A “Virtual” Tour of The Back to Backs – part 26




A Virtual Tour of the Back to Backs – part 26

Whilst we are in the 1870s house you may have noticed that the house is being lit with oil lamps. However, on the ground floor there are gas lights on the wall.

These were donated to the project when Court 15 was being refurbished around 2002.

However, we need to take a closer look at gas lighting. Towards the end of the 18th century William Murdoch was working with Matthew Boulton at his Manufactory in Birmingham and he conducted experiments with the gasses generated when coal was heated. He discovered that the gas given off could be used to produce light or heat and he went on to use coal gas to light his house and tin mines in Cornwall using gas.

The light produced from the naked flame was quite weak but it provided sufficient light to be used for street lighting. Many towns laid pipes feeding lamp posts in the streets and men were employed to light the lamps every evening. It seems that this led to a dramatic reduction in street crime in places where it had been adopted.

Theatres were amongst the first places to adopt gas lighting on a large scale and during the first decades of the 19th century most had some type of gas lighting on the stage. By 1817 the Lyceum theatre in Drury Lane, London was amongst the first to be fully lit with gas. The term “Limelight” referred to fact that gas was used to burn a block of lime that gave off a stronger light.

In houses however, gas lighting was not adopted on a large scale until the gas mantle, a dome of made of a cotton mesh impregnated with thorium was invented by the Austrian chemist Carl Auer von Welsbach in 1891.

Our gas lights have mantles, so it seems that they would not have been around in the 1870s.

An Oil lamp similar to those in the Oldfields’ house
Gas light in Oldfields’ ground floor room
Thorium Based Gas Mantle