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Remembered Today:

Sir Edward Grey’s lamps


Tony Lund

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A thread this morning mentioning the BBC reminded me of a statement made in their Great War Documentary. They say that Sir Edward Grey was “standing at a window overlooking Saint James’s Park, watching lamplighters in the summer dusk” and then he made his famous statement about the lights going out all over Europe.

My problem with this is that although tiny little Holmfirth did not get electricity until 1916, the nearest nearby town of Huddersfield had electric light from 1891, a full 25 years earlier.

So why were there still lamplighters at work in central London in August 1914?

Poetic licence by the BBC perhaps? Or some practical reason why the capital of the British Empire could not manage electric street lights?

Tony.

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A thread this morning mentioning the BBC reminded me of a statement made in their Great War Documentary. They say that Sir Edward Grey was “standing at a window overlooking Saint James’s Park, watching lamplighters in the summer dusk” and then he made his famous statement about the lights going out all over Europe.

My problem with this is that although tiny little Holmfirth did not get electricity until 1916, the nearest nearby town of Huddersfield had electric light from 1891, a full 25 years earlier.

So why were there still lamplighters at work in central London in August 1914?

Poetic licence by the BBC perhaps? Or some practical reason why the capital of the British Empire could not manage electric street lights?

Tony.

Well, the small village of Rosport here in Luxembourg had electric light nearly a decade before Queen Victoria got to see it.

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There was a combination of lighting methods used (gas and electric), both street & for housing. Not only that but there were a variety of streets, particularly in London. As with everything it cost to change from one to the other, so some of the major streets of Metroplitan London were lit electrically, but not all at once. Holborn Viaduct was first lit up in 1882.

http://books.google.co.uk/books?id=g07Q9M4...result#PPA56,M1

He was looking over St James' Park, and there would be less incentive to light the Park than the streets.

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I was walking past St James's Park recently, and I noticed that the lamps lining the street on the edge of the park, from Buckingham Palace to Parliament Square, seemed to still be gas. (2008)

Angela

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Here in Woking electric street lighting was first installed in 1895, but proved so unreliable that five years later the town returned to using gas until c.1931. I have also seen references to oil powered street lamp in some more out of the way areas, and would imagine that oil and candle lighting would still have been the norm in most domestic situations with electricity only being used by the more well-to-do. It should be remembered that the electricity would have been generated locally by private companies and that the National Grid that we're so familiar with today just didn't exist. Incidentally, My Gran's rented house was one of the last in this area to use gas with electricity only being installed in the early 1960's (Landlords could still get away with such things even as late as that!)

Another thought has just occured: could early electric street lamps have been turned on and off individually each day at dawn and dusk in the same way as gas lamps? It might be wrong to assume that whole streets and areas were turned on and off on mass from a dedicated street lighting supply, with the possibilty that individual lamps might have been taking power from a supply that was also feeding domestic properties.

NigelS

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Gas lighting is still used on lighting round Buckingham Palace.

John

post-1365-1223669381.jpg

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The majority of street lighting was gas until well after WW2 in cities and much later in smaller towns. The first thing to go was lamplighters. They were replaced by clockwork ignition systems which ran for seven days.

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The first thing to go was lamplighters. They were replaced by clockwork ignition systems which ran for seven days.

Presumeably, as somebody had to wind them, some lamplighters became clockwinders, but only on a part time basis: 1 day on 6 days off :lol: ! When did electrically driven time switches become readily available? I would imagine that there would also have been clockwork driven versions before that.

NigelS

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Gas lamps were still giving out their warm glow down my street in the 1950s.

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My earliest memories are of my uncle's farm house in County Sligo where my mother and I had moved just after WW2 (as my father's firm had sent him to Portugal as part of that countries electrifcation scheme). We had oil lamps and candles - no electricity or gas. When we later moved to Lancashire I thought that the electric light was miraculous as was hot running water and the wireless. - I guess that to some extent I still do. Cars too - we used a jaunting cart to travel from the farm although my uncle had a motor bike. It was years before I found "The Irish RM" funny - to me that was just how things were.

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It is looking as if gas lamps in central London in 1914 is not quite as unusual as I thought.

