this is an unusually sensible mythological name for a security device. In ancient Greece the Aegis was a protective breastplate or cloak, originally a thundercloud invoked by Zeus, and later the skin of a divine goat worn by his warlike daughter Athena. Her exclusive over-the-top haute couture version was a golden snakeskin extravaganza, generally depicted as covered in scales and fringed with tinkling tassels or writhing serpents, all fastened with the severed head of Medusa, the scary snake-haired Gorgon. The idea of the magically protective Aegis caught on and spread to Egypt, Rome and beyond; and 2,500 years later the Italian fashion designer Gianni Versace made his fortune by taking the Medusa-and-snakeskin look to improbable extremes, though it didn't protect him from being murdered on his Florida doorstep in 1997. The Aegis can also take the form of a Medusa-faced shield, so the shape of this alarm is very apt, as well as showing that Aegis is under the aegis of Banham, whose proprietary sounder this is. It's somewhat let down by the obscure Aegis logo, which is like a red pyramid with a lighting bolt through it, possibly representing an A and an E. But surely a severed Gorgon's head would have been better? • Spotted: Finchley Road, Camden, London, NW3, England, 2007 • Politics: In the Labour constituency of Hampstead and Kilburn Above: The Aegis as hot ancient fashion item. Left: The classic over-the-shoulder Aegis cloak as modelled by Athena in a Roman copy of a Greek statue, "Athena Cherchel-Ostia" (c.400 BC), from the Louvre, Paris. Above right: the Aegis worn in casual cross-body style on another Athena statue, "Athena Lemnia" from the Staatliche Museum, Dresden. Note the Gorgon Medusa's head, a popular decoration appropriated 2,500 years later by Gianni Versace. Below right: An Egyptian-style Aegis, on a Nubian bust of the goddess Isis (c.300 BC) from the British Museum, London.
"Argus Fire & Security Group" burglar alarm, Lewisham • If the reflected double "a" in this Argus logo is meant to look like two eyes, then it's 98 short of the legend. Argus is a popular name in Greek mythology, but being a security device, this is surely inspired by the super-watchman Argus Panoptes, an ever-wakeful hundred-eyed giant whose name means "Argus the All-Seeing". Argus was a servant of Hera, the jealous wife of Zeus – who, as king of the gods, had more nymphs on the side than a premiership footballer. According to Ovid's Metamorphoses (c.8 AD), the politically-incorrect Zeus disguised one unfortunate floozy, Io, as a cow, but suspicious Hera demanded the beast as a gift and set Argus to guard it. Zeus sent his messenger Hermes to rescue Io, which he managed by telling Argus such boring stories that all his eyes fell asleep at once (I know the feeling), and then beheading him. The giant may have perished, but his hundred eyes lived on in the tail of the peacock, where Hera put them to honour his memory. I haven't yet found a peacock pictured on a burglar alarm, but there are plenty decorated with eyes; though most, like that other watchful giant Cyclops, sport only one. As will be demonstrated in a later theme... • Spotted: Lewisham High Street, Lewisham, London, SE13, England, 2010 • Politics: In the Labour constituency of Lewisham Deptford Above: BC and AD versions of Hermes about to kill Argus and rescue the nymph Io, cunningly disguised as a heifer. Top: pictured millennia before burglar alarms, on an Attic vase (c.500 BC) from the Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna – love the way he's grabbing that beard. Bottom: as imagined more serenely over 1000 years later in Diego Velázquez's "Fábula de Mercurio y Argos" aka "The Story of Mercury and Argus" (1659), from the magnificent Prado, Madrid.
"Ariel Alarms" burglar alarm, City of London • I always thought Ariel was a version of wing-heeled Greco-Roman messenger god Mercury, whose alarm I featured yesterday. Which shows how little I know, becuse I now discover Ariel is a minor Judaeo-Christian archangel associated with health and the elements, whose name means "Lion of God". Winged angels seem to go back to the ancient religion of Zoroastrianism and beyond, and in all faiths that feature them they are messengers of god; so there's some connection with Mercury after all. The Jews are thought to have brought the archangels' names out of Babylon, though in Abrahamic faiths the wings were always recognised by scholars as merely symbolic, showing the superiority of angels to mortals. In English culture the name was popularised by Shakespeare, whose play The Tempest features a flying spirit punningly called Ariel (aerial, geddit?) bearing similarities to both angels and Mercury. Since then the name has been used for anything from biological washing powder to the BBC's in-house magazine, titled after Shakespeare's character and not the wire thing that receives radio signals, which is spelled aerial. Although it looks like a 1960s book cover, I think we can be fairly sure the alarm's not a tribute to the famous volume of poetry by suicidal American writer Sylvia Plath, who named the collection Ariel after her childhood horse, and successfully gassed herself shortly after completing it in 1963. Yet the Ariel alarm probably dates from the same decade, which means it's definitely not named after the ubiquitous font Arial, which apart from having different spelling, was designed in 1982. It took 10 people to create it – and the result is just like Helvetica! • Spotted: Middlesex Street, City of London, London, E1, England, 2010 • Politics: In the Conservative constituency of Cities of London and Westminster Above: Ariel, from religion to soap powder. Left: The archangel Ariel from a series the studio of Francisco de Zurbarán made in 1645-50 for the Monasterio de la Concepción, Lima, Peru – Ariel's a bigger deal in Latin America than in Europe. Above right: Shakespeare's Ariel in "Ariel between Wisdom and Gaiety", a 1930s sculpture by old perv Eric Gill on the facade of BBC Broadcasting House in Portland Place, London W1. Below middle: Ariel in his guise as a pioneering biological washing powder from the 1960s. Below right: Also from the 1960s, Sylvia Plath's posthumously-published hit poetry collection "Ariel", a vintage cover from a recent writers' residency at Nottingham Contemporary gallery by Wayne Burrows.
"Mercury Security Systems" burglar alarm, Islington • This boring design gives no clue whether its name refers to the planet, the element, the crap Queen singer or the myth. Seeing as the myth came first, I shall include this alarm within the mythology section. Mercury was the Roman version of Hermes, messenger of the Greek gods, famed for his winged sandals and helmet, and a snake-entwined staff called a caduceus. The Romans equated him mainly with travel and commerce, and his image can be found adorning stations and shopping centres to this day. A notably slippery character, with traits which would have taken him far in diplomacy or journalism, Mercury combined patronage of noble things such as music, wit, sport and invention with a reputation for cunning and trickery. Which is perhaps how a god strongly associated with thieves and boundaries – described in an ancient Greek hymn as "a watcher by night, a thief at the gates" – has wangled his way onto a burglar alarm. • Spotted: Whitecross Street, Islington, London, EC1, England, 2008 • Politics: In the Labour constituency of Islington South and Finsbury Above: Mercury in Manhattan, still representing trade and travel today. Left: "Winged Mercury" (1933), a carving by Lee Lawrie on the ex-British Empire Building at the Rockerfeller Centre. Right: "Glory of Commerce" (1911-14) by Jules-Alexis Coutain, aka the famous Mercury clock at Grand Central Terminal. There's more about it on Which Yet Survive, a great but short-lived blog about New York statuary.
"Apollo Eagle" burglar alarm, Tower Hamlets • This vintage sun-like yellow sounder is a great match for uber-deity Apollo, the powerful Greco-Roman god of the sun. Worshipped far and wide in the ancient world, Apollo was closely associated with light, music, medicine, poetry and much else, but wasn't linked with eagles until mere mortals headed for the moon (property of his sister, Artemis) a couple of millennia later. In 1961, NASA manager Abe Silverstein deliberately referenced the Greek god when he named the US space program Apollo; and on 20 July 1969 Apollo 11's lunar module Eagle finally deposited humans on the moon's surface, hence the immortal phrase "the Eagle has landed". Which may be the source of this space race-era alarm's name, though more prosaically, it's probably the result of a merger between two companies called Apollo and Eagle. • Spotted: The Oval, Tower Hamlets, London, E2, England, 2006 • Politics: In the Labour constituency of Bethnal Green and Bow Above: When Apollo met Eagle on the moon. Left: a Roman statue of Apollo (c.150 AD) from the Ny Carlsberg Glypotek, Copenhagen. Middle: Buzz Aldrin with moon lander Eagle on the lunar surface. Right: the Apollo 11 insignia, complete with moon-landing eagle.
