Heritage lanterns showcase exquisite craftsmanship and bring a touch of nostalgia to outdoor spaces.  The parts of a lantern each help to make up the intricate details, including finials, decorative brackets, and ornate metalwork, contribute to their timeless charm making them cherished pieces in heritage-inspired settings.  Here we look at the most common parts of a lantern (in particular, a heritage lantern) and explain why each component exists, and how it works.

Parts of a lantern

Most traditional lanterns are made up of a body frame and what was always known as a ‘tent’, acting as the roof.  The frame is made up of a number of side ribs depending upon the shape of the lantern, a square lamp has four side ribs, a hexagonal lamp has six and an octagonal lamp has eight, whilst a conical shaped lantern may have three or four side ribs depending upon the diameter. A Globe lamp normally has a central circular rib with four side ribs making what is known as an eight panel Globe.

In the days of early lanterns carrying large gas burners the lanterns became exceedingly large requiring eight side ribs! These early lamps often had glazed ‘tents’ with ribs continuing up towards the chimney arrangement.

Frame

Whilst the frame must be sturdy enough to support the lantern under all weather conditions, it needs to be as slim as possible to avoid making shadows.  This is achieved by forming the thin sheet material into a special shape.  This will also take a steel reinforcing rod that normally passes the full length of the rib and continues out at the bottom corner where it will pass directly through and be fixed to the mounting frog when it is to be post or pedestal mounted. The majority of the ribs are formed from copper sheet and are soldered to the top and bottom horizontal ribs.

The frame normally tapers from the central major dimension down to the base, not only for ease of attachment to a post but also to reduce the impact of rain helping to keep the glazing cleaner.

Some lanterns do have cast frames (with bronze being used in the past) whilst aluminium is now the material of choice because it is light and strong and can be cast in thin sections.

The frame forms the structure of the heritage lantern and is usually made of sturdy metal, such as brass, copper or cast iron.  It provides support and holds all the components together.  The frame forms the main shape and design of the lantern.  For example, a Windsor or Camberwell Lantern is angular, and a Globe lantern is spherical.

The ‘Tent’, top or lantern ‘roof’

The lantern tent, roof or top is the uppermost part of the lantern and serves both functional and decorative purposes. It protects the flame from rain or other elements and often features a finial or decorative ornament on top, adding an elegant touch to the lantern’s design.

The roof/tent/top is the upper half of many heritage lanterns; the exception being a Globe. Most lanterns have solid ‘tents’ but earlier lanterns often carried glazed tops in order to spread the light in all directions especially upper floors of houses that had no lighting.

Chimney arrangement

The majority of heritage lanterns were originally designed for a light source powered by burning a fuel, be that oil or gas. Both required a chimney to allow the products of combustion to escape and a means of entry for the air for combustion. Early lanterns often allowed air in through the base and straight up through a simple chimney.  The air would escape from below a ‘cap’ arranged to prevent rain entering. This proved to be a poor arrangement as any wind could produce air movement through the lantern sufficient to affect the burner and even blow it out.

William Sugg studied this problem a great deal and ultimately introduced the ‘balanced flue’ arrangement in which the lantern is effectively a sealed box with air being introduced from above the tent close to where the chimney exits under the decorative cap. When the wind blows the pressure on both entry and exit are effectively the same so that no extra air movement passes through the body to affect the flame. This also explains why the lantern must have a sealed base.

The spun copper element that is immediately on top of the tent is known as the ‘ogee’.  On all lanterns with straight sides the ogee is attached on the corners of the tent folds leaving an air space around the lantern. From the days that reflectors were used, a tapering chimney was fitted between the reflector and the top of the ogee to carry the flue products out of the lantern whilst the combustion air passes into the lantern over the edges of the reflector and down into the body.

Glass panels & glazing

The name ‘lantern’ is derived from the word ‘lanthorn’ which is the first material used for enclosing the light source and was derived from animal horn.

Heritage lanterns typically feature glass panels that enclose the light source.  These panels can be clear, opal or frosted and are often held in place by metal frames or decorative brackets.  The glass panels protect the flame from wind and provide a charming vintage aesthetic.  ‘Glazing’ is also available in polycarbonate which can sometimes be a more sustainable and long-lasting material depending on where the lantern is to be located.

Glass is often considered the best material for traditional lanterns as it is stable, not affected by the light source and UV, or by weathering, and can be cleaned easily – an important factor to consider!  It can be cut to shape and can be moulded or curved to match the requirements of the lamp and can also be decorated with names or logos. It is, however, fragile. It was typically fitted into lanterns using putty combined with copper glazing tags that are bent into place by hand having been soldered to the ribs. Nowadays a sealing strip has replaced the putty.

Most gas lanterns have a hinged access door with simple bent wire hinges and a sliding catch.

The Cap & Spike

The ‘cap and spike’ is the Sugg name for the top element of the chimney and serves both functional and decorative purposes. It protects the chimney from rain or other elements and provides decoration with a feature finial, preventing birds from landing on the lantern and adding an elegant touch to the lantern’s design.

Finial

A finial is a decorative element located at the top of the lantern, usually attached to the roof or top cap.  It can take various forms, a ball, a point, a decorative scroll or even a crown!  The finial adds visual interest and enhances the heritage appeal of the lantern.  Finials can be individually designed as a one-off piece.

