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Engineering the past to meet the needs of the future
This paper is in a series of information SERVICES COVERED ARE:

guides aimed at providing “easy to understand” 1 Principles

2 Water
advice on the most appropriate conservation
3 Electrical
and installation principles for incorporating 4 Heating
building services into historic or traditionally 5 Lighting
constructed buildings, many of which will be 6 Fire Alarms
listed or scheduled.
This guide presents the general
principle of how to light the
internal spaces of historic buildings
sympathetically with due regard
to their design, layout and any
existing services from previous
times that are being retained.

Front Cover image: A Corona Lucis

gasolier (Located in St Saviour’s
Church Tetbury, Gloucestershire)
These were often converted to
electricity becoming electroliers.


Rush lights (made Where the properties of the very rich were concerned
from rush pith)
the existing light fittings were often important in their
Tallow (animal fat) relevance to the building and it history, as well as their
intrinsic value. If expensive mirrored wall sconces and
Gas mantle and silver chandeliers were to survive they had to be adapted
glass shade to the new technology, but for most people new fittings
were purchased to keep ‘up to date’ with the latest
artificial lighting.
By the early twentieth century the cost of electricity
had fallen enabling more of the expanding middle-classes
to install it but usually only into the principal rooms
of their properties.This still left cooking and heating
primarily fuelled by gas and coal. In poorer dwellings
the electric light fittings – if used – were normally much
cheaper and poorly made. As a consequence they
were often scrapped without a second thought and
replacements found as and when needed.This has
Electric lighting is a relatively new component of most resulted in far fewer of these early, inexpensive luminaires
historic buildings’ interiors. Unless the structure dates enduring the passage of time. It was only when the
from the early part of the twentieth century it is most National Grid’s first stage became operational in 1934
likely that it would have previously employed a range that electricity started to become affordable and by the
of alternative forms of lighting from gas mantles to time the grid was nationalised in 1948 the majority of
wax candles and rush lights, even acetylene gas lighting homes were lit by electricity.
enjoyed some popularity with country-houses until
around the 1900’s. Until the 1920’s it would have It took a long time to convince manufacturers that
been unusual to live in a house that was exclusively electricity had a future so very little was done in the
lit by electricity as the costs involved ensured it was way of specific designs for electric lights.The often used
confined to the prosperous upper classes. approach was to adapt designs for gas lights.These were
John Ryland’s John Ryland’s
Library, Manchester Library, Manchester
– office area lighting – surface mounted
consisting of a single wiring distribution
pendant light with system
open glass bowl

often unsuitable as with gas you dealt with a light source The overall cost of installing the new electrical light was
that was upward facing and not downwards as needed relatively high but could, and was, lowered in a number
with electric lamps.The simplest, but not the best, of ways. One such method employed was the way in
solution was to take the design for a gasolier and turn which the dwelling was wired.The costly option was to
the arms upside down or just convert an existing gas try and conceal the cabling in the walls, which entailed
fitting.The alternative option was to start from scratch the channelling of plasterwork and the cost of redecoration.
with the new electric light. Given the poor standard of insulation of early wiring this
was also the hazardous option. It was much safer and
As the new technology was a novelty in its own right, cheaper to install the cabling on the surface and cover
early designers would often deliberately design fittings it with metal or wood casing, a feature that can still be
where the lamps and flexes were on show – see the seen in a number of buildings – see John Ryland’s Library
St Alban the Martyr church example.This style was example.The casing was also often run under the floor
due, in part; to wanting to display the new technology, to route the wiring from room to room. Examples of the
but more practically if the lamps were shaded it would wooden casing were found during the recent rewire of
further reduce their already poor light output. the National Trust’s property – Cragside.
Early lighting systems, as previously stated, were The trunking was usually grooved on the surface; the
expensive. In 1881 carbon filament lamps cost the groves indicating the location of the cabling underneath
then huge sum of 25 shillings each – which could and where it was unsafe to screw fix the lid.
easily have bought a man a new Sunday suit, (decimal
currency = £1.25).

