200 Years of Gas Supply 1792-1992

This publication was produced by British Gas Scotland for British Gas plc in 1992 as part of the celebration of the 200th anniversary although it has to be said that there are several ‘start dates’ for the industry! However, as there is a great connection with Scotland, I am sure those who would like to learn a bit more about the earliest industry withWilliam Murdoch will find this publication of interest. You will see several illustrations from the William Sugg archive. The rear inside page carries a list of contributors and those involved – with thanks.
This “flipbook” offers several options for viewing including full screen, sharing and you can even print your own copy! Enjoy

Royal Wedding – Spot the William Sugg lamps at Windsor!

Nearly everyone watched the wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle on that beautiful sunny Saturday 19th May 2018, but how many of you spotted those wonderful original William Sugg lamps that you can also see in the section on Special Street Lamps for Royal Premises. These pictures were just snatched off the television and the only difference you can see is that they have been converted to electricity! Ah well, Windsor Castle is 1000 years old and must have seen many technological changes over the years but it is still standing and I see no reason why some of William Sugg’s products should not continue to add that special touch of tradition for many years to come.

Whilst Queen Victoria looked on!

The Development of Gas Lighting Burners – originally written for the Historic Gas Times in 2017

I thought it might be interesting for HGT readers to learn a little more about the various types of gas lighting burner with some reference to those commented on by Fred Starr in Issue 89 of December 2016, following the article by Reg Brown in Issue 88 of September 2016’s HGT.
(See note at the end for information on the Historic Gas Times ‘HGT’)


The first gas lighting burners were not much more than pieces of pipe with a hole or series of drilled holes. Indeed, the first demonstration of gas lighting was set up in London in 1807 by F.A.Winsor to use the gas produced in his retort in Pall Mall. The pipework was made and laid by Thomas Sugg and the burners utilised pieces of tube with a series of holes formed into shapes such as a crown. I imagine this was not unlike the one you can see in the picture below, taken in a store room in the Black Country Living Museum (BCLM) – along with our current Gas History Panel Chairman, John Horne on the right!

Naturally the size and visibility of the flame was dependent upon the quality of the gas and the pressure of the supply. Doubtless the very early gas was pretty unsavoury with little of what were to become known as the by-products actually removed. Indeed the smell had been a major irritant during the earlier demonstrations that Winsor had held in the Lyceum Theatre.

The illustrations above show many types of early jet, several of which carry very descriptive names such as rat-tail, batswing or cockspur as people attempted to achieve better performance. It became clear that flattening a flame by squashing the hole produced a flame that was more or less one-dimensional providing most of its light sideways from the flat side of the flame. As a fascinating clue to the age of some of these jets, one road that runs on from where the first demonstration mentioned earlier took place has the name Cockspur Street!

One of the significant problems of early metal ‘jets’ was corrosion, which could enlarge the size of the hole and increase the consumption. Lamps were very quickly known by the number of jets – or lights, (shortened to lt.) – and initially payment was related simply to the number of lights in use as opposed to the amount of gas consumed, which of course would require a gas meter.

Measuring the flow of gas was achieved in at least one of the earliest designs by passing the gas through a chamber carrying a ‘paddle’ half submerged in water so that the top of the paddle was pushed round by the gas flow and the paddle shaft drove a dial or series of dials to register the gas consumption that was measured in cubic feet related to the volume of the space between the paddles. For the majority of the life of gas metering, until relatively recent times, many gas meters continued to be known by the number of lights they could supply which was stamped on the side of the meter! The meters increased in size as larger flows had to be measured.

As time went on there were experiments in the use of different materials to use for the jets and William Sugg advertised the following around the middle of the 19th century:


Steatite, mentioned in the page on the left (click to enlarge) taken from one of William Sugg’s booklets, is a naturally occurring mineral that was mined in India and sent rather like coal to Sugg’s Westminster works where it was machined on small machines:

The right hand photo shows steps in the machining of steatite from a rectangular block which itself was cut out of mined pieces.

