Why artificial sunshine? Today we can light our homes at the flick of a switch, turning night into day. Only when things go wrong, like a power cut, can we appreciate the experience of our ancestors, who after sunset, had to shut down their working lives. For the poor, the source of light was from the hearth, supplemented by rushlight, tallow dip and oil lamps. The rich could light their homes with candles of wax, but contemporary accounts make clear that sumptuous lighting was only used on special occasions. All this changed with the arrival in the early nineteenth century of gas lighting. It was the industrial revolution that provided the incentive to make radical improvements to lighting: cottage industries and manufactories had to continue production beyond nightfall. Gas lighting was installed in factories, shops and on the streets, permitting a social life after dark for citizens and town dwellers. Gas lighting was also installed in homes, though the highest echelons of society regarded it as rather common. They put away their oil lamps and candlesticks with the development of electric lighting.
Maureen Dillon traces the fascinating history of domestic lighting, explaining the technological developments, providing, providing the social context, and detailing the changes in style and design of fittings. She draws upon the remarkable range of light fittings offered by the National Trust's collection of historic houses, from rushlights at Moseley Old Hall to exquisite chandeliers at Saltram, from dark lanterns and lace enhancers at Toenend to electric jewellery at Cragside. At the end of the nineteenth century, it would have been possible for a visitor to Britain to see all the lighting technologies described above. At the start of the twenty-first century, we can only wonder at the lifestyle of our forefathers, vividly described by Joseph Swan, the developer of the electric light bulb, as the 'dark ages'.
Owners of historic houses, big and small, old and not so old, will find the survey of light fittings and their attachments and accoutrements invaluable The social context of lighting will be of great interest even to the non-technological reader For visitors to National Trust houses, this book will provide the means to recognise and understand domestic lighting in all its various forms