And no - it doesn’t run on sewer gas!

At the top of the hill on the Strand pavement, next to the 'Coal Hole' pub is a second more conventional gas lamp, which once carried stained glass advertisements for the 'Savoy Theatre' on its lantern.

These lamps, then both of the Webb type, were installed in 1897 and paid for by the newly built  rival hotels on either side of Carting lane, the Savoy (1889) - built with the profits from The Mikado, and the Hotel Cecil (1896).

Both were deadly rivals for London's most luxurious hotel, and any hint of a sewer smell from the Carting Lane sewer would be bad for business. In more open, low rise, suburban locations the sewer would have been ventilated by a tall 'Stink Pipe', but both hotels were 12 stories or more tall and close together, and any stink pipe would merely have discharged the noxious smell level with the windows of both their bedrooms.

This was exactly the situation that Webb's Patent Sewer Gas Extractor and Destructor was designed for. Presumably the two lamps survival may be because they were privately owned – clearly the Coal Hole lamp carrying the Savoy Theatre advertisement was the one paid for by the Savoy hotel, and the surviving lamp the one paid for by the Hotel Cecil (demolished 1930).

Joseph Edmund Webb (1862-1936) took out at least five patents between 1892 and 1901 protecting his sewer gas destructor. We must remember that this was the dying years of the 'Miasma Theory' of disease transmission, which held that infectious diseases were spread basically by 'bad smells'. Although Webb knew about bacteria, he thought they could waft in sewer gas (or at least he pandered to that residual belief by the general public), and so an essential component of his Destructor was sterilising the gas by raising its temperature to 700 degrees Fahrenheit, though other features changed over time.

His initial design is summarised in the Patent thus:

'The object of the invention is to extract the obnoxious gases and vapour collected or generated from a sewer and at the same time to effectually destroy all germs and noxious qualities prior to their passing into the atmosphere. For this purpose I propose to utilise ordinary lighting gas which may at the same time be used for street or other lighting purposes'

The lantern and pillar were hermetically sealed, with a conventional town gas lamp burner. Sewer gas was drawn up the column from the sewer by convection and passed through the burner. A small by-pass jet with its own small air supply pipe passing through the casing from the  exterior served to re-ignight the main burner should it be extinguished by sewer flushing. A curved funnel shaped enamelled heat reflective cowl insulated with an air jacket induced a temperature of 600-800 deg f. within the lantern, which was exhausted to the outside air through a vent at the top of the cowl.

A subsequent  patent modified this design by introducing a capsule below the lantern containing a series of copper gauze filters to prevent explosive flash-back of the burner flame into the column and sewer (in the manner of a Davey Lamp) as required by the London Gas Light and Coke Company.

However the final design, which was the one installed in Carter Lane, got rid of the hermetically sealed lantern, and had an open gap between the top of the column and the bottom of the lantern (where the GLCC capsule had been placed), which presumably mitigated the chance of a flash-back, and also meant the by-pass gas jet air supply pipe was removed. The cowl was hinged so it could be opened and rested on the ladder-bar to enable the glass to be cleaned and replaced.

In 1896, when the company that would eventually become the Webb Lamp Company Limited of  the Cairo works, 42 Legge Street, Birmingham was set up, with Joseph Edmund Webb (1862-1936), and after him Joseph Leonard Webb (1889-1977) as managing directors, Webb's destructor lamps had been sold to 10 local authorities in the previous two years, and the company was in negotiation with over 100 other local authorities and 'many orders have had to be refused'. Webb's increasing success can be followed in his descriptions of himself in the patents:

1894 W Deakin  & Co, Sanitary Works, Guest Street, Hockley. 'Our Mr J E Webb the inventor'

1895 Joseph Edmund Webb 223 New John Street West, Hockley. Builder & Contractor

1896  Joseph Edmund Webb Sanitary Depot, Gas Street, Birmingham. Sanitary Engineer

1901  Joseph Edmund Webb 11 Poultry, City of London. Engineer.

Unfortunately all the records of the company were lost in a fire in 1925, so no definitive list exists of locations, but known locations for one or more lamps were:






















London County Council
















Southend on Sea

St Pancras

Stockton on Tees




West Bromwich



Whitley Bay

Whitley Bay



and the mortuaries of the London Hospital and Wolverhampton Hospital.

Webb Lamps were popular in hilly towns such as Sheffield where gas pockets might accumulate; in high rise urban areas where stink pipes would not rise above the buildings such as Carter Lane; and in cathedral cities such as Durham, Winchester and Rippon. The company’s advertising pointed out that independent tests had showed that the lamps used no more gas than ordinary lamps but that the illumination was increased at least 5% ‘newspaper type being read at 50 yards’, so you got three benefits (ventilation, sterilisation and more light) for no extra running cost.

In 1907 the company claimed that its lamps were ventilating 30,000 miles of sewer; however the market was ultimately limited, and was destroyed by changes in the Public Health Act (and the death of the 'Miasma' theory)  which required building drainage systems to be individually vented at roof level by a 'ventilated stack', thus providing widely distributed sewer ventilation and removing the necessity to individually ventilate specific trouble spots. In addition, the rise of electric street lighting saw the replacement of gas lamps generally. By 1911 the company had diversified into manufacturing the 'Galvo Electryne' fire extinguisher, filled with carbon tetrachloride, and progressively this became their main product. Indeed the Webb Lamp Company's name is forever preserved in a landmark legal case which is still quoted as Chancery case law when they were sued by the American Pyrene Co (who made a similar extinguisher) in 1920 for patent infringement during WWI. They claimed as government contractors they were exempt from patent law.

The Webb Lamp Co Ltd maintained its offices in central London at 11 Poultry till 1918 and King Street St James till 1923. Joseph Edmund Webb died in 1936 having retired to a substantial house in in Brighton and leaving £11,891 (£771,000 in 2016) - he was apparently known as 'The Emperor' by his employees; he was followed as managing director by Joseph Leonard Webb (presumably his son) who died in 1977 in Edgbaston. In 1970 Whitley Bay bought up all the remaining spares from the Webb works as they were going out of production, and the business seems to have disappeared in the late 1970's. In 2008 it was removed from the Companies House Register after making no returns for an unspecified period. Legge Street now barely exists, having been a casualty of Birmingham's ring road and comprehensive redevelopment.


The gas light on the site of the Webb lamp bought by Savoy Hotel in 1897

The lamp now on the site of the Webb lamp bought by the Savoy Hotel

Webb’s patent drawing showing the separate town gas supply to the burners

Webbs initial patent drawing showing separate town gas supply to the burners Webb’s subsequent patent drawing showing the open base of the lantern and the hinging cowl

Webb’s subsequent patent drawing showing the open base of the lantern and the hinging cowl