The Hazards of New Technology

I am currently locked down at Clevedon Court, our family house in Somerset, with my brother and my nephew (who do all the cooking!). One of the many things I’ve been able to get on with now I have so much time is continuing the long task of transcribing the diaries of my great-great grandfather, Sir Arthur Elton (1819-1883). They throw up a lot of interesting things about the difficulties of introducing modern conveniences to an enormous mediaeval house and I thought this entry in particular might amuse you all.

To my sincere relief the gas leak had been discovered, a hole in the tube… In the afternoon experienced a serious alarm from fire. Rachel [the housemaid] found a smell of gas in my dressing room and poked about a lighted match to find out the leak.

The gas was escaping from a hole in a pipe under the floor! It took fire and when I ran up, on being summoned, I found the wood board burning. Word had been sent to turn off the main, but there was delay, and the flame burst out 2 or 3 times after being quenched by the water flung by the maids. Sent for Andrews [local carpenter] to bring his tools to break up the floor & get at the flame. The flame went out thanks to main being at last turned off and the jugs of water but for 3 or 4 minutes I felt alarmed and quite in a dream. Andrews slowly arrived, tool bag in hand, when all was over. The flooring was only a little charred, but the sight of the smoke had been most unpleasant. A new gas stove had been recently fixed, and the gas fitter had unduly as I conceive twisted the gas pipe and burst it. The hole was big enough to admit a pencil, I should say. Rachel was thoroughly frightened, and will not again search for gas leaks with a light.

Sir Arthur Elton of Clevedon CourtSir Arthur Elton, Diary entry 15th April 1870

Earlier on in the diary, he mentions ordering gas lamps and pendants from the famous Birmingham firm of Hardman & Co., metalwork designers and manufacturers. Here is a photograph of the Great Hall in about 1870 with the Hardman gas pendant (Gasolier).

The Great Hall, Clevedon Court

Some years ago Geoff Wallis restored for me some of the Hardman gas lamps, which had been lurking in an attic. Once he’d finished, he brought over a gas canister and we lit one in front of an audience of Newcomen Society members.

Geoff Wallace lights a restored Hardman gas lamp with Julia Elton at Clevedon Court

Here is a picture of the lamp with its globe in its original position in the old Drawing Room, again about 1870

The old Drawing Room at Clevedon Court showing the Hardman gas lamp in its original position

Slightly later on, my great-great grandfather put in a gas bath. Although I don’t know the exact date (haven’t got far enough with the diaries), the bath itself still exists at Blaise Castle Museum. (see below)

Gas bath originally installed at Clevedon Court and now in Blaise Castle Museum