Davy Lamp

This Davy Lamp from Aberdare is part of our Design and Technology collection.

The flame safety lamp was invented by Sir Humphrey Davy in 1815, to address the problem of explosions caused by naked flames coming in contact with flammable gases in mines. The Davy lamp was fuelled by oil or naptha (lighter fluid), and the wick was contained in a metal gauze cylinder. If the lamp is placed in an explosive atmosphere, such as a mixture of air and methane gas as commonly found in a coal mine, the explosion that takes place when the flame contacts the gas is contained within the gauze mesh and does not cause a danger to the miners.

There were many manufacturers of Davy lamps, and many variations in the detail of their construction. The lamps normally had a cylindrical glass screen around the gauze, and a protective steel bonnet with air inlet holes. Early versions gave out less light than a naked flame candle, but designs improved so that by the 1930's some types were several times brighter than a standard candle flame.

The lamp provided a crude test for the existence of gases, as the flame changed shape or burned with a blue tinge in the presence of flammable gases. In addition, the lamp could be used to check for low oxygen levels or concentrations of gases such as carbon dioxide, as in these conditions the lamp flame would be extinguished. The lamp succeeded in reducing the incidence of explosions, but accidents still happened, such as when a lamp was dropped or broken.

Candlestick Telephone

This candlestick telephone is part of our Design and Technology collection.

Candlestick telephones gained popularity in the 1880s as the telephone became an important piece of technology for modern businesses. A standard candlestick phone included a base, stem, mouthpiece, and receiver. The phone’s heavy receiver, or speaker end, rested on a hooked perch when not in use.

Our candlestick telephone, like the majority of early candlesticks, has only a single switch for dialing an operator (some intercom or office phones had additional buttons for calling between locally networked telephones).

Due to the threat of contagious diseases like influenza and tuberculosis shortly after World War I, telephone producers developed mouthpieces made from glass or porcelain, which were thought to be more sanitary than Bakelite or rubber. These parts could be easily cleaned by unscrewing and boiling them, and employees of large companies sometimes carried their own mouthpieces to work.

Eventually, round 10-hole dials were mounted onto the center shaft of candlesticks, eliminating the need for calling an operator before dialing out. This rotary dial was patented by Almon Strowger in 1891. By the 1920s, dials were relocated to the telephone’s base, beginning a shift in telephone design that would ultimately lead to the cradle telephone.

Roman Spindle Whorl

This is one of two Roman spindle whorls in our Design and Technology collection.

Before the use of spinning wheels, spinning was carried out with a spindle and a whorl. The spindle, or rod, usually had a swelling on which the whorl was fitted. A wisp of prepared wool was twisted around the spindle, which was then spun and allowed to drop. The whorl adds momentum to the spindle. By doing this the fibres were extended and twisted into a yarn.

They occur in a range of shapes and materials. Spindle whorls are often the only evidence preserved of spinning. Roman women were expected to be involved in cloth production: spinning, weaving and sewing. The goddess Athene was known for her skill in spinning, and the Fates, often depicted as three old women, were thought to spin threads which represented the fates of human beings.

Roman Oil Lamp

We have this beautifully preserved, complete Roman oil lamp in our Design and Technology collection. It appears to have been recovered from a shipwreck and dates between the first and third centuries AD.  

Roman lamps were very simple devices, consisting of an oil chamber and a projecting nozzle. Olive oil, the fuel most often used, was introduced through a filling-hole in the top of the chamber and a wick, normally of linen, was inserted into a wick- hole pierced in the nozzle.