This post has absolutely nothing to do with Christmas. Guaranteed.
Sometimes you just don't realise when you have something that's unique. I've seen these old street lights in Cambridge for years and never given them a second thought. At one time almost every city in England had their own design of street-lighting but, over the years, they've been swept away by inexorable progress. Cambridge's lights, though they are not as ancient as the buildings they illuminate, are a remarkable survival.
Cambridge used to be lit by gas lamps right up till the mid 1950s, despite them being inefficient and difficult to maintain. It was then decided to have a trial of electric lighting and various different designs were erected around the town. Nobody really seemed to like any of them and the council went to the Royal Fine Art Commission for advice.
“The lighting in a city should be regulated by the city itself, by the condition and formation of the streets, by the buildings and houses, and certainly with regard for vistas and silhouettes”, he stated.
The lights he came up with are known as "Richardson's Candles". And Sir Albert certainly succeeded in his aims: the tall, slim design fits in well with the narrow streets both physically and aesthetically, the neo-classical look is perfect for outside the Fitzwilliam Museum's facade and many other college buildings have a strong accent on vertical lines.
They are so familiar to me that I didn't even realise that I'd photographed this one.
It's on the side of the University Bookshop, though I took the photo
because there's been a bookshop on the site continuously since the 1580s.
There's no denying that Richardson's design looks great - in the half-light or during the daytime! However the vertically-mounted florescent tubes, which were a daring innovation at the time, throw most of their light out sideways rather than down on to the streets below. They light the buildings beautifully, but it's dingy down here on the pavement. Very like the candles they're named after, they look lovely but aren't very practical.
That, in a nutshell, is the conundrum that the city's been wrestling with for over half a century. Some have been taken down and replaced with more modern designs, some have been knocked down by careless drivers and some, despite everything, remain.
From time to time there are articles about them in our local newspaper - they are going to be replaced, they will be retained, they might be adapted to use LED lights - but still the indecision goes on. For a city of enlightenment we seem to spend a lot of time muddling along in the twilight.