St Alban the Martyr Church in

Swaythling Southampton, (grade 2
dating from 1933), along with its hall,
were designed and built in 1933 by
architects Welch, Cachemaille-Day
and Lander.The luminaires, as well
as all the church furniture and
candlesticks, were all designed by
Cachemaille-Day. The chandelier-like
luminaires consist of two wooden
armatures glued together hiding the
cable route through the fitting and
down onto the bare lampholders
below.The whole fixture was then
gilded and the coat of arms of St
Alban painted into the fitting

Lighting any space or surface requires skill, far more than

most building professionals give credit for. When dealing
with heritage building stock there is often the temptation,
or misguided impression, that the luminaires used should
have a period flavour about them.This is not the case
unless there are clear antecedents for the style suggested.
Most historic buildings have gone through many periods
of change and have had sundry different types and styles
Englishman Joseph Swan and American Thomas Edison
of lighting. As outlined in the opening section, lighting
are usually quoted as being the inventors of the
has developed from very simple organic methods of
incandescent lamp, but in fact there were 22 people
prolonging the hours of daylight for example candles;
that can be quoted prior to either man as having
to sophisticated semi-conductor devices which produce
beaten him to the task.
electroluminescence – today’s multi-functional Light
Joseph Wilson Swan began in 1850 working with Emitting Diodes (LED’s).
carbonized paper filaments in an evacuated glass
bulb. By 1860 he was able to demonstrate a working With increasing pressure on today’s historic building
device but the lack of a good vacuum and an stock, it has to be flexible and accommodating to ensure
adequate supply of electricity resulted in a short its survival. In addition, with regard to the end use, the
lifetime an inefficient bulb and a poor source of light. lighting has to respect and reflect this also. Unless the
building was constructed, as John Ryland’s Library or
In 1878, with the assistance of Charles Stearn, an NT’s Cragside were, with electrical light from their
expert in vacuum pumps, this was improved with the inception, it is unlikely that any particular period style
resulting avoidance of lamp blackening that had of light fitting would be considered ‘right’.
plagued earlier attempts.
If nothing remains of the building interiors, and its
In 1880 this received a British patent. Edison however
end use is to be radically altered from that for which
had begun serious research into developing a practical
it was built, then a major change of light fitting may be
incandescent lamp in 1878 and had filed his first
required to accommodate the needs of the building’s
patent in October that year.
new purpose. Even when the style of luminaire is known,
His first successful test was in October 1879 after and in some cases still functioning, it is not always the
experimenting with other materials before returning most ‘honest’ solution to copy the light fittings present,
to carbon as the filament. Although the patent far better in some cases to emulate, without blindly
described several ways of creating the filament imitating, the style.
including cotton and linen thread, wood splints and a
paper coiled in various ways it was not until several Users and developers should consider installing good
months after that Edison discovered that a carbonized 21st century, contemporary designs which are functional
bamboo filament could last over 1200 hours. and elegant rather than to ape the past, although this
may not be a suitable route for listed buildings and local
conservation officer advice should be sort.There is no
heritage rule that says you must used ‘antique bronze’
this and ‘period’ that. Finishes that complement and do
not jar with their surroundings are just as suitable as
attempting to match the new to the old or existing.
When the Victorians installed gas lighting they used the
cutting edge technology of their time and so should we.
With the increasing problems of energy costs, and the
push for ever ‘greener’ technology, we should grasp the
opportunity to marry the past with the future where it
does not adversely impact or destroy the historic fabric.

