Sir Goldsworthy Gurney, inventor

Sir Goldsworthy Gurney, inventor

Sir Goldsworthy Gurney, Cornish inventor of a range of devices, including his Bude Light, which was used to improve lighthouse operating. Goldsworthy Gurney was born in Avon Cottage, Treator,near Padstow, Cornwall on the 14th February 1793. His unusual Christian name was taken from his godmother who was a maid of honour to Queen Charlotte.

By the age of 20 he had qualified as a doctor and set up a practice in Wadebridge practicing as a surgeon, but also became interested in chemistry and mechanical science. He married to Elizabeth Symons, a farmers daughter.

He soon moved to London in 1820 with new wife where they moved in scientific circles. Buy 1823 he had given up medicine to experiment with steam engines. He constructed both a steam driven boat and a coach. In 1829 on of his steam coaches traveled from London to Bath and back at 15 miles per hour. However Gurney was forced out of business by those with vested interests in the status quo - toll operators, horse sellers, etc.

He also invented a better form of lighting for lighthouses and also realised if each lighthouse had a different flashing system, then sailors could know which lighthouse they were looking at. Gurney solved the existing problems of producing a bright light with his Bude Light. He used a standard oil lamp to produce a flame, and then introduced oxygen gas into the middle of the flame. The unburned carbon in the oil flame burned incredibly brightly and an intense, white light was produced from the weak yellow flame of the oil lamp. He used a single Bude Light to light Bude Castle - with a system of prisms and lenses to distribute the light into every room. And he could redirect it to light a room in the Falcon Hotel which was 400 metres away across the canal. Gurney built Bude Castle in 1830 to prove that a house could be built on sand with the use of a concrete raft. The light was patented in 1839.

Between 1854 and 1863 he was in charge of heating and lighting the Houses of Parliament. And he was knighted for this in 1863.

Gurney's inventions included the:-

“oxy-hydrogen” blowpipe, where an intense flame was created by burning a jet of oxygen and hydrogen together.

a steam carriage for use on the road.

the high-pressure “steam-jet” which could also be used for the extinguishing of fires in coal mines; applied to blast furnaces for the making of iron; and for purging underground sewers.

He improved theatre lighting which used "limelight" with his "Bude Light". These lights were fitted in The House of Commons and also in Trafalgar Square where replicas of the two styles originally used can still be seen.

The “Gurney Stove” another invention which he patented in 1856 was extensively used to heat buildings. Many of these stoves are still in use to this day.

In July 1854 a paid appointment was made for him to become superintendent of the heating, lighting and ventilating which lasted from 1854 to 1863.

He then retired from public life, and in August 1863 was knighted by Queen Victoria in recognition of his inventions and discoveries.

Tragically later in 1863 he suffered a stroke which left him with partially paralyses, so he moved back to Cornwall living at Reeds near Bude. He died apparently penniless at Reeds on 28th February 1875.and was buried at Launcells Church near Bude. There is no memorial to him in Cornwall.

Limelight is an ambitious proposal to create a facility to interpret the history of Bude and is located in Bude Castle.


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