A Fearful Escape of Gas

Tucked away in the St Luke’s tower are two of the church’s original oil lamp stands engraved in a curved script with the name of the architect, incumbent and wardens at the opening in 1824. In a modern typescript has been added: ‘Gas Introduced by Whitfield & Hughes… 1847’

The switch from oil and candlelight to gaslight would have been an extraordinary moment for the church, increasing the lux levels and throwing a whole new perspective on the interior. Parishioners would have been familiar with this effect. From 1817, London theatres were gas lit as were the many gin palaces that peppered the city, famous for their bright and inviting lights. The shift at St Luke’s aligns more with lighting for domestic homes which happened from the 1840s.

Modernising the lighting scheme was not without its problems. The West Middlesex Advertiser in 1858 noted readers had submitted numerous complaints of ‘the fearful escape of gas particularly at the weeknight services’. The paper described congregation members returning home ill from inhaling the vaporous atmosphere. They thought the fault lay with the responsible person failing to turn off the tap on each light, and it only being stopped at the mains.

Louisa Price