A recent Disney film shown in the UK at the beginning of 2019 reprises the well-loved story of Mary Poppins for the next generation and sets it in the 1930’s. The chimney sweeps of London have been replaced by lamplighters. Much of the film illustrated lamplighters prancing about with large flaming lamplighter’s torches with huge open flames in Windsor lamps which were very sooty! Whilst the vast majority of the public were doubtless taken in by this perversion of history, some of us were sufficiently incensed that it was necessary to attempt to provide the true story of gas street lighting and of course the lamplighter!

I feel sure that the problem with the film originates from the difference between the UK and US approach to street lighting especially in the use of electricity. Whilst the UK developed fabulous huge multi burner gas lamps followed later by the introduction of gas mantles and later still using high-pressure gas that between them kept the electricians at bay for many years, the US went for electricity in a big way directly from open flame gas – hardly any use of the gas mantle. (When I first saw an American interior fixture with both an upright flame and an electric lamp facing about 45 degrees downwards I was frankly surprised – it was nothing that was ever seen in the UK.) The American approach to street lighting was to use arc lamps which because of their incredible brightness could only really be used to light large areas from 150 ft high towers – something never done in the UK. We did have powerful arc lamps mounted on tall posts but nothing like those used in America. Indeed, on both sides of the Atlantic there were lots of people who complained about the blinding light which explains why in the US they put them so high up to try and get them out of the eye line. It never really succeeded, at least partly because of the hard shadows thrown by the fierce arc, the rate at which the arc burned away the electrodes and other failures that could plunge an area into instant blackness, eventually being abandoned in favour of early electric lights on lamp posts in the US.

In the UK, however, as a much smaller country, gas lighting had spread rapidly across the country in the 19th C as hundreds of Gas Works were built and coal supplies for the furnaces were established, increasing employment and raising incomes. The lamplighter of the 1830’s became a familiar figure trudging the streets in all weathers to light the early gas lamps carrying a ladder and a hand lamp. (100 years before the Mary Poppins film).

The demand for increased lighting performance in larger cities led to the development of larger open flame burners necessitating larger lamps to avoid the heat melting the solder that was used to assemble the lamps.  Multiple open flame burners were even developed with what we would call ‘part night’ arrangements where some or even most of the flames could be turned off (by a lamplighter who did not need a means of ignition because the use of what was known as a ‘flashlight’ which today we know as a pilot light). By now we are talking about the 1880’s and the huge demand on William Sugg for street lighting equipment led to the formation of the Limited Company to raise extra capital.


CS with an original Westminster Lantern from the 1880’s for scale and a huge multi flame burner with 3 control cocks and a ‘flashlight’ to allow for various open flame combinations.

The effect of ‘incandescence’ – the bright light that could be achieved by heating certain elements to high temperature had been known about for many years. ‘Lime light’ achieved by playing an oxy-hydrogen flame onto lime was discovered by Sir Goldsworthy Gurney in the 1820’s and his Bude light produced by introducing oxygen into a standard oil flame was another very bright light patented in 1839. (There are 2 Bude lamps still mounted on stone pillars in Trafalgar Square – although of course converted to electricity.) The use of platinum wire, usually in a mesh form, was quite widely demonstrated and patented in several lighting devices as was a ‘basket’ of magnesia but generally these devices suffered from short life spans &/or considerable cost.

In 1882 The London Times commenting on the introduction of the dazzling electric light suggested that “it is quite certain that it has greatly stimulated inventive talent in the direction of improved gas burners” describing a Bunsen burner with a platinum cap and a high pressure supply of air with gas “producing a brilliant incandescent glow of high illuminating power and arrangements are being made for lighting the thoroughfares from Clerkenwell Green to the Angel, Islington so that the public may judge its merits as an outdoor illuminator.” The burners were to be placed in Sugg’s lanterns.

In America, Haddon proposed to use strands of platinum and iridium which were extended horizontally over a well aerated gas flame.

