Brighton in history: electric street lighting

September 11, 2017

Roger Amerena, a born and bred Brightonian, has a passion for the history of street lighting, and campaigns for the retention of the extraordinary variety of our cast-iron lampposts.

 

Photo of suspended BLEECO lamps on Western Road, 1934, courtesy of Simon Cornwell www.simoncornwell.com/lighting

 


Permanent electrical street lighting was lit for the first time, along the seafront, in 1893. There’s a plaque even to this day on the column of a lamp by West Pier (see pg 21). Prior to that we had gas lamps.


We had the best lamp standards. We were a very wealthy city, very wealthy. From the beginning of the nineteenth century we had various foundries in Brighton producing cast-iron lamp standards (lampposts) of different styles. 


We have the Camberwells: the most common. We have the upmarket type known as the Regent. Lovely. Ventilation stacks above the lantern topped with a coronet or a crown. We have the floriated base, the bollard type, the fluted column, the Beehive. Down the side on some you’ll see the ironfounder’s name. The brackets of the lantern are known as ‘frogs’ or ‘inverted frogs’ depending on their shape. 


Hove lamp standards are more decorative than the Brighton ones and of a higher quality. Acanthus leaves, Tudor roses. Beauties. And they are more numerous per street than in the poorer areas of Brighton. Brighton standards were painted bottle green, dark green, black. Hove Corporation standards – they were maroon. That was the corporation colour.


After the blackout during the First World War, people started thinking about changing all the lamps to electric lighting. The Brighton Lighting and Electrical Engineering Company – BLEECO - took on the contract to modernize the street lighting of the city in 1921. Their factory was in St Martin’s Place, off the Lewes Road. It’s an aikido club now.


BLEECO converted the old gas standards and had new ones cast by Every’s of Lewes. Typically they had a swan-neck with swirls and a roman spike together with a box containing a timer and fuses, either at the top of the column or in a compartment in the base.


The town became brighter with electricity. Gas lighting has a yellowy greeny feel to it. The early electric lights gave a reddy light. And there was a greater span of light from a 100, 150-watt bulb.


Hove Corporation lingered on with gas lighting far longer than Brighton did. I remember on Dyke Road Avenue in the 1950s, the lamplighter used to go along on his bicycle lighting the lamps. All the Brighton electric lights would come on at once, but these Hove lights would come on one by one. BLEECO went out of business because the new lamp standards in the sixties were wanted in concrete or mild steel. Very undecorative.


There are probably 1,800 cast-iron lamp standards left in the city, and only 140 of these are listed. There are early designs, 1850s, 1860s, very splendid ones, which have no protection. They’re gradually disappearing. This is our street furniture, architectural history which has to be preserved.
 

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