"AFA Minerva EMI" burglar alarm, Lambeth • This is one of only three burglar alarms I've found featuring women, the others being Siren and Liberty. Minerva was the multi-talented pan-Italian goddess of poetry, medicine, commerce, weaving, crafts, magic and music, but primarily of wisdom. Only in Rome was she considered, like her Greek prototype Athena, a goddess of war – an idea the Roman Empire exported, hence her regular appearance sporting helmet and spear, and her suitability for burglar alarms. In Britain she was conflated with Bath's local deity Sulis, and the famous thermal baths there are dedicated to her. Britain also has Western Europe's only Athena shrine remaining in situ, an extremely worn structure carved into the side of a quarry near Chester. Mythology apart, I'm interested in the big red drum, which is also associated with Thorn, on whom I wrote a corporate history here. I know Thorn were absorbed by EMI, who clearly took over AFA Minerva too. But though I've seen vintage sounders saying simply AFA, I've never seen one saying AFA Minerva without the EMI at the bottom, or a standalone Minerva alarm. I'd be interested to know some more about the histories of AFA and Minerva – perhaps one of the burglar alarm fraternity can shed some light on this. • Spotted: Lower Marsh, Lambeth, London, SE1, England, 2010 • Politics: In the Labour constituency of Vauxhall Above: Images of Minerva – warlike, wise, and popular in Britain. Left: a no-nonsense, helmet-toting Minerva from the destroyed city of Herculanum, near Pompeii. Above right: head of Sulis Minerva found in 1727 in Bath, and now displayed at the Roman Baths there. Below right: Minerva's very worn-out shrine in Edgar's Field, Handbridge, near Chester.
"Orion Alarms" burglar alarm, Tower Hamlets • This naive but multi-layered design recalls two mythical figures: Orion and Pac-Man. Ostensibly a monogram comprising an O and an A, it's probably meant to represent a pyramid in a circular night sky with a crescent moon overhead. Apart from the night sky, it's hard to see how this connects with the Greek hero Orion, a giant hunter blinded for raping a princess, healed by the sun, then killed by a scorpion and turned into a constellation by Zeus. There are few reliable descriptions of Orion, but we know he wasn't a big black blob. However, the design also looks disturbingly like a Pac-Man with a winking eye, chomping his way down the alarm. Developed in Japan in 1979 and originally called Pakkuman, it's fair to say that the genre-launching yellow-and-black ghost-munching video game has achieved legendary status. The name is based on paku-paku, Japanese slang for lip-smacking eating (equivalent to "nom-nom-nom"), and the fact that the avatar looks like a part-eaten pizza is no coincidence, because according to its inventor Tōru Iwatani, that's what it's based on. This is the second Pac-Man-like alarm I've featured: the first was JB-Eye, and no doubt the game was a formative entertainment for both designers. • Spotted: Fairfield Road, Tower Hamlets, London, E3, England, 2010 • Politics: In the Labour constituency of Bethnal Green and Bow Above: Orion v Pac-Man. Left: Orion and his constellation by astronomer Johannes Hevelius from his celestial catalogue "Uranographia" (1690). Right: fashionably geek Pac-Man t-shirt available from Worm Sign designs.
"Titan Alarms" burglar alarm, Cirencester • These days "titanic" suggests immense, but in Greek mythology the Titans were a primordial race of super-deities, children of the supreme earth goddess Gaia. There was a soap opera's worth of them, with second-gen Atlas being the best-known today, but most remaining rather obscure. This was a result of the decade-long War of the Titans, in which they were comprehensively overthrown – both physically and reputationally – by a bunch of younger gods, the Zeus-led Olympians. The huge Giants, also children of Gaia, rebelled against the Olympians but lost; and later tales mixed up Giants and Titans, leading to the word's current connotations of size and strength. So, given that they suffered total, humiliating defeat and never recovered, being protected by a Titan may not be as useful as it sounds. • Spotted: Town centre, Cirencester, Gloucestershire, GL7, England, 2007 • Politics: In the Conservative constituency of Cotswolds Above: the Titans being overthrown in "Fall of the Titans" (c.1637-8) by Peter Paul Rubens from the Musée Royaux des Beaux Arts, Brussels.
"Samson Technology Alarm Systems" burglar alarm, Derby • So, a burglar alarm named after a blind, randy, brutally-strong murderer, albeit one who has inspired great art and literature, pop musicians as diverse as Tom Jones and Eyeless in Gaza, and golden syrup. Although there are many parallels for super-powerful heroes in ancient Eurasian mythology, most famously Heracles, Samson is a specifically Hebrew figure who springs from the Old Testament and associated texts. He was an incredibly disruptive presence: a philandering Philistine-killing machine, embroiled in the intractable middle-eastern turmoil that continues to this day. After Delilah cut off his hair and his strength, allowing the Philistines to stab out his eyes and enslave him in Gaza, he still managed to topple a temple on them in an ingenious pre-gunpowder version of suicide bombing. But, had you hired him as a burglar deterrent (and not been a Philistine), I am sure he would have worked out excellently. • Spotted: Town centre, Derby, Derbyshire, DE1, England, 2010 • Politics: In the Labour constituency of Derby South Above: Samson – scenes from a life. Left: Delilah cuts off his hair in a detail of "Samson and Delilah" (c.1530) by Lucas Cranach the Elder, from the Met. Middle: a lion Samson killed en route to his wedding, from the famous Lyle's Golden Syrup "lion and bees" tin. Right: pulling down the temple of Dagon in "Death of Samson" (1865) by Gustav Doré, from "The Doré Gallery of Bible Illustrations" vol 3, scanned online at Project Gutenberg.
"Atlantis Secure Systems" burglar alarm, Tower Hamlets • Even the ancient Greeks thought Atlantis was fictional, and they should have known because they probably invented it. Before Plato described the 9000-year-old lost city in his dialogue Timaeus of around 360 BC, there had been no recorded mention of the place, whereas myths usually have long, traceable histories. It seems likely he was using imaginary geography to make a political point – as Jonathan Swift did in Gulliver's Travels, or Sir Thomas More in Utopia – but the idea is so seductive that it remains with us today. It's quite a weird title for a burglar alarm (albeit one illustrated with a white fish and a shadowy shark, possibly a metaphor for burglar-catching); Atlantis has the opposite connotation to yesterday's triumphantly arising Phoenix, suggesting something that will sink catastrophically. Despite this it's a widely-used name, ironically popular with vessels: not only seagoing ones but the last operational space shuttle Atlantis, whose final flight is in July 2011 (tickets to view the launch are available from NASA). As for possible sites for the city of Atlantis, there's a new crackpot theory every year. More interesting are the real, eponymous places: the Atlantis Massif under the Atlantic, a dome of dense green rock extruded from the earth's deep mantle; 1198 Atlantis, a Mars-crossing asteroid orbiting quite near Earth; and the Atlantis Chaos, an area of turbulent Martian terrain featuring possible water gullies (all pictured below). Plato's imaginary island went a long, long way. • Spotted: Vyner Street, Tower Hamlets, London, E2, England, 2006 • Politics: In the Labour constituency of Bethnal Green and Bow Above: Digital images of real Atlantises. Top: the sub-Atlantic Atlantis Massif, from Washington University's Lost City deep-sea research site. Middle: orbit of the asteroid 1198 Atlantis from Nasa Jet Propulsion Lab's Small-Body Database Browser, which can animate orbits through time. Bottom: ripples and gullies in the Atlantis Chaos area of Mars, from University of Arizona's amazing HiRise Mars imaging site.
"Phoenix" burglar alarm, Sheffield • Perhaps reborn from yesterday's Phoenix, and unusually decorative for a burglar alarm, this tattoo-like design looks more Phoenix Arizona than ancient Greece. But though grandly-plumaged birds such as the storm-bringing Thunderbird figure heavily in Native American culture, there is no equivalent of the phoenix rebirth myth, suggesting it developed in Eurasia after early humans had populated the Americas. Of course humans came that way again later, bringing their Eurasian diseases and resurrection legends with them; and thus the modern metropolis of Phoenix was born, so named because it arose from the long-abandoned ruins of a pre-Columbian city. Amazing how these Assyrian legends get around. • Spotted: Union Street, Sheffield, South Yorkshire, S1, England, 2010 • Politics: In the Labour constituency of Sheffield Central Top row: phoenix tattoo designs reminiscent of this alarm. Bottom row: Native American birds – not related to Phoenixes, but looking similar. Bottom left: “Bird with Red Snake” (1920) by Awa Tsireh from the Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington DC. Bottom right: painting of Kiowa Eagle Dancer by Stephen [Qued Koi] Mopope (1898-1974) from the Adobe Gallery, Santa Fe.
