Circular Lighting Report

Should London’s Victorian gas lamps go LED?

gas lamp London

A row has broken out over the sustainability of London’s remaining 275 Victorian gas lamps.

Westminster City Council is said to be exploring the viability of converting its historic lamps to LED.

Advocates of the change argue that the lights are responsible for significantly more carbon emissions than LED.

They also need a lot of maintenance, which is expensive, and they could potentially a threat to public safety, as delays to repairs on the historic lamps could impair the security of those using the streets after dark. They say the LEDs could be tuned to replicate the colour of the gas.

Leading the case for retention is the GMB union, which represents the workers who maintain the lights.

It advocates retaining the unique and atmospheric lighting as a tourist attraction and an integral part of the capital’s heritage.

It also believes it’s more sustainable.  ‘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,’ Andy Prendergast, GMB national secretary, told the press.

‘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.’

The union appears to have an ally in English Heritage, which has historically been against conversion to electric.

Many original gas lamps have already been converted to LED. Downing Street’s lanterns, for instance, were converted in the 2000s.

The first gas lamp was installed in Pall Mall in 1807, and within a few years 215 miles of London’s streets were lit by the warm glow of light from 40,000 gas lamps. The last lamplighter in London is thought to have hung up his pole for the final time around 1968. They were once a common sight all over the city appearing as night fell, stopping by each of the gas lanterns that lined the streets, and bringing them to life one by one.

Ray Molony

Recolight Report is an independent guide to the latest developments in sustainable and circular lighting. Learn about the people, products, projects and processes that are shaping our industry’s low carbon future. Plus: explainers on the latest innovations, opinion from thought leaders and video interviews with leading disruptors. Edited by lighting expert, editor and industry figure Ray Molony.