Historical treasures – Suggs railway locomotive lamps

Railway Locomotive lamps: During the whole of the steam era locomotives utilized oil lamps for headlights. These were generally fitted to lamp brackets just above the buffer beam, on express trains. Interestingly, the headlamp positions were used to indicate the type of train. These varied depending on the company involved. For example on the GWR, express freight trains had two lamps, one over and one under the smoke-box door.

The first railway lamps used oil. They were dim affairs designed not to interfere with the driver’s ability to see signal lamps. Consequently, they were of little use for lighting the way. Later, acetylene gas was utilized. This was often being used to light the train carriages.

The Suggs lamp company was known for producing gas fixtures. However, with an eye to existing customers, they also produced many oil lamps for the railways.

The Suggs light company is still in business

Parts of the lamp

Five main parts comprised the lamp. The outer shell had a hinged front door, to allow for lighting the wick. This also had holes at the bottom to create a safe passage for air. Additionally a handle was fitted at the back, this doubled as a fitting to attach the unit to the locomotive’s lamp bracket.

Next, the inner cylinder had two lenses and an empty section. The lenses were green and red, therefore, the lamp could double as a tail lamp. This turret could be rotated easily. Inside the cylinder sat the wick and oil container assembly.

A porcelain and brass wick holder screwed into the oil tank. This had a screw allowing the wick to be moved up and down. Finally, a reflector could be attached to the tank, behind the wick holder.

These lamps nominally ran on paraffin or rape seed oil. However, the manufacturer’s plate caused some confusion. Sometimes the word “petroleum” was thought to refer to petrol, with explosive consequences! Thereafter the wording was changed to “kerosene”.

The Suggs lamp is a fine example of a simple technology that continued in use for over 150 years.

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