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The geyser, the
upmarket Victorian water heater

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The main problem with copper water heaters was that their fires had to be laid in advance, stoked and cleared away after use. How much better if hot water could be available on tap!

In fact hot water was available on tap in the more up-market Victorian and Edwardian houses which had space to spare and had a gas supply. It required what was known as a geyser. This contained a long coiled water pipe heated by gas jets. It necessarily had to be large and tall as that was the only way that that the cold water could travel far enough in the heat to be warmed.

I'm not sure that I ever saw a geyser in my childhood. They were certainly not common in the households of Victorian and Edwardian working class families, although some survived into the mid 20th century in these old houses divided into flats.

Smaller and more modern versions of geysers were enamel finished and known also as Ascots. Being smaller, Ascots were normally for kitchen sinks whereas geysers were for baths. Baths were not necessarily in bathrooms: they were often in sculleries and kitchens with a board over to serve as a worktop.

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Recollections of geysers

Old advert for geyser water heaters showing two sketches of geysers

Advert for a geyser water heater, courtesy of Stefany Reich-Silber, showing sketches of a couple of geysers The advert is from the inventor of the geyser who had a shop in Cheapside.

My recollection of geysers comes from our flat in a street full of large late Victorian villas.

Our geyser was a cylindrical metal water heater, about 4 feet high, with a long downward pointing pipe for the hot water to flow out. It may have had some decoration, but I can't be sure now. It had a circular gas switch on the side which allowed one to light the pilot and turn the gas on - which made a great whoosh sound. Of course one had to have the requisite amount of shillings for the gas meter.

Stefany Reich-Silber

The hot water supply from our geyser was endlessly slow.

Douglas Adam

If you can add to or amend anything on this page or provide a photo, I would be pleased to hear from you.

Pat Cryer, webmaster

The geyser that I knew in the 1950s was in our sports club house and was probably already old when I knew it. It was smaller than the one that Stefany Reich-Silber describes, perhaps only about two feet high and was over a wash basin - but it was certainly called a geyser, not an Ascot. I did know other geysers which were slightly different in detail. Some had a swivel outlet for the water.

The geysers were advertised as providing instant hot water, but this was not quite true. They probably took just under half a minute to warm up from cold. The temperature could be set hotter or colder by adjusting the flow of gas.

Bill Hogg

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