A paraffin lamp

These days we really struggle without electricity. On those occasions, which really are quite rare, when we have power cuts, life rapidly turns into a misery and a cause for panic. Our heating fails because whatever the basic fuel, electricity seems to be needed. We have no lighting. Our phones and computers can’t get charged. We may lose internet access because our routers need their power. We can’t cook and we panic about what might happen to food stored in freezers. Yet well within living memory, many people just didn’t have electricity. Only people in their 90s will remember Market Lavington without electricity for the now vital energy supply arrived in 1927.

Before that, people had to make do with candles or oil lamps. We have several candle holders and oil lamps in the museum and today we look at a paraffin burning lamp which dates from the late nineteenth century and which can be found on the mantelshelf, above the range in the kitchen room at the museum.

Late nineteenth century paraffin lamp at Market Lavington Museum

Late nineteenth century paraffin lamp at Market Lavington Museum

This particular lamp has a carrying handle. It was for lighting your way to bed. Yes, remember that the stairway was probably the darkest and most dangerous part of the house at night time.

This lamp has a very elegant glass chimney which surrounds the otherwise naked flame. The wheel above the carrying handle is for adjusting the height of the wick. It was important to keep this just right. If the wick was made too tall then some of the paraffin would not fully burn and the lamp would have given off black smoke. Too little wick could make the lamp sputter and go out. In use, adjustments were needed all the time for the wick itself did slowly burn away.

This lamp once belonged to Mrs Gale who lived on The Spring in Market Lavington.

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