LET THERE BE LIGHT
On dark winter evenings it is not easy to imagine life without electricity, but if we cast our minds back to the grand houses of the past we might visualise the beautiful chandeliers, wall lights and candelabra of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.
English glass was first used for lighting in the early eighteenth century, first as candlesticks and taper sticks, of which many survive, and also a very few three and four light candelabra. The earliest chandeliers were made around 1730, with a few documented examples from this time; notably the chandelier given to Emmanuel College, Cambridge. These early forms of glass lighting should be best seen as candle holders, there would have been very little refraction of light apart from that mirrored in the simply cut elements on the chandelier stems.
With the advent of more complex cutting, and the addition of hanging, faceted drops, the light given by each candle would be enhanced and magnified. The magnificent chandeliers supplied by William Parker for the Bath Assembly Rooms, which can still be seen there today, are a wonderful example of the best produced in this period.
In the last quarter of the eighteenth century, with the influence of Robert Adam and his contemporaries, neo-classical design had become the fashionable look for the great houses of the day. Certainly the most beautiful chandeliers ever produced date from this period.
By the nineteenth century, during the Regency period, the designs became more solid, with the advent of tent and waterfall chandeliers composed of many hundred or thousands of drops to sparkle with the candles’ light. In the reign of William IV and the early part of Victoria’s reign these more solid designs continued; but there was also a return to the lacier look of the eighteenth century as employed by Perry & Co and F. and C. Osler.
An alternative source of light, from the earliest times, has been the burning of oil and a new form called Kolza was utilised in Regency dish lights, with a central reservoir distributing the oil to burners with glass shades around the frame.
With the increasing availability of gas, especially in the cities, many chandeliers were produced with hollow glass branches to utilise this new lighting source. The effect of this meant that chandeliers could have fewer lights and could be available to a wider clientele.
The arrival of electricity in the 1880’s at first led to little change in the design of chandeliers, designs for gas were simply adapted for the use of the new power. Indeed, some eighteenth century designs were still being used into the early twentieth century, but also a completely new range of electrical fittings, with metal mounted glass bowls and branches with hanging glass shades, all used to conceal the light bulbs came into use.
These electroliers with numerous shades and the glass bowls and lanterns were mounted with gilt and silvered brass and are often of small size. They therefore look attractive in any home, as do the smaller gasoliers and Regency chandeliers.
Many good reproductions, of all the earlier styles, have been produced in the first half of the twentieth century. Though scaled down for use in a more modest home than the stately homes of the past these are frequently of excellent quality and appearance.
Whilst we have been concentrating mainly on chandeliers, we should not forget that candle lustres, candelabras and wall lights were produced as complementary lighting during all the periods to which we have referred and share common aspects of design with the chandeliers.