Sign #2: Ancient Lights, Chelsea, London


I’ve often noticed this sign, about 3 feet up from the ground on a brick wall that connects a couple of semi-detatched  red brick buildings below Kings Road, on a side street somewhere near Sydney Street. Try as I might I can never deliberately find it, but just stumble across it from time to time and on this particular occasion was lucky enough to have the camera.

I don’t know if it’s the name of one of the houses, or the whole building. There is a strong tradition of buildings having names here in the UK, less than in the USA (unless you’re talking big Southern Plantations like Tara from ‘Gone With the Wind’ or something). I have several correspondents, especially in Ireland, whose physical mailing addresses contain no numbers whatsoever other than the postal code. But “Ancient Lights” is not the address name of the house, for it is affixed between two buildings that each have their own normally displayed individual addresses.

I always really love running into the Ancient Lights sign.  Firstly because as I said I can never remember exactly where it is and so I’m always happily surprised to turn a corner and find myself in front of it, and then also because I really can’t imagine why it was put there; and finally, in totally contrast to the British Highways Act 1980 sign (Sign 1 in this series), which you may recall is placed ridiculously high at a place where few people would bother to look, this sign is oddly low and similiarly situated in such a way as to attract the least attraction.

As imparting information would appear to be the raison d’etre of the venerable signage industry, I am both amused and bemused by the obfuscating display decisions made by whomever.

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4 Responses to “Sign #2: Ancient Lights, Chelsea, London”

  1. villagesinthesky Says:

    is it perhaps a beacon to a rabbit hole for urban wanders and critics of sign placement?

  2. 66witches Says:

    perhaps, or maybe it is a left-over relic from a long-ended game of treasure hunt from times past, when the clues and artifacts were more elaborate than the odd bit of tin foil tied to a tree that we may have used as children…

  3. hisnibbs Says:

    My grandfather used to have this on his building; Ancient lights is an ancient proclamation of your right to light.
    In effect, the owner of a building with windows that have received natural daylight for 20 years or more is entitled to forbid any construction or other obstruction that would deprive him or her of that illumination.

    More here on Wikipedia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Right_to_light

    • 66witches Says:

      hisnibbs – THANKS! Sorry for the delay in replying to your insightful comment. Even though I am almost bummed out that the mystery has been solved now I can never really begrudge anyone who gives me new information. I read that article and it’s fascinating. Interestingly, it names Chinatown and Covent Garden as places where the Ancient Lights signs may be found but the one in my picture is in South Kensington, so it must be quite rare. There’s something very English about the whole thing. As I’m sure you know, hisnibbs, in Victorian times there was a “Window Tax” relating to the number of windows a house had. This is why you sometimes see really nice old houses in parts of London, but with obviously bricked up windows in certain areas. This was done to avoid the “tax on light” which some believe to be the origin of the phrase “daylight robbery”. Who knew? (besides hisnibbs that is)
      xoxo

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