Nip down Carting Lane, dodging the white delivery vans that litter the place day and night, and experience London’s last remaining patent Sewer Gas Destructor Lamp. Once these streetlights, made by J. Webb of Birmingham, had the dual function of lighting Britain’s highways and controlling potentially lethal levels of methane in the sewers below.
Hardly any survive today and even the one down Carting Lane (presumably the reason for the archaic nickname “Farting Lane”) has had its fair share of knocks. It’s easily distinguishable from its modern neighbours by its sickly, greenish glow, alight 24 hours a day.
I remember being told that the lamp just burns regular gas now, but this small notice would beg to differ.
It’s not the only interesting lamp in Carting Lane though.
Perhaps incredibly London still has 1500 gas lamps, tended by five lamp lighters every evening, just as they have done since Victorian times. In the picture above there are two of those fifteen hundred, a wall, and a posted one. Note the rungs either side to take the workman’s ladder.
While you’re around, take a peek at The Coal Hole, on the corner of Carting Lane and Strand, a richly decorated Edwardian pub with a list of mouth-watering ex-regulars – from Dylan Thomas and Oscar Wilde to Aleistair Crowley and Richard Harris.
The original Coal Hole was a notorious joint in Fountain Court a few steps away, (where William Blake lived). Edmund Kean, one of the great 19th Century Shakespearian actors, used to get a bunch of his mates rolling drunk there and send them off to heckle his rivals in neighbouring theatres.
The current bar, built in 1904, is a masterpiece of Art Noveau ‘medievalism’ with leaded windows, mock Tudor beams, carved friezes and a marble fireplace. It’s even got a “gallery.”
Being so close to Covent Garden, it’s still popular with theatregoers, though most of the pre-show drinks are a little more restrained these days.
It’s on two levels, the lower of which is filled with booths, nooks and crannies, though it can get very crowded. The pub-grub style food is generally of the ‘hearty pie’ variety.
If you’re caught short around the Strand area, the Coal Hole’s loos are just inside the entrance at the bottom of the steps in Carting Lane – you can nip in and our without going through the bar at all.