The next feature to mention is controlling the gas to achieve the best illumination. William Sugg made a huge study of the waste of gas caused by poor burners. The quote from the Gas Referees report of 1871, printed around the fabulous matching pictures from the Sugg advert below, states that “The burners chiefly in use gave only one half the illuminating power of the gas and several tested by the gas referees gave one quarter the light of the gas.” Note, – Similar burners are still very largely used 1886 (The date of the advert).


So, the majority of burners in use in 1886 only gave half the illumination possible. In this case William Sugg is promoting his Christiania burners. These burners are quoted as being “The perfection of Flat Flame Burners” and have both steatite jets and float governors. This latter device as its name suggests ‘floats’ (normally upwards) progressively closing the outlet. As the supply pressure varies so the float moves up and down providing a ‘smoothing’ to the flow and steadying the resulting flame.

This is a street lamp burner, normally used vertically of course. It must have been easier to advertise this way!
You can see the float section on the left. The jet section on the right screws onto the float governor.

Whilst smoothing the flow improves the steadiness of the flame and doubtless the consumption, it is not until you control the pressure of the gas at the jet precisely and relate the pressure to the size of that jet can you guarantee to obtain a precise figure for consumption. With town gas manufactured from coal the pressure was initially achieved simply by the weight of the gasholder. The relatively small size of the mains and more local pipework meant that pressure could vary considerably. You only have to consider what happens at lighting up time when one lamp was lit after another and perhaps a new road had ‘come on stream’ – in modern parlance. The pressure on the lamps at the end of the line might be half that of the lamps nearest to the gasholder!

To solve this problem the gas governor was developed that uses a diaphragm to progressively adjust a valve against a set weight or a known spring pressure that modifies the movement of the diaphragm to provide a known outlet pressure. This then allows you to have a fixed jet, which will pass a known amount of gas to produce the perfect unwavering flame.

Whilst he spent a great deal of time on the open flame burner, William Sugg also developed the ‘Argand’ burner, well known in the world of oil burners and developed by M.Aime Argand. In place of a circular wick, the Sugg Argand has a circular, hollow, band shaped ring with a series of holes around the top edge producing a circular flame. Exactly as in the oil burner, air is entrained up the centre of the flame and, using a glass cylinder around the outside, air is also drawn up the outside of the flame. The result being a large perfectly aerated flame several inches long within the glass tube.


T he London Argand burner on the left of the group was the burner that the Gas Referees adopted in 1869 as the Standard Test Burner for the Metropolis and for which they stated “This burner of Mr Sugg’s excels all others.” The Argand photo on the right is a larger double ring burner version. (Photo M.Ara Kebapcioglu.)

For a long time William promoted the Argand burner over the flat flame burner, both of which were being produced at the same time. As competition increased it may have been that the clearly more expensive Argand was losing out and he switched loyalty.

The flat flame burners using steatite jets and float governors grew progressively larger as the demand for more light grew inexorably. The following photos show just how large these burners could be.


As you can see with the left hand burner there are 9 jets with a central pilot supply and on the right hand burner there would appear to be 8 jets on the larger circumference 4 on the inner set and a single jet in the centre along with a separate pilot which is aimed at the outer group. The central tap of three feeds the outer group, the further tap supplies the central group and the nearest tap, the central jet. A 4th tap controls the pilot taken off before all the others. This arrangement clearly would allow the lantern to be run at several rates from 13 to 12 to 5 to 4 to 1. I guess 12, 4 & 1 are the most likely with the single jet provided as an ‘overnight’ light where traffic is minimal. It may even be that the central single jet could be larger than the others for that purpose and not used when the other groups are in use.

