Pressure Lamps International

 Vapalux Ltd. and Willis and Bates

©AWMoore 2004

Vapalux is the trade name for lanterns made by Willis and Bates, Pellon Works, Reservoir Road, Halifax, England . Although Willis and Bates have been involved in lantern design and manufacture since 1912, the Vapalux name was first used in 1938. Before then, the company had been involved in metal spinnings, a process where cylindrical or domed components could be made from flat sheets. The proprietor, Alfred Bates, chose Halifax for the location of his business in 1897, building the Pellon factory around 1900. The company diversified and moved into metal forming, a process of shaping components, again from flat sheets, by compressing between two shaped dies. The growing industry of the early 20th century was interrupted by WW2, and like so many other companies, Willis & Bates were preoccupied with production for the war effort in those years. The Willis & Bates web site has a pertinent comment that ".... it is rumoured that Alfred Bates may have been the originator of the steel helmet, although such a claim cannot presently be substantiated"

Soon after the end of the war, work began on production of the German "Petromax" design of paraffin lantern, and an association with the manufacture of pressure lighting started that was to continue to this day.

The first Vapalux lanterns were made almost completely from brass, and "Vapalux" was embossed into the ventilator rim. The Vapalux lantern was approved by the British Government in 1939 for military use, and thousands of lanterns were used by the armed forces during WW2. During this busy period, some 2000 lanterns per week were manufactured. Some, if not all, of these units had a tank made from steel instead of brass. Alfred Bates died in 1930, so he did not live to see this fantastic success, but his son S.W. Bates continued the work during those busy years.

At the end of the war, Vapalux Ltd was established as a subsidiary company of Willis and Bates, and the same genus of lantern was made and marketed as Bialaddin under an arrangement with Aladdin of Greenford, UK. Vapalux lanterns designated M1 were still produced during this period. Ten years later, Vapalux Ltd was again merged with the parent company, and in 1968 the latest design, the Bialaddin 320 became the Vapalux 320. So for some 20 years after WW2 Aladdin Industries marketed lanterns made by Willis and Bates until the Bialaddin name disappeared around 1970, from then Willis and Bates used only the Vapalux name.

Some early Vapalux founts look superficially rather like the Tilley equivalent, and even have the same kind of pressure indicator nipple in the top of the fount. This is because the company carried out sub-contract work for the Tilley Lamp Co of Hendon between 1925 and 1938, and during that period they made all the pressings for Tilley. There was clearly more than just a working association.

With the Vapalux lanterns made between 1938 and 1951, colour variations of the fount is a useful aid to dating.

Vapalux 300 (1942-1948) Note the round hole in the glass, for lighting.

The Vapalux 300 series (evolving into the Bialaddin 300) was made from sometime before 1942 until 1951. Up to 1942 it had a brown fount, 1942 to 1948 a cream fount, and from 1945 to 1951 a maroon coloured fount. Model M1 was made between 1949 and 1979, in either olive or silver, with a green or black ventilator.

When the working partnership between Aladdin and Willis and Bates came to an end in 1968, the Vapalux Model 320 was introduced. This model was available with a silver painted finish or chrome over brass fount, and an enameled steel ventilator coloured either black, red or green. Earlier models are similar, and have some resemblance to Bialaddin models, with which they share common components.

Model M320 was first produced in 1979, and is still made today. Model H2 ceased production in 1966, I have no details on this lamp, only that it used a special glass, was coloured silver, and had a stainless steel ventilator. Model E41 is a different design with less conspicuous air inlet buttons, and I have also seen examples of a wall or bracket lamp based on the 300 series, but have no details of the model number or dates of production.

Vapalux model 320

Handlamp - can be wall mounted or hung - model unknown

One other lamp worthy of mention is the donut (lifebuoy) lamp made for military use during/after WW2. It is unique in that it could be suspended, it could stand on a table or on the floor using the shade guard as a stand, and it could be turned onto its side so as to project light sideways onto a wall. I don't know of any other lamp with this capability. This may be the H2, but there is no confirmation at this time.

From an old black and white photo - is this the H2 ?

Willis and Bates became part of the Bairstowe Brothers Group in 1997, and the details of their current products and other interesting information relating to lanterns can be found on the Vapalux web site.

This is located at The site contains a very interesting company history dating back to the 19th century, some of which is reproduced in this account. Willis & Bates Ltd operate a mail order service for mantles, new lamps, and spare parts. UK telephone number is (0)1422 361228 FAX (0)1422 340480.

 If you need spares, replacements or even new lamps, then visit the Vapalux web site for prices and availability.


I'd like to thank Mr Peter Sunderland of Willis and Bates Ltd. for providing information for this page.

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