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GEC Z8591

Genre: Enclosed Horizontal Transverse Mercury Lantern

The mercury vapour discharge lamp was developed by the GEC in the early 1930s. The first production quality lamps, rated at 400W, were trialled along East Lane, Wembley in June 1932; and the first installation was erected early the next year. The lamp was designed to replace the 1000W GLS lamp which was considered a necessity for good quality street lighting but was unaffordable for most local authorities. The 400W medium-pressure mercury lamp (later called the MA) was therefore marketed as the cost-effective solution for main road lighting.

It was quickly joined by 250W and 150W rated lamps, both tubular, and both designed for road or industrial lighting. The colour was often seen as a problem, and the lamp soon earned the nickname “the cadaver” lamp, so various attempts were made to change its spectral output. Doping the mercury discharge with other metals, running tungsten filaments in series and covering the outer bulb with fluorescent powders were used to modify the lamp’s colour, but all reduced the efficacy.

The lamp’s efficiency and colour output could be improved by increasing the pressure in its enclosed arc-tube. This was initially a problem as the hard-borate based arc tubes couldn’t withstand the increased temperatures and pressures; whilst manufacturing issues with quartz glass tubes prevented their adoption. It wasn’t until 1936 when Philips solved the problems with quartz that a new generation of high-pressure mercury lamps were introduced. Manufacturing costs prevented the quartz based lamps from being made in larger wattages so only lower wattage lamps initially used the quartz technology (and were therefore called MB lamps).

The smaller MB lamps were offered in elliptical glass bulbs and resembled the shape of tungsten filament lamps. To prevent engineers installing MB lamps in unprotected circuits – as they required gear to stabilizethe current – the bayonet connector was fitted with three pins instead of two.

After the Second World War, the mercury lamp was used extensively throughout the UK as part of post-war rebuilding. New installations were often either low-pressure sodium or mercury. The status quo with the MA and MB lamps remained intact until the costs of quartz eventually dropped and higher wattages became financially viable; and so the MA lamp was eventually withdrawn.

Whilst improvements were made with the efficacy and ight quality of the lamps throughout the 1950s and 1960s, the lamp remained less efficient than its sodium counterparts. The introduction of the high-pressure sodium lamp in the early 1960s, which was more efficient, meant that mercury was rapidly becoming a poor option for street lighting. When the energy crisis of the 1970s hit, forcing councils to opt for the cheapest running options, mercury joined fluorescent and tungsten as one of the lamp types to replace.

Despite its disadvantages, mercury still remained popular for residential lighting throughout the 1980s and 1990s, where its bluish-white light was preferred by some authorities. But the high mercury content of the lamps, and their poor efficiency, meant that it became increasingly difficult to support in more environmentally sensitive times. The mercury lamp was eventually removed from the specifications, and its production was stopped in the early 2000s, which resulted in its accelerated demise. By the 2010s, with massive replacement schemes and the adoption of LED, the era of mercury discharge lighting had come to an end.

Name: GEC Z8591
Date: Late 1960s - Mid 1970s
Dimensions: Length: 346mm, Width: 267mm, Depth: 203mm
Light Distibution: Semi-Cut-Off
Lamp:80-125W MBF/U


The GEC had previously used a traditional pendant top-entry styled lantern for tungsten and mercury vapour lamps. Such designs were fitted to swan-neck style brackets, but the austere and modern movements which followed in the wake of the Second World War, plus the introduction of new materials and manufacturing techniques, meant that a fresh look was taken for this lantern type.

The trend tended towards side-entry lanterns. The GEC responded by modifying their existing range of pendant lanterns with side-entry options; but the overall combination of this type of modified pendant lantern, with sleek side-entry bracket and non-decorated column looked ungainly. Therefore the firm designed a new lantern for tungsten and mercury vapour lamps which was smaller, sleeker and designed for side-entry.

The Z8490 range was the first developed for the market in the 1950s. Its design parameters were brief: side-entry lantern with die-cast aluminium canopy; newly designed glass refractor bowl and ring; horizontally mounted lamp; and the absolute minimum of ancillary components. There was no provision for gear, so the lantern's dimensions were kept to a minimum.

The design suffered from an extruded spigot which was mounted over the top of the lantern. This gave the lanterns an unfortunate drooping appearance when mounted on the bracket. Therefore the Z8495 improved its aesthetic appeal by moving the spigot into the canopy and angling the lantern’s body slightly to throw more light across the road.

Unfortunately this was still not adequate as the thin spigot presented an obvious break in the flow of the lines of the whole unit from column, bracket and into the lantern. Therefore the Z8591 range was developed which bulked out the spigot entry, making it more of an integral part of the lantern, and offering a wide flat area onto which it would abut a bracket. This design also changed the optical system of the lantern slightly by moving the lamp assembly from the pavement side to the road side of the carriageway. This entry in the family also included a gear-in-head option, which extended the lines the lantern through the gear compartment itself giving the lantern a unified feel.

The final design in the range was the Z8895 which restyled the canopy of the lantern, giving it a flatter, streamlined appearance. But with the size of gear decreasing, and new lamp options appearing then this style of lantern came to an end; and it was eventually superseded by the GEC Z8832 range.


It was a popular lantern, second only to the Z8895 range. It was installed throughout the country.


Identification of the lantern can be tricky as all the different versions of the lantern’s evolution can be very similar. This particular lantern could be identified by its rounded canopy and large, relatively chunky spigot, which was also part of the canopy.

Optical System

The primary optical system comprised of a single glass refractor bowl. This was specially designed for the lantern and was held in position by a bowl ring. The curved profile of the canopy, and its white painted interior, acted as a secondary optical system, reflecting light back which was emitted above the lamp.


The lantern had no provision for gear, which had to be installed remotely.

The GEC Z8591 In My Collection

facing profile

This lantern was originally installed somewhere in the Burton-On-Trent area. The only change, after many decades of service, was the addition of a photocell.

front profile

The bowl was held in position by a stainless steel clip, bowl ring and simple hinge. The bowl swung outwards towards the road when opened. (A design feature to prevent accidental breakage if the bowl was hinged on the pavement side and hit the column or bracket when opened).

trailing profile

The lantern’s profile was tilted to allow extra throw of light across the road. The spigot also featured a deep mounting area which abutted against the bracket – especially concrete brackets – and continued the line of the bracket.


The canopy of the lantern was rounded. This ensured a large elliptical interior which aided the secondary optical system of the lantern.


Like many GEC lanterns, the firm’s name was embossed into the top of the canopy. The photocell, which was a later addition, was nicely placed in the centre of the canopy.

pedestrian view

The glass bowl was a GEC Z6638. Its function could be determined by “reading” the refractor pattern; horizontal prisms on the sides to elevate and control the main beams; vertical prisms on the rest of the sides to spread the light onto the road surface and back behind the lantern for roads and front gardens.


The base of the refractor bowl had simple parallel prisms to spread the light beneath the lantern. This increased the size of the “light spot” or “head” beneath the lantern and prevented the formation of bright spots on the road surface.

interior #1

The interior of the lantern was extremely simple with everything mounted to lugs within the canopy itself. The lamp holder was mounted road side which was a change from previous designs. There was also a terminal block and cable clamp.

It was painted white to act as a secondary optical system so that light emitted above the lamp would be reflected back down to the refractor bowl.

GEC 8591: As Aquired

A relatively short lived lantern, the GEC Z8591 was one of their first Group B models to burn a mercury bulb horizontally. It was later superceeded by the far more popular and less rounded Z8896.

It was obtained from fellow collector Phil and was originally installed somewhere in the Burton area.