One of the most commonly found ‘early’ luminaires,

other than decorative wall sconces, is the multi-armed
candelabra or chandelier.These can come in an
enormous variety of sizes and configurations.The fittings
are often converted from gasoliers or from even earlier
candle lights. Either way, in the interim, we have become
used to them being fitted with incandescent tungsten
candle lamps and in turn have become accustomed to
the particular quality of light they bring to a space.
In a recent European Commission directive it has been
decided to prohibit the sale of these particularly high
energy lamps, for household use, in stages up to 2016.
As part of the EU Directive all incandescent lamps over
At John Ryland’s Library a dimly lit circulation 7 watts will have been phased out by September 2012,
corridor was to be used as an exhibition space, this starting with the most inefficient lamps. In 2013 there
meant that the space had to have supplementary will be a raising of quality requirements and by 2016
luminaires.The new fittings were positioned in a lamps with energy class C will be no longer available.
similar pattern to the existing. In the pictures below The aim by government is to save up to 5 million tonnes
the right hand fittings are the existing ornate wall of carbon dioxide a year by 2012 from UK electrical
sconce, the left are modern twin fitting spotlights. generation.This directive is seen as a strong signal that
government and the EU are serious about climate
The resulting lighting affect is very different, as these change and that the future of the lighting belongs to
pictures demonstrate, but as the function of the the energy-saving lamps and LED’s
corridor was changing as part of the library refit,
and the space was to be used for exhibitions, the This does not mean that incandescent lamps cannot
spotlights performed a function that the original be used in a building; this only regulates the retail sales.
fittings could not and although they are completely Anyone still using these lamps is not obliged to replace
different in design they replicate the basic size and them from 1st September 2009 – even if this is the
form of their Victorian counterparts. most worthwhile and cost effective approach to take,
mindful of recent increases in energy prices.
Ironically at the roughly same time as this directive, a
voluntary UK phase out of these types of lamps was
already underway – the timing being confusingly slightly
different to that of the EU.
An example would be the avoidance of using recessed Lighting designers also need to take cognisance of the
light fittings where the ceiling is either original or forms Building Regulations part L and any implications there
a fire barrier. Precautions, even if the installation of such may be for their building – especially if it is part of a
a luminaire is possible, should always be taken to ensure greater development. Lamp efficacies are quoted that
the minimal fire risk to the building. Care should be taken need to be either adhered to or at least considered if a
that there is no excessive heat build up due to the fitting historic building exemption, of this requirement, applies.
being installed incorrectly or too close to fabric or some
other combustible material.
Apsley House –

The WEEE (The Waste Electrical and Electronic No. 1 London

Equipment) Directive calls for controls to be in

place of the disposal and recycling of waste electrical
and electronic equipment and came into effect
1 July 2006). Its partner legalisation is the RoHS
(Restriction of Hazardous Substances) European
directive that restricts the use of certain hazardous
chemicals in the manufacture of new electrical and
electronic equipment (EEE).The restrictions apply
to six hazardous substances including mercury, lead
and cadmium. Local council refuse collection centres
provide collection points for fluorescent lamps that
contain mercury and broken lamps of this type
should never be thrown away in normal household
rubbish which will usually end up in landfill.

