Sir Goldsworthy Gurney - Inventor of the limelight

Sir Goldsworthy Gurney
Sir Goldsworthy Gurney

Sir Goldsworthy Gurney was born in Padstow in 1793 and was operating his own medical practice by the time he was twenty. At an early age he met fellow Cornishman, Richard Trevithick, a pioneer of steam railways, and went on to build a steam-powered road vehicle which successfully travelled to and from London to Bath at an average speed of 15 miles per hour. Gurney built several more carriages and opened a passenger service.

Two years after moving to London in 1820, he was appointed lecturer in chemistry and natural philosophy at the Surrey Institute. Whilst there he invented the oxy-hydrogen blowpipe, a system for producing an intensely hot flame from a jet of oxygen and hydrogen. After experimenting with different substances, he discovered that a brilliant light was produced when the flame was played on a chunk of lime. This was limelight which was so bright that it could be seen almost a hundred miles away.

Gurney then invented his Bude Light; He introduced oxygen into the middle of the flame of a standard oil lamp. The unburned carbon in the oil flame burned incredibly brightly and an intense, white light was produced. He lit his whole castle in Bude using a single Bude Light with a series of prisms and lenses running down the hallways and taking the light into every room. The light was patented in 1839.