Christmas Lights of London

Christmas lights have a long history. The Christmas tree decorated with wax candles and ornaments has its origins in 16th century Germany. On this yuletide Expedition, we’ll stroll the streets of London’s West End to get a look at some spectacular Christmas lights.

This story was created for the Google Expeditions project by ePublishing Partners, now available on Google Arts & Culture

LIFE Photo Collection

In the mid-1800s, Christmas trees were popularized in Britain when a print appeared showing Queen Victoria and Prince Albert with their children gathered around a fir tree decorated with ‘fairy lights’. 

London Transport wishes you a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year (1951) by Maurice Wilson and The Baynard PressLondon Transport Museum

In 1882, Thomas Edison’s partner Edward H. Johnson hand wired colored electric bulbs in a string to decorate his Christmas tree, but electric Christmas lights didn’t become affordable to the public until the 1920s.

Back in Britain, London’s renowned department store Selfridge’s put on a lighted Christmas display as early as 1935. In 1954, Christmas lights went up along the length of Regent Street for the first time, and a tradition was born.

Bond Street

Our tour begins on Bond Street, which connects Oxford Street and Piccadilly—the only street to do so. Home to upscale clothing and luxury goods shops, Bond Street is a (wealthy) shoppers’ paradise.

So it has been since the late 18th century, when a group of upper class dandies known as the Bond Street Loungers strolled the sidewalks in expensive wigs and the very latest fashions. Famous Bond Street residents include Henry Fielding, Sir Walter Scott, and Lord Byron.

Peacocks

Bond Street is strung with lights creating a peacock theme. Sparkling plumes form arches, and sprays of lights mimic the peacock’s tail feather display. Delicate glittering feathers form bowls that hover above the intersections. 

Oxford Street

Travelling north on Bond Street, we’ve reached Oxford Street, one of the busiest shopping streets in the world. Oxford Street is lined with approximately 300 shops and greets half a million visitors every day.

Selfridges department store, filling the block between Duke and Orchard Streets, has been in business for over 100 years and is famous for its elaborate Christmas window displays. The first Christmas lights adorned the street itself in 1959.

Every year a famous person is invited to switch on the lights.

Little Stars

Oxford Street is strung with glowing orbs that sparkle with thousands of ‘little stars.’ Over 1,700 snowflake decorations and 750,000 LED lightbulbs also light up the street.

Regent Street

In a city full of famous streets, London’s Regent Street is one of the most famous of all. Every building on the approximately 2-kilometre long street is Grade II listed—all ‘are of special interest, warranting every effort to preserve them’.

Many were built between 1900 and 1925, and by regulation, all are faced with Portland Stone, and none is more than 5 stories tall. An early childhood memory of many Londoners is seeing the Christmas lights in Regent Street.

The Spirit of Christmas

The original 1954 Christmas light display on Regent Street featured lit up angels, and this display returns to the theme. These angels are made from LED lights—300,000 of them in all—and have 17-metre wingspans and 15-metre trains.

Carnaby Street

We’ve made our way down Regent Street and across Great Marlborough Street to the head of Carnaby Street. During the Great Plague of 1665, London’s first ‘pesthouse’, a building where plague sufferers were quarantined, was erected on Carnaby Street.

But that isn’t what the street is famous for. In the 1960s, clothing boutiques on Carnaby Street dressed Jimi Hendrix, the Beatles, the Rolling Stones and the Kinks and helped to create the hippie look.

Love and Joy

Carnaby Street is known for its quirky Christmas lights. Displays have featured giant robins and sparkling umbrellas. This theme was inspired by the Victoria and Albert Museum’s exhibition, 'You Say You Want a Revolution? Records and Rebels 1966-1970’.

Bare Bulbs

On Canton Street (a small side street) the Christmas lights don't look very festive! They are bulbs hanging as though from the ceiling of a room in a house. However, they bring light to the street during a period when the nights are long and the days are short.

Covent Garden

Unlike our previous destinations, Covent Garden is not a street but a district on the western edge of the West End. In the 1500s, this plot of land was the vegetable garden, or ‘convent garden’ of the monks of Westminster Abbey—hence the name.

A bustling market has been held at the district’s centre since at least the mid-17th century. The current market building was erected in around 1830 and roofed over in 1872.

Mistletoe

Here the streets surrounding Covent Garden Market and the market itself have been hung with over 40 mistletoe chandeliers and 80,000 twinkling pea lights reflected by mirror balls. 

The Strand

The Strand connects Trafalgar Square and the City of London, a city within the greater city of London and one of the world’s most important financial centers.

The Strand was once the major thoroughfare running along the north bank of the Thames, and in earlier centuries it was lined with the mansions of nobles.

In the 18th century, it was the center of London’s publishing and bookselling trade, and in the 19th century, it was famous for its many theaters.

Biofuel

Although the Northbank was the first part of London to get electric street lights, the Strand has only hung Christmas lights since 2015. These lights are powered by biofuel made from cooking oils collected from local restaurants.

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
Explore more
Google apps