Visitors to Thorpeness may well have been puzzled by the unusual black weather-boarded house whose upper floor straddles the footpath on Old Homes Road at the west end of Peace Place. A clue lies in the name of the building, ‘The Lamp House’, whose tower-like shape is a tangible reminder of its forerunner, the Thorpeness Acetylene Gas Generating Station.
This 500-light ‘Leading Light’ acetylene gas plant had been installed at Thorpeness by 1912 according to W H Parkes’ ‘Guide to Thorpeness: The Home of Peter Pan’, published that year. The Guidebook emphasizes the advantages of gas as opposed to oil lamps:-
‘Perceiving from the first that no village now-a-days could claim to be ideal which depended upon the smoky, smelly and exceedingly dangerous oil lamp for its illuminant, the Company [Seaside Bungalows Ltd.] entered into a contract with the Leading Light Syndicate, Ltd., to erect a central generating station with a 500-light installation, capable of being immediately increased to 1,000 or more lights (as and when required) and lay mains, with branch, with branch service pipes, to everyone of their houses.’
Thorpeness had the distinction of being the first township in Great Britain to be equipped with one shilling slot meters and cooking apparatus. The ‘cooking apparatus’ included gas rings, with atmospheric Bunsen burners and ovens. Parkes’ Guidebook goes on to extol the virtues of acetylene gas:-
‘It is cheaper than coal gas as an illuminant, infinitely safer than oil lamps and as clean as electric light. It cannot be too widely known or too strongly insisted upon that the proper use of Acetylene gas is not attended by any special danger. It is in actual fact safer than any other form of artificial lighting. The gas has a pungent smell which, in the event of a leak, causes it to be detected immediately. It takes moreover ten times as long as coal gas to fill a room of given size and when full it is not too injurious to health, as in the case of coal and other gases. The above facts have long been recognised by all the leading Fire Insurance Companies, who make no extra charge on the premium of houses insured, where the Acetylene gas is properly installed.’
An advertisement in the Guidebook explains that acetylene gas had become an established form of lighting for small townships, villages, churches, mansions, hotels, factories and workshops, on account of its illuminating power, ease of installation and simplicity in operation. The installation at Thorpeness consisted of a central generating station in Old Homes Road, the gas being conveyed through mains and service pipes to the bungalows etc. The Leading Light Syndicate, Ltd., suppliers of the Thorpeness gas plant, was based in Parrott Street, Hull, Telegrams: ‘Acetylene, Hull’.
Although today the gas in Thorpeness is no longer generated by courtesy of the Leading Light Syndicate and we can no longer boil our kettles on atmospheric Bunsen burners, whenever we use our gas cookers or turn on the gas central heating, we should thank G Stuart Ogilvie for providing the infrastructure.