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esla bi-multi group "a" two-way 180° straight

Genre: Wing type lantern

The wing type lantern was invented by Haydn Harrison in the early 1920s. Typified by its simple construction and unique shape, Harrison's design collected some of the flux emitted by the upper parts of a symmetrical point light source, and fashioned it into various beams which were used to illuminate the road surface. The flux emitted in the lower hemisphere of the light source was uncontrolled, producing a circular pool of light below the lantern. Therefore the lantern illuminated both the road surface and its immediate environment.

The wings of the lantern controlled the number and angles of the beams. Given the huge number of different lighting requirements of roads and their environs, a large number of differently configured wing type lanterns were produced. These differed in the number of wings and the angles of the beam; it wasn't uncommon to find many different lanterns lighting a single stretch of road.

The first type of wing lantern, due to Harrison, used facetted, mirrored glass pieces stuck to a cast-iron frame (and he held the patent for the method of arranging and sticking them). Other manufacturers also produced wing type lanterns; but elected to use polished enamel surfaces, curved etched and fluted glass, and/or glass strips held by metal lugs in order to side-step the patent.

Whilst the utilization factor was lower than other lanterns (due to little flux being collected above the lantern), and glare from the totally exposed bulb was an issue, wing type lanterns became popular for their sheer robustness, minimal number of parts and cheapness.

The design of the wing type lantern changed little over the next thirty years. Although open lanterns were frowned upon by the mid-1950s (as no protection was afforded to the bulb nor the reflective surface so both got dirty and required regular cleaning), wing type lanterns were still being installed in the 1960s; but in the end, discharge lamps and the benefits of enclosed lanterns saw their eventual downfall.

Name: ESLA Bi-Multi Group "A" Two-Way 180° STRAIGHT
Date: Circa 1920s - 1950s
Dimensions: Length: 8 ½", Width: 10", Height: 9 ½"
Light Distibution: Uniform Distribution (BS 307:1927)
Lamp: 40-150W GLS
Bracket: Medium Lucy bracket


The Bi-Multi, the first wing-type lantern, was invented in 1923 by Haydn Harrison. Unable to find a manufacturer for his new lantern, he approached schoolfriend Herbert Biggleston who owned a foundry in Canterbury. Electrical Street Lighting Apparatus (ESLA) was founded shortly afterwards.

The Bi-Multi was a revolution. All the other manufacturers were making over complex, multiple part frame-type lanterns, modifications of early gas style fittings. Harrison's genius was to simply remove all the complexity and reduce a lantern to a lamp, focusing mechanism and simple reflective optical system.

As epitomized by the wing type lanterns, the original Bi-Multi was made in many variants, each characterized by different number of wings and different beam angles. This allowed lighting engineers to select lanterns for specific sections of road, especially for bends, dead-ends and road junctions.

In this era before any standardization and/or conformity of mounting heights and spacing, the original Bi-Multi was a small lantern, designed to cast a narrow, intense beam as directed by each wing. This allowed roads to be lit under varying conditions with a minimal number of lanterns; but the intensity ratio was excessively high and glare was a constant problem.

The first British Standard (BS 307:1927) did nothing to improve matters; but the coming of the MOT Report (1937) finally standardized mounting heights and spacing, and Harrison was able to change the optical system of the Bi-Multi to reduce the intensity ratio and create a wider beam. The result was the larger Bi-Multi Group "AL" (with the original Bi-Multi system becoming the Group "A").

As bulb wattages increased, a Group "B" lantern was introduced to light Group "A" roads (suggesting that Harrison's lantern predated the standard naming of the MOT Report). Twin lamp version also appeared, but were only used for special circumstances.


Being rugged, simple and cheap, the Bi-Multi system was extremely popular, and these characteristic facetted lanterns could be found all over the country. They were especially popular both with the suburban expansions of the cities being built in the 1930s, and various Parish Councils who needed a cheap, effective, and above all, simple lantern.

