Lights Out!

On some of the old photographs of Middleton (and other towns), there are street lamps. Gas lamps. They are not lit of course! Imagining the cosy glow of the old gas lamps is a comforting thought these days. But in some pictures, the street lamps are strange. The mechanism that lights the lamp is missing. What can be the reason for that?

Gas street lamps were usually lit by a lamplighter.  Sometimes they contained a pilot light and a wind-up timer. Gas lamps also contained at least one incandescent mantle suspended on a narrow angled gas pipe. But in some photographs, there is no pipe, no pilot light and no mantle. All of the photographs that show this are taken in daylight. There is a mystery here.

For many years it could have been imagined that the sun might have been reflecting on the lamp faces, which were flat glass. That reflection might have explained the non-capture of the gas mechanism in the lamp. They don’t photograph easily anyway. What to say then?

Well: here is a letter from the Manchester Evening News. It is from Tuesday 2nd June 1914. It challenges our views of gas-lit streets. It is also critical of Middleton Corporation and the town and does not pull its punches. However it is interesting and it was 102 years ago.

Here is the letter:

Manchester Evening News – Tue 2 June 1914
Letters to the Editor. STREET LIGHTING AT MIDDLETON Sir, —In last night’s “Evening News” it was stated that: In order to economise, the town council of Schilda, Germany, has directed that on nights, when, according to the calendar, the moon may be expected to shine, street electric and gas lamps shall remain unlighted. Something like this takes place in parts of Middleton, near Manchester. On some of the roads at present a number of lamps has been dismantled, apparently for the summer, and the unlucky individual who is out at night where there is no illumination from tramcars or dwelling-houses has anything but a happy time. If Middleton is to be raised from its parochialism it will have to be less cheeseparing in regard to street lighting. A Victim. Middleton.

In those photographs taken in the summer, it looks like the lights have been dismantled and disconnected deliberately. It seems to have been countrywide. When did the practice end? The last gas lamps in Middleton were in Suffield Street. They got their own story in the 1970s power cuts. It was all in the “Guardian”.

Later on, electric street lights replaced gas street lights.  Even then, in some towns, most of them were switched out at midnight. Right up until the 1980s!

Lights out!


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