On a recent visit to Lotherton Hall, it occurred to me that the man credited with bringing electric lighting to the house in 1903, the owner Colonel Frederick R. T. Trench-Gascoigne, was also keen on other modern technologies. For example, he had central heating installed at Lotherton, and was an avid motorist (although not, if the stories told are to be believed, always a very careful one!).
As Graeme has noted in Domesticating Electricity, householders needed to actively make a decision to install electricity, and it wasn’t always seen as the best option in comparison with the widespread alternatives; after all, many country houses remained lit by gas, or even by oil lamps and candles, for many decades to come.
Indeed, sometimes keeping the older technologies of lighting could be seen as a status symbol, as the householders were demonstrating that, at a time when the influence and wealth of the traditional aristocracy was waning, they could still afford to employ the servants necessary to maintain these very labour-intensive technologies.
I wonder if the Colonel’s decision was part of a more general tendency towards modernisation and new technologies. This could certainly be said to be true in the case of Sir William Armstrong at Cragside (later Lord Armstrong), who had a reputation as an innovator, and installed Joseph Swan’s filament lights in 1880.
What attitudes did those who first adopted electric lighting have towards other new technologies in this period, and might this give us an insight into why some people made the decision to use electricity in their homes and others, who could also have afforded it, did not?