Their popularity waned in the 1950s with the coming of discharge lamps and enclosed lanterns, and the energy crisis of the 1970s saw large numbers being removed. Whilst only a handful on exist on the public highway, they have become highly sought after by enthusiasts, and the Bi-Multi has become a collector's item.


The ESLA Bi-Multi is easily identified by its glass facets. If a lantern has three rows of mirrored glass facets then it's an ESLA. Further identification is provided by the makers name, angular schedule, and patent numbers on the canopy of the lantern. In early lanterns, this is scribed into the wings (requiring paint removal to see them); on later lanterns, these are cast as raised letters (rare) or raised letters on blocks.

Optical System

The optical system of the ESLA Bi-Multi was based on a series of intersecting parabolas with the bulb at the focal centre. The top half of the parabola was fashioned into a reflective surface using facetted mirrors. The flux collected by the mirrors was then fashioned into a beam, the elevation, angle and number of beams corresponding to the geometry of each wing.

Early Group "A" lanterns varied the peak angle (with the angle scribed on the lantern's canopy) whilst Group "AL" lanterns fixed the peak angle at 80°.

Flux emitted from the lower hemisphere of the bulb was uncontrolled, and formed a circular pool of light beneath the lantern. Therefore, the area around the base of the lantern was well illuminated for the pedestrian and house owner (e.g. pavement, front gardens and parked cars) and the road surface was illuminated at longer distances from the lantern for the car driver (e.g. bright road surface, dark kerb edges etc.).

Focusing was variable: the bulb assembly could be adjusted in a vertical axis by moving the tubular bulb holder within the lantern's canopy; a simple locking screw held it in place. The bulb's filament was positioned at the lowest point of the wings for correct focusing, a relatively easy task.

the esla bi-multi group "a" two-way 180° straight in my collection

facing profile

This lantern (and associated bracket) were a gift from Jesse, a specialist in antique lighting, who had found this website helpful. Therefore its history isn't known.

front profile

The glass was in good condition and the lampholder was complete. So restoration was just a simple process of stripping off the old paint, repositioning the lampholder for the large Derby 100 lamp, rustproofing, undercoating and repainting.

trailing profile

The lantern and bracket had one single coat of original silver paint. No other colour scheme was found.


During repainting, the etched letters identifying the lantern's angular schedule were revealed. These read:

REG No 736776 180° STRAIGHT

BRITISH PAT No 228294/23

This revealed it to be the rare 180° configuration. Interestingly no peak angle below the horizontal was specified (usually 7½° for Group 'A' lanterns) and the rare circular ESLA was used.

pedestrian view

The lantern has been fitted with a Derby 100 bulb, the original specification for this lantern (which shows how small this lantern is when compared to its larger Group "AL" siblings).


The lantern had the familar ESLA configuration of three rows with ten columns. As it was the 180° version then there was no space for any centre glass facets.

It was retained on its original Lucy bracket.

esla bi-multi group "a" two-way 180° straight: as aquired

This bracket and lantern was a gift from a specialist in antique lighting. Having found this website useful, and having this bracket spare, he offered it to me for free. Many thanks Jesse.

The lantern turns out to be a very rare variant of the ESLA Bi-Multi Group 'A' Two-Way range. Removing the paint from the lantern's canopy revealed the following:

REG No 736776 180° STRAIGHT

BRITISH PAT No 228294/23


  1. As a rare 180° ESLA it produced straight beams of light in an axial-asymmetric distribution, so it wouldn't have been used for side-of-road lighting. Therefore, as it's mounted on a swan-neck bracket, I believe this lantern would've be used to light a footpath. Additionally, the orientation of the lantern isn't important, which is why it haven't got the PATH and ROAD directions etched on the canopy.

  2. The extremely rare circular ESLA logo is used. I've only seen this on one other lantern. Unfortunately I don't have enough information yet to be able to date the lantern from its use.

The bracket (believed to be by Lucy) is also interesting: the ball-and-monkey-tail finial is quite rare, the bracket curvature is non-standard, and the front of the fuse box is fitted with a toggle switch. (Originally a lamplighter would've used a long pole to switch the lantern on and off by this switch).