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Florence Cole as a child

Gas lighting in the streets, early to mid 20th century



An old gas street lamp in the early 1900s showing the bar for the lamplighter to lean his ladder

A gas street lamp, a detail from a larger photos from the early 1900s.

Children used the lamp posts as winning posts in outdoor street games.

When I was a child in the early 1900s, the street lights ran on gas and were lit by teams of lampliters.


The light from the street lamps

Gas street lamps gave out a circle of light which didn't spread far. In between the lamp posts was dark.

Peter Johnson

The light from the gas street lamps was greenish, eerie and flickering. Both my father and I on separate occasions thought we saw a woman ghost in our front bedroom, but I didn't want to think of such things and put it down to the eeriness of the flickering shadows.

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How gas street lights worked

Three lighted mantles in an old gas street lamp

Three lighted mantles in a gas street lamp. Photographed in Blists Victorian Town.

The street gas lights worked the same way as the house gas lights in that the flame from the lighted gas heated up a mantle which became incandescent and gave out light.

Street lights gave out more light than house lights because there were more gas jets to a lamp, each with its own mantle. When the mantles needed replacing, which was more often than they were actually replaced, the light flickered so that shadows seemed to move.

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Clockwork timers for gas street lamps

Shortly after the Second World War clockwork timers started being installed in street lamps. Then the light came on automatically every evening and went off automatically every morning - which meant the end of the lamplighter. Nevertheless, every so often a man with a ladder would still visit each lamp to wind up the clockwork mechanism.

Also every so often during the day a man came round with a ladder to service the lamps or to repair the panes of glass that often got broken. Council men would also come round to paint the lamp posts which were made of cast iron.

Peter Johnson

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Street lighting from shop lamps and pub lamps

Shops had their own gas lamps outside in the street, to light their window displays in the evenings and in winter, and to give a welcoming feel. These privately-owned gas lamps also contributed to the general light on the streets.

Gas lamp outside a London shop in the 1940s, a left-over from former times

Gas lamp outside Eustances greengrocers shop in the early 1900s. Photo courtesy of Viv Nunn.

A typical privately-owned gas lamp suspended outside, over a shop window and contributing to the illumination of the streets in the early 1900s.

Privately owned lamp outside a shop. Detail from a photograph in Farnham Museum.

Gas lamp above the display window of an early 1900s drapers/haberdashers

Lamp outside a terraced house used as a draper/haberdashery shop in Leicester in the early 1900s

   

Typical old gas lamp, as hung outside public houses in the UKPrivately owned gas lamps were used outside pubs. This photo shows the lamp that used to be outside the Old Bull pub in Silver Street, Edmonton. It has now been repositioned in a similar position outside the new Bull pub, although it is now electric.

When I asked the landlord why, he said that these lamps were a historical feature of public houses.

Cliff Raven

  

If you can add anything to this page or provide a photo, I would be pleased to hear from you.

Pat Cryer
webmaster

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This website Join me in the 1900s is a contribution to the social history of everyday life in 20th century Britain from the early 1900s to about 1960, seen through personal recollections and illustrations, with the emphasis on what it was like to live in those times. It is Pat Cryer.