…as a surprisingly sophisticated attempt to do a double-backwards-somersault through a hoop whilst whistling the ‘Star Spangled Banner’, but in fact the message was this: So long and thanks for all the fish.” Douglas Adams, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.
“Dolphin lamp standards provide electric light along much of the Thames Embankment in London, United Kingdom. Two stylised dolphins or sturgeons writhe around the base of a standard lamp post, supporting a fluted column bearing electric lights in an opaque white globe, topped by a metal crown. Many of the lamps are mounted on granite plinths.
The lamp posts were designed by George John Vulliamy and modelled by Charles Henry Mabey. They were based on statues of dolphins or fish with intertwined tails at the Fontana del Nettuno in the Piazza del Popolo in Rome, which was constructed in 1822–23.
In the late 1860s, the London Metropolitan Board of Works decided to light the new Thames embankments with electric lights, and asked for submissions of designs. Several possible designs were published in the contemporary illustrated press including the Illustrated London News and The Builder in March 1870, including Vulliamy’s “dolphin” design…
Vulliamy had become superintending architect to the Metropolitan Board of Works in March 1861, and he also designed benches for the embankments with cast iron ends in the form of sphinxes and camels, inspired by Cleopatra’s Needle. Bazalgette was the Board’s chief engineer.
Vulliamy’s lamp design was the most popular, and examples of his design dominate the Victoria Embankment and Albert Embankment. Bazalgette’s design was used along the Chelsea Embankment. Butler’s design was used in very limited numbers, with at least two near the Chelsea Embankment. The lamps originally used electric Yablochkov candles, but the early electric lights were inefficient and were replaced by gas lights by 1884. They were converted back to electricity in 1900. Many now have a Grade II listing.
Further dolphin lamp posts were added on the north and south banks of the Thames in 1977, to commemorate the Silver Jubilee of Queen Elizabeth II.”
From Historic England entry:
“VICTORIA EMBANKMENT 08-APR-08 Thirty-four catenary lamp standards
GV II Catenary lamp standards; 32 of c1900, by Walter MacFarlane and Company and 2 of c1929 by Carron and Company.
HISTORY: These cast-iron posts were introduced c1900 to carry the wires which supplied electricity for the two street lights that hung above the roadway, supported by cables between each pair of posts (catenary lamps). Since the first gas lamps were introduced to a London street, Pall Mall, in 1816, this had been the predominant form of street lighting in the capital. In 1878 a series of sixty electric lights were installed along the Victoria Embankment, the first experiment of its kind in Britain. By 1884, however, they had been found to be inefficient and expensive and the Embankment returned to gaslight. Improvements in the science of generating electricity for lights led to their reintroduction along the Embankment c1900 in the form described above. It has been suggested that the lamp standards were introduced to carry wires for trams, but electric trams were not introduced along the Embankment until 1906. An historic photo dating from around the mid-C20 shows trams operating on the route without overheard wires and the lamp standards supporting wires from which are hung street lights.
REASONS FOR DESIGNATION: The catenary lamp standards on the Victoria Embankment are listed at Grade II for the following principal reasons: * special historic interest as surviving structures relating to the provision of streetlighting along the London’s Embankment; * special artistic interest for their uniqueness, quality and the importance of their design which includes colourful civic heraldry, an exuberant expression of the Art-Nouveau style, and dolphins which relate directly to the lamps along the Embankment wall designed by Timothy Butler (sic) and installed in 1870; * group value with other notable elements of street furniture including Cleopatra’s Needle (Grade I), the many memorials along the riverside (mostly Grade II) and the public seats with sphinx frames of 1872-74 by Lewis and G F Vulliamy (Grade II); the lamp standards enrich the streetscape of one of the great boulevards of London.”