Article written in 2013 by Barry Mead, then Heritage Officer with Greater Morpeth Development Trust
Morpeth’s last remaining sewer gas lamp has been conserved and was re-erected on the High Stanners close to the Skinnery footbridge in June.
Sewer gas lamps were invented in the 1890s by a Birmingham man, Joseph Webb, primarily to destroy sewer smells and germs. They were a great success as their rate of extraction is still regarded as fantastic, each lamp capable of ventilating ¾ mile of sewers. Some of these lamps even ventilated the septic tanks and post mortem rooms of large hospitals. The Morpeth gas lamp was placed to vent sewer gases from the sewer siphon that runs under the river from the Mitford Rd side to the High Stanners. Places such as Sheffield, Hereford, Winchester, Poole, Hampstead and Weymouth all installed Webb sewer gas lamps but one of the last strongholds is nearby Whitley Bay where the lamps have been converted to run on electricity. A sewer gas lamp in Seaton Sluice is Grade 2 Listed.
The Morpeth lamp isn’t Listed but, as the only remaining sewer gas lamp in Morpeth, it was considered worthy of conserving. Fortunately, the flood defence works proved an excellent catalyst for the project. The lamp was located on the line of one the proposed flood defence banks and therefore had to be moved. Barry Mead from GMDT liaised with the Environment Agency who generously agreed to lift the lamp and put it on a lorry which took the lamp down to a specialist conservator in Oldham. When the lamp was returned, the EA arranged to concrete the lamp into the agreed location (as close as possible to its original position). On top of all this the EA also contributed £1,500 towards the conservation cost. NCC’s Conservation Team also contributed a similar amount for which we are extremely grateful.
It has not been possible to convert Morpeth’s lamp to run on electricity but at least we have saved a small but significant part of the town’s heritage.
Addendum April 2020: In fact there is a second sewer gas lamp in Morpeth, at the foot of Cottingwood Lane. This was also disconnected and restored – but has recently (within the last three months) suffered destructive “making safe” procedures at the hands of an uninformed utility company.