Lamplighter has to be one of the world’s most charmingly antiquated, unique and romantic occupations, right up there with town crier, court jester, lighthouse keeper, castle drawbridge operator and…well, IYP editor, of course. Up until and even throughout the 19th century, when candle or gas street lamps were still the norm, lamplighter was a prolific and well-respected job. In those pre-Edison days it was the lamplighter’s job to go around town at dusk igniting a city’s street lamps, and then extinguishing them again at dawn; while on patrol, the lamplighter often served a dual role as town watchman. Today having a degree in lamplighting won’t do much for your CV; in fact, to our knowledge, Wrocław is one of only two cities in Europe that still employs a lamplighter (the other being Brest, Belarus).
The first gas lantern was lit in Wrocław in 1846 and gas street lamps were common throughout the city even after the war and up until the 1960s when they were replaced in the Old Town. Fortunately those on Ostrów Tumski – Wrocław’s Cathedral Island – survived modernisation and the tradition of the Wrocław lamplighter is carried on to this day. 365 days a year this gentleman can be seen at dusk in his unique cape and top hat lighting the 103 gas lamps in the district. With a butane cartridge discreetly hidden under his cloak, the lamplighter uses a pole to ignite the lamps and a hook attachment to extinguish them each morning. Catching him in the jolly act is not only easy to do if you’re exploring the area in the evening, but also a prerequisite for camera-wielding tourists.