The Geordie lamp was invented by George Stephenson in 1815 as a solution to explosions caused by firedamp in coal mines. Firedamp is a naturally occurring gas within coal mines. It is highly dangerous, being flammable, explosive and invisible to humans and was therefore was the cause of many deaths.
There were various attempts to find a solution to this problem, most notably the Davy Lamp. However, it was the design by George Stephenson, at the time an unknown engineer working in Killingworth Colliery, which can claim to be the first and most dependable. Both lamps used similar techniques to detect the gas, yet there were key differences. The Davy Lamp, designed by Humphry Davy, tended to give off less light and could become faulty, even dangerous, when the metal gauge rusted.
In contrast, Stephenson’s Geordie Lamp used glass to surround the flame, with a metal cover placed over, allowing for more light. The lamp was then able to allow air to reach the flame without any danger of an explosion. If harmful gases were present, the flame would go out, which gave miners an early warning to get out of the mine. The design would continue to evolve, with Stephenson re-designing his lamp around 1820.
The Royal Society had offered a prize for developing a successful safety lamp, with both men producing similar designs around the same time. There were initially doubts as to whether Stephenson, still relatively unknown and speaking in a broad Northumbrian accent, could’ve come up with a design. However, a report presented at the Literary and Philosophical Society in Newcastle proved Stephenson’s case. The Geordie Lamp would become popular in the Coalfields of the North East, with the Davy Lamp used in the rest of the country. It is also thought by some that this was the source of the term ‘Geordie’, as a shorthand for the people of Newcastle.