Pall Mall – First Street Lit with Gas
It was a German immigrant, Frederick Albert Winsor, who in January 1807 lit the fashionable Pall Mall – where his own house was – with gas lights, making it the first street in the world illuminated in that way. He was by no means the first to work with such lighting, indeed the Chinese (how often do we hear this) had developed natural gas lighting many centuries before. In this country William Murdoch (or sometimes Murdock), a Scottish engineer working in Redruth in Cornwall, is often given the honour of being the inventor of gas lighting sometime in the mid 1790s. But gaslight was an idea to which it seems there are many claimants, among them the Earl of Dundonald in 1789.
Winsor (his original name Winzer) had managed to patent coal-gas lighting in 1804. He was an energetic promoter of his ideas, giving a paper to the Royal Society in 1806, and staging a celebration to honour George III in 1807, using gas-lights to project images on the exterior walls of houses in Pall Mall.
By 1823 more than 200 miles of London’s streets were lit with coal-gas lamps. We thus owe our clichéd flickering-light image of 19th-century London (where would Jack the Ripper films be without them) to a German-born inventor.
That flickering quality of gas lamps is hard or impossible for electronic versions to recreate, so even today for the sake of atmosphere certain parts of the capital have gas lighting: the exterior of Buckingham Palace ; Covent Garden ; and the Royal Parks. And elsewhere in the country too some have chosen to retain this method of illumination, notably the lovely Park Estate in Nottingham .
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