The year 1884 marked the start of the experiments by Carl Auer von Welsbach, an Austrian chemist, to achieve incandescence by experimenting with various chemicals. Whilst others had demonstrated that some of the rare earths are capable of emitting light when heated by a suitable flame, Welsbach discovered that a very much higher level of incandescence could be achieved by using a mixture of certain chemicals in definite proportions. Some say that it was apparently by chance that the flame from a Bunsen burner he was using touched a piece of material that had become soaked in the chemical/s he was working with that was his ‘eureka’ moment. The result was a sudden bright incandescence. Following doubtless hundreds of experiments Welsbach established the chemical composition that was to transform the world of gas lighting. However, it still took many years for ‘the mantle’ to become a truly practical product as it was such a fragile item.

The earliest mantle production was marked by mantles that were so fragile that a puff of wind could blow them away and, as it was necessary to return the burner to have a new mantle fitted that could fall apart before leaving the factory, it was a development that took a long time to be accepted. It seems that the first incandescence gas mantle, as it was called, was shown in the UK at Sugg’s Works in Westminster but I do not have a date.

William Sugg himself could see the potential but although he managed to obtain a licence to manufacture the mantle in the UK it seems that Welsbach would not provide any manufacturing information – perhaps you can see why!. In typical fashion William Sugg set up a workshop in his own garden and proceeded to experiment. However, the records show that in 1902 they were making their own mantles but by 1904 a influx of cheap mantles from Germany put paid to the venture for which they had bought land at Garrett Green and started to make a new factory expressly for mantle manufacture. However, the Sugg ‘Stronga’ mantle was advertised and sold as you can see from the advert below!

The first Welsbach mantle was the one we now call the ‘upright’ mantle and indeed explains why Welsbach christened it a ‘mantle’ as it was placed over the Bunsen flame like a sleeveless cloak or ‘mantle’. It was simply a matter of converting the upright open flame fixture to an aerated burner using Bunsen’s principle and placing the mantle over the flame. The mantle was cylindrical and naturally faced upwards resulting in the light from the mantle being largely sideways and upwards.

Having achieved this first ‘miraculous’ increase in light there was clearly going to be a race to see how much more light could be obtained from this combination of an aerated flame and the incandescing material. Surely a larger mantle and more gas/air mixture should produce more light?

Whilst these experiments continued, the light from the upright mantle was still being projected away from the direction in which it would be most useful, i.e. downwards and it was this that eventually led to the production of the ‘inverted’ mantle, first produced in 1903.


The picture shows a selection of mantles with 5 sizes of Inverted mantle at the back, Upright on the left and one version of the Supervia mantle that was used with multi jet nozzles giving a directional source in later high performance street lamps.

In an attempt to increase the amount of light from both upright and inverted mantles, both were enlarged until it was discovered that there was a limit to the amount of gas/air mixture that would burn within the mantle such that it heated the maximum surface area of the mantle to incandescence without destroying the mantle mesh which of course was literally ash when ‘burnt off’.

Several upright burners together could improve the output and Suggs even made a burner with an anti-vibrating device in the early years of the 20th century to reduce mantle failure through vibration travelling up the lamp post from passing traffic.

The first Windsor model has a steeper ‘tent’ (roof) than the now more familiar Model ‘B’. This is the Jan 1906 List 12 catalogue cover showing single upright burner with anti vibrator.
Note the claim “Over 50,000 of our Windsor Lamps are now in use”
This lamp was designed in 1898 for the new incandescent burner. It never carried an open flame.

When ‘inverting’ the mantle the secret lay in forming a strong aerated flame with a pure blue cone for maximum heat pointing downwards and the size (volume) of the mantle once again had to match the amount of mantle material that the flame could fully heat. This turned out to be a shape much nearer a short round bottomed cylinder, not far from being spherical by comparison with the long upright mantle.

