You know how I said that London’s oldest street lights are the George IV gas lamps on Birdcage Walk? Well, while they don’t appear to have any actual competition, there are some close runners up.
Georgian Gas Lamps
Duke of York Steps
I wandered down the Mall the other day and then climbed the Duke of York Steps to the Duke of York’s Column, which stands just to the north of it. I wasn’t there to look at the column, which was erected in 1834 (the Duke was George III’s second son and commander-in-chief of the British Army from 1798 to 1809); I was there because I thought I remembered seeing (years ago) a street lamp with a William IV cypher on it.
Carlton House Terrace
The Duke of York Steps, which led to the column, essentially connected the Mall below it to Carlton House Terrace above it. The Terrace was, as I hoped, lit by a row of old gas lanterns — a slice of late Georgiana amid the bustle of modern London.
The terrace was erected on the site of Carlton House between 1827 and 1832. Although George IV was king when work started, by the time they were completed William IV had succeeded his late brother.
Sailor Billy reigned for just seven years and, while his niece and successor, Victoria, saw sufficient changes during her reign to make it a distinctive era, poor Billy’s gets lumped together with those of his predecessors, meaning that things from his reign are still ‘Georgian’. That seems a little unfair.
So, were the gas lamps in Carlton House Terrace from the reign of William IV? Given that he was king when the terrace was finished there seemed a pretty good chance. And indeed they were.
William IV reigned from 1830 to 1837 but we can reasonably assume that the gas lamps date from 1832, when the terrace was completed. That makes them 184 years old.
Shine on, O venerable gas lamps, shine on…