Thomas the Lamplighter

The Chard Family Trilogy

Part 3 – ‘Thomas the Lamplighter’

 “This is the Last Will & Testament of Mr William Chard of No 4 Moors Road Palmers Village in the Parish of St Margaret Westminster lamplighter first I give devise and bequeath unto my Brother Thomas Chard of No 3 Carrington Street Mayffair in the County of Middlesex Lamplighter the Messnage or tenement where I now reside together with all the ffurniture plate china and also my other effects sanded or funded property subject to the payment thereout of my just debts ffuneroil and testamentary expenses I give to my nephew Thomas Chard son of Thomas Chard No 3 Carrington Street my Business the lamplighting trade lamps every other material that belong thereto at my decease and lastly I nominate and appoint my Brother Thomas Chard Executor of this my Will and do thereby rebuke and make void former Wills and Testament In Witness thereof I have thereunto set my hand and seal the fifteenth day of October in the year one thousand eight hundred and fifteen the marke of William Chard and his seal (ŠŠ) signed sealed and delivered by the presence of us at his request have subscribed our names as witnesses – John Jenkins Daniel Coney”. 

This was proved at London nearly ten years later on 13 January 1825 by the Worshipful Jesse Adams doctor of Laws and Sons by the oath of Thomas Chard the Brother the sole Exec to whom admon was granted having been first sworn duly to admin.  It was quite remarkable that a man of such modest occupation of lamplighter should make a Will and that it should then survive. In his ‘London the Biography’

Peter Ackroyd records that “the function of lamplighter goes back as far as 1685.   It was at a time of change in the city, which developed quickly into the early part of the 18th Century, when illumination of the streets became of great importance as part of general improvements in the living conditions in London.  Light had become fashionable.  Kensington was the first area to introduce oil lamps with glazed lights. The so called ‘Parish Lamps’ consisted of a small tin vessel half filled with worse train oil; in this fluid fish blubber was a cotton twist which formed a wick. In those days the lamplighter became a familiar figure in the streets of London. A description of those involved in this occupation was one of  ‘greasy fellows employed to trim and light lamps accomplished by the apparatus of a formidable pair of scissors, a flaming flambeau of pitched rope and a rickety ladder, an annoyance and danger to all passers-by’.   It was not an unfamiliar occurrence to witness oil spilling onto a gentleman’s wig or ladies hat.  The oil vessel and wick were enclosed in a case of semi-opaque glass, which obscured even the little light it encircled. The lamps were rarely, if ever, cleaned”.   

I had established that my great, great grandmother Caroline Chard was one of eight children born to John Chard and Harriet Langford over the period 1819 to 1832 and baptised at St Anne’s, Soho, Westminster.   It was given as part of the Baptism record that John had the occupation of Lamplighter until 1826.  It was at the beginning of the eighteen hundreds, oil precipitating lamps were replaced by gas lighting, yet another great change in the City.  One can imagine that the demise of the oil lamp brought about the redundancy of the oil lamplighter and that John Chard found himself out of a job in 1826/27, when his occupation changed to that of Porter. 

The fact that four people having the name Chard were Lamplighters by trade had to be more than just a coincidence.  The Will of William Chard had mentioned his Brother Thomas and nephew Thomas, all lamplighters, and for there to be a positive connection, John had to be another son of the Brother Thomas.  My next research was to focus initially on the Parish of St Anne Westminster where most of the family appeared to have lived. As Peter Ackroyd commented “The Examination and Settlement Books of the period showed that movement of the population within the Parish was limited.  The poor seemed to prefer to cling to their neighbourhood and had no desire to move outside”.  Having defined clearly what I was seeking, with a minimum of research I tumbled upon the family that fitted exactly what I was looking for.  Thomas Chard Lamplighter married Ann Newlands at St Martins-in-the Fields on October 17 1792 and they had four children.

‘Mary Ann bapt October 23 1793 St Anne’s Westminster. 

John Thomas bapt January 27 1797 who was later to marry Harriet Langford, like his parents at St Martins-in-the-Fields & became a lamplighter

Sarah bapt November 1801.

Thomas William bapt December 14 1803, nephew of William Chard, mentioned in his Will.’ 

It is a fair assumption that John was named after his grandfather and is the name I should next be pursuing.  The family, among the poorest in the land, had for at least a century and a half, lived out an existence in conditions that today we would describe as appalling spanning the period when cholera became a major epidemic, particularly in the area where they lived.  When and why the family first moved away from Somerset, where it originated, will most likely remain a mystery.  Like Dick Whittington, they no doubt thought the streets of London would be paved with gold.  The earliest record surviving is of a John Chard living in Somerset during the reign of Edward III and in Stepney, London, a son John was born to John Chard in 1594.  I suspect though that my research will go no further than circa 1770, the time of the birth of ‘Thomas the Lamplighter’

John Chard