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esla | history

Given their name, the Electrical Street Lighting Apparatus Company probably side-stepped the whole gas era of street lighting and emerged with the first wave of electrical firms such as GEC and REVO. And given that their address, “The Foundry” in Canterbury, was suitably grand and terse, it’s not unlikely that they were the primary ironmongers in the city. ESLA were probably casting columns and brackets for other manufacturers before deciding to branch completely into electric street lighting themselves.

This, however, is reasoned conjecture on my part. If it wasn’t for one particular range of lantern, then ESLA would be consigned to the vague obscurities of Wardle and Benjamin - other manufacturers who made little impact in the UK’s street lighting scene.

The ESLA Bi-Multi lantern, based on the new open directional lanterns being flouted by other manufacturers, and utilising the Multi-Ray technology, was an unparalleled success. This lantern was almost omnipotent being simple, cheap and effective. From their Canterbury base, the Bi-Multi wave rushed through Kent, Sussex, London and out throughout the UK. And up until the 1970s, ESLAs could be found in almost every town.

Of course, ESLA also made columns. And brackets. And other lanterns. But it’s the Bi-Multi for which they’ll be remembered.

It was also their Achilles heel. The range was extended in the 1930s to include the emerging discharge tube technology. Other manufacturers wiped their slates clean, studied the new arc tubes and their characteristics, and designed new optical systems made out of iron, glass and later, plastic. ESLA stretched and bent the Bi-Multi range into wild geometric arches to accommodate these skinny bulbs - and produced some of the strangest lanterns seen.

During the 1950s, their time was surely almost at an end. REVO patented new superior models (the Magnalite range), aluminium and plastics became the rage, and ESLA were left at their Foundry, surrounded by cast iron which had become so unfashionable. In the end, I believe they sold up to REVO, and the Bi-Multi range was finished.

But their legacy lives on. When people see the ESLA Bi-Multi, the question is always the same: can you get me one? They are highly prized amongst collectors and reclaim yards slap three figure sums on them. ESLA successfully exploited a niche with these lanterns, and now they should occupy a niche in every collection.