Friday, 15 January 2016

Blackout in Halifax

From The Halifax Courier, 15th January 1916.




Monday night was not, naturally, an evening of inky blackness.  Under the stringent new lighting regulations, however, Halifax presented a dismal spectacle, and considerable caution had to be exercised by pedestrians in traversing the streets.  The conditions encountered when the blackness of nature combines with the restricted artificial illumination can only be conjectured.  Generally speaking, the new regulations, whatever views may be held as to their necessity, were loyally observed.  Dealers in green blinds must within the past few days have done a roaring trade, for in every direction in the town, both at shops and at private houses, they were found installed very largely, though not universally.  It was noticed that householders in a number of instances, whilst thus re-arranging their windows, made no effort to darken the fanlights.  This, we understand, is a precaution that is required.  Some shopkeepers, instead of adopting blinds for their windows, took the step of having only the back lights illuminated, and thus prevented any reflation on the pavement in that way.  There were some few who, taking no precautions at all, had their windows ablaze as usual, and of these the policemen took due note, with a view to prosecutions, should the defiance be persisted in.  The general blackness was, in this or that direction, relieved by the flares from foundry furnaces.  Under the Order, however, some elasticity is allowed as to these, where Government work is in the course of execution.  Factories observed the relaxations conceded to them on closing somewhat earlier.  Tram cars that it had been found impossible to equip with green curtains had the front, rear and side windows darkened by green or blue paper adhesions, pending the introduction of curtained screening.  The outside reflector lamps, too, were subdued.

What with the darkened houses and shops, the dimmed tram cars, and the street lights reduced to a minimum, the town presented indeed a strange spectacle.  In the central streets, like Commercial-street, it was more impressive than in the suburbs, as the latter, being more in the open, had the advantage of the natural light, whilst the coloured globular electric lights in the main thoroughfares, as compared with the shaded gas lamps in the outskirts, emphasised the sombreness.  It is "an ill wind that brings nobody good,” and the new regulation has brought grist to the mill, not only of the green blind vendors, but of dealers in flashlights.  Thousands of these, we are told, have been sold to townspeople during the past few days, and large numbers of pedestrians were this week noticed to be making use of them to assist them in crossing streets and in locating their whereabouts in especially dark corners.

The Order affecting the lighting of vehicles also came in on Monday.  The regulations are of a most stringent character, and those who can avoid using the roads at night will, for their own safety and that of the public, unhesitatingly do so.  It is a peculiar sight to observe a little handcart gravely showing its light as the lad trundles it along.  It is such little humours as this that help us to be philosophical about some of the official regulations,

[In World War 2, this would be called 'the blackout'.  In 1916, it was presumably a defence against Zeppelin raids - hundreds of civilians were killed in Britain in air-raids during the war.  Interesting that the blinds are specifically green, and not black. My Dad used to call an electric torch a 'flashlight' - evidently the original term in the U.K., and still used in the U.S., apparently.]


  1. I hadn't consciously registered the fact that there was a blackout during WWI as well as WWII. This article gives a very good description of how difficult it must have been to achieve, as well as the effect.

    1. No, I hadn't realised until I read this piece. I knew that there had been raids on the East Coast and London, which were very shocking at the time, but hadn't realised either that so many people were killed by bombing from the air - it wasn't just Zeppelins, but planes too were used later on.