Let there be light at Mr Straws House

Ceiling light fitting with three white glass shades at Mr Straws House

The nights are drawing in now, and dusk is falling earlier and earlier, but today we can keep the dark at bay by flicking a switch.

Visitors to Mr Straw’s House often imagine that the house was originally lit by candlelight. Although there are candlesticks and an oil lamp in the collection, in fact the house had electricity installed when it was built in around 1905.

Inside the front door at Mr Straws House
Lightfitting with orange glass shade hanging in front of door with stained glass panels
Inside the front door at Mr Straws House

This was relatively early, but the houses on Blyth Grove were built to high specification to appeal to the doctors working at the new hospital, which was built close by in 1902, and so had all the latest mod-cons.

One of the many decorative light switches in the house
round metal lightswitch with fluted design with brown wallpaper in background
One of the many decorative light switches in the house


When the house was built, there was no centralised supplier of electricity in the UK. By 1921, there were more than 480 authorised suppliers of electricity in the UK, who were generating and supplying electricity at a variety of voltages and frequencies. As the hospital on Kilton Hill had its own generators, it was able to supply the power for nearby houses.

Bedside lamp in the parent's bedroom with original Ediswan bulb
Bedside lamp with cream pleated shade, standing on a bedside table
Bedside lamp in the parent's bedroom with original Ediswan bulb

In 1926, an Act of Parliament created a central authority to promote a nationwide transmission system, which was largely in place by the mid-1930s.


No 7. Blyth Grove retains all its original light fittings and switches, and in some cases some of the original bulbs, although these are no longer used. The bulbs are ‘Ediswan’ bulbs, produced by the Edison and Swan United Electric Light Company, a joint commercial venture of light bulb inventors Joseph Swan and Thomas Edison, who had previously worked on their own separate lighting research and experiments.

Two early 'Ediswan' lightbulbs
Two 'ediswan' light bulbs
Two early 'Ediswan' lightbulbs


The bulbs would not have produced such a bright light as modern light fittings but they were a considerable improvement on flickering candlelight and yellow tinted gaslight, as well as being less of a fire hazard.


A favourite story told at Mr Straw’s is of how one day, William junior and Walter Straw were seated at the table in the dining room, when one of the three light bulbs in the overhead light fitting fell out and landed in William’s lunch!  Since the other two bulbs were still working, the famously thrify brothers did not replace the missing one  and to this day, there are only two bulbs in the three bulb fitting. No doubt William and Walter would have approved of our modern long life L.E.D.lights!

The missing bulb in the dining room
Light fitting hanging from a ceiling, two lit bulbs with glass shades, one bulb is missing
The missing bulb in the dining room


As the nights drew in, the house must have felt very cosy, lit by its ‘modern’ electric lighting and the firelight that would still have flickered in the elaborate fireplaces.

Today, we have retained the atmosphere in the house by using low level lighting – partly to aid the conservation of the textiles and wallpaper, but also to give an impression of how the house would have felt while the family were still in residence.