A history of Jersey's street lamps

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This article by Robin Cox was first published in Jersey Topic magazine in 1966

Thomas Edge

Jersey's street lighting, although today taken so much for granted, has an interesting history. The man behind the local story was Thomas Edge, who manufactured both coal gas and gas fittings in Westminster, London.

On one of his visits to Guernsey, he realised how beneficial the local production of gas would be, both to the Island and to himself. His idea was well received, and he soon came over to Jersey to examine the possibilities here.

The same favourable reception awaited him and on 7 June 1830, the contract was passed in the Royal Court for the sale of a meadow in Bath Street, on which Edge was to construct his gas works. Work proceeded well in the construction of the works and in the laying of conduits. The first few shops in the town were lit by gas in March 1831.

Noting that the installation of gas in these shops had been effected without undue catastrophe, the gentlemen of the Harbours and Piers Committee caused 28 lamps to be erected around the harbour, lit for the first time on 1 November of the same year.

The St Helier's Parish fathers were soon being pestered with requests to have the streets of the expanding town lit by gas. Satisfied with the performance of the harbour gas lamps, the parish refused an offer from Guernsey to buy their old oil lamps (Guernsey had had gas a few months before Jersey) and agreed to permit Edge to place pillars, lanterns and additional conduits throughout the various thoroughfares of the town at his own cost, purchasing the gas from him at 15s per thousand cubic feet.

Even with this one-sided arrangement, the parish evidently considered the agreement to be excessively expensive and introduced a range of lighting regulations.

"The lamps will be lit only from sunset to 2 am each night from mid-August until the end of April — excluding the three nights preceding, the night of, and the three nights succeeding each full moon."

The summer months saw no lighting, during which time the lanterns were removed from their brackets.

Price reduced - 1

As regards the quality of the gas, the consumers had no complaint, but by 1839 they had found the price to be too much and in an effort to have the price reduced, a rival company, The St Helier's Union Gas Company, was proposed. The effect was magical. The price was reduced.

By this time St. Helier had grown even more, and the need for more gas street lamps became greater. Mr Edge had the necessary extra ones laid at his own expense, as before, the Parish still insisting on their peculiar arrangements as regards the hours of lighting.

Price reduced - 2

In 1844 consumers again became cocerned with the price of gas and effected its reduction in the same manner as before, by the proposal of a rival gas company. Mr Edge, although he did reduce the price, did not give in as easily as before, writing to England about the matter of two gas companies operating side by side, and receiving dreadful tales of how financially destructive the two companies were to each other.

With the opposition removed, Edge pushed ahead with the extension of the mains. St Saviour's Hill, as far as the parish church, was first lit in March of 1850, and St Aubin's Road, as far as Millbrook in 1857.

Despite vigorous campaigning by St Brelade, the mains were not extended to St Aubin until June 1864, The supply was inaugurated with much feast0making and pleasure. From 1858 until that date, the town had been lit with a few oil lamps.

The gas works were sold by Edge to the Gaslight Company in September 1856, the new management taking over on 1 October: By this time the quality of the gas had deteriorated so much that the French-language newspaper was prompted to remark on the need for lighting candles to supplement the gaslight in the home, and the parish street lamps were almost useless.

Price reduced - 3

But, they added, the new company would soon end that state of affairs. But apart from the laying of a few new gas main pipes, the new company did precious little improve the state of of affairs and the discontented consumers effected, for a third time, the ‘new rival company' scheme. For the third time the method worked. The price was reduced, the manager dismissed, and with the appointment of Mr Morris in his stead, both the fortunes and the reputation of the gas company changed for the better.

All the lamps at first employed on the harbour were supplied by Edge from his factory at Westminster. The posts were hexagonal, the design based on the early idea of the post ‘sprouting’ from a clump of leaves at the base.

One of the original lamp-posts can be seen on Pier Road, where it now serves as a support for a leading light. This design was later replaced by a plain hexagonal type, which in turn was replaced by the now common simply fluted pillar. All the Jersey pillars, apart from a few ornamented examples, were made in England. With the narrowness of many town streets, pillars would have contributed to the general congestion with the resultthat they were replaced by many different wall brackets, each individually tailored to suit the peculiarities of Jersey architecture.

