Gas Lamps

BY ROGER LARKE

So, who can remember gas lamps in your home or street?  Not so many of you, I guess.

I was born in Norfolk and the house I lived in had no electricity, but it did have gas lamps. It also had gas points for the copper (water heater) and the cooker. The downstairs lamps were always lit regularly during the winter months, but the upstairs lamps were never lit unless someone was poorly.

One day when I was small, I swung a cricket bat over my head in the living room and accidentally smashed the glass shade and the gas mantle in one stroke! It was the only time I was on the receiving end of corporal punishment from my father!

I don’t remember gas street lamps in my hometown, but they must have been there!  I clearly remember gas lamps at the railway station in the early 60’s. The porter lighting a dozen or so lamps on his nightly round. I also remember the conversion process from town gas to north sea gas.

Gas lamps in the village of Sudbury

View of the Vernon arms pub archway with two gas lamps either side and the Vernon arms sign in the centre

By 1910 Sudbury had 10 gas streetlights. Some of these are still in situ like the magnificent pair on the Vernon Arms (Copyright: SGRT).

In Sudbury, we are fortunate in that gas pipework and light fittings can also be seen around the village. You can see them in Sudbury Hall court yard and in the church and on the entrance gate. If you are lucky enough you may also get to see them within Sudbury halls attic and basement.

There is no record of who lit and extinguished them, but it was likely to have been an estate worker.

The lighting of the lamp

This photograph shows a Glasgow lamplighter who used a lighted wick on the end of a long pole (Copyright: The Glasgow Chronicles). The lamplighter returned at dawn to extinguish the lamp.

Sometimes they carried a ladder and a short pole. As gas lamps evolved a clockwork mechanism was developed to automatically turn the gas lamp on and off.

Gas lamps in Sudbury Hall

Sudbury Hall had interior gas lighting in the basement and attic but there is no evidence of gas lighting in any of the main rooms. Many buildings in the village had interior gas lighting and this is still evident in the old butcher’s shop, the bakery, and school. The Meynell Hunt Kennels, some 2 miles away, also had a gas supply.

Todays working gas lamps

Working gas street lamps still exist today e.g., City of Westminster in London, Great Malvern, Nottingham, and the Mid-Hants heritage railway. 

I had lunch in The Globe pub in Leicester recently and was pleasantly surprised to see interior gas lamps in their original locations, alas not lit.

So, keep your eyes open, there’s more out there than you would think!

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