"Phoenix Security Doncaster" burglar alarm, Kensington and Chelsea • A very old Phoenix, which – if it accords with legend – is the only one of its kind, and will soon set itself on fire. In the Greco-Assyrian myth which gives this device its name, the crimson-plumed firebird is the sole representative of its species, and lives for 500 years. When it feels itself getting old, it climbs onto a fragrant DIY pyre of frankinsence and myrrh, faces the sun and bursts exuberantly into flame, soaring reborn from the ashes. In some versions it's a small grub that emerges from the ashes, which after three days turns into a new phoenix; which, in further variants, carries the embalmed ashes of its parent to an altar in the Egyptian sun-worshipping city of Heliopolis. Although the estimable Greek historian Herodotus was bluntly sceptical about much of this fanciful tale, its clear parallels with Biblical accounts of the resurrection of Jesus made it a hit with early Catholic artists, hence its inclusion in European iconography, and eventually on burglar alarms. Generally considered benevolent despite their fierce looks, phoenixes are today a metaphor for anything that renews, such as a "phoenix firm" which declares bankruptcy, dumps its debt obligations, and restarts anew – hopefully not the fate of Phoenix Security. • Spotted: Cadogan Street, Kensington and Chelsea, London, SW3, England, 2010 • Politics: In the Conservative constituency of Chelsea and Fulham Above: Some even older phoenixes. Top row: during and after resurrection, from the beautiful 12th century Aberdeen Bestiary. Bottom left: Coptic Egyptian stone phoenix from the Allard Pierson Museum, Amsterdam. Bottom right: a magnificent printed phoenix from Friedrich Justin Bertuch's stunningly-illustrated educational partwork "Bilderbuch für Kinder" (1790-1830).
"Sound Alarms" burglar alarm, City of Westminster • An odd subject for a burglar alarm, the unicorn is – like yesterday’s mermaid – a popular subject in young girls’ literature. This logo is more reminiscent of a 1980s computer magazine, with its warped sci-fi font suggesting the wow of a siren, and a pixellated unicorn that's either the ultimate in retro-futurism, or a bit of low-res clip art. Like all the mythological alarms I have found, this bizarre mix of ancient and modern originates in antiquity. The early Greeks believed unicorns were real wild animals living in India, and matters were further confused because in Mesopotamia bulls were often depicted in profile, showing just one horn. There are unicorns mentioned in the Christian Bible, though the original Hebrew term is re'em, a powerful beast which scholars have suggested could be anything from an ox to a rhino. This biblical connection led to the pretty white European unicorn, a deeply allegorical beast which could only be soothed by laying its head, complete with immense phallic horn, in the lap of a young and sometimes bare-breasted virgin (there are some examples below). With obvious symbolism, their "horns" – usually narwhal horns, upon which the spiralling spike is based – were considered great aphrodisiacs; Queen Elizabeth I reputedly had one in her cabinet of curiosities. And though initially associated with the Virgin Mary and purity, unicorns soon became frankly raunchy, prancing across vastly expensive OTT tapestries amidst hunting parties and fertility symbols, ending up happy and blood-spotted after capture by a fair maiden, in the manner of a medieval boy band member. Which explains why unicorns remain a staple of pre-pubescent female fantasy, but does not shed any more light on this weird burglar alarm, or what a unicorn has to do with sound – unless it's a play on the word "horn". • Spotted: Vauxhall Bridge Road, City of Westminster, London, SW1, England, 2004 • Politics: In the Conservative constituency of Cities of London and Westminster Some frisky unicorns. Top left: An underdressed lady soothes the beast in “Wild Woman with Unicorn”, c.1500, a cushion from Basel Historical Museum. Top right: "The Unicorn Is Penned", c.1500, a unicorn spotted with blood (or red juice) after capture by a maiden, from the epic Unicorn Tapestries in New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art. Bottom: "Virgin and Unicorn", 1605, teenage love as portrayed by Domenichino (aka Annibale Carracci) on a fresco in Rome's Farnese Palace.
"Siren Security" burglar alarm, Tower Hamlets • Yesterday I featured a mermaid from Fairfield Shipping Offices, Glasgow, and today – ushering in the theme of mythological burglar alarms – I give you a mermaid from Fairfield Road, London. Siren Security is a play on words, obviously, between the blaring sirens of the law and the sweet-voiced temptresses said to serenade sailors to their doom, but sirens and mermaids are not strictly synonymous. Though the word is Latin, sirens come to the modern world from Greek mythology: as described in Homer's Odyssey, written around 800 BC, they were winged, sharp-clawed bird-women who lived amidst the rotting corpses of their victims (which would certainly be a deterrent to burglars). The fish-woman comes from even older Assyrian tales of the popular sea goddess Atargatis (called Derketo by the Greeks), disseminated to seaports far and wide by Syrian merchants. Pagan Europeans got these ideas all muddled up with their own folkloric tales, not quelled by a dose of Christianity, so that today in many languages the word for mermaid is "sirena", or similar. In Haitian voodoo there is even a spirit or lwa called La Sirene, a European mermaid mixed up with West African beliefs, often pictured with a siren-like trumpet (see below for examples of all these ladies). Whatever her origin, Siren Security's logo is a charmingly modest mermaid, shown clutching an unidentified tablet – maybe the same one the bizarre wasp-man is holding on Wilton Alarms. And while there are plenty of of male images on burglar alarms, this is one of only two depictions of women I have found, the other being Liberty. • Spotted: Fairfield Road, Tower Hamlets, London, E3, England, 2010 • Politics: In the Labour constituency of Bethnal Green and Bow Top left: "The Siren of Canosa", a Greek-style siren (note bird-feet) circa 300 BC from the National Archaeological Museum of Spain. Top right: John William Waterhouse's foxy "A Mermaid" (1900), from the Royal Academy, London. Below: a Haitian sequinned voodoo banner depicting horn-blowing water spirit La Sirene.
