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Old 3rd Mar 2021, 8:57 pm   #1
gramophone1
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Default When were switches first used on mains sockets?

Could someone please tell me when on/off switches were added to uk plug sockets ?

Apologies to the moderators if I have posted this in the wrong place.

Thanks in advance for any replies . . . .
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Old 3rd Mar 2021, 9:47 pm   #2
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Default Re: When switches were used on sockets.

Switches were required for power sockets connected to DC mains, and were often used on AC though not actually required.
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Old 3rd Mar 2021, 10:42 pm   #3
kellymarie
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Default Re: When were switches first used on mains sockets.

Switched sockets were around in the 1930s so at least 80 odd years ago. Most countries still don't bother with them it's always countries with a heavy British influence like India, Australia, New Zealand and a few places in Arabia that do.
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Old 3rd Mar 2021, 11:14 pm   #4
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Default Re: When were switches first used on mains sockets.

Thank you for the reply. Yeah, I notice in the USA they don't have switches on their sockets. I thought it was unique to the UK. It's interesting switches were fitted as long ago as the 1930s, it seems the electrical engineers then were ahead of their time. They really thought all this through. I assumed it evolved over time. The plugs and sockets I bet were a better build quality than today's offerings.
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Old 3rd Mar 2021, 11:38 pm   #5
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Default Re: When were switches first used on mains sockets.

Switches have never actually been required even for DC supplies. When the BS1363 13 amp sockets were first introduced in the late 40s they did not have switches. Switches were added a few years later.
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Old 4th Mar 2021, 12:02 am   #6
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Default Re: When were switches first used on mains sockets.

Integral switches were provided in some of the GEC mains sockets shown in their 1893 catalogue, operated by twisting the plug. I did post a scan in a forum thread a few years ago. Currently using my phone and the scans are on my old non-internet-connectable laptop. I'll see if I can dig them out tomorrow. They can't have been a commercial success, as none are listed in the 1911 GEC catalogue.

Last edited by emeritus; 4th Mar 2021 at 12:07 am. Reason: Typos
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Old 4th Mar 2021, 12:34 am   #7
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Default Re: When were switches first used on mains sockets.

The scans are in Post#53 of this closed thread:

https://www.vintage-radio.net/forum/...t=71262&page=3
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Old 4th Mar 2021, 10:04 am   #8
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Smile Re: When were switches first used on mains sockets.

Hi,
I have a few olde worlde switch sockets from way back when that have a mechanical interlock between the switch and the earth pin. This was because the socket had no shutters and posed a shock risk.
One of them was made by 'Crabtree' and would only accept their own plugs which had a hollow earth pin with a groove around the base.
Cheers, Pete.
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Old 4th Mar 2021, 10:49 am   #9
Peter.N.
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Default Re: When were switches first used on mains sockets?

Our home had unswitched sockets when I was a kid, it also had a 2 pin 10 amp socket in my bedroom. The house was built in 1937 in Petts Wood to the south east of London and had an underground mains supply and also phone lines - although we didn't have one until the '50s.

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Old 4th Mar 2021, 11:02 am   #10
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Default Re: When were switches first used on mains sockets?

There is an IET research facility which might be able to give a definitive time scale. From the multitude of domestic & business premises I'd visited during my stint as an electrical inspector with Scottish Hydro-Electric, I'd guess roughly it was when mains wiring started to change from individual "radials" to "ring-mains". Say mid 50's onwards. Chronologically, such changes would follow the Editions of the IEE(now IET) "Wiring Regulations" as they changed over the post-war decades.
I did have a wee collection of weird & wonderful(& jolly unsafe by modern standards) of ancient bakelite mains plugs & sockets plus some ancient Wylex cast iron switchgear, but suspect it was skipped when my old office was demolished after I retired.

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Old 4th Mar 2021, 11:15 am   #11
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Default Re: When were switches first used on mains sockets?

Plenty in a 1930's catalogue.

https://www.vintage-radio.net/forum/...pictureid=2236
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Old 4th Mar 2021, 11:45 am   #12
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Default Re: When were switches first used on mains sockets?

I have a few sockets going back to the 1930s some have switches some donít.
One of the reasons at the time was the cost . A Un switched socket was a fair bit cheaper than one switched. That changed as more people used switched sockets the price came down. Round my area lots council houses had Unswitched sockets up to the mid 60s . Purely down to cost.. I think these days there is practically no difference in cost.
Un switched sockets were also more likely upstairs as it was considered more safe than the ground floor. Andy
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Old 4th Mar 2021, 12:33 pm   #13
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Default Re: When were switches first used on mains sockets?

Thanks guys for all the replies. I have seen pictures of the brown bakelite two pin plugs. The pins weren't shrouded, they must have been dangerous. Catch your fingers on the round pins as your pull the plug out, and I bet you got a nasty shock. I would be surprised if it didn't happen often.
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Old 4th Mar 2021, 2:37 pm   #14
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Default Re: When were switches first used on mains sockets?

Unswitched 13A sockets were quite normal: when my parents had their house built in 1957 all the 13A sockets fitted [GEC] were unswitched; there was also an unswitched metal-clad 15A round-pin 'Clang' socket with a screw-on cover that dangled on a little chain on the outside wall, for powering garden-equipment, running a vacuum-cleaner outside to clean the car etc and an unswitched 15A socket in the kitchen for the washing-machine. The 15A socket built-into the cooker-control _did_ have a switch - and a natty red neon to show when the switch was on!

