'Jack of the Lamp'

by Habib Ali (Space_Play)

About the Artwork

‘Jack of the Lamp’ was commissioned by Roundhouse Birmingham to permanently bring the work of Birmingham’s lamplighters, who used to be based at the Roundhouse, into the spotlight. The artwork was illustrated by Habib Ali from SpacePlay and painted by Stan Whitehurst from Signcraft.

The History Bit

‘Jack of the Lamp’

A lamplighter was employed to light, put out and maintain gas streetlights, they used the Roundhouse as a base in Ladywood.

Lamps were individually lit by the lamplighter at the top of a ladder with a torch on the end of a pole. Their ‘walk’ was timed so that all the lamps would be lit by the time it got dark and extinguished by the time it was light in the morning, depending on the time of year.

A Birmingham Daily Post article in 1894 recorded that each lamplighter was responsible for lighting and extinguishing 110 lamps and walked up to 12 miles a day.

Lamplighters were part of wider Corporation of Birmingham improvements to the city to make the dark and smoky streets of Victorian Birmingham safer and lighter.

They were well received by the community, so much so that occasionally crowds of people and children would serenade them as they ascended and descended their ladders by singing, “Jack of the light, he comes with his ladder every night!”

Lamplighters were always men, aside from during war time, when lamp-lighting become one of several wartime jobs for women.

Few lamplighters exist today as most gas street lighting has been replaced by electric lamps.

Corporation of Birmingham – Birmingham City Council in the Victorian Era.

Victorian Era – 1837 -1901 during Queen Victoria’s reign of the United Kingdom, it was an era defined by the industrial revolution, moral standards, social change, the British Empire, and political reform.