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Updated June 2017
 

Railway Operational Items - Lamps

As the Railways continued to operate during the hours of darkness lamps were needed for a multitude of functions. The most common usage was as Handlamps to be carried by staff partly to avoid falling over things but mainly to signal to other workers. Most Handlamps contain glass lenses of Red and blue/green and sometimes orange with either no glass or a clear one for use as a torch. Thus they are called three aspect and four aspect lamps with the centre section revolving to show the different colours. There were Lamp Rooms where the lamps were filled with kerosene, the wicks trimmed and any repairs made. Lamps often were stamped with the Companies initials and some carried a brass plate with the Company name and often the location and lamp number. Two examples of brass plates are shown below.

Handlamps were made in huge numbers and used for a long period and so very large numbers survive and are readily available. A simple BR three aspect lamp in good condition can be bought for around 20. Prices then increase as the lamps get earlier and also depending on the amount of information stamped on them and on brass plates soldered to the lamp. A very rare South Devon railway lamp in very poor condition sold in a local auction recently for over 3000. However if you wish to make a collection you could start with the big 4 Companies and BR lamps all of which are easy to find and are also easy on the pocket.

Another main use for Lamps was to illuminate Signals. They were mounted on the Signal frame and shone through the red or green glass that was on the frame attached to the signal blade. These had to be attended to on a daily basis and many had a heat sensor that was attached to an instrument in the Signalbox to warn if a lamp had gone out.

SR Signal Lamp GWR Signal Lamp LNER Signal Lamp Interior

Locomotives and Rolling stock had to carry Lamps at the front and back with white being shown at the front and red at the rear. Many Loco Headlamps would have a twist lens operated from outside the lamp so that they could show either red or white aspects. It was an important safety factor particularly on Freight trains that the rear lamps must be working so that if a train passed a Signalbox and the Signalman could not see a red light then the train could be stopped to make sure that it had not split and left wagons blocking the track for the following train to hit. Nowadays all tracks are track circuited so that the Signalmen can tell that a section is clear and also freight trains are through braked so that if a split occurred the brakes would come on on both sections bringing both parts to a halt.

MR Loco Lamp BR Loco Headlamp BR Tail lamp Bulleid Electric Headlamp

Stations were lit at night by Gas Lamps on Lampposts usually with the Station Name below and by other Wall and roof mounted Lamps. The Lamps were generally made by the company "Sugg" and some stations still retain their lampposts and lamps but they are now converted to electricity. Pictured below is Betchworth Station in Surrey - the photo being taken in February 2012.

Wall mounted Lamps were produced in many shapes and sizes and three are shown below.

GWR Platform Lamp LNWR Platform Lamp GCR Platform Lamp

Three examples of station Lamp tops are shown below. These often had the name on the glass which helped passengers identify the station at night.

There were many other oil fired Lamps that were used by the Railways until modernisation brought fluorescent lights and electric torches to replace them. There are an enormous number of survivors and you should be able to build up a collection without breaking the bank.

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