On this day … 24 January 1891

The Preston Guardian reported that Preston Council was considering adopting electricity for street lighting.

By 1912, according to Clemesha’s History of Preston, published in that year, the National Electric Supply Company, a limited company, was lighting some of the streets in the town, but gas lamps continued to light the rest. In fact, gas lamps were lighting more and more streets until after the First World War.

In his History of Preston published in 1883, Anthony Hewitson, recorded that: ‘The number of public lamps in the districts are 1,934 in Preston, Fishwick, Ashton, and Ribbleton; 141 in Walton-le-Dale; and 68 in Fulwood.’

The Barrett Directories for Preston record the Preston Gas Company was providing 3,150 public street lamps in 1907, but by 1917 the number had increased to 4,040 lamps. By the time of the 1926/27 edition of the directory the number had fallen to 3,380 public lamps, presumably as gas lamps were replaced by electric street lighting.

Preston had become the first provincial town to have gas street lighting in 1816, a year after the founding of the Preston Gas Company. Before then, residents had to rely on a small number of oil lamps at strategic locations around the town.

According to Hewitson, in 1699 the corporation issued the following order:

… for the better going in the streets of this town, in the winter evenings, in the decrease of the moon or when cloude interfere, it has been thought necessary that some lamps or convex lights bee provided . And there being four such convex lights already bought, provided, and brought down from London …

One was placed in the Market Place, another in Church Street near the parish church, a third at the ‘head end of Min Sprit Weend’, and the fourth near the ‘Butter Crosse’. It was further ordered that ‘all the said four lights bee taken care of, attended, and supplied with oyle and other necessaries as occasion requires at the town’s charge’.

The picture of the obelisk on Preston Market Place is from Barney Smith’s Preston Digital Archive. It was erected at the end of the eighteenth century and in 1816 was taken down to have a gas pipe inserted to light a gas lamp placed at the top.

The Obelisk, Preston Market Place
The Obelisk, Preston Market Place. Engraving by J. Foreman
Illustration taken from Marmaduke Tulket’s The History of the Borough of Preston Published in 1821 by P. Whittle, Preston.
Clearly artistic license was applied to the proportions of the structure relative to the chap standing on the plinth. For a time the obelisk was surmounted by a large glass globe that contained a gas burner. Gas was supplied by a pipe encased within the vertical stone column, making Preston one of the first public markets outside London to be provided with lighting. The half timbered buildings in the background were cleared away to provide space for the town hall (the present location of Crystal House)
Source: Barney Smith’s Preston Digital Archive

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