Hall lighting in the 1920s

Written by tamasin wedgwood
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Hall lighting in the 1920s
Oil lamps were still widely used in the 1920s. (oil lamp image by Aleksandr Ugorenkov from Fotolia.com)

Gas and paraffin lighting remained most common in the 1920s. Electric light was not widely available until the National Grid provided a widespread domestic electricity supply. First proposed by the Weir Commission in 1925, the grid was not achieved until 1934. Gas lighting was not usually installed throughout the house -- especially not in bedrooms where it was thought unsafe. It would have been used in hallways, where visitors received their first impression of a home.

Oil lighting

Paraffin oil had become widely available after the discovery of oil in Pennsylvania in 1859. By the early 20th century, oil lighting had been improved by incandescent mantles, air diffusers and pressurised fittings. Incandescent mantles were first developed for use with gas lighting. Made of cotton dipped in chemicals, they glowed when heated, increasing light output and efficiency and staving off competition from electricity.

Hall lighting in the 1920s
Oil lamps were still widely used in the 1920s. (oil lamp image by Aleksandr Ugorenkov from Fotolia.com)

Gas for the working class

As electricity came into vogue, gas companies responded by recruiting new customers from amongst the urban working classes. Gas became the predominant lighting in poorer homes after the introduction of "penny-in-the-slot" meters in the 1890s. According to the National Trust, by 1920 Britain had 8 million gas consumers, over half of whom had coin-fed meters. In the early 20th century, inverted burners were introduced, allowing gas light, like electric light, to be focused downward. Gas lighting did not decline in popularity until the mid 1930s.

Electric for the affluent

Britain's first home lit by electricity was Cragside, Northumberland in 1880. However the price of electric lighting was inflated by the monopoly held by the merged Edison and Swan Company. The National Trust records that economic, more efficient bulbs were not available in Britain until after 1914. New houses were built with electric lighting from around 1913, but these were few and expensive. Although the 1926 Electricity Supply Act widened availability, supply remained haphazard until the introduction of the National Grid.

Hall lighting in the 1920s
Globe shaped glass lampshades were typical of the period. (lamp image by Irena Hnidkova from Fotolia.com)


For halls with electric lighting, suspended fixtures were usual. According to the American Craftsman Lighting Company, the preponderance of chain-suspended light fixtures in the 1920s was due to the invention of cloth-covered stranded wire. Before this, installers could not safely thread electrical wiring through a metal chain. Between 1920 and 1930 suspended fixtures were made in Arts Deco style. Commonly they had between three and five arms, affixed to a central circular frame. Glass globe shades and wall sconces were popular.

Because electricity gave off higher illumination, electrical globe fittings could also be positioned at ceiling height. Deco wall lighting -- the height of fashion for wealthy families -- featured fan-shaped shades. A typical Deco lamp for a hall table would be a female figurine, supporting a lighted globe. Alternately, an Art Deco electric chandelier made a bold statement in an entrance hall.

Hall lighting in the 1920s
Rich colours and geometric patterns were features of 1920s design. (ornate light fixture image by aberenyi from Fotolia.com)


Fittings were of brass, copper, steel or bronze. Art Deco style featured sleek, expensive chrome fittings. Shades were of glass or parchment. Glass might be frosted, etched, crackled or coloured. Art Deco shades featured strong colours -- often black and white -- and geometric designs. In the early days of electricity it was also common to omit shades -- the incandescent bulbs themselves were considered decorative.

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