This week I found myself moaning about the latest rise in gas prices until I thought of the astonishing fact that supplies of gas and electricity are delivered in wires and pipes from miles away right into our homes. Our ancestors would be utterly astonished but today we take technology so much for granted that we expect the power to heat and light our homes to be available at the flick of a switch. It is hard to imagine a world with neither gas nor electricity where houses, churches, offices and factories were lit by oil lamps or candles. That was the situation for centuries until the arrival on the scene of Scottish engineer William Murdoch who worked in Birmingham with the great James Watt. In the 1790s Murdoch discovered a way of making gas by burning coal so that it could provide continuous light and be piped from one place to another. By 1812 a small area of central London had the first gas lights and within two decades the miracle ‘‘illuminant’’ had spread throughout the land.