Intrigued tourists watch as Paul Doy climbs the ladder outside London’s Westminster Abbey and lifts the globe of a gas street lamp.
Winding the timer, he then ignites a small cloth, creating a distinctive soft warm light that illuminates the darkness.
“I like the historical aspect of it,” says Doy, “even if it means getting up at 5 a.m. to take care of the lamps.”
A 200-year-old nightly ritual almost became history when the local government announced plans to replace 174 gas lamps with eco-friendly LED bulbs.
Westminster City Council’s plan has sparked outrage among some residents and heritage enthusiasts, and even raised a parliamentary question. But the council decided to abandon the move. Instead, it will convert 94 other gas lamps that are not protected.
Part of London’s DNA
London has more than 1,000 gas street lamps that were installed in the early 19th century.
At the time, they were considered a great innovation in a city with dark, dirty and often dangerous streets.
In central London, they still illuminate parts of The Mall leading to Buckingham Palace, the side streets of Covent Garden and around Westminster Abbey. The atmospheric light they emit is reminiscent of the novels of Charles Dickens, Mary Poppins and Sherlock Holmes.
“They are an incredibly important part of the fabric of London’s history,” says antiques writer Luke Honey.
“They are in the DNA of London.”
Watch the video above to learn more.