The Windsor lamp was offered with a twin inverted burner including an anti-vibrator mounting but at the same time Suggs introduced a new ‘shadowless’ lamp, the Regent, designed to take advantage of the inverted mantle utilising a number of complete inverted burners mounted equi-spaced around the circular body of the lamp with individual mantles.

However, the fact that smaller mantles were by proportion stronger than larger ones led to the discovery that by mounting several small mantles together on what the company called a ‘superheater’ using a single aerated burner to feed them all together, not only allowed the mantles to last longer but the amount of light increased. This arrangement was known as the ‘Littleton Principle’ and most if not all the Regent lamps were converted in due course whilst the closely resembling lamp built with the Littleton Principle from scratch, simply became the ‘Littleton Lamp’. Very occasionally an original Regent lamp appears but fitted with the Littleton conversion which can be seen by the extra sets of holes around the circumference that were filled at the time of conversion to a single superheated burner. For the ‘aficionados’ of gas lamps who would know the Littleton as the lamp with its somewhat squatter, curvaceous body whilst the Rochester has the taller, parallel-sided body, you may be surprised to see the 1915 catalogue showing a Regent and a ‘1912’ lamp looking like a Littleton and Rochester! The Rochester was designated as ‘a very similar model to the Littleton with all its great advantages but having a specially constructed storm-proof casing, for use in unusually exposed positions’. In due course they did rationalise the design to the two shapes we know, partly I suspect, to avoid understandable confusion!




Regent instructions & comparison with ‘1912’ lamp showing the similarity to the later Rochester.

By the year 1912 hundreds of thousands of lamps were being converted all over the world because it had been demonstrated that the Littleton principle both developed the greatest illuminating duty from the gas consumed and reduced the maintenance cost of mantles. The fact that the traditional square lanterns continued to be sold, despite their obvious disadvantages compared to the new lanterns, may well be because of the huge numbers of 8 ft to 10 ft posts which would also have needed to be replaced to take best advantage of the extra power available. Bear in mind that the levels of acceptable illumination at the time meant that a 14” Windsor would frequently have had only 1 No.1 mantle and a 16” only 2! A single No.2 mantle was about equivalent to a 40-watt light bulb so as you can imagine the spread of light was very modest.

This very modest level of illumination, however, had just been accepted as ‘the norm’ so that when the electricians started demonstrating electric light with a better performance, the public and the local authorities thought it was an amazing improvement. William Sugg was furious because the gas men had never really attempted to improve or upgrade the tens of thousands of gas lamps for which they were responsible, claiming that it would be more expensive and that no-one would want to pay for it. What they had not realised was that the electrician’s costs were already much higher but no-one was looking at the costs, just the performance!

As an example of how important William Sugg considered improved lighting, when Tower Bridge was lit by Suggs at its opening on 30th June 1894 the lamps were all open flame. The Times of Oct 22nd 1901 just 7 years later carried an advert from Suggs saying “The Tower Bridge has just been brilliantly re-lighted with William Suggs Patent High Pressure Gas Incandescent Burners”, as had Blackfriars Bridge and “at least hold their own with both the County Council’s and the City of London Company’s efforts in electric lighting”. Not only did they ‘hold their own’ but they were considered perfectly white and unwavering by comparison with the electric lamps which suffered from many failures.


Advert for Re-Lighting Tower Bridge with High Pressure Incandescent Burners in 1901.

At last we have reached a point at which the gas street lamp was capable of out-performing many of the electric lamps of the day and the large gas companies were able to push sales like they never had before. The lamplighter of old had been very largely consigned to history with the invention of the clockwork controller which combined with the permanent pilot could be set to turn the gas lights on and off at pre-set times. There were even versions with a ‘solar dial’ that altered the timing to match the season and length of day. There was still a need for a maintenance man who continued to be called a ‘lamplighter’ to wind the clocks, clean and repair the lamps and ensure their lamps were burning perfectly. In the back streets and mews and outskirts of towns where older lamps remained, some lamplighters continued to be employed although the use of a pilot would mean that the lamplighter only had to pull the on-off lever or chain evening and morning until such time as the burners had controllers fitted and of course the open flame had been totally replaced by ‘conversion burners’



The conversion burners offer went on a long time. On the left Jan 1914 advert in The Gas World and on the right are 2 pages from the 1929 catalogue continuing to show the ‘conversion sets.

