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Pre-Victorian Lighting Devices

It is quite unimaginable what it would be like waiting for the morning in pre-Victorian London and to venture in its streets when darkness has already settled in. People are more familiar with the gas lamps aglow in the homes and along the roadways of the streets of Victorian England where dimly-lit hansom cabs are plying. Today, homes and city streets are illuminated to the point of at least bringing a sense of relative well-being and security to late-night strollers. Today, there are over 7.

5 million streetlights in the United Kingdom (HRMA, 2009) the sophistication of which is beyond the comprehension of a late night reveler of the Elizabethan era. What was it like then when electricity was not taken for granted? What was it like when nighttime was really darkness? What do people used to illuminate the night? From the time of the Lord Protector, Oliver Cromwell until the late 18th century, the common lighting fuels consisted of olive oil, beeswax, fish oil, whale oil, sesame oil, nut oil, and similar substances. Tallow candles and flaming torches using animal fat were used in the homes.

The advent of the 18th century introduces the whale oil as a better and cheaper alternative. The earliest forms of lamps were burning sticks or glowing coals held in braziers. A refinement of this is the rushlight which is a type of candle of candle formed using the dried pith of the rush plant as its wick. The green epidermis or rind is peeled off to reveal the inner pith, aside from a single strip left to provide support. It is then steeped in any household fat or grease that is available although beeswax or good tallow, especially mutton fat, improves the quality of the light.

In particularly thrifty households two strips of epidermis are left, reducing the light output but extending the life of the rushlight. Before paraffin wax candles started to become readily available, true wax candles made from beeswax were expensive and the preserve of the rich. A rushlight provided very economical lighting for the less well-off (American Heritage Dictionary, 2007) Later, long-burning torches were used for illumination; these torches consisted of bundles of twigs or splinters of resinous wood that were bound together and dipped in fat or oil to improve their burning qualities.

During the Commonwealth period, the most common form of lamp was an open pot of stone filled with grease, into which a wick was thrust. Lamps of this type are still used by the Inuit of the Arctic Circle. Artificial light generated during the times of the Tudor, Cromwell, and the Stuarts, artificial light was generated by an open flame – in a rustic torch burning in a wall bracket, a hand-held candle or lantern (Britain Express, 2009). The candle holds the record for longevity among lighting devices enumerated here.

It has not gone out of use and vogue. In its present form it is now more than one thousand years old. In its initial manufacture tallow and beeswax were used principally but they were very expensive and considered a costly luxury. Spermaceti candles, aristocrats of the candle family, were made from a waxy solid found in the head of the sperm whale and were first introduced in 1750. The candle did not only evolve from its wick and tallow, the manufacture of candleholders, taper holders, candlesticks, hanging fixtures has also become an art form.

Their forms and descriptions are named after the period they have become popular thus in the 18th century there was a revival of William and Mary, Queen Anne, Georgian, Chippendale, Hepplewhite, and Sheriden designs. Materials such as porcelain, pottery, glass, and Waterford were all becoming more and more plentiful. Early Gothic candlesticks were designed simply with a stem and knop. William and Mary designs were more elaborate with polygonal and baluster bases.

Queen Anne candlesticks were delicate with octagonal stems and square bases. Georgian styles had baluster stems and octagonal bases. With Oriental influence, seated figures, flowers and animals started adorning the candlesticks and glass candlesticks, such as those from Waterford, were highly prized. By the 18th century, candlesticks became tiered and many lights were added at festive occasions. Gradually, even pieces of furniture made by Chippendale and Sheraton would have holders for candles built in.

The elaborate candelabra of early 18th century Europe, themselves rooted in ancient designs of the Near and Far East, were the inspiration, to a great extent, for early American lighting. The English influence was evident in Virginia, New England, New Jersey and Pennsylvania; Spanish in Florida, and French in Louisiana (Cir-Kit Concepts, 2009). Another lighting fixture of interest is the sconce. The sconce is a wall-light of metal, wood or ceramic, consisting of one or more branched candle-holders attached to a reflecting backplate.

