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Gas lamps installed to mark start of George V’s reign granted listed status

Four historic gas lamps installed in London’s Covent Garden to mark the beginning of George V’s reign have been granted listed status.

The lampposts along Russell Street have been listed at Grade II as a result of a pilot project by Historic England to help inform ongoing discussions about the management of gas lamps in Westminster and beyond.

Further listings are expected to follow.

(left to right) Arts and Heritage minister Lord Parkinson, campaigner Tim Bryars, MP Nickie Aiken, actor Simon Callow, Historic England chief executive Duncan Wilson and campaigner Luke Honey stand under one of four gas lamps along Russell Street in Covent Garden, London that have today been given Grade II listing protection.
Left to right, Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay, Tim Bryars, Nickie Aiken, actor Simon Callow, Duncan Wilson and campaigner Luke Honey admire one of the lamps (Matt Crossick/PA)

The lamps are part of a collection installed around Covent Garden in 1910 to mark the beginning of George V’s reign.

Arts and heritage minister Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay said: “London’s gas lamps have been an integral part of the city’s identity for more than two centuries.

“From the novels of Dickens and Conan-Doyle, to Mary Poppins and the Muppet Christmas Carol, they have provided an evocative backdrop to many of our capital’s most cherished scenes and locations.

“The particular lamps being listed today along Russell Street date back to the start of the reign of King George V, more than a century ago.

Lamplighter Paul Doy stands under one of four gas lamps along Russell Street in Covent Garden, London that have today been given Grade II listing protection.
Lamplighter Paul Doy stands under one of the four protected gas lamps (Matt Crossick/PA)

“They will now rightly be protected so that their inimitable glow can continue to brighten the lives of Londoners and millions of tourists for generations to come.”

Street lighting fuelled by gas began in London. The first recorded demonstration in the world of gas-powered street lamps was on Pall Mall in 1807.

By 1823, public spaces across the country were lit by gas. There are now about 1,300 working gas lamps in London, with about 270 in Westminster. Of these 270, about half are currently listed.

Many surviving gas lamps are made up of columns, brackets and lanterns of different ages and styles.

There are various standardised designs as well as now unique examples like the Grade II listed sewer gas destructor lamp on Carting Lane, near the Savoy.

Arts and Heritage minister Lord Parkinson stands under one of four gas lamps along Russell Street in Covent Garden, London that have today been given Grade II listing protection.
Arts and Heritage minister Lord Parkinson poses next to one of the lamps (Matt Crossick/PA)

The decision has been welcomed by Nickie Aiken, MP for the Cities of London and Westminster, the London Gasketeers, and the Victorian Society which has requested the protection of the capital’s early street lighting.

Duncan Wilson, Historic England chief executive, said: “Gas lamps are an evocative part of our heritage, transporting you to the streetscape of another era. The more you look at them the more details you discover.

“These newly listed lamps enrich the character of this historic part of Covent Garden, and form part of a wider collection across Westminster.

“The 1910 columns and their 1930s Upright Rochester style lanterns – designed to reduce shadow and improve distribution of light – help illustrate how street lighting technology has evolved over time, in an area of particular importance to the development of gas-powered, street lighting.”

Tim Bryars, on behalf of the London Gasketeers, added: “The London Gasketeers are delighted that all four Russell Street gas lamps now have legal protection, recognising their group value.

“Together, their distinctive light will help future generations appreciate the architecture and ambience of London a century ago, which is wonderful for walking tours of Westminster by gaslight.

“We are especially pleased that the listing includes one of the more modern lamps, installed following the successful campaign to save historic Covent Garden from demolition and redevelopment in the 1970s.

“Campaigners who won that battle appreciated the value of preserving the lamps in chains and clusters, as we do.

“These are the first Westminster gas lamps to be listed in 40 years, a milestone in our grassroots campaign, and it provides a model for protecting the remaining handful of survivors.”

Ms Aiken said: “It is vital that we protect our heritage. Gas lamps are an integral part of Westminster’s history and aesthetics.

“I hope this is only the start and we will see more precious gas lamps saved for generations to enjoy.”