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A London lamplighter
A London lamplighter | Photo: Andy Parsons

London’s last atmospheric Victorian gas streetlamps are in danger of disappearing

Westminster Council wants to replace the historic lighting with LEDs. And Griff Rhys Jones ain’t having it

Chris Waywell
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Chris Waywell
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Did you know that London still has gaslighting? Not the horrible progressive abusive undermining of another person’s sense of worth and sanity. No, the actual, flickering, smoggy Olde London Town kind of creepy Jack-the-Ripper-type lighting. But maybe not for much longer…

Some of the capital’s last remaining gas-powered street lamps are in danger of being converted to the hateful, newfangled and probably covid-causing electricity. The 275 lampposts, which currently make Westminster a bit more Westmonster, date from the late Victorian era, when they were among the first public streetlights in the world. Now, though, Westminster Council is looking to (literally) dismantle them and change them to electric lighting. 

The news doesn’t just affect the character of a few historic central London streets. The gas lamps have to be maintained and the council claims that this is not sustainable, and that delays to repairs on the historic lamps could affect the safety of those using the streets after dark. They want to use LEDs to replicate the aura of the traditional lights, much to the horror of purists (including, randomly, Griff Rhys Jones). 

However, the GMB union, which represents the workers who tend the lights, disputes the council’s case, claiming that maintaining LEDs is – in the long-term – less ecologically sound than the gas jets. ‘With the potential to convert them to hydrogen just around the corner, such a decision would be a short-sighted attack on our capital’s heritage,’ said Andy Prendergast, GMB national secretary.

Prendergast also made slightly fantastical claims for the attractive potential of this historic mood lighting: ‘These central London gas lamps are part of our heritage. Every year thousands of tourists flock to see them and it would be a tragedy if they were replaced in the name of modernisation.’

And before anyone starts mentioning Vladimir Putin and his big stoppered pipe, this is not just about GAS. A lot of electricity is generated by gas, after all. This is part of the age-old debate of romance versus practicality that Londoners must face every day. Like breakfast at the Savoy or Greggs: pros and cons on both sides.

So let’s celebrate this unique scrap of old London while we can. ‘Fanny by LED Light’ just doesn’t have the same ring to it.

In more power news, have a look at the new Battersea Power Station: it’s quite amazing.

Find places cosy enough to sit outside in autumn (no doubt gas-warmed)

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