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Oil Lamps in Liverpool, 1817

August 17, 2011


In 1817, when Scoresby and his father moved temporarily to Liverpool to refit the Fame and convert it into a whaler, Liverpool was converting its street lighting on the main throroughfares from oil lamps to gas. In this account, taken from Recollections of Old Liverpool by a Nonagenarian (1863), oil lamps gave the city a dark and gloomy aspect, such that those who could afford it employed “link men” to walk ahead of them carrying torches made with burning ropes. As the account shows, lamp oil, which was extracted from whale blubber, was in short supply in Liverpool:

Previous to 1817 the town was wretchedly lighted by oil lamps which used to go out upon all trifling occasions and for insufficient reasons.  They only pretended to show light at the best of times.  The lamps were not lit in summer nor on moonlight nights.  They were generally extinguished by four or five o’clock in the morning.

The gentry were at one time attended by link-men or boys in their night excursions. These links were stiff, tarred ropes about the thickness of a man’s arm.  They gave a flaring light with any quantity of bituminous-odoured smoke.  In front of one or two of the old houses of Liverpool I have seen a remnant of the link days, in an extinguisher attached to the lamp iron.  I think there is (or was) one in Mount Pleasant, near the house with the variegated pebble pavement in front (laid down, by the way, by a blind man). The link-extinguisher was a sort of narrow iron funnel of about six inches in diameter at the widest end.  It was usually attached to a lamp-iron, and was used by thrusting the link up it, when the light was to be put out.

The image above is taken from Recollections of Old Liverpool and shows the city as it was in 1813.


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