Gas Lighting Comes to Lurgan

Gas LightingGas Lighting was a major event for the people of Lurgan and one that at long last brought them into the modern age and on a par with the rest of Great Britain.

William Murdock was the first to utilize the flammability of gas for the practical application of lighting. He worked for Matthew Boulton and James Watt at their Soho Foundry steam engine works in Birmingham England. In the early 1790s, while overseeing the use of his company's steam engines in tin mining in Cornwall, Murdoch began experimenting with various types of gas, finally settling on coal gas as the most effective. He first lit his own house in Redruth, Cornwall in 1792. In 1798 he used gas to light the main building of the Soho Foundry and in 1802 lit the outside in a public display of gas lighting, the lights astonishing the local population. One of the employees at the Soho Foundry, Samuel Clegg, saw the potential of this new form of lighting. Clegg left his job to set up his own gas lighting business, the Gas Lighting and Coke Company.

Gas lighting was introduced to the town after the Towns Improvement Act of 1854, nearly 50 years after the world’s first gas main was laid in London (1807). The Gasworks was built on the site of the old Bridewell or jail in William Street which was erected in 1831.

Gas light and its production was a great feature of Lurgan at that time. Early in the morning there was the rattle of the horses and carts delivering coal to the gas works and taking away the coke. When the street lights were lit again after the war, the lamplighter, with his long pole traveled up and down the street at dusk, pulling the little chains inside the street lamps that ignited the gas.

There was great ceremony each night as the mantles were lit and trimmed. These were very fragile things and much thought of in order to get the best light. They were very much 'out of bounds' for small boys. In some houses there were 'Butterfly' lights which had no mantle but the flame of gas spread out in the shape of a butterfly.

As a by-product of the original production process, sulphate of ammonia fertilizer was also produced. A labour saving vertical retort was introduced in 1911. The fuel crises in the 1960s and 70s led to the modernization of the plant to produce gas from oil but this proved uneconomic and forced the closure of the plant. The former Gasworks showroom is now a supermarket.

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