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Someone may have turned the thermostat down to a low temperature so the heater reaches this temperature very quickly, i.e. thermal cut out is ok, but thermostat is set too low.
BTW I just happen to know that the temperature 1cm above the barrel of a 25 Watt soldering iron (held horizontally) is ~100 o C
I could try the thermometer idea. though, thanks. When I can get down to dear old Maplin. . . .
...bimetal thermal safety switch. This has started misbehaving and cutting out a very few seconds after the heater. is switched on. Its cutout temperature has clearly changed for some reason. There is the same free flow of air around it as always - no blockage.