For my venture out into London’s beautiful city this week – my ‘London Shoes’ decided to take a ‘festive’ route through the West End’s busy shopping streets of Oxford Street and Regent Street, for the specific purpose of viewing and enjoying all the seasonal ‘Christmas Lights’ of London
Now – for me personally, at the age of 60, having lived all my life in London, and even having worked just off of Oxford Street for 4 years, back in the mid 1970’s….I have surprisingly NEVER actually taken time to view London’s beautiful ‘Christmas Lights’ that are always on show, at this time of year – so, it was a ‘first’ for me.
Every year, London displays its Christmas lights and decorations throughout its busy commercial world famous shopping streets –and it has become London’s traditional build-up to Christmas.
Streets and squares in the main shopping areas of Oxford Street and Regent Street are illuminated by elaborate lights, which transform these urban spaces and add completely different and seasonal atmosphere to the area.
But, apart from being a dazzling visual display, the actual history behind London’s Christmas Lights displays, also signifies the ever changing relationships between the everyday people, local councils, the big retail stores and the big corporations in the metropolis.
The tradition of the Christmas Lights displays actually started way back in 1954, on Regent Street, when the bigger stores and businesses that were located on the street, arranged and financed a big display of Christmas styled lights. The main purpose behind this was to show that post-war London did not have to look boring and grey around Christmas time.
In the 1950s and 1960s, these displays of lights spread to other streets, with the Oxford Street Christmas display first starting in 1959. Quickly, the lights grew to be a key part of London’s festive calendar.
However, it is worth noting that Regent Street and Oxford Street were not actually the first London landmarks to display Christmas Lights. Nineteen years earlier, back in December 1935 Harry Selfridge, the owner of the world famous Selfridge’s department store in Oxford Street – started displaying his own exclusive Christmas themed lights, on the exterior of the store – making the building stand out attractively to all the shoppers passing by.
The financing of these lights and their running costs, is extremely expensive, and throughout troubled times over the decades, it has often been said that the money invested in the lights could really be put to better use elsewhere. In fact, in 1957, the Christmas Light displays for that year were replace by ‘gas-filled balloons’ which offered a really weird touch to the Regent Street Christmas atmosphere at that time.
By the early 1970s, there were economic pressures on retailers and local councils, and money was tight, which meant that London went largely without the official big displays of Christmas lights for quite a few years. However, during the late 1970s and early 1980s, the tradition once again returned.
Regent Street and Oxford Street are traditionally the best places to appreciate the Christmas Lights, but over on the famous Carnaby Street, their light displays are equally attractive as they tend to reflect the musical revolution of the late 1960s. which ties in nicely with the street’s past as a hotspot of “swinging London”.
The ‘switching-on’ of London’s Christmas Lights each year, is always done by a well-known celebrity, and the ‘turning-on’ event always attracts large crowds of people. In the past few years, celebrities such as Kylie Minogue, the Spice Girls, Helen Mirren, and Craig David, have all been involved in ‘switching-on’ the London Christmas Lights – and the event traditionally signifies the formal ‘start’ of Christmas shopping and festive celebrations.
So – if you are ever in London during the month of December, then do not hesitate to take an evening stroll down Oxford Street, Regent Street, Carnaby Street and all the other streets surrounding those areas – and take in the glowing displays above you – which will certainly get you in the mood for the forthcoming Christmas festivities.
On my way home from this trip I popped in to the “Lord Aberconway” pub–(just across the road from Liverpool Street Station’s east entrance), for a ‘cheeky’ beer – and discovered that this is a pub with some history behind it.
Between the years of 1904 to 1933, Lord Aberconway (b1850-d1934) was the last chairman of the Metropolitan Railway Company, operator of the world’s first underground railway.
While the current pub building dates from the Victorian times, there has actually been a pub of some sort, on the site for much longer – and previous names of the pub have been, the King and Keys, and the Metropolitan Railway’s ‘Refreshment Room’ and ‘Railway Buffet’ – all connected with the nearby railway.
The “Lord Aberconway” pub is said to be haunted by victims of the Great Fire of London (1666) – but I never saw any ghosts when I was in there, and even if I had, then providing they didn’t nick my beer, then they would be quite welcome to carry on haunting the place :-)
Hope you enjoyed reading about the history and viewing the accompanying photos.