The third instalment of our posts on lighting at Attingham covers the time of William, 6th Lord Berwick who held the title during the mid-Victorian period.
Chapter 3: The Return of the Dark Ages (1861-1882)
When the 5th lord Berwick died in 1861, the title fell to his brother, William who chose to live in Springfield House on the outskirts of Shrewsbury rather than at Attingham.
Despite keeping seventeen live-in servants at Attingham in 1871, the 6th Lord Berwick only stayed in the house occasionally and entertained there with his sisters.
For such events, the family silver candlesticks may have been used but it is likely that most of the light during this period came from paraffin lamps and candles. When the 6th Lord Berwick inherited in 1861, a major discovery of oil in America led to cheap supplies of paraffin oil and candles in Britain. Paraffin became the most popular way to light country houses until the 1890s when electricity took over.
The paraffin Duplex burner, invented in 1865 meant that the two parallel wicks produced 30 c.p. (candle power) which is equivalent to 40 watts.
By 1893, a paraffin lamp with an incandescent mantle could produce up to 100 c.p. which was far greater than the 16 c.p. produced from a carbon filament incandescent electric lamp at the time.
Yet, despite the advancements in lighting as a result of cheaper paraffin oil at the time of the 6th lord Berwick, a visitor to Attingham at the time commented:
‘The rooks were cawing their vespers on the elms, and the old hall, with but with one small lamp burning faintly in its regiment of windows, stood out gaunt and drear in the twilight.’
A return to the dark ages it may well have been! The next post will cover the effect of the installation of electricity on Attingham’s interiors.