Historic Housewife- Victorian Indoor Gas Lighting

A letter between sisters on indoor gas lighting, popular in the Victorian period.

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London, May 15th. 1842

Dearest Evie,

I hope that my letter finds you well. I must apologise for leaving it so long before writing, but being a newlywed in a new place is exhausting and Charles recently began his new position as an accountant for a firm whose name escapes me. (I must take better care to remember the place or I will never be able to engage in dinner party conversation with the ladies here.)

Now, I must tell you all about the updates I’m making to our little home here Evie. As you know the latest craze here in London is to have controllable indoor gas lights, much like the ones in the streets only much prettier. There are so many beautiful glass shades to choose from that it makes my head spin!

I was speaking to Charles’s employers wife (Mrs Emerson) just yesterday all about her light fittings as her house is just beautifully decorated and she showed me an article in Englishwoman’s Domestic Magazine that said ‘if it be daylight outside, you must always close the shutters and draw the curtains, better to show off your gasolies.’ I am already so excited about all the dinner parties that we can have once the house is up to snuff for the important guests that we are now able to host thanks to Charles’ new employment.

File:Englishwoman's domestic magazine, 1877.jpg
Englishwoman’s domestic magazine, 1877
Image from Wikimedia Commons

Speaking of Charles, he came home from the office today and he was trying to tell me the history behind this gas lighting, but I just cannot seem to get it right in my own words so let me just transcribe what he says as I know you enjoy a little history as a pastime.

He says-

Experiments with gas began in the 1700s but a man by the name of William Murdoch was the first to use gas on a large scale and he used it to light his Cornwall office and later the Boulton & Watt works. It then came to London in 1807 for King George III’s birthday when entrepreneur Fredrick Windsor organised a public display of the new lighting. (How exciting that must have been to see!)

Now he also says that there are two main types of gas that are used. The first is natural gas and the second is called ‘coal gas’, this is the one I want as it gives the better flame but Charles says that there have been many reports of it having some issues and people have died in their sleep from leaks in their homes. But as I’ve tried to explain to Charles, that just won’t happen to us, he’s so overly cautious for my health. He was also telling me that a few companies have been trying to sabotage each other, it even made it into the papers- perhaps I can find a cutting to send with my next letter for you!

The only problem I’ve seen at Mrs Emerson’s home is the slightly blackened walls around the fittings and tarnished metal but that’s easily cleaned if you put in the effort and there is a slight rotten egg smell from time to time but the beautiful decorations are more than worth it. Thinking about it now, I did hear that a home went up in flames a few streets away because the curtains caught light from their gas lighting, but I will be careful to not have the lights too close, do not worry sister you know I like to plan these things carefully!

I hope that you will visit us soon and perhaps we might even find a suitable man for you to marry here and then we will not be kept so far apart! Must go, Charles is grumbling about this Income Tax proposition the government has been talking about.

With all my love,

Nora

Author- Emily Casson

Sources:

The History of Lighting

Country Life

lucyworsley.com

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