Nameless burglar alarms on Fairfield Shipyard Offices, Glasgow • Yesterday's gritty scene was photographed en route to this, the amazing derelict Fairfield Shipyard Offices in the once-great shipbuilding area of Govan. A vestige of the industry survives: beyond these offices lies a vast BAE shipyard currently starting assembly of a leviathan aircraft-carrier for the Navy. Several random burglar alarms dot the Fairfield facade – there's a red AFA drum in the foreground of the top image, but most are nameless white shields. I was lucky enough to get inside the grand boardroom complex for an art installation (art can take you to some brilliant places), and despite being so ricketty we had to wear hard hats, its Edwardian splendour reminded me of the interior of County Hall in London, which briefly housed the Saatchi Gallery. There's a plan to restore the Grade A-listed building for creative and community use, a valiant but daunting task, even though it's only been unoccupied since 2001. I include the bottom photo, a detail of the main entrance, because of the beautiful mermaid carvings, which lead neatly on to tomorrow's theme: burglar alarms and mythology. • Spotted: Fairfield Shipyard Offices, Govan Road, Glasgow, Lanarkshire, G51, Scotland, 2010 • Politics: In the Labour constituency of Glasgow South West
"IME" burglar alarm, Glasgow• A shop with two names and two alarms. The grey Govan Pharmacy sign, top, looks decades old and may even relate to the original use of the premises. The brash Govan Carpets sign beneath it is obviously recent, but what riches lie inside to require not one but two burglar alarms I can't imagine. I went to check them out on Google Street View (below) but came back none the wiser, except that they used to have ADT alarms. The rest of the imposing but gritty street consists mainly of closed units, bookies, alcohol establishments and a very prominent funeral parlour. • Spotted: Govan Road, Glasgow, Lanarkshire, G51, Scotland, 2010 • Politics: In the Labour constituency of Glasgow South West Above: the scene (shot some while back) on Google Street View – note ADT alarms and coverless bell box on the unoccupied left-hand unit
"Rogers" burglar alarm, Glasgow • A swag of giant dusty fruit looms over a man in a very on-trend split pencil skirt, who seems to have attracted a fiery red friend – all of which I hope is not a metaphor for the Scottish national psyche (I won't dwell on alternate readings of the word Rodgers). The imposing russet standstone brickwork is a dead giveaway that this building is in Glasgow, which like all post-colonial ports is full of fine decaying architecture. • Spotted: Merchant City area, Glasgow, Lanarkshire, G1, Scotland, 2010 • Politics: In the Labour constituency of Glasgow Central
"Thorndon Security" burglar alarm, Camden • Graphic design heaven: a load of decaying type on a wall. The numbers are a good old 1950s font, typical of that era when presumably there weren't many different styles of signage lettering to choose from. The alarm sports one big initial, a very common device, and one I'll return to. I found it in the gem-dealing area of Hatton Garden (famously featured in Dustin Hoffman's 1976 film Marathon Man) and, although legitimately photographing in a public street, got very heavily hassled by a security guard for my pains. That was just three years after 9/11, and it would probably be even worse now. It's actually quite difficult photographing burglar alarms – it often makes me feel like a criminal myself! • Spotted: Hatton Garden, Camden, London, EC1, England, 2004 • Politics: In the Labour constituency of Holborn and St Pancras
"CIA" burglar alarm, Emsworth• A shadowy CIA intruder is creeping through the rusty debris of this harbourside back yard, bringing a splash of red to the decaying scene. I featured a close-up of this under the "Shadowy Intruders" theme a long way back, when I had no idea what the initials really stood for. Thanks to some informed comment by Paul Germaine, I can now tell you that it is Christie Intruder Alarms, founded in 1967 by husband-and-wife team Barrie and Janet Christie, and still going strong on the South Coast today. According to their excellent website, this "crooked man" logo – one of my favourites, and still in use – was designed in 1970 by Janet Christie herself. When amateur burglar alarm-spotting friends come to me with exciting alarm designs they've stumbled across, it's often this one, because it's so amusing and noticeable. • Spotted: Seagull Lane, Emsworth, Hampshire, PO10, England, 2003 • Politics: In the Conservative constituency of Havant
"Cannon Bristol" and "BAC Fire and Security" burglar alarms, Bristol • A Cannon alarm surreally framed by two laurel-wreathed romanesque heads on a typically splendid Bristol building, which was pretty grimy when I first came across it in 2006 (top pic). I went back recently to see how it had fared, and discovered a spruced-up facade, and a change of alarm (middle pic) – in pictorial terms, I preferred the old Cannon. The building itself (bottom) is magnificent and strange, and features another pair of heads on the right, depicting a veiled woman and a wild-bearded man. The building's current occupier, a hairdresser, is appropriate to the heads, but I'd love to know who it was built for: some Victorian business with links in Araby, presumably. • Spotted: St Nicholas Street, Bristol, Avon, BS1, England, 2006 and 2011 • Politics: In the Liberal Democrat constituency of Bristol West
Nameless burglar alarm on The Manor Cafe, Southwark • The alarm here , carefully placed above the street number, doesn't even have a name. But what a beautiful bit of decay! And a fine illustration of my contention, yesterday, that roads called "Manor" – here, Manor Place, in the lost triangle between Kennington, Camberwell and Walworth – are usually the opposite of their upmarket names. This entire row of shops later got boarded up with lurid purple hoardings, which are still visible on Google Street View; all that remained uncovered were a bookie, an off license, and the Sound Wickford alarm, far left. • Spotted: Manor Place, Southwark, London SE17, England, 2001 • Politics: In the Liberal Democrat constituency of Bermondsey and Old Southwark
"Sentry Alarms" burglar alarm, Rugby • An elderly alarm on a house that looks beyond burglary. This was found in the famous public school town of Rugby (birthplace of the boring game), where even decay in a road called Gas Street looks salubrious. In my experience, industrial sounding locations like Ferry Road, Electric Avenue or Gas Street always prove to be interesting; places with posh names like Manor Road are generally downmarket (there will be an example soon); and you can always park in Park Street. Fact! • Spotted: Gas Street, Rugby, Warwickshire, CV21, England, 2011 • Politics: In the Conservative constituency of Rugby
"MAS Formby" burglar alarm, Liverpool • This carefully-placed burglar alarm is affixed to the great and grubby neo-gothic pile of Liverpool Anglican Cathedral, one of two such religious edifices piously dominating the city's skyline, bookending the aptly-named Hope Street. It's the cathedral that doesn't look like a flying saucer: the one that does is for Roman Catholics. The reason it doesn't look like a flying saucer is because it was designed by Sir Giles Gilbert Scott, grandson of high Victorian goth Sir George Gilbert Scott (there's an alarm on one of his churches here); and although responsible for the magnificently monolithic Battersea Power Station and its modernist ex-power station sibling Tate Modern, Sir Giles wasn't into sci-fi-related structures – unless you count the red K6 telephone box. The hulking monstrosity of Liverpool Anglican Cathedral is not, in my opinion, amongst his finest works: perhaps because he was born a Roman Catholic. (I couldn't find an alarm on the RC Metropolitan Cathedral, by the way, though I had a good look.) • Spotted: Liverpool Cathedral, Cathedral Close, Liverpool, L1, England, 2008 • Politics: In the Labour constituency of Liverpool Riverside
"Hoffman Security PLC" burglar alarm, Hounslow • Another alarm I've already featured in close-up (see WWII), but whose surroundings also deserve an airing. Nothing spectacular: just a subtle colour combination of faded pink, green and cream. Everything's cracking and falling apart, and even the 'g' has peeled off the sign. But that's sleepy Chiswick Mall for you (it's a demure riverside walk – not the kind of mall they have in America, or even Brent Cross). • Spotted: Chiswick Mall, Hounslow, London, W4, England, 2006 • Politics: In the Conservative constituency of Brentford and Isleworth
"Javes Intruder Alarms" burglar alarm, Birchington-on-Sea • Rather than beautiful decay, this is colourful but slightly unpleasant decay. It looks as if in the distant past, someone attempted – god knows why – to decorate this rather old burglar alarm with a wicker basket and some dried flowers. Since then it has become a desiccated grime trap, festooned with cobwebs and spider poo (and believe me spiders leave a lot of poo: I have experience of this). Birchington-on-Sea, as its name suggests, is a seriously old-fashioned seaside town, the sort of place Miss Marple would have solved murders in the 1930s. So it's definitely a bit odd. But even so, this burglar alarm decoration is beyond bizarre. • Spotted: Town centre, Birchington-on-Sea, Kent, CT7, England, 2006 • Politics: In the Conservative constituency of Thanet North
