Living heritage of Hong Kong

Heritage gas lamps that ‘witnessed Hong Kong’s development’ remain in disrepair after Typhoon Mangkhut

  • Installations are located at iconic Central site which includes flight of famous stairs often shown in films
  • Fallen trees and wrath of monster storm have laid waste to area, as pressure mounts to restore venue’s charm
PUBLISHED : Sunday, 30 December, 2018, 10:31am
UPDATED : Sunday, 30 December, 2018, 10:30am

Four iconic gas lamps in the heart of Hong Kong’s Central remain in disrepair more than three months after they were wrecked by a monster storm, with officials still looking into ways to restore the heritage items.

The sweeping granite stairway on Duddell Street, with its softly glowing gas lamps and classic balustrades, has been the site of numerous scenes of drama and romance in local films and TV shows, including one featuring Cecilia Cheung Pak-chi rushing down the famed steps in Stephen Chow Sing-chi’s 1999 film King of Comedy.

The last remaining gas lamps before the introduction of neon lights, they are one of the 120 declared monuments in Hong Kong, which receive the highest level of government protection.

Andrew Lam Siu-lo, outgoing chairman of the government’s Antiquities Advisory Board, said the monument had to be restored to its original design because of its legal status.

He said officials had briefly informed the board of a maintenance plan.

The four lamps suffered varying degrees of damage, he said, and the ones which were severely wrecked might have to be completely remade.

On September 16, Typhoon Mangkhut, Hong Kong’s most intense storm since records began, pummelled the city as buildings shook, trees fell and windows shattered.

A Development Bureau spokesman told the Post that the government planned to “fully restore the monument to its original splendour and function”.

The gas lights witnessed the development of Hong Kong
Stephen Chan, Antiquities Advisory Board

The Antiquities and Monuments Office was conducting a research on the “history and traditional craftsmanship” of the steps and gas lamps to determine how to repair the site, he added.

The Highways Department and the Hong Kong and China Gas Company, which had kept the lamps lit from 6pm to 6am nightly before the damage, have catalogued and stored broken parts from the lamps and balustrades. Upon completion of research into their restoration, a heritage consultant would work with the department to supervise repair works.

What’s the History of the Duddell Street Gas Lamps?

But the timeline for repairs would not be known until the study was completed, the spokesman said.

During Mangkhut, one of the lamp posts had snapped in two. The broken lamp and two others were removed from the site.

Large sections of handrails and the balustrades were also wrecked by falling trees. These are now covered by green mesh and scaffolding, with caution signs erected.

The gas lamps have been the only functioning street lamps of their kind in the city since 1967. They were made by London company William Suggs and Co., specially designed with shorter posts so that they could be mounted on the steps’ parapets.

“The gas lights witnessed the development of Hong Kong,” Stephen Chan Chit-kwai, member of the advisory board, said. “It’s an important public facility and repairs should be done as soon as possible.”

Dr Lee Ho-yin, head of architectural conservation programme at the University of Hong Kong, said repairs should not be too difficult because all damaged components including metal parts and stone pieces could be salvaged, and restoration would involve basic metal and masonry work. Repaired bits would preferably be put back together, but parts that are beyond saving would have to be completely replaced.

“The first method is aesthetically less perfect, but more recommended from a conservation point of view,” Lee said.

Additional reporting by Karen Zhang