The London Gasketeers (the name alludes, one assumes, to the swashbuckling heroes of the Alexander Dumas novel) are a newly created group set up to campaign for Britain’s historic gas lamps. Founded in January 2022, the Gasketeers operate by using social media and already have a number of high-profile supporters, including the actor Simon Callow, the historian and TV presenter Dan Cruickshank, and the President of the Victorian Society Griff Rhys Jones.
The focus of their current concern is the plan by Westminster City Council (reported by Sherds in previous issues of this magazine, see CA 383 and 386) to convert 275 historic gas lamps to LED. Conversion does not mean replacing the gas mantle with a glass bulb, it means replacing the entire glass and iron lantern at the top of the lamp post with modern ‘facsimiles’.
Westminster stoutly defends its plan on the grounds of energy efficiency, the cost of maintenance, the difficulty of obtaining spare parts, and the inadequate light level, which puts people (especially women) at risk. Campaigners dismiss all these arguments, though: light levels can be adjusted, tiny amounts of gas are used, and there is no shortage of spare parts or the skills to maintain the lamps, thanks in part to the British firm William Sugg & Co. Ltd, which is a world leader in heritage lighting and has been advising local authorities in Britain as well as in Prague, Vienna, and Berlin on the restoration of their gas lamps.
Even within London, Westminster seems out of step with other authorities. Wandsworth has reinstated the ornate Tooting Broadway gas lamps and The Mall is lit by historic gas lamps on the St James’s Palace side – as it has been since 1807, when it became the first street in England to be lit by gas. The Royal Collection has a cartoon by Thomas Rowlandson dated December 1809 (RCIN 810789) showing country bumpkins gazing in awe at the new lights and a sex worker worrying about the lack of dark corners in which to ply her trade.
There is a certain amount of nostalgia in the fondness for the warm glow of gaslight, with campaigners referring to the London of Dickens, Mary Poppins, or Sherlock Holmes – but not all gas lamps date from the distant past: the lamps around the statue of the Queen Mother on The Mall were installed as recently as 2009.
Further information: www.facebook.com/thelondongasketeers
Text & Images: C Catling
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