Saturday 13 August 2011


by Dave Roberts

The Kodak Instamatic camera was never suitable for night-time shots. It had a fixed shutter speed which could only be slowed down by  putting a used 'flashcube' in the camera. These limitations, apparently, didn't stop me from trying. In 1969 I took this shot from King Street looking towards the gasworks and Seddons, Pepper Street. It was, to coin a phrase, a dark and stormy night, and even after all these years I can recall being struck by the scene* and thinking that it would make a wonderful photograph. Three of the  chimneys are all present and correct in the picture but what might at first appear to be a fourth, smaller, chimney is something of a red herring - it's the top of our clothes post  at the bottom of the garden.

Now, in the second decade of the twenty-first century, technology has given us a second chance with such photographs (although the old saying 'you can't make a silk purse out of a sow's ear' still rings true).Courtesy of the indispensable software
'Professor Franklin's Photo Effects' we can, at least, use equalisation to tease out a little more detail, albeit at the price of a drop in quality. Here we can just make out the vast bulk of Middlewich's main gas- holder in the middle of the picture (oddly, considering its dominating position, I can't find any other pictures of this structure in the collection).
It was part of our Sunday ritual in the 1960s to watch the top part of the gas-holder gradually get lower and lower as the demand for gas to cook the traditional Sunday Lunch rose. Out of shot, to the left, was a secondary holder which ran on wheels up and down a huge steel
framework. One day it fell off its track and was never put back again as the gas works was closed and dismantled at the end of the 1960s.
By that time, of course, North Sea gas was on the horizon and there's a little story in connection with this which needs to be recorded for posterity.
My Grandma lived in King Street, in the last house on the right before the railway bridge, and in the manner of those of her generation spent most of her time in the kitchen, which had been kitted out just before the war with that most basic of gas cooking implements a 'gas ring' (now mostly the preserve of campers using Calor Gas) together with a gas mantle on the wall  which could provide light if the electricity supply failed (a not uncommon occurrence in the 50s and 60s, due to lack of generating capacity).
The North Sea gas people were able  to convert the gas ring, but told Grandma that the  mantle was out of date, no way of converting it existed and it would have to be abandoned.
Grandma refused to accept this and pointed out that at Middlewich Station, a short distance away down the track, a couple of the old gas lamps had been converted so that signalmen could find their way to their box on dark nights. Why, then, could her own humble gas mantle not receive the same treatment?  It could, and it did.
* Having just re-read this, I've realised that it reads like it's building up to '...I can recall being struck by lightning.' Not deliberate, I assure you -ed.

Reformatted 23rd April 2020

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