The Historic England Blog

The city’s bridges and embankments have been at the forefront of lighting innovations in London for centuries.

They are amongst the first of the city’s thoroughfares to be illuminated  – initially by oil lamps, then by gas and finally by electricity when, in 1878, the Thames Embankment became the first street in London to be lit with electrical arc lamps known as ‘Yablochkov candles’ (after Russian inventor Pavel Yablochkov). Here are six illuminating tales of lighting London’s bridges.

1. Midnight openings

cc97_00996 old southwark.jpg A busy street view down Old Southwark Bridge with horse-drawn vehicles in the foreground. 1870 – 1900 © Historic England Archive CC97/00996

Both Charles Labelye’s Old Westminster Bridge and John Rennie’s Old Southwark Bridge were officially opened in lamplight during atmospheric midnight ceremonies. The first Westminster Bridge was unveiled on 18 November 1750, illuminated by 32 oil lamps. Almost seventy years later, on 24 March 1819, the first Southwark…

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