For hundreds of years, gas-powered lamps have bathed parts of London in a glow reminiscent of a Dickens novel. Now the city’s iconic gas-powered lamps are endangered, and fans of the shining beacons are rallying to save them.
Luke Honey is co-founder of the London Gasketeers. His group seeks to protect the last of the gas lamps. He says London became “one of the first cities in the world to have gas lamps in 1807.” He views the beacons as part of a rich heritage.
“Gas lamps are . . . part of what people who come to London look for,” he says. “They deserve to be saved.”
But Westminster City Council has begun replacing the gas lights with replica LED versions.
On Cecil Court, a Victorian-era cobblestone street, antiquarian bookseller Tim Bryars saw workers inspecting a gas lamp outside his shop. “They were just testing to see how easy it was going to be to convert the lamp to electricity,” he says. But “alarm bells started ringing.”
Bryars knows that switching the lights to LED might be easier. But he calls the gas lamps “part of [Cecil Court’s] charm.” Plus, he believes gas lamps bring in business.
The city council says, “200-year-old fittings are increasingly difficult to maintain as spare parts are difficult to come by.” They also cite some safety and environmental concerns about gas.
But campaigners argue that manufacturing new LED lights and digging up streets to connect them negates any environmental benefit they have over the gas originals.
According to Honey, “The emissions that come out of gas lamps are extremely small”—less than a restaurant patio heater.
A team of “lamp attendants” maintains about 1,000 gas street lamps across London, including some 270 in the Westminster area. About half need to be wound every two weeks according to area manager Joe Fuller.
But Fuller says the lamps are robust. Most damage happens due to storms, vehicle collisions, and other accidents. And he says spare lamp parts aren’t hard to find.
“We’ve got spare parts galore for these lamps,” he explains. “We’ve also got manufacturers that we use that still make the parts today.”
City Council has agreed to pause replacements while it consults residents and local groups.
Honey is optimistic the remaining gas lamps can be saved.
“It’s a question of working with the council now to explain to them why these lamps are so important,” he says. “They are an important part of London’s historical culture and our industrial culture.”
Why? The Bible dedicates whole books to history, so it’s clear that history and heritage are important to God. Progress and invention are good, but so is developing an appreciation for many things of the past!