Whatever the situation, it means that chandeliers will Another candidate – which will ultimately be the future
need a suitable replacement light source. Compact of all lighting – is the light emitting diode (LED) version
fluorescent lamps (CFL’s) have been available for many of the ‘candle’ and ‘A-shaped’ lamps, available in a variety
years and initially appear to be an obvious candidate, of colours.This type of lamp has a working life of up to
but even when they have been designed to resemble 30,000 – 50,000 hours (depending upon manufacturers
the incandescent lamps they hope to replace there has data), using about 10 percent of the power of a traditional
been resistance to using them.This apathy is a mixture GLS lamp. Compare the two lamps below; the one the
of a dislike of their aesthetic appearance, the weight left is a clear tungsten halogen IRC coated lamp rated
increase due to their need for control gear and the at 28 watts, the one on the right is LED rated at 1watt,
fact that the lamps contain small amounts of mercury, they both nominally replace a 40 watt incandescent
(although there are disposals systems and legislation in candle lamp.
place to deal with this – see the WEEE directive panel).
They are also more expensive to buy; however in most The Tungsten Halogen lamp can save £75 in energy per
cases they will pay for themselves after about one year year. It produces a sparkly light, slightly whiter light than
due to their substantially lower energy costs. Also the incandescent lamps with technology which runs the
additional advantages of any energy saving lamp are the lamp at a cooler temperature thereby enabling a longer
reduced degradation of the electrical installation and the operating life. Although it will not save you as much
lowered fire risk because of cooler running temperatures. energy, the appearance is very similar to that which they
are replacing.They are ideally suited to fittings where the
There is also another major reason; although the CFL is lamp is exposed, such as crystal chandeliers.
a far more energy efficient lamp the light characteristics
are ‘different’. As a light source they are not as ‘bright
and sparkly’ as the inefficient tungsten GLS. Also they
have poor colour rendering properties, a run-up time Alternatives to GLS Candle Lamps
to full light output in the region of up to 2 minutes and
are generally incompatible with dimmer switches without
appropriate control gear which can increase the overall
cost of the unit.
There are now alternatives to both. One is a tungsten
halogen lamp with an infra-red conserving (IRC) coating
which offers the same sort of light quality as the GLS
but with much improved lamp life of 2000 hours and a
30 per cent increase in efficacy, so a traditional lamp of
60 watts can be replaced with a tungsten halogen lamp
rated at 42 watts; a 25 watt with a 18 watt and so on.
The LED lamp produces less sparkle and gives a cooler St Botolph’s Church
whiter light with different characteristics to incandescent West Sussex –
lamps but of course much longer lamp life and medieval wall
paintings lit with
considerably greater energy savings.There are however LED spotlights and
issues regarding LED’s.They require a cool environment discharge lighting
where they will not over heat, and a mock-up of any
proposed installation is always advised. It should also
be remembered they require control gear or drivers
to operate – so a location for this equipment will also
have to be accommodated within the space, without
embedding it into the fabric with the consequential
fire risk that might bring.
The other considerations that have to be made,
especially when considering alternative lamp use in
a museum / gallery environment, are the undesired
by-products.These can be problems such as infra red
radiation and unsuitable or high operating temperatures,
(although LED’s do not emit any UV or IR). It is
important to consider the effect all of this could have
on delicate paintings and fabrics. It is wise to consult
with manufacturers before installing such low energy
replacements especially where such by-products may
harm the artefacts they are supposed to be illuminating.
Whatever light source is decided upon, be assured, this
is a very swiftly moving area of technical development
and it will not be long before CFL and the LED lamps
have moved on from their present restrictions and
problems into new and more effective and efficient
areas.The present, much loved GLS lamps, took many
decades to reach their present level of maturity but it
will not take more than another for the descendants
of these electric lamps to find theirs.
The future is looking like it will be Organic LED’s
(OLED’s).They are also known as Light Emitting
Polymers (LEP’s) and are composed of a film of emissive
electroluminescent organic compounds.This means they
can be deposited onto a flat surface by a simple “printing”
method.The resulting matrix will then emit light of
differing colours. In other words eventually you will be
able to make any object or surface your light source!

The information in this publication is based on our current knowledge. Whilst every effort has been made to ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS
ensure the accuracy of the advice given, English Heritage does not accept liability for loss or damage arising English Heritage would like to acknowledge the help of the following in the production of this guide:
from the use of this information.This publication is intended as a general guide and should not be used as a The CIBSE Heritage Group
substitute fro professional advice. John Rylands Library, Manchester
St Alban the Martyr Church, Southampton
The inclusion in this publication of any company, group or individual, or any product or service, should not be St Botolphs Church, Hardham
regarded as either a recommendation or an endorsement by English Heritage or its agents.”
Text by Geraldine O’Farrell – BsEST, Conservation Department EH; front cover image courtesy of CIBSE
Heritage Group; image on top right of page 3 courtesy of Andrew More, English Heritage; image on top left
of page 3 courtesy of Andrew More – English Heritage; image on bottom of page 3 courtesy of Geraldine
O’Farrell – English Heritage; image on page 5 courtesy of Andrew More – English Heritage; image on top
of page 6 courtesy of Caroline Churchill – English Heritage. Images on page 7 courtesy of Alan Weaver,
Crescent Lighting Limited
Lamp type GLS CFL
Halogen – IRC Halogen LED
Incandescent (Compact
in-GLS (Infra-Red (Lighting-emitting
(General Lighting Fluorescent Lamps)
conserving Coating) Diode)

Efficacy in lumens 12
per watt and questionable
data from
manufacturers –
figures range
from 28 to 55

Life in hours 1,000

Up to 50,000

Colour rendering 100

95 – 98

index (ability to see

colours accurately
100 = best)

Dimmable yes yes with special yes yes yes

control gear

Instant full light yes no yes yes yes


Price low medium medium high high

BsEST – Building services

Engineering and Safety Team

English Heritage


Isambard House

Kemble Drive

Swindon SN2 2GZ

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