"Advanced Security" burglar alarm, Bristol • Advanced alarm, ancient door. Like the wall behind Knight in Kilburn, it wouldn't look out of place in Renaissance Italy, though it's actually next door to a decaying industrial unit on the edge of one of the grittier parts of Bristol. The holes on either side of the stoop perhaps once held railings, though I prefer to imagine them as Georgian twin cat-flaps, or plus-size burrows for Banksy's never-ending parade of graffiti rats (he does come from Bristol, after all). • Spotted: Surrey Street, Bristol, Avon, BS2, England, 2011 • Politics: In the Liberal Democrat constituency of Bristol West
"Crime Stop" burglar alarm, Hackney • I've already featured a close-up of this red, drippy alarm under the theme The Law, but its environment is worth showing too. Did ever a door ever look less needy of a burglar alarm, and a "Crime Stop" one at that? Either the crime has already happened, or there's nothing worth nicking, and as for the surroundings – "Crime Start" might be a more accurate name. • Spotted: Downham Road, Hackney, London, N1, England, 2006 • Politics: In the Labour constituency of Hackney South and Shoreditch
"Chloride Granley" burglar alarm, Hackney • Another study in London pinks and grey-blues, and a most unusual alarm. The logo Chloride Granley has been spray-stencilled, graffiti-style, onto an older Granley box, beating Banksy stylistically by some decades. Below it is some genuine modern graffiti in the form of a white arrow, setting off the alarm nicely (in the artistic, rather than the siren, sense). It's more normal to add a sticker when an alarm firm has been taken over, and this is the only stencilled effacement I've ever found; I'd be interested to know if there are any further examples around. • Spotted: Leonard Street, Hackney, London, EC2, England, 2010 • Politics: In the Labour constituency of Hackney South and Shoreditch
"Honeywell Shield Security System" burglar alarm, Hackney • Yesterday I featured a knight, and today a shield: another very popular alarm device. There's nothing spectacularly decaying about this scene, but it's a study in faded colour; the rusty red alarm toning with the soft pink wall, set off against the flat blue-grey expanse of inscrutable window by bars of dirty white. Not for the first time when photographing burglar alarm tableaux, it makes me think of 1960s colour field paintings, or a print by Ed Ruscha. But I can't afford those, so this will do for me. • Spotted: Kingsland Road, Hackney, London, E2, England, 2004 • Politics: In the Labour constituency of Hackney South and Shoreditch
"Knight Security Services" burglar alarm, Camden • Yet another slice of the Kilburn High Road's architectural riches, this peeling, honey-toned wall would not look amiss on the medieval streets of Venice. Appropriate then that the nicely matching alarm is titled Knight, though its razzle-dazzle pink logo is more suggestive of a 1980s knitting store. The alarm has replaced a bigger version since the wall was repainted (some time ago, clearly); I like the way it's been accurately placed in the bottom left corner of the bare patch. Knights and their world of courtly, aristocratic violence are a hugely popular burglar alarm trope, and one I shall return to. • Spotted: Kilburn High Road, Camden, London, NW6, England, 2007 • Politics: In the Labour constituency of Hampstead and Kilburn
"Rely-a-Bell" burglar alarm, Camden • After yesterday's burglar alarm on a George Gilbert Scott church, another piece of High Victorian Gothic, also on a biblical theme: Hephzibah was an Old Testament queen, though here she adorns a dusty shopfront on the Kilburn High Road. The glorious Italianate windows have survived rather better than the super-rusty Rely-A-Bell beside them, however. • Spotted: Kilburn High Road, Camden, London, NW6, England, 2007 • Politics: In the Labour constituency of Hampstead and Kilburn
"Houseguard Security " burglar alarm, Merton • Centred above the pointy window is a decaying head looking down at the decaying burglar alarm, which although it's on a church is called Houseguard Security. St Mary's was designed by Sir George Gilbert Scott, responsible for just about every Gothic Revival building in England, including the brilliant Midland Grand Hotel at St. Pancras Station, which has just been restored. The church is in wealthy Wimbledon Village, and in its graveyard stands the mausoleum of Sir Joseph William Bazalgette, who built London's grand Victorian sewers. • Spotted: St Mary's Road, Merton, London, SW19, England, 2006 • Politics: In the Conservative constituency of Wimbledon
"SDT Securities" burglar alarm, Dorking • Another old Surrey wall, this time from the town of Dorking, an attractive place despite its dorky name and supposed boringness. The wall is festooned with cut-off wires and bird poo, and the alarm's logo features the old-skool device of a key – very passé these days. • Spotted: Town centre, Dorking, Surrey, RH4, England, 2008 • Politics: In the Conservative constituency of Mole Valley
"AIJ Security Centre" burglar alarm, Reigate • Despite having ancient roots, the prosperous Surrey town of Reigate is dominated by undistinguished architecture, a legacy of philistine planning. Yet amidst the sea of dullness remains the occasional interesting building, like this wonky old wall opposite a car park, melded in true Reigate style between two utterly suburban additions. Even the alarm box is growing lichen in protest. Older readers may be slightly interested to know that famed UK broadcaster Cliff Michelmore, who hosted the BBC's Apollo Moon landings coverage, used to live in this street. • Spotted: Upper West Street, Reigate, Surrey, RH2, England, 2011 • Politics: In the Conservative constituency of Reigate
"Olympic Alarms" burglar alarm, Bolton • I found this mossy relic on a boarded-up Bolton funeral parlour called Shaw & Son, a decaying traditional frontage of great pathos. Appropriately, it was part of the same condemned hillside terrace as the weeping Computa-Guard alarms of a couple of days ago. Close inspection reveals that under the vegetation is a logo saying Olympic Alarms, but all things must pass. • Spotted: St Georges Road, Bolton, Lancashire, BL1, England, 2010 • Politics: In the Labour constituency of Bolton North East
"HSS Alarms Harlow" burglar alarm, Tower Hamlets • Another weeping alarm, dribbling a snotty white trail rather than yesterday's tears of rust. I found it in a laneway off the Hackney road, but the colours and window grilles are reminiscent of a Hong Kong backstreet circa 1988. The pale streak looks like guano, but may possibly be the only clean patch on the grubby black-painted sweatshop wall. • Spotted: Pundersons Gardens, Tower Hamlets, London, E2, England, 2005 • Politics: In the Labour constituency of Bethnal Green and Bow
"CG Computa Guard" burglar alarm, Bolton • A brace of elderly Computa-Guard alarms standing guard abreast a firmly barred window on a hilltop terrace of boarded-up buildings in Bolton. The futuristic name stands in poignant contrast to the rusty brown trails they are weeping down the walls. • Spotted: St Georges Road, Bolton, Lancashire, BL1, England, 2010 • Politics: In the Labour constituency of Bolton North East
"Brocks Burglar Alarm" burglar alarm, Southwark • Brocks was once a famous make of fireworks, and though I think the alarm firm's identical name is simply a coincidence, the beautiful moiré rust marks on this vintage example are certainly reminiscent of flame-grilling by a ferocious bonfire. • Spotted: King's Bench Street, Southwark, London, SE1, England, 2010 • Politics: In the Liberal Democrat constituency of Bermondsey and Old Southwark
"Modern Alarms" burglar alarm, York • Ancient and modern, in perfect harmony. The colours are as found: the once-yellow Modern box really has faded to the same sepia tones as York's venerable bricks. The constituency, meanwhile, is a tiny island of Labour red in a sea of true blue Tory. There's more on the history of Modern Alarms here. • Spotted: Aldwark, York, North Yorkshire, YO1, England, 2011 • Politics: In the Labour constituency of York Central
"Winscomm Burglar Alarm WSM" burglar alarm, Frome • To paraphrase Bob Dylan, a hard rain must have fallen in Bath Street at some point to render both the road sign and the neighbouring alarm so utterly rusty. Maybe it was an acid bath... • Spotted: Town centre, Frome, Somerset, BA11, England, 2008 • Politics: In the Liberal Democrat constituency of Somerton and Frome
"Windsor Alarms" burglar alarm, Camden • A lovely fan-shaped finial which is worthy, like the adjacent alarm, of genteel Windsor – but was actually found in hardscrabble Kilburn High Road, which despite its grinding traffic and endless parade of plasticky budget shopfronts is full of architectural wonders if you look upwards. • Spotted: Kilburn High Road, Camden, London, NW6, England, 2007 • Politics: In the Labour constituency of Hampstead and Kilburn
"ARG Security" burglar alarm, Islington • Echoing yesterday's imagery, another pointy roof decorated with barbed wire and a rusty vintage alarm, this time enlivened by a spray of weedy foliage and – for some reason – a string of giant fairy lights entangled with the wire. The building is a defunct garage, one of an ever-diminishing clutch of old-style industrial units in the rapidly gentrifying hinterland of Kings Cross. • Spotted: York Way, Islington, London, N1, England, 2010 • Politics: In the Labour constituency of Islington South and Finsbury
