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Restoring the Ayrton Light

3 June 2021 (updated on 3 June 2021)

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At the top of the Elizabeth Tower is the Ayrton Light, a lantern-like structure installed in 1885 which shines whenever either House of Parliament sits after dark.

Whilst the electricity supply to the Ayrton Light has been switched off since 2018 and connected to four temporary lights, this historic structure now only awaits its new energy-efficient electrical light fittings - with the ironwork, casing and access areas now complete. If this vital work had not been carried out, there was a danger that the light could have failed and its historic integrity been compromised. 


Repairs to the Ayrton Light


The repair works to the Ayrton Light were carried out by Shepley Engineers – a company whose Sheffield workshop played an essential role in restoring this important historical structure.  Teams working on the conservation project had to remove every single piece of the Ayrton Light from the top of the Elizabeth Tower, fully dismantling and restoring everything from large iron panels to the smallest nuts and bolts. Individual pieces were then transported to Sheffield where teams had to mark and catalogue the structure prior to grit blasting and full reconstruction.  


Internal scaffolding has now been removed and access has been greatly improved, with the spiral staircase to the top of the roof – where the Ayrton Light sits - now fully refurbished. Work to the floor area in the Ayrton Light is now also complete. Teams working on the conservation have ensured that that a temporary light will always be visible for the duration of the works, and until the permanent light - using new energy-efficient electrical light fittings - has completed testing and installation in 2021. 


History of the Ayrton Light


The light is said to have been installed at the request of Queen Victoria, so that she could see from Buckingham Palace when members of either the Commons or the Lords were sitting after dark. It is named after Acton Smee Ayrton, a Liberal politician who was First Commissioner of Works between 1869 and 1873. 


The permanent Ayrton Light was eventually installed by J. Edmundson & Co., London (originally of Dublin) in 1892 using a Wigham lighthouse lamp. Although the electric light experiments in the tower had been successful, the commercial supply of electricity was some time in the future, so the Ayrton Light was initially powered by gas jets. The Ayrton Light was converted to electricity in 1903.   

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