These burners explain the need for progressively larger lanterns and they really did get large! The surprising thing is that, despite the century and a quarter since these huge lamps were made redundant by the invention of the gas mantle, a few still survive. The Westminster lantern shown in the picture below with yours truly many years ago was found in Happy Valley, Llandudno and was returned there after refurbishment.

Interestingly, despite the invention of the mantle this did not immediately remove these magnificent lanterns from the street. The 1904 catalogue shows these lanterns with upright mantles and the 1915 list shows them with inverted mantles. The change of burner made a huge difference to the running cost and thus many users and local authorities would have been persuaded to make an economical change to the burner rather than to the whole lamp. In addition, the scale of the large posts on which these lamps were fitted meant that a smaller lamp would tend to look like a pimple on top! By this later date the shadowless lamps such as the Rochester and Littleton were developing and in due course the discovery of the superheater, used in conjunction with a group of smaller mantles, led to huge improvements in economical performance and the use of taller posts at which time the older bulkier posts could be scrapped.

The famous Windsor lamp, introduced in 1898 as I believe the first lamp specifically designed for use with the gas mantle burner, became particularly popular because, although the huge lamps were widely used in large cities, still the majority of town and village lighting did not warrant the gas usage and cost of the city lanterns. Here the lamps would have been similar in size firstly to the previous generation of oil lamps and then the earlier gas lamps with a single or double open flame. Thus, a lamp that made the big step into the improved performance of both economy and light output and could be easily substituted for the existing lamp had to be a sales winner. The 1906 catalogue proclaimed “Over 50,000 of our ‘Windsor’ Lamps are now in use”.


The Windsor shown on the front cover of the 1906 catalogue is shown with an upright mantle whereas the section drawing on the right shows a much later version with inverted mantle and a mirror reflector to improve directional performance.

The relatively slow adoption of changes is a fact of life. Sometimes it is because of the slow development of the change, incrementally improving along with high production costs for small volumes and sometimes it is a matter of perception and promotion that slows the acceptance. There will always be an overlap of designs with products and items that have a long service life. The shorter the life, the quicker the change.

When you work like we did at Sugg Lighting to cover nearly the whole gamut of the 200 years or so of gas lighting, you get a feeling for the development of this earliest aspect of what is known as the Utilisation side of the gas industry. Although of course at Sugg Lighting we were not the original William Sugg Company because it had been taken over by Thorn in 1969, we had the advantage of a generation of staff who had worked in Westminster and the archive of literature and historical documents to provide a link with the past and, incidentally, provide the details for this ever growing website www.williamsugghistory.co.uk

The two lamps in Charlotte Street that were mentioned by Fred Starr are rare examples of private street lamps owned by the Charlotte Street Hotel immediately behind. We were asked to provide a suitable remotely controlled open flame burner as a point of interest for the premises. The burner we made at the time has three open flames, a permanent pilot and an electric solenoid to be switched from inside the premises and as you can see in the picture below make an eye-catching statement in front of the building.

As there were no street lamp open flame burners we had previously looked at the past illustrations and at the available ceramic tipped jets. A lot of work had been done on jets at the time of conversion and we had developed a burner that could pass for an open flame by admitting a tiny amount of air to premix before the jet. Just enough to provide some retention and a little colour.


The left hand picture taken by Fred Starr in Charlotte Street shows the 4 lt burner alight. The right hand picture is a close-up of a 2 lt burner in the factory in which you can see the pilot and flame safety device with electric solenoid operator. The burners are formed inwards like the original ones to ensure cross lighting.

As with all gas lamps, maintenance was an issue that you ignored at your peril! The heat from a burner escaping through the chimney arrangement drew equal amounts of air in through whatever route had been designed to achieve this. In the early days the air in the cities could be hugely polluted with smoke from the burning of coal and the inside of a lamp would require cleaning frequently whilst the external surfaces could be dirtied by polluted rain. Open flame burners that were not burning cleanly would add to the dirt.