The huge lanterns that had been manufactured to cope with the immense heat of enormous burners were totally redundant. Despite this, many were retained fitted with incandescent burners partly, I believe, because they were mounted on magnificent, large, cast iron columns on which the new ‘small’ lanterns would look quite out of scale and partly because it would have been less costly than changing the whole assembly. In fact, the William Sugg catalogues of the early years of the 20th C still offered the large lanterns alongside the later models, both with the improved burners.


Two very large lanterns from the 1904 catalogue showing upright mantle clusters with anti-vibration mountings and the Lambeth Lamp from a 1915 catalogue with superheated cluster.

As an interesting but related aside, the Sugg representatives carried many often technical items to show the customers the quality of the work made by the Company. One of these that became entirely redundant with the introduction of the improved incandescent burners and smaller lamps was a beautiful set of open flame gas burners in a velvet lined box, all marked with the Sugg trade mark and the burner capacity. In addition, it included a small ‘U’ tube manometer and a ‘Y’-branch piece to allow the representative to demonstrate the actual flame at the correct working pressure in the location in question. These were such attractive items that several were clearly retained by the reps when they were no longer relevant and have re-appeared in lofts and collections of ex gas employees. They demonstrate the care and workmanship that genuine William Sugg equipment always shows.

Burner sample demonstration box collection

Such a huge number of gas street lamps had been manufactured that there would always be some traditional lamps remaining but there was also a great effort to design modern gas street lights to continue to hold the electricians at bay and in the forefront was William Sugg & Co.

PCS (Crawford Sugg), a grandson of William Thomas was a consummate engineer and developed a modern lighting laboratory and several powerful and efficient street lights in the years before and immediately after WWII as well as improving the performance of the very popular ‘shadowless’ Rochester and Littleton street lamps by designing means of ensuring light control with reflectors and refractors.


The 8000 lamp was designed to replace all the old square lamps in side roads.


To recap, by Queen Victoria’s death in January 1901 electric lighting was still in its infancy. Gaslighting was common in the cities and larger towns, supplemented by candles and oil lamps but in smaller towns and villages and in the countryside, lighting remained almost exclusively by candles and oil lamps. All the principal forms of lighting were thus in use at the same time and it was not until after the First World War that electric lighting finally emerged as the predominant source of light – but only for interior lighting in the home.

Even well into the period between the wars there was still a demand for manual lighting of gas street lamps as can be seen from this William Sugg advert for lamplighter torches – although now known as ‘Flashing Spirit Torches’, from a catalogue of 1927 (reprinted in 1929).



As so many years and such effort had been put into gas street lighting which even saw the development of special burners or adaptations to reduce the amount of light that might attract enemy aircraft in WWII, the future of gas street lighting after 1945 was of enormous interest to the Industry. In the immediate aftermath of the war and the blitz, particularly in London, William Sugg & Co received the largest order ever for replacement Rochester street lamps that had been damaged or destroyed. However, it is clear that many damaged gaslights were probably never reinstated.


ARP (Air Raid Precaution) adaptation for the 8000 lamp. Simple ones were known as ‘starlights’


In 1952 at the Association of Public Lighting Engineers (APLE) conference at Harrogate, a Mr N.Hudson read a paper entitled “Street Lighting – A Wise Compromise” in which he forecast the rate at which gas street lighting would be converted to electricity.

