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The LampLighter

The first public street lighting with gas was demonstrated in Pall Mall, London on 28 January 1807 by Frederick Albert Winsor. Less than two years later, on 31 December 1813, the Westminster Bridge was lit by gas. Following this success, gas lighting spread outside London, both within Britain and abroad. The first place outside London in England to have gas lighting, was Preston, Lancashire in 1816.

In 1821 there was ‘Wilful Murder’ as a man named Mahoney of Castle Street, Whitechapel, was convicted for the murder of Richard Neads, lamplighter. The deceased was followed to the grave by all the lamplighters of the neighbourhood each wearing thwir uniform, which is naukeen jacket, trousers and gaiters and each of them carrying a bunch of beautiful flowers instead of torches, which is custom of the funeral of a lamplighter they being generally buried at night, and which would of been in this case had he not died such a violent death.

In February 1865 an inquest was held at the Royal Free Hospital, London on the body of aged 32 years. Deceased was a lamplighter and was lighting a lamp within 20 yards of his home, when his wife came out to speak to him and in turning around he was thrown off his ladder, falling on some iron railings which ran into him, he was released as soon as possible but died on Friday last. Verdict was “accidental death”.

William Armes wrote in his book ‘Memories of Lynn’ in 1872 “We will now dispose of sundry little things, and, first our old friends the lamplighters, who every evening were to be seen, with long torches blazing in their hand running along the streets with their ladders to light the old oil lamps. They were always accompanied by lots of small boys and were carefully avoided by all decent people, because of the horrid lamp oil which dripped from the link in the hand of the lamp lighter. These are gone and we can spare them without further remark.

In 1875 major cities started using electric arc lamps, this would have taken time to spread to smaller cities, towns and villages.

In 1883 was a lamplighter for the gas company in King’s Lynn. He was fined for being drunk and disorderly, he was found at 1:30 in the morning in the Walks drunk. He was fined 2s 6d

Lamplighters were witness to many violent crimes, they often appeared as witnesses in court cases for assaults, thieves and even murders. A job was also a dangerous one with many being injured by falling off their ladders or gas explosions.

In the late-19th and 20th centuries, most cities with gas streetlights replaced them with new electric streetlights.

In 1912 the last of the Lynn lamplighters . died, his obituary said “By the death of Mr T. P Adams another link with the past has been severed. Mention of his name and the inhabitants of Lynn of the days when the streets of the town were lighted by gas and they will picture the old style lamplighter (of which Mr Adams was the last) equipped with ladder and lantern making his round of the street lamps. Mr Adams was employed by the gas company upwards 40 years and was at last compelled by ill health to retire”.

A small team of lamplighters still operate in London, England where gas lights have been installed by English Heritage. In central London around 1500 gas lamps still operate, lighting the Royal Parks, the exterior of Buckingham Palace and almost the entire Covent Garden area.

Source: Find my Family


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