The Story of Canterbury's Christmas Lights
The Story of Canterbury's Christmas Lights MyTownMyCity | Monday 19 November


The Story of Canterbury’s Christmas Lights.

Canterbury has one of the prettiest Christmas light displays in Kent. The lights are paid for by the businesses of the city centre, via the BID (Business Improvement District), who organise the scheme.

The lights are supplied by a Kent-based, family company, Gala Lights. They also supply other cities, including Brighton and York.

After much consultation and reflection, it was decided that a combination of soft and bright white lights suited Canterbury best. In an ancient city which is the home of the Anglican Communion, it needed a scheme to enhance and complement the beautiful buildings, rather than overwhelm them.

Installing Christmas lights in an ancient city is more complicated than might be imagined from street level! Firstly, signed permission must be obtained from every business which has a fixing (hundreds of them). Permission must be obtained from KCC for using lamp columns and again for installing cross-street displays.

Cross street displays require a solid brick to fix to. The plates used have to be tested to a 1 ton weight and must be at least 6m from ground level to avoid catching on lorries. Many of Canterbury’s buildings have ‘mathematical tiles’ on their frontage. These look like bricks, but are large, brittle tiles, designed to fool the eye – they were popular as a cheaper alternative to bricks in the 18th century. The lights can’t be fixed to these, as they could pull the whole front off the building ! (This happened in Brighton a few years ago). For this reason, there are a few gaps in the High St which can’t cope with light fittings.

There are other complications, where Gala Lights has had to invent solutions to get around the challenge of old buildings – some streets (such as Burgate) have strings of icicle lights or double strands of lights along their building fascias, or ‘drapes’ of lights (eg the frontage of Deakins in Sun St).

The BID also installs the 25ft Nordmann fir outside Café Rouge and dress this with lights too.

The city centre businesses pay for the whole scheme to make Canterbury a wonderful destination at Christmas. It will cost £330,000 over 5 years to provide all the lights and trees each year.

So to the big switch on – well, sorry if this spoils the magic for anyone, but that big ‘plunger’ that gets pressed by the Lord Mayor and the panto cast ? Sorry, but it isn’t actually connected to the lights (or to anything!) The scale and complexity of Canterbury’s lights means that there are around 12 places where the lights have to be switched on….all at height and requiring a cherry picker to get to them. We switch on lights at the entrance to the city (lamp columns in Palace Street and Castle Street) and then the next lights to shine will be the St Georges and Rose Lane lights (outside M&S) for the Switch-On event. The rest follow!

We hope that you will appreciate the sparkling lights even more this year, knowing the story behind them.


5 Miles of Lights each year

12 Workmen to put up and take down over 7 nights

118,000 twinkling lights from Nov-Jan

£66,000 – annual cost to make Canterbury sparkle


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