"Maxim Burglar Alarm" and "Enright Security" burglar alarms, Southwark • Two unusual old alarms clinging beneath a crown of barbed wire on the charmingly-named Sapphire Laundry, which – as the bottom image shows – is of the same vintage as the alarms. • Spotted: Pages Walk, Southwark, London, SE1, England, 2010 • Politics: In the Liberal Democrat constituency of Bermondsey and Old Southwark
"Panda" burglar alarm, Liverpool • This rusty relic is another Panda from Liverpool, seven years older than yesterday's example, and seven years more decayed. The killer detail is the white plaster frieze below it: a design known as a Greek key. Apt! • Spotted: Bold Street, Liverpool, Merseyside, L1, England, 2010 • Politics: In the Labour constituency of Liverpool Riverside
"Panda" burglar alarm, Liverpool • This distressed turquoise building is genuinely beautiful, but sadly it got pulled down shortly after I took this photo. It was an old warehouse in Liverpool's docklands area, now redeveloped as Liverpool One and full of swanky flats. Look carefully at the top of the central pillar and you'll notice a matching turquoise Panda alarm – a whimsically-named brand that I've found only on Merseyside, and whose alarms seemed long-defunct even in 2003. There's a Birkenhead firm called Panda which claims to have launched in 2004, so that may be an offspring – unusual amongst Pandas. • Spotted: Argyle Street, Liverpool, Merseyside, L1, England, 2003 • Politics: In the Labour constituency of Liverpool Riverside
"Ambassador" burglar alarm, Southwark • To paraphrase the infamous Fererro Rocher ad, "With this dodgy old furniture shop, Ambassador, you are spoiling us!" I've never seen an Ambassador alarm that's less than weathered, but this one has a particularly fine setting, on the jewel-bright tiled pillar of this spectacularly ramshackle facade. It's at top right, tucked in beneath the fulsome Victorian finial's paint-encrusted cornuopia. London used to be studded with such gems, but the redevelopment mania of the last two decades has made decaying shopfronts harder to find. This one is near Tower Bridge, and seems to have had a new bit of board added every time I go past (ie once a year). • Spotted: Grange Road, Southwark, London, SE1, England, 2010 • Politics: In the Liberal Democrat constituency of Bermondsey and Old Southwark
"Lander Alarms" burglar alarm, Southwark • Depending on how you look at it, urban decay can be grotty or beautiful, and I err on the side of the latter. I got into documenting burglar alarms via photographing old buildings, and there's nothing I like more than a faded, forgotten corner – which is of course the vintage alarm's natural habitat. This photo looks like I hit the "sepia" button, but the scene really was these colours – even the Lander logo had faded to brown. It's above an arch of the immense railway viaduct which snakes south of the Thames from Bermondsey via London Bridge and Waterloo to Vauxhall. A lot of the arches have become quite smart and trendy (no bad thing if you live in the area), but happily this backwater of Lambeth still sports some authentic picturesque grubbiness. • Spotted: Newport Street, Lambeth, London, SE11, England, 2011 • Politics: In the Labour constituency of Vauxhall
"Britannia" burglar alarm, Camden • I started the World War II category with a Britannia alarm, and I'll end with one. This is older than the first example, and being made of metal rather than plastic has rusted quite spectacularly. Ironically, the graphics themselves are more modern (in the design sense) than on the later alarm: a swinging sixties logo in strict Swiss graphics style, its restrained sans serif font stating simply "Britannia". The North London elements have reduced it to a sorely ragged flag, but it still has an austere dignity and is a fine introduction to the next category, beautiful decay. • Spotted: Kilburn High Road, Camden, London, NW6, England, 2007 • Politics: In the Labour constituency of Hampstead and Kilburn
"Churchill Security Systems" burglar alarm, Old Coulsdon • A couple of weeks ago I featured an older Churchill alarm in much better condition. And now, at the end of my World War II series, here's a more recent Churchill sounder looking distinctly the worse for wear. It was found on that cliche of English suburbia, a half-timbered Tudorbethan villa (pictured below), always enjoyable in conjunction with overtly patriotic alarms. The flag still stands proudly, but the red of the Union Jack has faded away – much like the real Churchill, who was unceremoniously booted out of office as soon as WWII ended. • Spotted: Coulsdon Road, Old Coulsdon, Surrey, CR5, England, 2010 • Politics: In the Conservative constituency of Croydon South Above: The flag-waving Churchill in its splendid Tudorbethan setting
"Bluebird Securities" burglar alarm, Beckenham • "There'll be bluebirds over / The white cliffs of Dover / Tomorrow, just you wait and see. / There'll be love and laughter / And peace ever after / Tomorrow, when the world is free." In fact lyricist Nat Burton's words never came true, because – as discussed alongside the yellow version of this alarm – bluebirds are only found in North America, home of the song's writers. Which didn't stop this Battle of Britain spirit-raiser becoming a massive UK hit for Vera Lynn in 1942 (not to mention Glen Miller and several other artistes in the US), and remaining Britain's most celebrated WWII song ever since. • Spotted: High Street, Beckenham, Kent, BR3, England, 2010 • Politics: In the Conservative constituency of Beckenham
"Haven Security" burglar alarm, Brighton • I know it's meant to be an H formed from a lightning flash, but this also looks like half an SS logo trapped in a gate. Brilliantly, Haven Security is based in Peacehaven on the white cliffs of Sussex, nowadays a bastion of middle-class retirees but once Britain's much-fortified frontline to the continent. Peacehaven is obviously the origin of the firm's title, qualifying this alarm for the WWII theme by both design and location. Combined with the sunset lighting, it always makes me think of retired army colonels drinking sundowners in the safe haven of their cosy clifftop bungalows. • Spotted: Old Steine, Brighton, East Sussex, BN1, England, 2004 • Politics: In the Conservative constituency of Brighton Kemptown
"Hoffman Security PLC" burglar alarm, Hounslow • I've included this nice logo in my World War II theme because not only do the arrows form a Union Jack, they look, coincidentally, very similar to the opening credits of the classic WWII-based sit-com Dad's Army, even using the same font (Cooper Black, as did the Blitz alarm a few days back). To be a PLC in the Public Limited Company sense, a firm requires a minimum share capital of £50k and must offer shares to the public, which is quite rare for a security startup. I became obsessed with finding out if Hoffmann really had been a "proper" PLC, and though there's very little on the web did manage to ascertain that it was a Middlesex company built up over 20 years by a guy called Erik Hoffman, who sold up to MRFS Group in 2006. However, the comment here informs me that Hoffmann, an Israeli, did indeed build up his eponymous business into a PLC, with a logo based on the joystick control of CCTV systems rather than a Union Jack. As for the much-loved Dad's Army credits (see the image below), they were in fact a last-minute compromise after the BBC objected to the original opening, which featured harrowing imagery of Nazis and refugees. The show's creators were very upset, but with hindsight it seems the BBC were right. • Spotted: Chiswick Mall, Hounslow, London, W4, England, 2006 • Politics: In the Conservative constituency of Brentford and Isleworth Above: The Dad's Army credits featured British arrows retreating from Nazi ones
"Allied Security Systems" burglar alarm, Tower Hamlets • After three days of dastardly SS alarms, time to wheel out the plucky Allied forces, doubtless led by Sir John Mills. This sturdy old Eurobell sounder actually does resemble some kind of ancient air raid early warning device, what with its giant front-mounted red bulb – the only one of this design I've ever come across. The Allied powers morphed into the United Nations at the end of World War II, and eventually their ex-foes, the Axis powers, joined up too. Axis would be a pretty good name for a burglar alarm, but so far I haven't found one. • Spotted: Wentworth Street, Tower Hamlets, London, E1, England, 2010 • Politics: In the Labour constituency of Bethnal Green and Bow
"WSS Alarms" burglar alarm, Glasgow • I rather like this naive typographic design, which – presumably by accident – stands for Waffen SS and is even in a classic Nazi colourway. The thorny circle of Ws looks like a ring of razor wire protecting the SS, and – although it clearly dates from the days before the World Wide Web caught on – lends it a subliminal online feel. It also bars the logo from my "basic" category, as it requires a certain amount of graphic know-how to put type on a circle, no matter how low-tech the end result. • Spotted: Merkland Street, Partick, Glasgow, Lanarkshire, G11, Scotland, 2010 • Politics: In the Labour constituency of Glasgow North
