Lighting the home

One of the Archives online exhibitions exploring popular topics in the history of science, engineering and technology. All the images are scans from originals held in the IET Archives.  

Advertisement from The Electric Age for Women 1936

The initial spread of electricity in Britain was slow and as it was so much more expensive than gas the ordinary person could not afford it. It was not until about 1911, when metal filament lamps had been perfected, that electric lighting became more widely available. 

Even by the time of the First World War electric lighting was still enjoyed by the rich minority. It was only when the Electricity (Supply) Act of 1926 was passed that real progress was made in distribution. 

This Act set up a Central Electricity Board with the power to standardize the generation of electricity, evenly distribute stations and to create a national grid to connect different sources of supply and extend them to the countryside.

The advertisement on the right is from The Electrical Age for Women 1936 demonstrating the difference between life before and after electric lighting. Click on the image to see a larger view.

Electrical light fittings from the Lucas and Pyke collection 1892
Electrical light fittings from the Lucas and Pyke collection 1892
Electrical light fittings from the Lucas and Pyke collection 1892

Three watercolour drawings from the Lucas and Pyke Collection. These are the electrical light fittings relating to contracts with various companies, 1892.

The electric light in the home

Despite the slow start, electric lighting soon became very popular. Some of the more affluent households could not even wait to benefit from the advantages of electric lighting and had them installed before an electric light station was present in their neighbourhood. Ignorance however, prevailed as to how electricity actually worked as they were so used to gas and oil lamps. Signs, such as the reproduction illustrated here, were placed alongside the fittings to instruct users and to put their minds at ease that the electric lights were in no way injurious to their health.

Reproduction of a sign issuing instructions on how to use electric lights

For those that could afford these new electric lights there were a variety of styles to chose from. As discussed in the section concerning the promotion of electric lighting, books were written to advise customers on the best way to light their rooms. 

The photographs below, taken from Robert Hammond's book The Electric Light in our Homes, 1884, show how rooms could benefit from this new lighting technology. For example, the wall sconces did not give off an unsightly glare but could illuminate the whole room. 

Or the chandelier over the table in the photograph below, directed the light onto the dining table where it was needed. This also had the benefit of having individual lamps that could be turned off singly or as a whole depending on the atmosphere one wished to create.

Next page → Lighting the home- women's involvement

Back to Domestic Lighting Index

Photograph of a drawing room with wall sconces 1884
Detail of a wall sconce 1884
Photograph of a dining room with overhead chandeliers 1884
Detail of a chandelier 1884