Hidden in Plain Sight: London’s Gas Lighting

Look a little closer (and up!) when you walk past London’s ubiquitous street lamps, there are still around 1,500 functioning gas lamps in London.

Electric street lighting was first introduced in the late 19th century quickly becoming more popular and doing away with most of the gas lamps.

London Gas Lighting

Out of the 1,500 (English Heritage protected) gas lamps left in London, around 200 are private owned and looked after. The rest are under the care of 4 British Gas workers called lamp attendants.

These 4 attendants ride on scooters to collect their ladders, left – locked up – at handy spots.

London Gas Lighting

You’ll probably see these all over Westminster now…

Then they scoot off to maintain and turn on their 400 lamps. Some are automatic, with a pilot light burning all day that gets a boost at nighttime. Around a third of the lamps have windy clocks inside, making sure they’re wound up every 14 days.

London Gas Lighting

One of the British Gas workers caught in the act!

London Gas Lighting

Can you spot the pilot light burning?

Some of these lamps are over 200 years old and haven’t weathered as well as others…

London Gas Lighting
Get the latest London secrets to your email
See the city from a new angle, discovering little things you miss everyday and get the latest news about upcoming tours.
Once a week. No spam, just inspiration.
Your details will never be shared with any 3rd parties
London Gas Lighting

Merrily burning away, the gas lights have a slightly warmer colour compared to electric lights

Watch this video by The Londonist where they interview a British Gas lamp attendant;

Some trivia…

Each lamppost has the initial of the day’s reigning monarch. The oldest gas lamps in London can be found on Birdcage Walk with George IV’s insignia.

Electric street lighting was first introduced in 1878 along the Thames Embankment and near Holborn Viaduct, quickly becoming more popular and doing away with most of the gas lamps.

The first street to be lit with modern electricity as we know it was – obvious really – Electric Avenue in Brixton, 1880!

If you’re on the Strand, pop by the Savoy Theatre’s stage door to find this lamp. There’s a plaque which acknowledges Savoy Theatre (1881) as the first building to be lit throughout with electric lighting.

London Gas Lighting

The curious bauble-shaped lamp

Want to find some Gas Lamps in real life?

British Gas have created this handy map to guide you around some of the most interesting lamps between Buckingham Palace and Covent Garden.

More London Inspiration

11 Comments

  • Malcolm Wright

    Reply

    Though most were replaced in the 1960s, Leeds still has a few working gas street lamps in Queen Square. This is a small green Georgian oasis, just off the city centre, en route to the universies. Whether they are council or privately owned, I don’t know.

    April 12, 2019 at 2:11 pm
  • Brian Frost

    Reply

    I keep stumbling across your fantastic site and have just opened the full pages, I shall be entertained for weeks/
    Keep up the good work.

    November 5, 2019 at 5:09 pm
  • Nicely resonant and evocative. In my childhood in Bayswater, early 1950s, I remember gas lamps still in use, with the gas lighters and their long sticks going down Inverness Terrace each evening. Thank you for the posting.

    September 26, 2020 at 1:53 pm
  • Helen Hill

    Reply

    I would like to subscribe but my email isn’t acceptable.

    June 4, 2021 at 5:34 am
  • Dismayed to learn that (whether listed/partially listed or not) Westminster Council is converting all 299 of the gas lamps in its care to electricity. Only the columns are being retained (so far). The original lanterns are being replaced with new ‘heritage’ lanterns and the gas mantles with LEDs. I’ve noted that some bracket lamps have just gone completely. The Council cites climate emergency, cost of maintenance and insufficient brightness, but elsewhere in the UK authorities (eg Malvern, Bristol) are refurbishing their lamps – even putting some back. Look up Brian Harper: his company now has a 10 year track record of bringing gas lighting into the 21st century, training a new generation of ‘gasketeers’, reducing typical maintenance costs by 80% and gas consumption by 60% while making the lamps 3 x brighter through use of reflectors. Street gas lighting began in Westminster and we urgently need to find a way of protecting what’s left.

    July 9, 2021 at 9:59 am

Post a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.