1885 ship’s signalling lamp made by Bulpitt’s of Birmingham

Ship's signalling lamp made by Thomas Bulpitt 1885

Ship's signalling lamp made by Thomas Bulpitt 1885 Ship's signalling lamp made by Thomas Bulpitt 1885 Ship's signalling lamp made by Thomas Bulpitt 1885

This splendid example of Victorian engineering is a ship’s signalling lamp made by Bulpitt & Sons in 1885, and restored in the last few weeks by John Armstrong, who trades as Boat Antiques.

I guess the lamp would have been used for Morse code, which would explain the cute switch on the side.

As usual, click on the images to see much larger photos.

Here’s what John has to say about it:

‘This Bulpitt & Sons signal lamp arrived in to our workshop in December.

‘The company was founded by Thomas Bulpitt in 1868 and was originally based at Northwood Street, Birmingham. Initially a brass founders, the company prospered and went on to specialise in lamps and kettles. Early in the 20th century it launched the brand name ‘Swan‘, which is still trading today.

The lamp arrived in a fairly sorry state of repair, but the fact that it was still here at all was a testament to the craftsmanship of her makers. The first job was to give her a really good clean out and rub down. Years of rust had left the surface terribly pitted, to sand out all of these craters would have meant severely weakening the structure, and as we had high hopes of her returning to full working service, this was not going to be an option. Instead once the initial debris and corrosion was removed we protected the metalwork with multiple layers of enamel, rubbing down between coats achieve an even finish. It was slow progress, and the lamp still has the odd battle wound that tells of its neglect in the past, but I’m sure you will agree that overall the difference is remarkable and hopefully the shiny new paint work will go some way to preserving her for the next hundred years.

‘Once the exterior was sorted it was time to turn our attentions to the mechanism and the lamp itself. Amazingly the lamp still had a wick and oil in it when it arrived, it even managed a small flame (for a while). All the workings were cleaned out and the old wick and oil removed. Although much less affected by the corrosion than the exterior, there was still some superficial rust and evidence of well worn paint, so the screen, stage, lamp and rest all got a brush up.

‘Last but not least the brass work. A lot of spit and polish together with a good measure of elbow grease, not to mention some Brasso, soon had her gleaming again. And what a sight she is now. This was clearly an expensive item in its day, all the signs are there from quality of the lens to the small bone handle that operates the shutter. The mechanics are beautifully simple and meticulously crafted, easily dismantling for inspection and cleaning. It truly is a joyous thing to handle and I am sorely tempted to keep it for myself but, alas, it appears in our shop even as I type and given its rarity is hardly likely to stay there for long.’

Signalling lamp before restoration:

Ship's signalling lamp made by Thomas Bulpitt 1885 Ship's signalling lamp made by Thomas Bulpitt 1885Ship's signalling lamp made by Thomas Bulpitt 1885

Ship's signalling lamp made by Thomas Bulpitt 1885 Ship's signalling lamp made by Thomas Bulpitt 1885 Ship's signalling lamp made by Thomas Bulpitt 1885

PS – Visitors to the Boat Antiques website should check out the  gorgeous Tumlaren restoration job on the company’s restoration page. We do like a Tumlaren, we do…

3 thoughts on “1885 ship’s signalling lamp made by Bulpitt’s of Birmingham”

  1. Is everyone convinced this is a marine signalling lamp? It looks more like a railway lamp to me. I would love to be able to read some history and hear how it was used.

  2. Hi Dick

    Sorry this has taken some time but we wanted to make sure we were not misleading anyone.

    This was a response to our/your question from Elaine Arthur, Head of Collections, National Railway Museums.

    ‘I have now had a little time to research into your lamp and compare it with our lamps, and others I have found in reference books. Although Bulpitt made lamps for the railway, and yours is very similar, there are some differences that indicate yours is marine. The first is the lack of a railway name on the lamp. Railway companies generally added their names to the outside of the lamps, as well as to some of the internal components. The second difference is the lever on the side. From what I can understand this operated some kind of shutter. As you indicated this may have been for a morse code system. The railways did not use this system.’

    We would like to thank Elaine for answering our question and doing the relevant research for us.

    Morse code is still taught by the Navy as a form of communication between ships till this day. It can be either by radio signal or a visual signal and this is where our lamp was used. We are still waiting for some further feedback from some other sources to pin it down to and exact date and shipping company etc.


  3. Rather than marine, I suggest it is more likely one of a number of variations of kerosene signalling lamp used by the British Army from about 1870 to 1905. The Corps of Signals Museum at Blandford Forum may be able to assist with more specific data.

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