"SS" burglar alarm, Sheffield • An even more minimalistic SS logo than yesterday's, which again unwittingly conjures up the Nazis. There are loads of these utterly cryptic devices around the Sheffield area, and pleasingly I even found one sharing wall space with an old Britannia box (surrounding the ADT alarm, below). • Spotted: Charlotte Road, Sheffield, South Yorkshire, S1, England, 2010 • Politics: In the Labour constituency of Sheffield Central Above: An ADT alarm surrounded by Britannia and the SS
"SS Alarms" burglar alarm, Kingston upon Hull • Hmmm, a firm called simply SS – how cryptic. It could stand for "Steam Ship", as in Isambard Kingdom Brunel's pioneering SS Great Britain. It could stand for "Saints", as in the art-stuffed SS Giovanni e Paolo, one of Venice's finest Gothic churches. It could even, if you're a graphic designer, stand for "Same Size". But whenever I see SS on a burglar alarm, it always makes me think of the Waffen SS, as in Hitler's evil henchmen. And so although I know it probably stands for Security Systems (because SS on a burglar alarm inevitably does), the minimalist logo of SS Alarms has ended up here, in my World War II category. • Spotted: Town centre, Kingston upon Hull, East Yorkshire, HU1, England, 2005 • Politics: In the Labour constituency of Hull West and Hessle
"Ace" burglar alarm, Lewisham • I've just featured a couple of Spitfire alarms, so what better to follow than an Ace. There are loads of Ace alarms around, which – judging by their wide variety of surface graphics – emanate from more than one company. This is one of the oldest I've come across, and seems ideal to represent a WWII flying ace: worn and sunbleached, its naive hand-drawn roundel looks plucked straight from the side of a fighter plane or a pilot's battered leather bomber jacket. If you'd rather see some real WWII fighter aces, Wikipedia has an impressive illustrated list covering all nationalities. The Axis aces – especially the Germans – have way higher scores than their Allied counterparts; apparently they tended to continue flying missions until killed, whereas successful Allied pilots got rotated to other positions. However it's an area so clouded by propaganda that there doesn't even seem to be a hard and fast number of "kills" required to become an ace, and different countries use different counting systems. My favourite factoid is that the Soviets had the world's only female WWII fighter pilot aces: Katya Budanova and Lydia Litvyak, with around 11 and 12 victories respectively. Up the girls! • Spotted: New Cross Road, Lewisham, London, SE14, England, 2002 • Politics: In the Labour constituency of Lewisham Deptford
"Spitfire Security Systems" burglar alarm, Kensington and Chelsea • The Spitfire fighter plane was brilliantly designed by ex-locomotive apprentice Reginald Joseph Mitchell, and while this alarm isn't quite in that class, its logo is a lot more sophisticated than yesterday's basic iteration. It employs the highly unusual burglar alarm colours of purple and gold, both associated with royalty, though what the comet-like thing underneath has to do with Spitfires I don't know – the Comet was a completely different plane. The firm behind this alarm still exists, but though it retains the same logo – now in aqua – it has dispensed with security services and, renamed plain Spitfire, concentrates on telecoms. I was interested in the connotations of the word Spitfire, especially as one etymology website suggests it replaced the earlier term "shitfire", from the Florentine cacafuoco. However according to the OED, its first-known use was by Samuel Rowlands in 1600, since when it hasn't gathered any meanings other than fire-spitting objects such as cannons and volcanos, a type of nautical storm-sail, and – most commonly – creatures of irascible bent, eg women and cats. And now a defunct plane and burglar alarm. • Spotted: Clareville Street, Kensington and Chelsea, London, SW7, England, 2005 • Politics: In the Conservative constituency of Kensington
"Spitfire Security Systems" burglar alarm, Kensington and Chelsea • So far this week we've had patriotic WWII alarms celebrating Britannia, Churchill, Blitz – and now comes the Battle of Britain, courtesy of Spitfire Security Systems. I first discovered one of these in Westminster in 2002, but – as with my first Blitz alarm – took a useless photo. This is the only one of the same design I have come across since then, again found in a true blue Tory borough, and despite its age in a pristine condition worthy of the Imperial War Museum, which of course houses a real Spitfire. The Spitfire plane was noted for its superb design, but the same can't be said of this alarm namesake, which looks like a five-minute job knocked out on a word processor, and gains entry a category I've dubbed "basic", reserved for the most simple type-only designs. The fact that the rudimentary logo is set in a centred serif font with a rule underneath elevates it to the superior end of the "basic" category, but basic it is nevertheless. • Spotted: Godfrey Street, Kensington and Chelsea, London, SW3, England, 2010 • Politics: In the Conservative constituency of Chelsea and Fulham
"Blitz Security Group" burglar alarm, Southwark • After taking yesterday's incredibly blurred photo of a Blitz alarm in 2002, I was always on the lookout for other examples, but never ran across any. When I decided to start writing this blog, I became so desperate to shoot a sharper version that I made a pilgrimage all the way back to the Surrey shopping parade where I'd originally found it, but the Blitz alarm was there no more. And despite an extensive exploration of the surrounding Old Coulsdon area, during which I snapped lots of other good vintage burglar alarms (to the understandable suspicion of several locals), I still came home Blitz-less. I assumed it was a small Surrey firm that had gone out of business many years ago, hence my failure to find one. So imagine my surprise when, a few weeks ago, I spotted a shiny new Blitz alarm just a short stroll from my home, in a road I visit practically every day. A brief recce turned up several more in the Waterloo area, which scuppers my theory that Blitz alarms only appeal in Conservative boroughs; but note that London SE1 is divided between Labour Lambeth and Lib-Dem Southwark, and so far I have only found Blitzes on the Lib-Dem side of the street – and they are in coalition with the Tories, after all. Blitz Security Alarms, meanwhile, have been upgraded to Blitz Security Group, and acquired a smart new design featuring the ever-trendy Cooper Black font. It's a very nice logo – even if it does conjure up images of a merciless fascist bombing campaign. • Spotted: King's Bench Street, Southwark, London, SE1, England, 2010 • Politics: In the Liberal Democrat constituency of Bermondsey and Old Southwark
"Blitz Security Alarms" burglar alarm, Old Coulsdon • OK, so it's blurred, but I'd only just got my first digital camera (high-end at the time, £700 for three megapixels – how times change). I was actually photographing a parade of ridiculous half-timbered Tudorbethan convenience stores in deepest Surrey (see below), when I noticed the name on a tiny box located above a fascia. Blitz: a term powerfully associated in the British psyche with a brutal Nazi invasion attempt, and the "Blitz spirit" that survived it. The cod-medieval shops and cod-wartime security device seemed to meld into a parody of the traditional values supposedly espoused in this cosy and affluent Conservative heartland, but it still seemed a weird word to put on a burglar alarm. Intrigued, I started looking out for more wartime burglar alarm names, and soon discovered a Churchill and a Spitfire. They too were in Tory areas, so I started noting the political constituencies of all the alarms I photographed, to see if there was any correlation between subject matter and voting patterns – a project still in process. And thus an obsession was born. • Spotted: Coulsdon Road, Old Coulsdon, Surrey, CR5, England, 2001 • Politics: In the Conservative constituency of Croydon South Above: the cod-medieval shops where I found the cod-wartime alarm
"Churchill Security" burglar alarm, Camden • Unlike yesterday's Union Jack, this has an unambiguously WWII slant. Churchill is not an uncommon name – there's the insurance company with the talking dog for instance – but even if Churchill is the surname of this firm's owner, the addition of a waving national flag can't help but evoke the legendary wartime Prime Minister, which is undoubtedly intentional. A Thatcher alarm similarly decorated wouldn't summon up quite the same subliminal image, and as for Blair Security, the mind boggles... though it would be amusing to discover one. • Spotted: Betterton Street, Camden, London, WC2, England, 2002 • Politics: In the Labour constituency of Holborn and St Pancras
"Britannia Security Systems" burglar alarm, Tower Hamlets • Today I'm launching the theme that originally got me interested in the idea of seriously documenting and categorising burglar alarms, namely designs evoking World War Two in some way. The Britannia alarm shown here isn't specifically WWII-related, but the Union Jack-decorated letter B conjoined with a heraldic lion is certainly patriotic, and sums up the Fortress Britain (or, less kindly, Little England) mentality that seemed prevalent in the late 1990s when I first started noticing – and, not long after, photographing – these bizarre building adornments. This example is spruce and pristine, in what I like to think of as a "pre-war" state; but there are many more bruised and battered "post-war" Britannias to be found, one of which I'll feature at the end of this category. • Spotted: Redchurch Street, Tower Hamlets, London, E2, England, 2007 • Politics: In the Labour constituency of Bethnal Green and Bow