It is a fact that the vast majority of the population today has no knowledge of gas street lighting. Some may have come across bottled gas camping lights but would always assume street lighting to be electric. However, London still has some 1500 gas lamps, many of which are maintained continuously by a small group of lamp maintenance engineers uniquely employed within British Gas who are great enthusiasts for this world of the past. Several Royal Parks have been gaslit since Victorian times and many now have burners with solar charged timers, photocells and ignition made by Sugg Lighting. These are all inverted mantle burners that are maintained regularly and should burn cleanly with a bright white, incandescent flame. Buckingham Palace retains the gas lamps made by William Sugg & Co in 1910. The Houses of Parliament have original William Sugg 8 panel globes in New Palace Yard below Big Ben and one-piece ‘Barry’ globes along the front of the House of Lords at the opposite end, that were designed by Sugg Lighting at the end of the 20th century to match the appearance of the lamps shown on the original Barry ‘Pugin Gothic’ design drawings. (Some matching lamps on the other side of the road are electric versions.)

riginal William Sugg 8 Panel Globe near “Big Ben’ and the Barry, Pugin Gothic Design Globe from Sugg Lighting outside The Lords.

A final comment on the mantle and incandescence. Whilst Bunsen had invented the device that carries his name to produce a high temperature, it was a chance discovery by Welsbach using a bunsen burner that heated some spilt chemical that incandesced. Thousands of experiments with dozens of chemicals including the rare earths, produced a chemical mix which provided 100 years of high lighting performance better, many say, than the modern chemical alternatives.

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The first experiment of the public use of gas lights in 1807.

This is a transcript of the account of the first experiment of the public use of gas lighting for which William Sugg stated his grandfather Thomas Sugg had “made the first gas pipes and fitted Carlton House”. It also explains in the second paragraph the difference in the date of 21st January 1807 stated by William and the ‘official’ ‘first public exhibition’ date of 4th June 1807 to coincide with the birthday of His Majesty George III. It details the pipe sizes and lengths and describes the burners and lights and ‘transparencies’ including the ‘ode’ to the King! The account is written as a letter to be published in the Monthly Magazine.

On Thursday evening the 4th of June 1807, the first public exhibition of Mr Winsor’s Gas Lights took place in honour of his Majesty’s birth day, in the lighting of a great length of lamps, similar to the side of a street, at a considerable distance from the carbonizing furnace. This experiment was made on the wall which separates the Mall in St James’s Park from Carlton House Gardens.

The works had been for some time in preparation, and private trials had previously been made, to prove the air-tightness of the tubes of communication: which were of tinned iron, with soldered joints, except at certain distances where they are otherwise cemented together for the convenience of removal. The diameter of the long pipe is 1.1/2”; it commences in the two close carbonizing iron furnaces in Mr Winsor’s house in Pall Mall, one capable of containing and cokeing four pecks, and the other two pecks of common pit or sea coal; and by means of stop cocks, one or both of these furnaces can be made to send its gas into the pipes above mentioned; which first proceed south, about ten yards underground, until they enter the Prince of Wale’s Gardens belonging to Carlton house.

From hence the pipe proceeds W. for about one hundred and forty yards, rising gradually against the garden wall, to which it is affixed, until it arrives at the NW. corners of the garden; whence it is conducted one hundred and fifty-three yards S., on the top of the wall which separates the Prince’s from Marlborough-house Garden, to the door at the SW. corner of Carlton Gardens. Here the first light or illumination was produced by a thin and broad stream of gas from a small tube or branch from the pipe; which gave a very brilliant light in the open air without a glass cover.

