On a dark and blustery evening this week I found myself at Somerset House, huddled under the atmospheric light of a London street lamp with a group of other design enthusiasts, wrapped up warm and ready to embark on a walking tour of London’s Lighting Landmarks (try saying that quickly). Organised by Heal’s and lead by award-winning tour guide Peter Berthoud, it was a chance to combine two of my favourite things; discovering new streets and hidden corners of London, and listening to an expert talk about a subject they’re passionate about.
I absolutely love enthusiasts of any kind – they are my favourite sort of people – and as Peter led us around the streets of Westminster it was clear he was a lifelong enthusiast of London and all of its weird and wonderful history. As he wove us through a maze of little side streets and characterful alleys he dispensed a steady stream of facts, stories and information along the way to keep us all intrigued and engaged. *see my favourite fact at the end of this blog*
From the Art Deco glamour of the Savoy theatre (the first public building to be illuminated by incandescent bulbs) to the neon-lit glare of Soho we even took a detour to see the last remaining sewer gas destructor lamp (yes really – a sewer-gas powered lamp still exists in London! I’m not sure how I feel about that).
As we wound our way through some of the more characterful alleyways, listening to stories of the past, you could almost feel the fog and gloom of a Victorian winter descend and it was easy to image the sort of characters that walked the same streets over 200 years ago before the first gas lamps arrived. So when we turned a corner to find ourselves back at the cheerfully lit Heal’s store in Tottenham Court Road it was a welcome sight.
Our tour concluded at the at the foot of the famous Cecil Brewer staircase, now lit by a beautiful Bocci chandelier (above), where Peter regaled us with the story of the Heal’s black cat; have a look for it next time you’re in store.
As a reminder of the tour, everyone was sent home with a beautiful Tala lightbulb – the modern version of Joseph Swan’s incandescent bulb – which really is a mini work of art.
If you want to take a similar tour of London keep any eye on the Heal’s events page or blog for future event dates or get in touch with them on their social channels – don’t be shy, they’re a friendly bunch! Or if you want to take the tour without leaving your armchair you can check out their little slideshow of the last 200 years of lighting.
* I’ll leave you with my favourite fact of the evening – British Gas still employ a full-time team of 4 professional lamplighters in London all of whom drive around the capital every day on scooters to scale each gas lamp by ladder to check on them, fix them or wind the clock mechanism inside by hand. 400 of these gas lamps have to be wound by hand every 14 days. Tuck that fact away for your next pub quiz!