Victorian electric street lamps in Oxford

Oxford Local Board lampposts

All of Oxford's street lamps were powered by gas until 1892, when the electricity generating station at Osney opened, with a central switch station at 45 Broad Street, and two small substations at King Street (now the north–south part of Merton Street) and Carfax. Initially electricity was supplied to five street lamps and eleven business premises, and by 1893 the number of street lamps had reached sixteen. On 14 October 1893 Jackson’s Oxford Journal reported:

The scheme of lighting the central part of the city
by electricity has been carried into effect, and
Carfax, Queen-street, Cornmarket, and
Magdalen-streets, and part of High-street and
St. Aldate’s are now lighted by sixteen arc lamps
of 1200 candle power. Carfax clock is also
illuminated by electric incandescent lamps.

Of these sixteen lamps, only two appear to remain. (There are other similar electric lamps in Oxford dating from the early twentieth century, but the earlier ones are recognizable by their much heavier fittings and their number.) The old gas lamps do appear in old postcards of Oxford, however, and are included below.

There are also many street-lights in Oxford that were originally lit by gas, and as late as 1963 there were 1,820 gas street lamps and 3,260 electric ones in Oxford. (The last gas light, in New College Lane, was ceremonially switched off in April 1979.)

Lampposts which bear the words OXFORD LOCAL BOARD plus the city and university coats of arms (right) can be dated precisely between 1865 and 1889. Some, however, have been relocated, such as the ones now in Old Headington (which did not get street lighting until the late 1920s). There is more information about the lampposts of Headington here.

Cornmarket, at the junction with St Michael's Street

This survivor is a lamp on a wall bracket fixed to 37 Cornmarket, which had been rebuilt by the 1890s and was Charles Underhill’s grocery shop. It bears the number 14 on the shield.

Corner of St Michael's Street

Below is a Historic England photograph showing this same light, photographed by Henry Taunt in 1907:

Turl Street

High Street, on the corner of Turl Street

The other survivor is this free-standing lamp-post (right) outside the Mitre. Its very heavy base (numbered 3) shows that it is of an early date.


Below: Detail of the same lamppost:

Turl Street close up





Some of the other nineteenth-century lampposts that are now long gone can be spotted in old postcards and are shown below.

To the east of the curve the High Street (two lampposts)

Below is a card showing one Victorian lamppost outside The Queen's College, and the other further west outside University College:

Queen's and Univ lampposts

To the west of the curve in the High Street: two lampposts

One is at the entrance to St Mary's Passage, and the other to the east is outside the Old Bank:

Lamps at St Mary's Passage and Old Bank

West end of the High Street

The Historic England photograph below, taken by Henry Taunt in 1907, shows a lamppost on the right that is likely to be one of the Victorian ones:


The postcard below shows the old lamppost at Carfax, the most important place in the city, and the base is consequently more lavishly embellished than that of the other posts and has a different top. (Another view of it can be seen in the photograph below of Queen Street.) Attached to this lamppost are fingerposts to WITNEY FARINGDON in the west and LONDON in the east. The signs pointing north and south (which would have said WOODSTOCK and ABINGDON) cannot be viewed:

Carfax lamppost

Cornmarket, south-west corner

The photograph below shows a lamppost outside the Midland Bank, one of the buildings erected on the site of the main part of St Martin's Church in 1896/7. It does not look as heavy as some of the lampposts shown here, and may be a slightly later one.

Second lamppost at Carfax

Outside the Clarendon Hotel in Cornmarket

The postcard below shows another heavy old lamppost opposite Market Street and outside the Clarendon Hotel, whose proprietor seems to have been shocked initially at the amount of light it gave out. On 7 January 1893 the city council’s General Purposes Committee “considered the request of the proprietor of the Clarendon Hotel that the electric lamp opposite Market-street be extinguished after 9.30 or 10 every night, but are of opinion that the difficulties in the way of acceding to this request are insuperable”.

Clarendon Hotel

At the north end of Cornmarket

The postcard below shows on the right another lamppost outside 22 Cornmarket Street, which was rebuilt by W. H. Smith in 1915. In the 1890s it was occupied by the draper Charles Andrews. A pennyfarthing bicycle is parked nearby.

Outside 22 Cornmarket Street

The lampposts at (1) the south end of St Giles' and (2) Magdalen Street East

The postcard below shows an ornate lamppost outside St John's College, lighting up the area where horse-drawn cabs picked up their customers near the cab shelter

St Giles' south

This view of the same lamppost beside the Martyrs' Memorial also shows a newer lampost in Magdalen Street East:

Two lampposts near Martyrs' Memorial

St Aldate's

This postcard shows a lamppost opposite the Town Hall, outside Nurse the Furrier:

St Aldate's

Queen Street

The Historic England photograph below, taken by Henry Taunt in 1907, shows a Victorian lamppost on the south side of Queen Street (behind the second carriage):

Stephanie Jenkins