I have a story here from 1915 about a tiny village starting its own hydro electric company:

In the little village of Holme, with about one hundred houses and four hundred people, and one of the smallest urban district councils in the country, the problems caused by being too far away from the Holmfirth Gas Company to gain access to their mains was solved in a unique way. Tired of oil lamps and unable to get gas the people of Holme held a series of meeting and decided on a novel approach to the power problem. After inspecting the gas works at Kirkheaton it was decided that it would make more sense for them to use water to provide energy, at least that was a commodity they normally had plenty of. They formed a local electricity company with Charlie Tinker acting as the chairman and John Alderson as the secretary. It was financed by offering eight hundred one pound shares, but was immediately oversubscribed with applications for one thousand one hundred and ten shares. In order to allow as many local people as possible to own a stake in the company, subscribers were limited to a maximum of fifteen pounds worth of shares each.

It was decided that the method of production should be by hydro eclectic generators, and the old Rake Mill (an old water mill believed to be around one hundred years old) was acquired together with its water rights. Working over the Easter period the young men volunteered to dig out the accumulated sludge from the two dams and the long goit under the waterwheel. They also demolished part of the mill to facilitate the conversion to a turbine house; one man who could not work paid for the cement instead. These same more or less eager volunteers dug post holes through the rocky ground alongside the road and erected wooden lampposts. The rule throughout the work was to do as much as possible themselves and save their limited funds for specialised equipment and labour.

The control room was equipped with an automatic timer for the streetlights and a backup nine horsepower paraffin generator was also kept, along with a storage battery capable of holding a two days’ supply of power. It was decided to light the main road from the old Peacock Inn to the Holmfirth boundary at Holme Banks, and the road from Holme to Digley Mills. For a domestic household supply, it was agreed that a charge of one pound ten shilling a year should be made for three lights, with a charge of four shillings a year for each extra light.

The oldest shareholder, eighty-eight year old Mrs. Mary Howard, was invited to make the formal opening by turning a gold key in the turbine house lock. “I am very pleased to open it” she declared in load and clear tones. The key was donated by Mrs. Hirst Green and was presented to Mary after she had opened the building. It bore the inscription: “This key is presented to Mary Howard, on the opening of the electric power station, Holme, Nov. 15th 1915”. Mary also started the engine after first christening it “Mary o’ t’ Mount”, the name by which she was commonly known herself. She was assisted by Mr. Charlie Tinker who was also the Chairman of the Holme Urban District Council. The lights were turned on, and the speeches began.

Charlie Tinker said that if they had had gas they would never have bothered with electricity, which gave them light but they could not cook with it. But he was sure they had made the right decision in choosing electricity and having it generated by the water in the stream, rather than allowing it to run idly by them. It would cost them nothing to run, and as long has they had water they could make light. He added that they had one hundred shareholders and five hundred lights, and they could expand later if required. About fifty of the assembled party then went on to a dinner at the Fleece Inn where Mr. Joe Hadfield, the Clerk to the Council, said that the whole scheme was a marvellous undertaking for a little village, and the restriction to fifteen pounds as the largest share possible had made it almost a village co-operative.

Tony.

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Electric light came to private homes well before it was used for municipal lighting.

Some not all. I recall hearing about a village being connected to mains electricity in the last few years and a Scottish island in the last year or so.

Sir Humphry Davy invented carbon arc lamps, Sir Joseph Wilson Swan demonstrated and patented his light bulb and Thomas Edison patented his in 1879.

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Edison violated some of Swan's patents and had to come to an accomodation as a result.

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Presumeably, as somebody had to wind them, some lamplighters became clockwinders, but only on a part time basis: 1 day on 6 days off :lol: ! When did electrically driven time switches become readily available? I would imagine that there would also have been clockwork driven versions before that.

NigelS

Some of the lamplighters were retained. It was a full time job going round winding up the clocks and replacing mantles. Cost would be the main factor. I believe they stayed with clockwork until the lights themselves were replaced.

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Edison violated some of Swan's patents and had to come to an accomodation as a result.

Which frequently happened where he was concerned.

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