Lantern parts _ Finial

Door or Access Panel

Many heritage lanterns have a door or access panel that allows easy access to the interior for lighting or maintenance purposes.  The door may have intricate metalwork or glass panels that complement the lantern’s overall design.  The access panel or door will allow for access for routine maintenance and cleaning.

Gear Tray

A gear tray is a tray-like structure that houses the electrical components of heritage lanterns that are now powered by electricity or LED as opposed to gas or oil as they once would have been.  It is where the wiring necessary for a lantern to operate, is situated.

It provides a secure space for components like ballasts, transformers, sockets, and wiring connections.  The gear tray allows for easy installation, maintenance, and replacement of electrical elements, while preserving the lantern’s traditional design.  It ensures safe and efficient operation, accommodating modern light sources while maintaining vintage charm!

Frog

This is the rather quaint name for the element that adapts the bottom of the lantern to the spigot of the post, pedestal or wall bracket when used in these applications.  It is a metal device that securely holds the light source in place.

Its name is derived from the ‘crouching effect of a frog and was made to allow room for various components such as gas cocks to be fitted below the lamp. Prior to this, the ‘frog’ element was the reverse shape with the arms formed outwards. There are many types of frog, including cast ones and ones carrying the ‘ladder bar’ devised to rest the ladder on when maintaining the lamp.

It normally consists of a circular or U-shaped ‘holder’ with prongs that grip the base of the light fixture, ensuring stability and preventing movement or tipping.  Frogs were common in traditional lanterns, providing safety by keeping the light source positioned correctly.  Though modern lanterns use different light sources, the term “frog” still refers to the component that holds the light source securely.

Latch or Lock

The door or access panel of the lantern often includes a latch or lock mechanism to secure it in place. This ensures that the door remains closed and the flame (if it is a gas lantern) is protected while maintaining the lantern’s historical appearance.

Wall mounted bracket lantern

Decorative Brackets

Some lanterns, especially those of a heritage design, may feature decorative brackets that connect the frame to the glass panels, or indeed to the wall.  These brackets can have intricate scrollwork, floral motifs, or other ornate designs, adding an extra layer of elegance to the lantern.

There are many decorative brackets available to support traditional lanterns such as this wall mounted ‘bow’ bracket that can be made to span different widths and hold the lantern in different ways. In this case the lantern is being held in a cradle but could have been made to stand on a central platform.

Gas Burner & Gas Mantles

A gas burner produces and controls a flame by burning gaseous fuel like natural gas or propane.  The burner assembly is responsible for housing and controlling the flame within a gas lantern.  It normally includes the burner tube, control valve, and flame adjustment mechanism. The control valve allows for regulating the gas or oil flow, while the flame adjustment mechanism controls the brightness of the light.

The gas burner provides the gas flame for either an open flame or a gas mantle. Although only used occasionally as an open flame this is the oldest and simplest type of burner.  It consists of a jet (or jets) burning upwards with a supply tube and gas cock or tap. It is not an efficient means of producing light and was replaced by the invention of the gas mantle which consists of a mesh material impregnated with fluid that will incandesce brightly when heated to a high temperature.  An aerated flame provided by a bunsen burner arrangement allows the gas to draw in air to produce a high temperature flame. Whilst early mantles faced upwards copying the open flame, the inverted mantle replaced the upright as it provided light in the downward direction for majority of uses.

The inverted burner consists of an injector or jet that controls the gas flow with an air chamber attached that draws air into the gas stream and a burner tube the feeds the mixture to the mantle or mantles. Multiple mantle burners are achieved by mounting several gas nozzles on what is called a ‘superheater’ casting that helps to pre-heat the mixture and improve performance.

The gas supply is controlled by a gas cock which can be operated by a lever and chains or by a number of remote controls such as an electric solenoid so long as the burner has a means of ignition – normally a pilot light.

This type of burner is not intended to vary the performance like a high pressure LPG camping lamp that uses a needle valve to control the gas flow minutely. The normal gas cock on a standard burner is intended to be either on or off and the burner will not operate efficiently if partially closed, often producing soot!

Fuel/Light Source

Heritage lanterns can be powered by various fuel sources, including gas and electricity (in the case of electric replicas).  The specific fuel source will depend on the lantern model and its intended use.

Base or Mounting Bracket

There are several mounting arrangements available for traditional lanterns apart from a lampost of which there are many alternatives and designs. Wall brackets, as mentioned above, can vary hugely and be made to suit the specific situation. Base, cradle and top mountings are all available although some will require the lantern to be adapted to suit.

The base or mounting bracket provides stability and support for the lantern.  It can be appropriately designed for several mounting situations, from walls, to lampposts, to pillars or even pedestals or podiums.  The base or bracket often includes decorative elements to complement the lantern’s overall design.

Lantern parts _ heritage Lantern _ William Sugg & Co. Ltd

Parts of a lantern coming together at William Sugg & Co

Heritage lanterns epitomise exquisite craftsmanship.  With their intricate details, including finials, decorative brackets, and ornate metalwork as described above, these lanterns are treasured pieces in heritage-inspired settings.

The enduring appeal of heritage lanterns lies in their ability to transport us to a bygone era while illuminating our present surroundings with a touch of timeless elegance.  It really is all in the detail.

Contact one of William Sugg’s lighting experts today to discover how our team of craftspeople can design and manufacture your next stunning piece of lighting.