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Sunday, 9 August 2009

Lighting and lamps

Better lighting is what the invention of coal gas is best known for. However other new lighting methods were introduced which used gas manufacture by products like tar oils.

Frederick Accum, writing in 1816, said distillates were used for lighting as a substitute for whale oil and gave as an example the illumination of Waterloo Bridge. Waterloo Bridge was then newly built, and, while information on the lighting method has not been traced, it should be noted that the ironwork on it was coated with 'distilled tar'.

In 1820 a Major Cochrane made an application to the City Gas Company for a supply of 'essential oil'. This was John, one of the sons of the Earl of Dundonald. John was acting as agent for his brother, Thomas Cochrane who had taken out a patent for purifying 'oil of tar for lighting and 'construction of lamps' in 1818. Typically, for Thomas Cochrane, this had been done while imprisoned in the King's Bench Prison

The Cochrane brothers, working through Samuel Brooks, a Strand merchant, had an agreement to replace 800 traditional oil lamps with 400 new ones in St. Anne's Parish, Soho. There may have been another smaller scheme at St.John the Baptist in the Savoy.

London street lighting has not been investigated on a parish by parish basis. Parishes that took on early gas lighting have sometimes been noted but there may well have been other oil-based street lighting schemes. The comment in a previous chapter about Cassell and a street lighting contract may be an example.

The Cochranes' lamps were made by Mr. King of Cock Lane and probably copied by others as time went on. Directories of 1839 show both King and James Cochrane (another of Thomas' brothers) as ‘meter manufacturers’.

Oil lamps using 'mineral oil' and ‘naphtha were refined to a greater degree by others in east London. Joshua Taylor Beale, for instance, worked from Whitechapel Church Lane from which address he took out two patents for lamp design. Beale was later to move to East Greenwich.

The use of tar oils for lighting persisted - local manufacturers went on to produce 'naphtha flares' which became a feature of more casual outdoor lighting in markets and fairgrounds. 'Mineral' or 'dead' oil for the purpose of such lighting was described as an 'old established article of commercial enterprise' in 1860.

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