"Banham" burglar alarm, City of Westminster • My final niche for now is pushing it a bit, because I accept that this isn't strictly a niche. However, this tilting Banham alarm, looking as if it's trying desperately to break free of its restricted slot on a smart SW1 balcony, doesn't really fit within any other theme, and is a nice counterpoint to the bricked-up Banham a few entries back. And that's niche enough for me. • Spotted: Vauxhall bridge Road, City of Westminster, London, SW1, England, 2007 • Politics: In the Conservative constituency of Cities of London and Westminster
"Town & Country" burglar alarm, Great Missenden • A natural niche rather than an architectural one, this swathe of leaves is protecting an aptly-named Town & Country alarm (which has an excellent clamp-based logo that I'll feature in more depth another time). I found it in the chi-chi Chilterns town of Great Missenden, long-time home of author Roald Dahl, who now lies buried in the church graveyard (he's dead, obviously). • Spotted: Town centre, Great Missenden, Buckinghamshire, HP16, England, 2007 • Politics: In the Conservative constituency of Chesham and Amersham
"Thorn" burglar alarm, East Grinstead • I've already recounted the tangled corporate history of the modernist Thorn alarms, which you'll find here. This 1970s-designed Thorn is protruding through the twee terracotta tiles of a no doubt historic roof, from which – East Grinstead being a prim and proper kind of place – the proud homeowner has cut a neat circular niche to accommodate their big red anti-burglar device. • Spotted: London Road, East Grinstead, West Sussex, RH19, England, 2004 • Politics: In the Conservative constituency of Sussex Mid
"Spy Alarms" burglar alarm, Lambeth • Once upon a time, a proud Lower Marsh retailer had this burglar alarm smartly fitted into a niche in their shop sign. Such was their attention to detail, that before the Spy label was stuck on, they even had the alarm's case painted dark blue to match the fascia. Then along came the sun, the wind and the rain – and off started to peel the Spy label, because it didn't stick to the paint properly. The result is a scarily blank crying / beaming Egyptian-style eye above a decaying paranoiac logo, peeking creepily out of its hole like a weird old sign for some defunct Masonic lodge. (Although Lower Marsh is so odd it wouldn't surprise me if there actually was a Masonic lodge there.) • Spotted: Lower Marsh, Lambeth, London, SE1, England, 2010 • Politics: In the Labour constituency of Vauxhall
Burglar alarm with name hidden in niche, City of Westminster • A custom alarm niche in swanky New Bond Street, home of London's most expensive niche retailers. The sounder is clinging gecko-like to the roof of a shop doorway, which I happened across while it was undergoing refitting works during the transition from one rip-off fashion emporium to another. And so high class a job was it, that when the builders boarded the doorway up, they even cut out this snug little hand-tailored hole especially for the burglar alarm. • Spotted: New Bond Street, City of Westminster, London, W1, England, 2008 • Politics: In the Conservative constituency of Cities of London and Westminster
"Banham" burglar alarm, Lambeth • This is brilliant – a posh Banham alarm in the most rough-and-ready bespoke niche. I found it on the wall of Pimlico Plumbers, who despite their toney SW1 name are located in the distinctly less upmarket area of Kennington, on the other side of the River Thames. • Spotted: Sail Street, Lambeth, London, SE11, England, 2011 • Politics: In the Labour constituency of Vauxhall
"Home Guard Vess" burglar alarm, Birkenhead • This, like yesterday's niche, comes from a Merseyside warehouse, though across the the river in Birkenhead. I found it during a rather anal search for 1930s Mersey Tunnel vents, immense rectilinear brick structures reminiscent of neo-fascist churches (there are some excellent photos here). Of course, due to its Irish heritage, the whole Merseyside area is strongly Roman Catholic – which lends these burglar alarm niches the feel of vigilant roadside icons. • Spotted: Shore Road area, Birkenhead, Wirral, CH41, England, 2008 • Politics: In the Labour constituency of Birkenhead
"Falcon Security" burglar alarm, Liverpool • I always enjoy burglar alarms' varied architectural settings: some languish in obscure corners amidst layers of grimy urban decay, whilst others are proudly placed and neatly painted around. Some are even fortunate enough to have their own dedicated niches, and it is to these that I turn this week. Having just finished a fortnight of random burglar alarm birds, my first niche is home to a rather tatty falcon (a species be covered more fully in a later series on hawkish alarm birds). This circular brickwork detail decorates a 19th-century warehouse near Tate Liverpool, now given over to that booming 21st-century descendant of warehousing, self-storage. • Spotted: Norfolk Street, Liverpool, Merseyside, L1, England, 2010 • Politics: In the Labour constituency of Liverpool Riverside
"Magpie Services" burglar alarm, Camden • Two security tropes for the price of one: a thieving magpie, and a garland of locksmithery (a subject I shall cover soon). I can't let my final magpie pass without remembering the rhyme famous from classic 1970s kids' TV show Magpie: "One for sorrow / Two for joy / Three for a girl / Four for a boy / Five for silver / Six for gold / Seven for a secret never to be told / Ma-a-a-aaaag-piiiiiiiiie!". Those too young to remember the tune can revisit Magpie's brilliant 1970s opening sequence, sung by the Spencer Davis Group, here. • Spotted: Marchmont Street, Camden, London, WC1, England, 2011 • Politics: In the Labour constituency of Holborn and St Pancras
"Security Alarm Services" burglar alarm, Hereford • I'm generally not keen on jewel-shaped burglar alarms but this one, no pun intended, is a gem. And what better to sit on a sparkling gem that a thieving magpie, which despite not being identified by name, this bird indubitably is. It's a sensitive piece of design, the attractive drawing perching cleverly atop the logo, a somewhat crime-inappropriate but charmingly foliate 1970s-style swash font. The firm's initials spell SAS, which would seem more suited to an aggressive combat-style design; but this is from wild and woolly rural Herefordshire in the far west of England, where placid cows and perky birdies rule. In honour of its peaceable location, I should add that magpies in folklore are not considered totally bad, being believed in some parts to protect the household and predict the future. On the other hand, in Scottish superstition a magpie near the window foretells death – which makes placing a Magpie burglar alarm there a pretty bad idea. • Spotted: Town centre, Hereford, Herefordshire, HR1, England, 2008 • Politics: In the Conservative constituency of Hereford and South Herefordshire
"Magpie Nottm" burglar alarm, Nottingham • Aha, a villain in flight. For attractive though they are, magpies on burglar alarms can represent only one thing: the thief. Famed for their love of sneaking sparkly objects back to the nest, the striking black-and-white birds have a deep-rooted and rather sinister place in European folklore: as well as villlainry, they're associated with witchcraft, the devil, and dark doings in general. All that and an awkward diagonal logo too! I found this in the same Nottingham crime paranoia spot as the recent Macaw alarm – almost as if the locals make some subliminal Freudian link between birds and security. However I think a more likely reason is that the security firm's boss is a fan of local football club Notts County, known as the Magpies (and whose logo shows two magpies living up to their reputation by apparently nicking a football). • Spotted: Huntingdon Street, Nottingham, Nottinghamshire, NG1, England, 2010 • Politics: In the Labour constituency of Nottingham East
"Bluebird Securities Crayford" burglar alarm, Lewisham • How picturesque: a fine yellow bluebird from Crayford, tangled in a nest of wires on the Ladywell Road. The old-style line drawing is far more characterful than yesterday's slick photographic bluebird, even though it could represent any blue or yellow bird really – a jay say, or a yellowhammer. Yellowhammer – now that would be a good name for an alarm. • Spotted: Ladywell Road, Lewisham, London, SE13, England, 2010 • Politics: In the Labour constituency of Lewisham Deptford
"Bluebird Security Systems" burglar alarm, City of Westminster • Following yesterday's kingfisher, another photorealistic bird. But you won't find a real-life bluebird living wild in the UK, as it's a North American native – an attractive, harmless and beloved creature, regarded sentimentally in the US much as the British view robin redbreast. As such, it's a peculiar choice for a security system; but the charming word Bluebird has been used to title everything from lethal speedboats to school buses to swanky cafes, so it seems fair enough to allow burglar alarms onto that list. • Spotted: Little Portland Street, City of Westminster, London, W1, England, 2010 • Politics: In the Conservative constituency of Cities of London and Westminster