William Sugg & Co. Ltd was founded in 1837 and, over the years, has become established as a leader in the field of gas lighting and heating. Here we look at the story behind the iconic and much loved ‘shadowless’ lantern lamp designs of the Regent, Rochester and Littleton.
Lighting the way through history
At the time of the business’s inception in 1837, Sugg’s aim was “to carry on the trade & business of manufacturers of gas metres, brass founders, gas fitters & engineers”. In 1842 Sugg advertised every description of plain and ornamental bronze, brass and iron work for oil and gas including fan lights, passage lights, lanterns (both plain and ornamental.)
By 1866 the business was manufacturing lighting, heating and cooking by gas products. William Thomas Sugg, the son of the founder, had been running the business since his father had died of cholera in 1860. William, who was considered as a pioneer and innovator amongst the industry, was always determined to improve on the existing technology. When it came to lighting, this was the ‘open flame’. He became famous for his burners and lanterns as well as many beautiful interior fixtures and grew the business significantly as a result.
In the last years of the 19th Century, the gas mantle was developed further by Count Auer von Welsbach. His developments created a whole new world of gas lights and saw the birth of the Windsor lamp, one of the UK’s most popular heritage designs, even today! The Windsor lamp was designed specifically for the new technology in 1898, although the open flame burner was still in use for many years into the new century.
Around 1905, the inverted burner was invented. This meant the light was lighting the ground below the lamp rather than the sky. Several lamps were developed to take advantage of this important change. This meant that fixtures could be suspended from above, and utilise a glass globe to protect the burner. This was when the range of the ‘shadow-less’ lantern lamps was born.
The Regent: a new generation of shadowless lamps
The first of these extraordinarily different shadow-less lamps was the Regent lighting. It was made using one to eight No.4 mantle burners with gas and air external adjusters. As the mantle size increased, and became more fragile, the next step was to combine two mantles to create what then went on to be known as a ‘superheater.’ The principle here was known as the Littleton principle which had a single gas-air supply and allowed the whole design to be much simpler than before. Eventually, the design names were settled, with the Regent name being dropped and the ‘Littleton’ name being used for the whole fixture with the ‘Rochester’ as a storm-proof version.
One remarkable thing about these lantern lamps? They were in full production from around 1905 until well after WWII! A very long time indeed and due to the fact that during the Blitz a huge number of them were damaged and therefore needed to be replaced. Today, William Sugg & Co. Ltd carries on the legacy of its founder by specialising in the manufacture, preservation, and restoration of heritage lighting including these infamous heritage lamp designs.
“The Littleton & Rochester can be considered as the most important and widely used family of gas lights produced in the 20th Century. They came to define the heritage streetscape of London and many other places around the world. They have been widely used by the railway industry for both station lighting and even for marshalling yards. The DCD (or ‘Distant Control Device’) was developed to allow for remote switching on and off many lamps at a time.
Christopher Sugg, Lighting historian and historical consultant.
Upright Rochester (Left: Gas, Right: Modern design – electric only)
The rise of gas lighting in the 1800s
In the early 1800s, many cities across the world were using gas lights to illuminate streets. Several cities outside of the UK followed the lead of the UK’s coal gas allowed lanterns to illuminate their streets via the form of gas. This trend greatly improved public safety and changed the atmosphere of cities. The gas lighting era really did revolutionise urban living.
As the demand for more light grew over larger areas, particularly in big cities, burners grew in size. With multiple flames, these lanterns had to become larger and larger to cope with the excess heat. Several colossal lanterns, some over 6ft tall (!) were the result! However, lamps could not just continue to get larger and larger, so technical changes to the way they were made, and light omitted, ensued.
The impact of electricity on streetlighting
Gas lighting transformed streets and cities in the 1800s. But, in the last quarter of the 19th Century, the early development of electric arc lighting emerged as an exciting new alternative for outdoor illumination.
An ‘arc’ struck between two electrodes, produced an extremely bright light, but sadly this was not always wholly reliable. Even where arc lamps were mounted on high posts to spread the powerful light over a larger area, after several bad experiences, many authorities decided to keep their reliable gas lights working instead. If an arc failed it could cause a devastating blackout.
The electricity industry was growing steadily. It improved its offering with upgrades that reduced maintenance times. Several light sources such as fluorescent lighting and sodium and mercury lamps were to provide lower running costs too. However, the development of the gas mantle kept the gas lighting industry ahead for some further 50 years.
Many cities began installing electric streetlights to replace their existing gas lanterns. However, the transition was gradual. Gas companies fought hard to keep their infrastructure relevant in the early 20th Century. It wasn’t until the 1930s that electric lighting became familiar. However, there were many powerful gas lights developed by William Sugg for what was the start of ‘arterial’ roads allowing for the growth of faster traffic between towns and cities.
After WWII the gas industry began to plan for the end of gas street lighting. They asked all their regions to report back on the number of gas lights in use and those being replaced. Over a number of years they were then able to project a likely date for the conclusion of gas street lighting; surprisingly this was as late as 1968.
“For reasons such as the affection which is felt in certain parts of the country towards gas lighting and the possibility of electricity not being available in every country lane, it is possible that isolated pockets of gas street lighting will remain after the general disappearance from the streets. Like its elder sister domestic gas lighting, it may well never die but only fade away.”
This of course has turned out to be true more than 60 years later, not so much because of non-availability of electricity but certainly from the affection felt towards gas lighting and its particular suitability in many heritage situations.
The timeless appeal of the Regent, Rochester and Littleton Lantern Lamps
The heritage appeal of the Regent, Rochester and Littleton models makes them ideal choices for historically sensitive locations. By lighting the present with lanterns from the past, we can maintain a tangible link to history and transport people back to the gaslit era that shaped the landscapes we love today.
The Upright Rochester lighting can still be observed in some areas of London, particularly in Westminster. This location is especially appropriate as Westminster was the original home of the Sugg enterprise from the time it was established in 1837.
Many local authorities specifically select Rochester lamps to preserve the authentic character of historic streets and landmarks. The historic lanterns seamlessly blend into their surroundings, adding a touch of vintage elegance to the area. Lighting specialists often recommend Rochester and Regent lighting models to help cultivate a desired ambience in heritage locations as these lanterns are so symbolic of past eras.
Preserving history with heritage lanterns
Heritage lanterns like the Regent, Rochester and Littleton hold a special place in lighting history. While gas lighting has long faded from common use, these ornate lanterns continue to be valued for their appeal.
Beyond their visual appeal, the historic lanterns also represent quality craftsmanship and materials. The copper and other metals are built to endure decades of use while maintaining their superior finish. For locations wanting to foster traditional charm, these heritage lanterns are a splendid choice.
Contact us to find out more or to discuss your next project.