The 16th-century Elizabethan ‘candle plates of latten’ (i. e. brass), probably imported from the Low Countries, correspond in form to the 17th-century type with branches springing from the lowest point of a copper or brass dish. During the second half of the 17th century new forms evolved. The backplate assumed various shapes and was often elaborately chased or embossed and decorated with armorials, devices or coronets (e. g. a set of four silver sconces, c. 1670; Burghley House, Cambs). Sconces appeared in pairs on either side of a chimney-breast or in larger sets of ten.

The innovation of mirrors in place of metal backplates greatly enhanced the quality of reflected light. A half candelabrum or girandole was sometimes placed in front of a mirror giving the impression of a complete candelabrum. In the 1640s a singular variant emerged in the form of a human forearm protruding from an aperture or a grotesque mask, the hand grasping a candle-holder (Art Encylopedia). For the well-off, meaning the royalty and lesser nobles, candle chandeliers provided illumination.

They are either circular or cross-like in shape of which candles could be secured. The whole assembly is then hoisted to an appropriate height with a rope or chain suspended from a hook. Chandeliers are usually used in great halls or areas where a number of people could assemble. From the 15th century, more complex forms of chandeliers based on ring or crown designs began to become popular decorative features, found in palaces and homes of the nobility, clergy and merchant class. The high cost of night time illumination made the chandelier a symbol of luxury and status.

By the early 18th century, ornate cast ormolu forms with long, curved arms and many candles could be found in the homes of much of the growing merchant class. Neoclassical motifs became an increasingly common element, mostly in cast metals but also in carved and gilded wood. Developments in glassmaking in the 18th century allowed the cheaper production of lead crystal. The light-scattering properties of this highly refractive glass quickly became a popular addition to the form, leading to the crystal chandelier (McGraw 2003). Candles, rushlights, sconces, torches, etc.

, may have there purpose, but the economic progression of towns calls for the need for better illumination. Thus was a need to find an alternative fuel for lighting. Candle drippings and animal fat smells from burning sconces, flambeaus, and chandeliers are an inconvenience, not only to the smell, but are also obviously fire hazards. Coal was the new wave. There was such abundance in Newcastle that “Newcastle coal” was coined. Coal distillates were also used as a lighting fuel but due to its detrimental effects to the person, there was a need to distill it in its purer form.

Dr. Stephen Hales was the first person who procured a flammable fluid from the actual distillation of coal. From these experiments in 1726 it was deduced that flammable gas has practical application in achieving better illumination. Improvements with coal gas by William Murdoch paved the way for the gas-lit era where a new trade – the lamplighters – was born. We have enumerated lighting devices that were used in the homes. What about public street lighting? Public street lighting was a concern in the sixteenth century even as it is in the modern times.

Other than peace and order, edicts were issued for compulsory lighting up of both homes and businesses in light of the holiday season. An article in NationMaster. com has this to say about early public street lighting: “In 1417, Sir Henry Barton, mayor of London 1417, Sir Henry Barton, mayor of London, ordained “lanterns with lights to be hanged out on the winter evenings between Hallowtide and Candlemasse” and in the beginning of the sixteenth century the inhabitants were ordered to keep lights burning in the windows of all houses that faced the streets.

In 1668, when some regulations were made for improving the streets of London, the residents were reminded to hang out their lanterns at the usual time; and in 1690 an order was issued to hang out a light, or lamp, every night as soon as it was dark, from Michaelmas to Christmas. By an act of the common council in 1716, all housekeepers, whose houses faced any street, lane, or passage, were required to hang out, every dark night, one or more lights, to burn from six to eleven o’clock, under the penalty of one shilling.

” The evolution of lighting and the devices that produce them have generated the modern technological benefits that we enjoy. From the tallow drippings of Queen Elizabeth’s palace to the halogen study lamp that we used, we owe much to human ingenuity and unending search for satisfaction and excellence. References An Appreciation of Early Lighting. Cir-Kit Concepts. com. 2009 .Architecture. McGraw-Hill Dictionary of Architecture and Construction.

Copyright © 2003 by McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc. All rights reserved. Art Encyclopedia. The Concise Grove Dictionary of Art. Copyright © 2002 by Oxford University Press, Inc.. All rights reserved Dictionary. The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition Copyright © 2007, 2000 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Updated in 2007. Published by Houghton Mifflin Company. Gaslighting, Encyclopedia, Nation Master. 2009

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