London is bristling with historical artefacts and museum pieces, though few of them are in active use on a daily basis. But across the capital, 1,500 gas street lights are still lighting streets and alleyways every night.
There are clusters of gas street lighting if you know where to look: the streets around Covent Garden are one, Mayfair is another. In most cases they are found where buildings of Georgian or Victorian vintage have been preserved, and the street scene holds on to ancient bollards, stone kerbs and in some cases even cobbles or flags thanks to a preservation order. Some are up to 200 years old, and where one occasionally has to be replaced, a replica is installed that's hard to tell from the original.
This gallery contains pictures of some of the gas lights in and around Smith Square, a few streets away from Westminster Abbey and the Houses of Parliament, seen in the daytime and at night.
In the midst of a whole area lit only by gas, this light stands on Lord North Street in Westminster and is probably the commonest type still found in London. St John's Church is behind it.
Around the corner on Dean Stanley Street is another just like it, if a little taller - but this one is brand new, installed in late 2017. The box housing the timer and the shade bear the manufacturer's name, Sugg.
An older lamp stands on Dean Bradley Street, complete with an arm extending over the footpath for a lamplighter's ladder. It's been converted to timer operation, so nobody has to come and light it every evening.
Its timer is obviously a bit out of sync as it's burning in the daytime, but that provides an opportunity to see the four gas burners glowing and the narrow feeder pipe running up to them.
The timer mechanism doesn't actually light the flame, it simply increases and decreases the amount of gas reaching the burner. The lights are actually lit all the time. On some, like this one, you can just make out a tiny flame glowing in the daytime. The words "Sugg Gas Light" can just be made out around the edge of the lamp shade.
Another light mounted by the church steps on Smith Square is low enough to offer a view of the clockwork mechanism that operates the lamp. They are manually wound up about every two weeks.
At night, Lord North Street looks peaceful with its gentle, atmospheric lighting. The light levels here are much lower than on a street with conventional lighting.
This is the lamp in the first picture, on Lord North Street, seen at night. The lamps themselves glow almost white when fully lit, but the light they cast on the street is a rather beautiful and warm.
On the corner of Gayfere Street, this gas lamp stands next to a modern "no entry" sign which is internally illuminated with white LEDs. It's much brighter than the street light and probably not a very good choice for this setting.
For comparison, this is nearby Great Peter Street, which is lit by modern high pressure sodium electric lights, photographed using the same camera settings as the pictures above. The night pictures in this set were all taken around midnight.
- "Light brigade: carrying the torch for London's last gas street lamps", The Guardian, 25 December 2015.