From this point the communicating pipe proceeded along the top of the wall for two hundred and fifty yards in an east direction, to the private door in the wall opening into the Mall, having on it thirty-two tubes or burners, inclosed in glasses of different shapes and constructions, and some naked burners without glass covers. On one of the piers of this private door a four branch gas burner with reflectors, in imitation of the Prince’s feathers had a very pleasing and appropriate effect. From this private door, the tube proceeded fifty yards further, withinside of the wall, to the back gates of Carlton Gardens, and there terminated in a grand transparency erected over the gate-way, consisting on one side of a number of cut-glass stars and other devices, with gas-lights behind each, besetting the crown and letters G.R. The transparency after a while was turned round and exhibited on the other side in illuminated letters, the following ode:

Sing praise to that power celestial,
Whom wisdom and goodness adorn!
On this Day – in regions terrestrial,
Great George, our lov’d Sov’reign was born.
Rejoice,- rejoice, ‘tis George’s natal day.

Oh, hail this glad Day so propitious,
When George our dread Monarch appear’d,
Remembrance to Briton’s delicious,
Of a King, as a parent rever’d.
Rejoice, &c.

Vouchsafe, then, ye pow’rs celestial
Long health to a life so endear’d;
The greatest of blessings terrestrial
God send to our King so rever’d!
Rejoice, &c.

The inflammable gas, which is quite transparent or invisible, began to flow in the pipes soon after 8 o’clock, and a lamp-lighter, or person with a small wax taper (the evening being quite serene), appeared and lighted the gas issuing from each burner in succession: some time after, a very large burner or assemblage of small streams of gas was lighted on the top of the transparency, which was not however illuminated for a long time afterwards.

The light produced by these gas lamps, was clear, bright, and colourless, and from the success of this considerable experiment, in point of the number of lights, the distance and length of pipe, hopes may at length be entertained, that this long-talked of mode of lighting our streets may at length be realised. The Mall continued crowded with spectators until near twelve o’clock, and they seemed much amused and delighted by this novel exhibition.
Yours, &c.

Comet Igniter explained!

The Horstmann Comet Igniter in conjunction with the clock controller provided an automatic means of switching on (and off) and lighting the street lamps so finally doing away initially with the lamplighter and, after the later invention of the Comet igniter, the permanent pilot. It is a clever device that is explained here: Comet Igniter.

1920’s Beautiful Lamp Sketches

These pictures are all in a large album that hasn’t seen the light of day for a very long time! They were presumably part of the design decision process. They have been added as a flip book to the ‘Publications’ section

A Genuine Sugg Lambeth lamp found in a Church in Devon

If you would like to see an original Lambeth lamp up close, all you have to do is visit the Church of St Michaels in Beer. Read the whole story at the end of ‘Location Pictures.’

Factory Bomb Damage in WW2

Some truly amazing pictures have recently come to light (2015) showing the bomb damage to the Westminster factory in the ‘blitz’ of 1941.They are in History – Section 4 and wind down. They can all be enlarged twice. Click for the first size and then click on the symbol top right for maximum size to look at the staggering detail!

Continuous Updraught Ventilators

Following a comment from a researcher that the ‘Liverpool Mercury’ 4 Sept 1890 stated that “Messrs.William Sugg and Co. exhibited a patent apparatus for ventilating stables, ships, &c. The ventilator, which allows no down-draught, has been tried upon the Wallasey boat Violet, and is about to receive a trial from the Mersey Railway Company.” The author of the comment wondered if I had any information on these ventilators which I have now added to the only other section on Ventilation which relates to the older Sun Lights or Sunburners. Although these Updraught Ventilators do NOT use a gas flame to achieve ventilation they are sometimes used in conjunction with sun burners hence I have decided to retain them in the Ventilating Lamps & Sun Burners section.

Victoria Station relit by gas in 1905.

The Gas Light & Coke Company were so proud of having won the contract to light the New Victoria Station in London against the competition of electricity in 1905 that they produced this brochure – with photos by gas light – to trumpet their success. The use of high pressure incandescent gas lighting was making quite a come back against the fearsome arc lamps which were the only offering of the electricians for the lighting of large spaces.

Read all about it under ‘Advertising‘ in the ‘Publications’ section.