Works to replace Victorian era gas lamps in central London with electric street lights has been paused by Westminster council following an outcry about the plans.

The council had swapped the insides of 30 lamps so far, replacing their gas fittings with replica look-alike LED lamps while maintaining the heritage lampposts. However, the works sparked protests against the move, which while undeniably a lot more environmentally friendly and cheaper to run, do lack a certain something in their softer lighting effect and their heritage.

There are 305 gas lamps across Westminster that stem from the launch of street lighting in the early 19th century. The council says that servicing and finding spare parts for the antique lamps has proved increasingly difficult, which lead to the decision to start replacing them with LEDs.

The Council is now going to consult local residents, conservation groups and businesses on how further upgrades should proceed. No more working gas lamps will be removed while this consultation – expected to take until the end of this year – has been completed.

Cllr Rachael Robathan, leader of Westminster City Council, said: “While these lamps are beautiful and atmospheric, 200-year-old fittings are increasingly difficult to maintain as spare parts are difficult to come by. Street lamps have to do the basic job of casting enough light so that people -especially women – feel safe at night. When gas lights don’t work because of lengthy repair times, that creates a safety issue.”

There is however untapped tourist potential. When Prague switched some of its electric lights back to gas in 2002, they introduced an annual lighting ceremony on the Charles Bridge which is a significant tourist event over Christmas.

It’s estimated that there are around 1,200 gas-powered street lights across Greater London still in active use.

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13 comments
  1. Martin says:

    Why not get local volunteers to maintain the gas street lamps. They are not complex and would not need gas fitters for basic maintenance. Just cleaning the glass and replacing broken mantles would result in a good bright light. More serious faults could then be reported to a gas fitter.

    • Jamie says:

      Until they drop a piece of glass onto a tourist’s head of course, or cause a gas explosion. Public liability insurance is vital when working in the streets.

      Westminster is a high-security target – would these people be checked to ensure they aren’t terrorists?

      And of course there’s the issue of using a cherry-picker – lots of the streets are red routes, it takes the utilities a hack of a lot of time and paperwork to close even a small bit of road for works, especially if buses have to be diverted.

      And these are only a few of the reasons why any old Tom, Dick or Harry won’t be mucking about with gas mantles.

  2. Fazal Majid says:

    Terrible decision. Gas lighting is a technology whose time has passed and that should be ripped out to fight carbon emissions, not to mention all those pipes probably cost a pretty penny to maintain and must leak methane, a greenhouse gas forty times more potent than carbon dioxide. Keep the fixtures for tourists, but replace the light source with LEDs.

  3. Dan says:

    Classic “rich part of London” mentality. Can’t believe this is going to consultation at a time we’re all being encouraged to ditch gas and go green. I appreciate the heritage element but the LED replacements are a very good compromise.

  4. Paul says:

    Here’s a new phrase: “Heritage correctness gone mad”
    You heard it here first.

    Dear toffs of Mayfair and Marylebone: You will still have your antique lamp posts. They will still be functional. They just won’t cost the earth or keep breaking. Get over yourselves.

  5. Chast says:

    Removal of these gas lights should be an affront to every heritage-conscious reader of this blog. The impact of these emissions on the environment is minuscule but the pleasant ambience of an earlier London is immeasurable.

  6. JP says:

    It’s not all about brass tacks, you know. There are such things as artistic and intangible merit.

    If this were Prague for instance, where there’s a large district lit by hundreds of gas lamps, we’d have a daily ceremony with lightermen putting on a show of individually igniting them which draws a crowd. An intangible cost benefit to outlay the maintenance charge.

    They are supplied from the usual gas network so any leaks are down to British Gas/Centrica and as for LEDs replicating the oscillating soul-warming glow of a real flame, who does the council think it’s kidding?

    There are fewer idiosyncrasies left as it is so before we throw the baby out with the bathwater, let’s address the slightly more pressing pollution problem from the gas that heats our homes than that which warms our cockles.

  7. martin says:

    See the link for the development of gas street lamps

    https://williamsugghistory.co.uk/lighting/street-lamps/

    Part of our cultural heritage and not a climate issue compared to say outdoor patio heaters.

  8. Dan says:

    To those who are looking for some kind of romanticism in gas flames. Get out of the way of progress. Thanks.

    • JP says:

      Thankfully there’s more than one path to progress along towards enlightenment. Without options and different ways of doing things, we’d have nothing against which to measure the positives of progress and the cons of conservatism.
      And vice~versa.

  9. Martin says:

    Growing support to stop this and maintain the lamps. Thank goodness some people care about our heritage.

    https://www.facebook.com/thelondongasketeers/

  10. David Thomas says:

    There are a few gas lamps scattered around the Temple as well. These are in the City and very much add to the dark-time atmosphere. Are there any plans to put electric fittings in these?

  11. John Newton says:

    Given balance of arguments, heritage v.cost of upkeep, climate change, sensible compromise could be concentrating their retention in certain locations where their tourist potential can be maximised?

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