Gas lights and the lamplighters 1807

In each family history, there will be those involved in what, on the surface may appear a fairly ordinary occupation. Look a little more deeply though and those ‘simple’ occupations, can  turn out to be very important indeed.

London had always been one of the brightest cities in the world but when in 1807 the first street in London, Pall Mall, was lit by gas lights, it would sparkle like never before, becoming the most brilliantly lit city in the world.

    • The introduction of the new lighting system was made by Friedrich Winzer, a German, living in Pall Mall.
    • The old oil lights were gradually replaced over time.
    • Lamp lighters used to have to trim the wicks and replenish the whale oil.
    •  Now they had to take care not to get blown off the ladder, by allowing too much gas to build in the lamp before lighting it.
    •  They would carry their ladders and lights to each lamp, setting out just before dusk, dressed in hat and coat, with a cheery whistle or song to let the public know that they were in the vicinity undertaking their essential role and then return at dawn to extinguish the light.

The lamplighters acted as night watchmen and were for the most part considered very steady, trustworthy men.

They took great pride in this, there were lamplighter families, where the job was passed from father to son. Lamplighter families were a close knit group of proud individuals. They frequented particular public houses and had their own traditions, lamplighter families frequently made marriages between each other. In all they performed a very important role in the city and brought some measure of reassurance and safety to the people who lived there.

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