Gas lighting in the streets, early to mid 20th century
When I was a child in the early 1900s, the streets were lit by gaslight.
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.
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.
How gas street lights worked
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.
How the gas street lamps were lit - the lamplighter
Every evening the lamplighter used to come along on his bicycle to light the street lamps, carrying his ladder on his shoulder. It was a wooden ladder which must have been very heavy, unlike the aluminium ones of later years. I often wonder now how long it took him to do his rounds and how large his rounds were.
There were bars near the tops of the street lights for the lamplighter to lean his ladder against.
The lamplighter's ladder
My memory from the 1940s is that the lamplighter carried his ladder on his shoulder as he walked between the street lamps. The ladder was wooden and tapered to a point at the top, probably better to fit against the bars of the lamppost and to cut down weight.
How the lamplighter lit the lamps
The lamplighter that I remember from the 1940s climbed up his ladder, opened the glass hinged door on the lamp and pulled on what I think was a chain that cantilevered the gas supply feed to inside the mantle. Then he either lit a spill with a match or had some other kind of system to create the flame. Quite how he managed in the pouring rain I really don't know!
I never saw him come round in the mornings to turn off the gas, but suppose that he must have done.
The last years of gas street lamps
Even as late as World War Two and for a period afterwards I remember street lights running on gas. Every evening just before it got dark a man on a bicycle came to turn on the lamps. He arrived with one hand holding a wooden pole over his shoulder the other hand steering the bicycle. He would stop at each lamp post and reach up with his pole to turn on the gas. He would insert the pole into the vent at the bottom of the glass case and push a lever into the 'on' position. (Some lamps had a chain instead of a lever.) Then the pilot light lit the gas making the mantle glow.
Just after the war clockwork timers started being installed. Then the light came on automatically every evening and went off automatically every morning. Every so often a man with a ladder would 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.
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.