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Sewer Gas Lamps 1890’s-1940’s

In the London area of England, mid to late 1800’s, many of the larger sanitary sewers were not always laid on sufficient grade or on true line and grade. Those factors, combined with “old” sewage, often resulted in the creation of strong odors and methane. The main of this type were vented to take the odors up and out of the sewers to points of discharge near or above the level of the adjacent homes, etc. Some of these problem sewers were in locations where the adjacent buildings were multi-storied; making the use of standard free-standing vent pipes less than viable.

Sewer gas powered street lamp

Sometime in the 1890’s, Joseph Edmund Webb of Birmingham, England invented and patented a sewer gas “destructor” lamp. The concept was to vent the methane up out of the sewer main, through the lamp post to the burner within the lamp where it would be burned (as the sole source of fuel for the lamp.) It was soon realized that this operational scenario did not always work effectively; so most of these lamps were converted to work on “town gas”-all the while still connected to the sewer below. The heat generated (700 degrees F) by the lamp head created an updraft through the lamp post (functioning as a vent) from the sewer main pulling the methane up to the lamp head, where it was consumed along with the town gas. These lamps were lit 24/7.

Over their first 10 years of availability, these lamps were installed and used in numbers upwards of 125 or so in areas around London. Over the years, plumbing practices changed. Initially, house/building laterals had interceptor traps installed along their route to a point of discharge into the involved main line sewer. Later, those were no longer required allowing the sewer mains to (in effect

) be vented up through the building’s plumbing systems to points of release (via the building’s plumbing vent pipes) at/above the involved roof levels.

Only a few of these lamps physically still exist. A lesser number are in service with “town gas” only serving as the source of fuel. One, on Carting Lane (Trafalgar Square) may still be getting some its fuel from the sewer beneath it.

If you’re having problems with the pipes in your home, or just want to set up a regular maintenance cleaning, give Action Plumbing a call today at 509-467-1717!


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