Street View: 62
Address: 114 Wardour Street
We all know Michael Faraday and his pioneering work into electromagnetics, but he was not the only technically-minded member of his family. His elder brother Robert ran a gasfitter’s and lighting company in Wardour Street. The land Tax records tell us that he had his business there at least since 1823 and in Pigot’s Directory of 1825, Robert is duly listed as brass manufacturer and founder at number 114. But laying gas pipes was not all Robert did, he was also heavily involved in the development and installation of more efficient lamps. In 1841, for instance, he installed new lighting at Tichborne Street School for the Paddington Schools Committee, and in 1843 he reacted to a report in the newspaper on a comparison made between the Bude and the Faraday lights. Bude lights had been invented by Goldsworthy Gurney and worked by introducing oxygen into the interior of the flame.
Please note that The Morning Post tried to blame the original report on the evening paper from which they had copied the article. Robert’s brother Michael had struck on the idea of ventilation in lamps when he worked with lighthouses, but he gave the invention to his brother, “I am most happy to give freely all my rights in it over to you”.(1) Robert received the patent for the improvements in ventilating gas- and oil-burners on 25 March 1843.(2) Earlier that same year, Robert’s son James wrote a booklet about the issue, Description of a Mode of Obtaining the Perfect Ventilation of Lamp-burners, explaining the mechanics involved.
A few years later, disaster struck when Robert drove his gig in Hampstead Road. The newspaper reports vary in the reason why he was thrown from the gig, hitting his head, and losing consciousness. One report said he hit a post, but another said the horse had bolted and one of the reins gave way when Faraday tried to regain control, overturning the gig. Whatever the cause, the unlucky man was taken to University College hospital, but the fracture in his skull was so severe that he died the next day. The verdict of the coroner was “accidental death” with no-one to blame, but the police were reprimanded for not acquainting the family of the injured man with his condition the moment he was brought to the hospital, despite the fact that a letter with his address had been found on him, but only thought to do so the next day.(3)
After his father’s death, James continued the business in Wardour and after his own death in 1875, it was run by his son Harold.(4) The firm became known as Messrs. Faraday & Sons and secured some prestigious commissions, for instance from John Campbell, Lord Breadalbane. In 1834, he inherited Breadalbane House in Park Lane from his father, the 1st marquess of Breadalbane, and renovated parts of the interior to be in keeping with his idea of what an ancestral home should look like. Furniture was supplied by a friend of Pugin, Edward Hull, who ran a warehouse of antique furniture in Wardour Street. For a ball given in 1854, with Queen Victoria and the King of Portugal as guests, Breadalbane had a temporary hall erected, which was kitted out as a ‘Baronial Hall’ by John Gregory Grace. Faraday & Son were responsible for the “admirable mode of lighting”.(5)
The firm’s entries for the Electric Light Fittings Exhibition in Edinburgh received a favourable review in The Art Journal of August 1890; their designs were qualified as “of a novel and artistic character”, and the design of a Cupid holding a lamp aloft was given as an example of “a good design”. The Colonies and India newspaper of 9 April 1892 reported on another exhibition and said that “the admirable, sometimes severe, taste of Mr. Harold Faraday in artistic design is proverbial, and had never had more effective demonstration than in the fine display made by his firm at this exhibition. Mr. Faraday’s object … appears to be to differentiate electric-light fittings as far as possible from gas fittings. … Mr. Faraday’s designs have a distinction of their own”. In 1919, another company, specialising in chandeliers and Faraday’s merged to become Osler and Faraday Ltd, working from Wardour Street until 1925. They also had a showroom in Berners Street and various other cities in the UK. More on the history of the Osler company and how they ended up as part of Wilkinson’s PLC can be found here.
(1) The Life and Letters of Faraday, ed. Bence Jones, vol. 2 (1870), p. 166″>(1) Robert received the p.
(2) Newton’s London Journal of Arts and Sciences, 1843.
(3) The Morning Post, 13 August 1846, and Daily News, 15 August 1846.
(4) England & Wales, National Probate Calendar (Index of Wills and Administrations), 1875. Estate valued at under £6,000.
(5) See for a description of Breadalbane House: ‘Park Lane’ in the Survey of London, Volume 40, the Grosvenor Estate in Mayfair, Part 2 – British History Online and for a picture of the ball room (fig. 68c) here.
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