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8 / Mar 2013
“What have the Romans ever done for us?”
Well, as far as lighting is concerned, they introduced fish oil based, wick lamps, which, in turn lead to the creation of candles, the major source of light for centuries.
The Dutch lead the way with decorative lighting. They introduced the ‘S’-scroll arm, solid brass chandeliers, into churches in the 12thcentury and it is still a popular design.
It wasn’t until the 14th Century that decorative light fittings made their way into the houses of the very wealthy.
The Renaissance brought an abundance of new designs in candle chandeliers and wall sconces, many of which have been remodelled throughout history. Silver and pewter became the favourite materials, as with the Haddon Hall chandelier (c1660) and the Knole House chandelier (c1670)
During the Classical Age lighting design blossomed. Wood was popular, as it could imitate the style of furniture. Candlesticks and candelabra were still widely used (thanks to the Romans!). And, let’s not forget, the most luxurious light fitting of all, the crystal chandelier was introduced.
Oil and gas lighting became the latest innovation. The arrival of the first street gas lighting in Pall Mall in 1807 brought huge excitement to the Capital.
Victorian and Edwardian Lighting
The most innovative of Victorian fittings was the rise-and-fall gasolier, this could be raised closer to the ceiling when not in use, and lowered when light was required in the main part of the room.
With some notable exceptions, such as Cragside in Northumberland, most households didn’t have electric lighting installed until Edwardian times. Rise and fall fittings still proved a highly practical solution when electricity started to replace gas. Their elegant design makes them still hugely popular today.
The flexibility of electric lighting and the industrial revolution sparked an explosion of design and manufacture on an unprecedented scale and made light fittings available to all.
The gas industry fought hard, with propaganda about the gimmickry and danger of the electricity and the dangers of electric light.
Salvaged light fittings offer a unique feature to a room, but any conversion or restoration work is best carried out by an experienced workshop and should meet current electrical standards.
So, except for lighting – what have the Romans done for us? “Irrigation, Medicine, Education”. “Yeah, yeah, all right, fair enough.”