WILLIAM  SUGG  1832 - 1907

The Westminster portcullis with the phrase “En Avant” was the logo of William Sugg & Co. Ltd during the Victorian era when it became arguably the most important manufacturer of gas lighting in the world.   Thomas Sugg, an ironmonger, is credited with “making and laying” the first gas pipe which was used for the first demonstration of gas lighting in the capital in 1807.  His son, William, formed William Sugg & Co. in 1837 and his son, William Thomas became the driving force after his father’s death in 1860 right through to 1907.
The underlying principle of all of WT’s work was technical excellence.  The exponential growth of the gas industry, driven very largely by the demand for gas street lighting, produced the usual crop of cheap and nasty fixtures which were doubtless bought in quantity by unsuspecting customers who knew nothing about the subject.  With the earliest gas jets being formed from holes drilled in iron pipes, corrosion could quite quickly increase the size of the “jet” and thus the amount of gas consumed.  Possibly William’s first really important patent was for the non corrodible jet made of steatite, a naturally occurring ceramic which could be turned on a lathe and then fired to achieve an extreme hardness.  In classic style, the waste powder from this exercise was compacted into tins and sold as “Pearly Queen” tooth powder – doubtless sufficiently abrasive to remove more than just the normal level of dirt!
The demand for ever increasing levels of illumination on the streets could only be achieved by increasing the number of gas jets burning in the lanterns.  These open flame lanterns grew and grew to allow for the enormous heat produced by up to 20 jets.


20 Light open burner


7 feet  tall open flame
lanterns from 1880's
The lanterns illustrated above reached 7ft in height and 46” across, requiring substantial and imposing lamp posts to support them.
Meanwhile the electrical industry had been developing.  Although the early arc lamps could produce huge amounts of light they were very unreliable and expensive to run.  The invention of the gas mantle turned the tables on the electricians, retaining the lead of gas for street lighting for something like another 50 years.  They also provided the death knell for the enormous lanterns. This is why they are so rare today. 

The well known Windsor lantern introduced by William Sugg in 1898 was the first lantern designed specifically to use the gas mantle.   Sugg’s had manufactured no less than 50,000 Windsor lanterns by the time the 1906 catalogue was printed, a staggering number in 8 years and largely by hand.

1906 Catalogue showing Windsor Lantern

Upright Rochester from the 1930's

Although there are many Sugg gas lights that came after William’s death, the Rochester and Littleton shadowless lanterns are by far the most popular and recognizable, particularly because of the huge numbers used by the railways and the surprising number that are still in use today, particularly in places such as Westminster and Covent Garden - still running on gas.

This webpage has been written by Chris Sugg the great-great-grandson of William Sugg, the founder of the Company.  For more in-depth webpages about the Company visit their Website at

December  2003