They were 0-54 at lunch in their second innings, an overall lead of 105, with Alastair Cook on 41 and Michael Carberry 5no.
This is the first time England have led on the first innings since July, when they belted Australia by 347 runs in the second Test at Lords.
England are 3-0 down in this series, but now they are dictating terms.
After two days of glacial batting, the run rate was much quicker in the morning session and 94 was scored in total.
One Michael Carberry edge fell just short of the slips, but otherwise he and Cook were untroubled.
When Cook reached 18 he passed 8000 career Test runs, only the fifth English batsman to do so.
A stiffening northerly will send the temperature soaring into the high 30s on Saturday afternoon, meaning a stern physical and mental exam for the Australian attack.
Australian all-rounder Shane Watson also looked proppy when he bowled two overs before lunch.
The injury-prone medium pacer had to leave the field during the first innings because of a groin strain.
Some of his pre-lunch deliveries failed to break 120km/h.
Off-spinner Nathan Lyon was introduced briefly into the attack after only five overs.
England did not have it all their own way in the morning session as Brad Haddin and Lyon started play with a game last-wicket stand.
Resuming at 9-164, they took the total to 204 as the English bowlers failed to bowl enough at the stumps.
Haddin top-scored with 65 at nearly a run a ball to continue his outstanding Ashes series.
James Anderson finally cramped him as he again backed away to the leg side for an attempted slog and Haddin was caught behind to end the innings.
Haddin is Australia's second-highest run scorer in this series with 390 at an average of 65.
It was his fourth Test half century this summer and he also has a ton.
Lyon impressed as well, scoring 18no with three boundaries.
Anderson was the pick of the attack in his best performance of the series, taking 4-67, and Stuart Broad snared 3-45.
ENGLAND FIRST INNINGS 255
AUSTRALIA FIRST INNINGS 204
ENGLAND SECOND INNINGS
A COOK not out 41 (46)
M CARBERRY not out 5 (50)
Sundries (4b 4lb) 8
No wickets for 54
Bowling: R Harris 4-0-21-0, M Johnson 3-1-4-0, N Lyon 2-0-9-0, P Siddle 5-3-7-0, S Watson 2-1-5-0.
Batting time: 66 mins. Overs: 16.
Umpires: Aleem Dar (PAK), Kumar Dharmasena (SRL).