History Magazine

Green Light for Wolverhampton

By Carolineld @carolineld
Green light for WolverhamptonI won't pretend that this is the most scenic view of Wolverhampton: it isn't. However, it does have historic significance, because you're looking at the site of the first automatic traffic lights in Britain.
Green light for WolverhamptonThey weren't actually the first traffic lights: those were installed outside the Houses of Parliament on 9 December 1868. Being the work of a railway manager, John Peake Knight, they worked rather like railway signals. Semaphore arms and red and green lights directed (horse-drawn) traffic. They were more visible to many more vehicles than the arm signals from policemen hitherto used to control traffic. The innovation was popular until disaster struck: the gas lamp exploded, injuring the policeman operating it, and the experiment was abandoned.
Over half a century later, the next attempt was made in Princes Square, Wolverhampton. Traffic lights had been used for several years in the United States before making their debut here in 1927. This time, the experiment was a success and traffic lights would become a familiar feature on our roads. However, the striped posts of the modern Wolverhampton lights commemorates the significance of this spot.
Further reading: a contemporary description of the Westminster signals (PDF)

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