This week Jonty Pearce reveals a secret addiction he's been keeping quiet until now


I collect old Tilley lamps. I know it’s a bit sad, and such a statement does make me wonder if I should attend a group where the accepted introduction is to stand and state ‘I am Jonathan Pearce and I have not purchased a Tilley lamp for 3 weeks now’. Which would be a lie anyway, because I found a nice little one to go aboard Aurial last week.

This week, though, I am in seventh heaven having a few days holiday in an isolated cottage in the Welsh Marches whose remoteness has secured independence from the usual services. No wifi, mobile phone, electricity, mains water – although we do have spring water, bottled gas, and a toilet. The gas supplies the cooker, an instant gas water boiler, and lighting that is really too dim to comfortably read by once the dusk has dropped over us like a wet soggy blanket. No problem for me – out come my Tilley lamps and it is like the return of daylight. It does make me stop to think how dependant we have become on bright, instant, odour free light. Before electricity became the norm, houses were lit by candles, gas lamps, or paraffin lamps. My own house on the flank of the Malvern Hills still has the pipework for a network of gas lamps embedded behind the plaster. As a child I remember cottages in Wales and Scotland lit by Aladdin mantle paraffin lamps. Candles guttered in the draughts whistling under the doors, and many is the time I have snuggled down to sleep in the soft light of an oil nightlight. Maybe we read less and played more board games as our vision was too dim to discern small type – the idea of actual reading lights was alien.

And aboard? Oil lamps and candles ruled the seas before the advent of efficient affordable lead-acid batteries. Old-timers tell of lighting navigation lamps in half a gale, while now we just smile and click a switch by the chart table. The old oil lamps adorn the shelves of antique shops, and have either been electrified to gain a romantic ambience or have lain unlit for decades.

We see a constant progression of technology. Incandescent bulbs led to fluorescent tubes. Halogen lights were overtaken by LED’s – initially with the output of a mere glow-worm, but now with a power and efficiency that defies belief. And the power sources? Lead-acid, AGM, Nickel Cadmium, and Nickel Metal Hydride batteries have come and gone – the new(ish) kid on the block is Lithium, though the price is still a stumbling block to widespread use as a nautical battery bank.

These batteries are topped up not only by 240v shore power, but by efficient wind generators and solar panels. I was fascinated to see that solar cloth has now been developed – electricity generating sails could become part of our sail wardrobe. Where will we be in another 20 years?

Meantime I shall continue to collect and enjoy my Tilley lamps. Some of them have been pumping out light for nigh on 100 years. All they need is the occasional mantle and a fill of paraffin. Oh, and an LED head torch to see what you’re doing….


Jonty Pearce