Saturday, 27 October 2012

Leerie, Leerie, Licht The Lamp

On the night the clocks go back an hour and we enter a period of winter darkness, we thank Blogger Dan for his reminiscences of lighting up and putting aff.

A source of great pride to me as a child of eight years old, was my hairstyle – fashioned by my ‘Lamplighter’ Auntie, Maggie. It was usually before we set off for school, probably about 7.30 am, that Auntie Maggie would call in from her lamplighter round, to spend time with her older sister, my Mother. There would be a contest between myself and two brothers to see who could get the ‘putting-off’ pole and run up all the closes in nearby Burndyke Street, and a few in Govan Road, to switch off the gaslight on each of the three-storey landings. The job would take about thirty minutes and we loved the thrill of it. The pole was about three feet long with a metal end. This had a slot which fitted into a metal piece below the gaslight mantle and we would turn this to switch off the gas.
Disappointingly, we were not allowed to do the even more exciting job of switching on the gaslights in the evening – obviously, earlier in winter than the long, light summer nights. The lighting-up pole was about five feet long; bigger to reach above the mantle and it had a round metal box attached which held carbide, kind of like a blowlamp and a nozzle which was lit. There was a slot similar to the switching-off pole, needed to switch the gaslight on before applying the flame to light-up.
As children we used to look in the gutters in the evening, as it was a common practice for the leeries to empty the used carbide near to one of the many big metal ‘stanks’ by the pavement. I remember the pungent smell the carbide gave off -- and when placed in a puddle it would fizz for ages. I don’t recall any accidents from the probably toxic white powder, but I’m sure it wouldn’t be allowed nowadays.

Auntie Maggie was a big favourite with our family – not only because of her lamplighting job. I was one of five brothers and two younger sisters. My Mother, I’m sure, didn’t have time to fuss over five boys getting ready for school – but Auntie Maggie would wet my hair and put waves in or just the one big wave right at the front of my head. Sounds crazy and a bit jessie – but it made me feel, well, as I said,  kind of proud. When I think about it now, I’m sure that ‘Oor Wullie’ would definitely not have let me into his gang -- behaving like that?
The Lamplighting Depot was in Broomloan Road, close to the ‘Potted Heid’ Bank, just behind where the Orkney Street Police cells were. It was quite a sight to see the army of Leeries almost marching along. They carried their lighting-up sticks as if shouldering arms, setting-off on a designated route to bring light to dark and dingy closes around Govan.

I don’t know if there is any truth in the story that a politician of that day made his manifesto the following: a promise that blind people would not have to pay for the stairheid gas; hot water pipes throughout the cemeteries; a glass roof over Glasgow to give carters an inside job.


westender said...

Lovely stuff!

Ellen said...

I was transported back in time for a bit there! Still remember the hissing of the gas lamp in the landing outside our door.