Unswitched, unshrouded, unshuttered sockets seem perfectly OK to most of the rest-of-the-world; personally I condider UK domestic-electrics to be rather profligately over-engineered!
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Old 4th Mar 2021, 4:41 pm   #15
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Default Re: When were switches first used on mains sockets?

'Fraid I've taken the complete opposite point of view regarding electrical safety & modern circuitry & switchgear. My electrical inspector duties involved visiting domestic & commercial premises after electrical faults had caused serious fires. Thankfully, no fatalities, but Jesus what a smell. Plus dealing with house-holders without a roof(literally) over their heads !
If in doubt - don't fanny about with electrical safety. Any worries - find an NICEIC registered Electrician, or similar - recommended by your local council's technical services department.
In the 21st century, there is no excuse for older Forum hands not encouraging younger entrants into the fraternity to kit out their shacks/workshops/garages/wherever to the latest IET Regulations standard.
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Old 5th Mar 2021, 3:00 pm   #16
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Default Re: When were switches first used on mains sockets?

My house was built post-war in the early 1950s. Brown GEC bakelite 13 amp (BS1363) unswitched sockets were fitted. Only twelve of them, all singles (three bed semi)

It was rewired in 1980, and, again, unswitched sockets were installed - MK ones this time, though. Surface-mounted, in their plastic pattress boxes, which looked horrible! Some twin-gang, but only eighteen, on ONE! single ring-final circuit (including the immersion heater!) for the whole house.

Rewired again in 2019, with mainly twin-gang, flush-mounted, switched Volex sockets, some unswitched sockets under worktops for kitchen white goods, controlled by FCUs above the worktops. A total of forty-five sockets. Three separate ring-final circuits now - Upstairs, Downstairs and Kitchen. And it's surprising how many of them have got something plugged in to them!

There's only me in the house! I don't know how I managed with only eighteen for thirty-odd years. I had a lot of four-way trailing socket boards, I suppose!

Also a metal Wylex consumer unit, fully stocked with RCBOs. I didn't fancy a split-board set-up. I really like RCBOs.
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Old 5th Mar 2021, 10:38 pm   #17
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Default Re: When were switches first used on mains sockets?

My parents house built around 1973 mostly had unswitched sockets, mostly Volex, with at least 1 Ashley & MK added later on.

Over the years these were changed for brass fronted sockets with switches in the lounge, and white plastic ones elsewhere.
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Old 6th Mar 2021, 6:27 pm   #18
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Default Re: When were switches first used on mains sockets?

Quote:
Originally Posted by gramophone1 View Post
Thanks guys for all the replies. I have seen pictures of the brown bakelite two pin plugs. The pins weren't shrouded, they must have been dangerous. Catch your fingers on the round pins as your pull the plug out, and I bet you got a nasty shock. I would be surprised if it didn't happen often.
Yes, many (pre-WW2 built?) Schools in the West Midlands seemed to use 2 pin sockets on a panel with plugs on slider-Rheostat dimmers to patch into the stage lighting in the main hall. The sockets didn't have built-in switches, although there were switches elsewhere on the board.
And I recall getting a bit of a shock whilst hot-swapping (as it got rather warm running the 500W Flood light, as they were probably only intended for not much more than 100W) one back in the 80's, whilst assisting with lighting on a production.

Although BS1363 3pin plugs didn't have partially-sleeved L&N pins back then, I never managed to touch a pin whilst plugging one in - probably because they have much more of the plug's body at the side, unless you use the non-UK narrower triangular unfused ones that you sometimes find, but were designed for use in other countries that moved onto using the same rectangular-pin plugs.
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Old 6th Mar 2021, 6:44 pm   #19
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Default Re: When were switches first used on mains sockets?

Quote:
Originally Posted by Lancs Lad View Post
My house was built post-war in the early 1950s. Brown GEC bakelite 13 amp (BS1363) unswitched sockets were fitted. Only twelve of them, all singles (three bed semi)
>>
>>
12 sockets - That was a luxury!
My parent's similar type / period house, only originally had 5. And most were for running wall-mounted heaters (& 2 inch gaps between the bars of the 'guard'!) - as no central heating.
The smallest bedroom had none and kitchen only had one on the cooker circuit. The wiring was all diagonal point-to-point, to minimise on cable. And cooker / immersion heater had 2-core twin cable with extra bare-metal earth wire. But the bakelite sockets did all have switches.
So there were loads of spurs tacked-on over the years, before I set about re-wiring it all back on proper ring-circuits after starting on upstairs lighting to remove the diagonal wires remove the joists to allow boarding of the loft.

Whereas my first late-1960's house had a few non-switched sockets (including one you plugged the Immersion heater into, as alternative to gas fire back-boiler).
I think some house also used ones for plugging storage heaters into a dedicated Economy-7 timer-controlled circuit.
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Old 6th Mar 2021, 7:11 pm   #20
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Default Re: When were switches first used on mains sockets?

Hi, my parents house, a terraced cottage built in the 1840's was wired under the "hired wiring" scheme in the 30's when supplies were rolled out to the residential districts.
2, L&N fused fuse switches were fitted, one for the lighting circuits (5A) and one (15A) for the single 3 pin 5A socket in the living room.
This was an interesting socket for the period as it was a safety device. The switch could not be turned on until the plug was inserted and the plug coyuld not be withdrawn until the switch was off
A high level of safety fore an early system

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