Each pillar was fitted with a wrought iron 'basket’ into which the lanterns were placed at the beginning of the lighting season, and out of which they were taken at the end. Of the lanterns employed, there were two main types — the tin lantern, the oldest, fits into the 'basket' or into the wall bracket, and the later, all-copper 'Windsor' lantern, which dispensed with the need for the 'basket', fitting directly on to the pillar or bracket.

A third rare type, outside the works, can be seen at Mont-a-l'Abbe, a powerful modern lantern.

Electricity

Mains electricity came late to the Island. Although de Gruchy's Arcade had been lit with the modern ‘fluid' as early as 1883, and despite the use of it by other enterprising parties, the town parish showed no interest in the idea of replacing gas as the source of light in the streets.

Far from it. With the invention of the incandescent mantle and its introduction into Jersey in 1896 with its much improved light over the simple swallow-tail burner, the gas lamp was assured for many years.

The honour for the first electric street lamp fell to the Parish of Grouville, where, in 1912, a private individual caused to have erected an electric pillar at La Sente Maillard. The current was supplied by a small petrol engine. The preliminaries for the supply of mains electricity were actively pursued by a company formed in 1914, but with the advent of the Great War, the project had to be postponed. During the war, because of blackout regulations, all the gas lanterns were removed from their fittings and placed in store and many of the pillars were removed from the streets. Their presence on the edge of the pavements constituted serious dangers in the dark thoroughfares.

After the war the whole question of electricity supply was brought up again and after much discussion the rights of supply were given to the Jersey Electricity Company. The ceremony of the laying of the first cable was performed in November 1924.

Once again, the Harbours and Piers Committee excelled themselves by being the first local authority to provide large scale public lighting and the first electric lamps on the harbour shone brightly on 1 February 1926.

The company had concentrated on supplying private consumers, and it was not until 1929 that the first JEC street lamps were fitted in St Peter, followed by small-scale extensions to pre-war estates. The Gas Company met the challenge in 1932 by fitting their lanterns with mirror reflectors and more powerful burners, the reflectors being positioned in such a way as to throw most light where it was most needed. The exact number of electric lanterns is not avilable. The number of gas street lamps at the end of 1939 had reached 1,036.

The declaration of the Second World War necessitated a repeat of the Great War's blackout conditions. The gas lanterns were again removed from their pillars and the bulbs removed from the electric lamps. After the war street lighting was resumed on 1 November 1945, and has been continued, without interruption, ever since.

The JEC have pushed ahead with the laying of mains all over the Island and every parish now enjoys the benefits of the 'fluid', if not all having the advantage of street lighting. The Gas Company, however, have concentrated on bettering their networks, found mainly in the south and east of the Island.

Those pillars, initially used for the electric lighting, were constructed in concrete to a very poor design and were originally placed in areas where gas lighting had not been supplied. Later concrete versions have shown a distinct improvement in taste and are now almost attractive. Of the metal pillars, the placing of the lamps in gasless areas precluded the use of old cast pillars in the electrification schemes and the present substitution of gas in the town by fluorescent lighting dictates that the new lanterns be placed at a much higher point above the streets than that of the gas, using new standard wall brackets.

A most acceptable innovation has been the employment by the JEC of green fibreglass pillars for rural areas, where a respect for the beauty of the island's countryside by day and the efficient illumination of the wooded lanes by night (plus the desirable reduction in replacement costs in event of damage) are of importance. Their economy contrasts sharply with, that of the tall metal pillars along Victoria Avenue or the spun-steel pillars to be found around the Weighbridge area.

Latest figures from the Jersey Electricity Company show that there are about 1,720 street lighting points. The Gas Company remains responsible for 271 lamps.

With the introduction of Liquified Petroleum Gas in the autumn of this year, the Gas Company will be, by the manner of its supply to consumers, under no obligation to rid the streets of the old lamps at once. However, the small number of lamps at present to be found in the Island are no longer a source of remuneration to the company and since 1959 street lamps have been replaced at an annual average of 81. It seems probable that by the end of 1968 the gas street lamp will have vanished completely.

Vanished, that is, from the streets, but many of the old lamps are being put to further use in private gardens, both as attractive ornaments and as sources of light for driveways.

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