Gas street lamps in the past
Street lamps were powered by gas before the mid-20th Century. This page explains and illustrates how they worked using a feature called a gas mantle and describes their light. Council street lamps were on lampposts, but some street lighting also came from gas lamps outside shops, provided by the shops to light their window displays and as a service to customers. The page is brought to life with contributions from people who were alive at the time and lived with gas street lighting.
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 actually were replaced, the light flickered so that shadows seemed to move.
The light from the street lamps
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.
Gas street lamps gave out a circle of light which didn't spread far. In between the lamp posts was dark.
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 would come 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 lampposts which were made of cast iron.