Historical information

The Tilley lamp derives from John Tilley’s invention of the hydro-pneumatic blowpipe in 1813 in England. W. H. Tilley were manufacturing pressure lamps at their works in Stoke Newington in 1818, and Shoreditch, in the 1830s. The company moved to Brent Street in Hendon in 1915 during World War I, and started to work with paraffin (kerosene) as a fuel for the lamps.
During World War I Tilley lamps were used by the British armed forces, and became so popular that Tilley became used as a generic name for a kerosene lamp in many parts of the world, in much the same way as Hoover is used for vacuum cleaners. During the 1920s the company had diversified into domestic lamps, and had expanded rapidly after orders from railway companies. After World War II fears about the poisonous effect of paraffin fumes, and widely available electricity, reduced demand for domestic use. The company moved from Hendon to Ireland in the early 1960s, finally settling in Belfast. The company moved back to England in 2000.


A significant item demonstrating the early use of kerosene under pressure as a lighting medium. These types of lamps were made by a company whose products became synonymous with oil lamps generally. Lamps that were used commercially, domestically and by the armed forces of many countries during the first and second world wars.

Physical description

Tilley Searchlight Projector, or search lamp, made in Hendon, England 1935. Metal kerosene pressure search lamp, glass front, fixed mirror at back, wooden carry handles. Mounted on fuel tank with pressure pump. Lamp has 8 airflow holes in the bottom and a covered outlet on the top. Glass is in 3 pieces, fitting together to make flat circle there is a maker’s plate on the pressure tank.

Inscriptions & markings

“TILLEY / SEARCHLIGHT PROJECTOR / MADE AT / HENDON, ENGLAND”, “256” handwritten in red on one wooden handle, “9” or “6” hand painted in white on top on light