The Institution of Gas Engineers after consultation with the Gas Council convened a conference on 17th April 1956 where representatives from all the 12 Area Gas Boards discussed with the Joint Lighting Committee “the present unsatisfactory position in regard to Public Lighting by gas” and the suggestion that a single lantern should be produced to meet the requirements of both directional and non-directional conditions. A small panel was then appointed to obtain statistics on Public Lighting from the Area Boards and to collate such information for consideration at a further meeting.

The following information was to be obtained:

  1. An up-to-date figure of the number of gas lamps in use, subdivided into lamps situated in Traffic Routes and lamps situated in Other Roads.
  2. An indication of the rate at which gas street lighting has been converted to electricity over recent years and to what extent this differs from the estimate in Mr Hudson’s paper four years earlier.
  3. An estimate of the extent to which gas street lighting will be used in future years
  4. An indication of the general condition and standard of performance of gas street lighting.

Amongst the 4 members of this panel under the chairmanship of Mr AG Farr of North Thames Gas Board was Mr P.C.(Crawford)Sugg, B.Sc. (Eng.) who as described had spent many years on the development of modern gas street lighting as Technical Director of William Sugg & Co. The data below is taken largely from his file of correspondence and the final report of the panel which was at the time marked Strictly Confidential.

A letter addressed to PCS on 16th January 1957 from Mr AG Farr whose office of North Thames Gas Board in Vincent Street was just around the corner from the William Sugg factory, listed the number of lamps in use and the gas consumption for the year ending 31st December from 1948 to 1955 as recorded by the Ministry of Fuel and Power as follows.

Year Ending 31st December Number of lamps in use Annual Gas Consumption (Therms)
1948 586,390 38,000,000
1949 642,835 49,000,000
1950 673,133 54,000,000
1951 656,141 52,000,000
1952 646,325 51,000,000
1953 622,412 49,000,000
1954 587,321 47,000,000
1955 546,243 44,000,000

1 therm = 29.3 kWh.

Thus, you can see that well over half million gas street lamps were still in use 10 years after the war. Once the figures had been collated from the 12 individual Gas Boards a more precise figure became apparent and the rate of change was shown.

The first table shows the total number of lamps in use for the years 1953 through 1956.

Years Total Reduction Percentage
1953 621,369
1954 599,904 21,465 3.46%
1955 570,950 28,954 4.83%
1956 529,876 41,074 7.19%

This compares with the number of lamps from the earlier paper by Mr Hudson

Years Total Reduction Percentage
1949 642,835
1950 673,133
1951 656,661 16,472 2.44%

The increase during 1950 over the previous year was attributed in the main to the relighting of lamps which had been extinguished at the outbreak of the War. The figures for 1950 and 1951 only were taken to indicate the trend in Mr Hudson’s paper.

A concluding paragraph stated that ‘from the statistics available it was considered that a date midway between the extremes of 1963 and 1973, namely 1968 would be the ‘wisest compromise’. For reasons such as the affection which is felt in certain parts of the country towards gas lighting and the possibility of electricity not being available in every country lane, it is possible that isolated pockets of gas street lighting will remain after the general disappearance from the streets. Like its elder sister domestic gas lighting, it may well never die but only fade away.’

This of course has turned out to be true more than 60 years later, not so much because of non-availability of electricity but certainly from the affection felt towards gas lighting and its particular suitability in many heritage situations.

C.Sugg. February 2019

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

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!

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.

The Historic Gas Times is produced by the Gas History Panel of the Institution of Gas Engineers four times a year. ‘To subscribe, please visit www.igem.org.uk/HGT’. Annual Subscription £8.00 (UK only) Overseas Rates (for 4 issues) £15.00 Sterling (Air Mail) Or Sent via email £6.00 World-wide. Please make your cheque payable to: IGEM History Fund. Please post to: HGT Subscriptions, IGEM Membership Dept., IGEM House, 28 High Street, Kegworth, Derbyshire DE74 2DA. For any subscription enquiries Please telephone the Membership Department on 0844 375 4436, during o ce hours.

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.

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.

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

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.’

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!

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.