Of fads and fancies

A tavern, London, 1905

‘Fourpence for a glass of Mild and Burton and a nip of barley wine! A scandal! Balfour won’t be getting my vote again. No, as I was saying, there’s a rum element coming into the market, and now you can’t turn your back for cads, charlatans and cut-purses.

‘This business was once run by gentlemen.You knew where you stood. My word is my bond and all that. If you ordered a gas torchiere, you knew what light you were getting. Enough to read the Illustrated London News while your good lady does some embroidery. A nice green hue too. It is what people are used to.

‘It’s a proven science. Has served us well. And it can get a lot more efficient, I’m certain.

‘But some of the claims these boys are making for their electrickery are outrageous. That it doesn’t produce smoke, that it doesn’t need a lamplighter to come around every night to illuminate it, etcetera etcetera. Mr Swan will say anything to get his invention into the Picture Post. The same with that Edison fool in the Americas. Sure you can buy some lamps from his General Electric Company but will it be around in a few years’ time when the lamps fail and you need new ones?

‘And who’s checking these claims? No-one, sir. People will have bad experiences with electricity and come back to gas in droves, I’ll warrant.

‘They are also too bright, sir. And I hear from Paris that physicians there fear for the effects of electrical lighting on the delicate eyes of ladies and children.

‘It is also said that the flow of electrons in the wires disturbs sleep, and is deleterious to ladies expecting child, bringing on an attack of the vapours.

‘Don’t get me wrong, electricity has its place. Perhaps in His Majesty’s Empire where the natives are used to the strong sun. I also grant you it may have its applications in certain niches such as in the music hall or the bordello. But it shall never take over for general lighting.

‘Put simply, we have too much invested in gas. We have mantle- making factories, coal-gasification machinery and legions of lamplighters on their penny farthings.

‘Are we supposed to scrap all this equipment? Let the lamplighters end up in the debtors’ prison? Move wholesale over to this passing fad? It won’t happen in my lifetime.

‘Serving girl! A glass of Mild and Burton and a nip of barley wine for my good companion!’

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