Plymouth's Lighting History-

Main Road Installations

This listing shows some of the installations on main roads which arrived in Plymouth through the various decades. These have been determined from lantern and time clock ages, as well as photographs from the time.

There is considerably less old lighting equipment remaining on main roads, compared to side roads. This is mainly down to the improvements in main road lighting in the 1970/80s, where main road mercury/fluorescent lighting was completely removed- with no old lanterns surviving.


Without compare the company providing the lighting for Plymouth in this decade were the GEC. They were contracted in the early 1950s to re-light Plymouth. These were to be the first proper lighting schemes since the upheaval of the war.

By the 1950s there were still a good few top entry GEC 'Wembley' lanterns around on main roads. These would have run high wattage GLS lamps, and were mounted to 8m steel poles with embellishments.

The mid 1950s saw the replacement of these 'Wembleys' with GEC Z8431 'Dioptrion' lanterns. These were a totally unique style of lantern, and they would have been designed to run MA/H mercury lamps of 250/400w. The Dioptrions also saw installation on new Concrete Utilities columns of 8 & 10m heights.

Much of Plymouth's town centre was re-lit with brand new GEC Fluorescent lanterns. These Z8381 'Three-Eighty' lanterns were mounted on 8m concrete columns around the main shopping area, and also up at Mutley Plain.


Main roads across the city had 10m Steel columns installed complete with Revo 'Jupiter' lanterns. These had flat glass and would have run Mercury lamps, probably of 400w.

GEC Z8430 lanterns also found their way onto the city streets, and they would have been fitted with Mercury lamps. Some were installed on 8m CU Concrete columns, which later had Thorn Alpha 3 lanterns fitted instead in the 1970s.

Large precinct areas around Armada Way in the City centre were fitted with Atlas Gamma 4 lanterns. These ran multiple lamps, and were fitted with Mercury lamps, of 250w. At the time, these lanterns would have been very modern looking in comparison to the old GEC Wembleys still hanging on nearby. Amazingly, a good few Gamma 4s still survive today, although now SON lamped.


One of the staple lanterns installed throughout the 1970s was the Thorn Alpha 3. This was the gearless variant, and early versions were installed with timeswitch control. Lamps were latterly SON of 150w & 250w versions, but whether initially Alpha 3s ran Mercury lamps is unclear. Photographs show Alpha 3s in use from as early as 1971.

Although now fitted with Siemens MRL6 lanterns, this column would have originally have been fitted with Thorn Alpha 3 lanterns when installed in the 1970s.

Although very rare in comparison, GEC's Z8526 lantern also could be seen in the city from the 1970s Their occasional use may indicate a trial, which ended up favouring Thorn's lantern. 

Alpha 3s were responsible for the removal of a lot of the fluorescent lighting in the city in the late 1970s. GEC Z8381s from the 1950s were replaced by new 10m CU concrete columns and Thorn Alpha 3 lanterns. These later Alpha 3s came fitted with NEMA sockets.

Victoria Rd in St. Budeaux had its GEC Dioptrion lanterns and large concrete brackets replaced by new steel sleeves and Thorn Alpha 3 lanterns.

A main road out of Plymouth had new lighting installed in the 1970s, and one section was fitted with 250w geared GEC Z8536 lanterns. It was found though, that the lighting of the adjacent railway yard made the road look dim. The decision was made to convert all the lanterns to run 400w SON lamps.


A common gear-less lantern fitted in the 1980s was the Philips MA30. This was used mainly as replacements for failed lanterns, such as Thorn Alpha 3s and the like from c1981.

Thorn's all metal Alpha 8 was also used in the city early in this decade. One notable scheme was in the Devonport area of the city. A road lit with GEC Z8431 'Dioptrion' lanterns on tram poles was blanket changed with Alpha 8 lanterns.

There were apparently SOX lanterns fitted in the city during the 80s too. My own GEC Z9464 lantern dates from 1984, and so the road it was fitted on may well have had new 8m British Steel columns and 90w lanterns at that point.

Concrete columns were still being installed in this period, and one such location was Plymouth Rd in Plympton. In 1986 the road received new 10m Concrete Utilities columns fitted with 250w SON GEC Z8600 lanterns. These lanterns had control gear mounted in the column base, and switching was by Royce Thompson P5 photocells.


GEC Z8600 lanterns also found use on lower columns in 1986/7, but this time running 150w SON lamps. Columns were 8m British Steel, control gear was again in the column base and photocells RTE P5s.


Plymouth City centre saw a major relighting scheme during 1997/8, and a number of key routes had new Metcraft SON lanterns fitted.

Royal Parade had its old multi-lamp GEC post top lanterns replaced, Union Street lost its 10m CU columns with Thorn Alpha 3s & Notte Street saw the removal of its 8m CU columns and Alpha 3s.

Philips' SGS203 lantern was chosen for a SOX lantern replacement scheme on The Ridgeway, Plympton in 1993. This saw 90w lanterns such as GEC Z9464s being replaced with new 150w SON examples on the existing columns.

The SGS204 lantern also saw use across the city from around 1992, and these were large 400w SON lanterns. All examples in the city are of the flat glass type, and these were used to replace failed lanterns such as Thorn Alpha 3s on 10m columns.

1993 saw a relighting scheme for Plymstock. The main road through Plymstock down to Hooe was relit to main road standards. The new lantern throughout was the 150w SON Urbis ZX2. Existing electricity board poles were used where possible, but in other places new 8m Fabrikat or CU Phosco steel columns were erected.

1994 saw the new Tamar Science Park at Derriford lit with Siemens MRL6 flat glass lanterns. These ran 150w SON-T lamps and were mounted on 8m British Steel Columns. The photocells used were Cableform SS5Cs.

Although not generally employed on schemes, Thorn's final Alpha 8 design found use around 1991 as a very common replacement lantern across the city, whether it be replacing a failed lantern, or installed with a new column. The cell used at the time was the orange Haromarkt S90, and this provided quite a contrast to the white of the Alpha 8's canopies.


The most common lantern without compare across the cities main roads is the WRTL MRL6. Its use is absolute, and versions running 150w & 250w SON-T lamps can be found.

2005 was a year where Urbis gained usage on a couple of massive schemes in the city. One such scheme was the 'George Junction' redevelopment up at Southway. This saw the installation of hundreds of new Corus steel columns at 5m, 8m and 10m heights. The lanterns were Urbis ZX1s and ZX3s at various wattages. All were equipped with minicells, but these were changed in 2006 for radio frequency nodes- an increasing trend across the city.

Yet another Urbis installation was the re-lighting of George St in Devonport in 2006. Here a row of Urbis Albany fittings were installed on new 8m Corus steel columns with embellishment kits. These replaced a couple of existing Albany's, along with 5 & 6m columns with Davis GR70s and Urbis ZX1s. The new Albany fittings were fitted with radio frequency nodes.

2006 saw a scheme using the new Holophane Syracuse lantern up at Crownhill. A roundabout and surrounding approaches were relit using 150w & 250w Syracuse Medium lanterns and 8m/10m Corus steel columns.     

2006- Philips Iridium chosen as new main road lantern for Plymouth City. A new generation of lantern, they would be supplied with electronic gear and mini-cells. The end of an era for the WRTL MRL6 lantern, a design which had seen use for the previous 20 years. One of the very first of the new Iridiums was installed in Plymstock on May the 4th 2006. This was the medium sized SGS253 for 150w SON lamp.

Gradually the use of Iridiums spread, and the first post-top example was found in June 2006.

The larger SGS254 Iridium for 250w SON lamps was also employed on the city's roads, this time at 10m heights.                


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