When Glasgow’s gas lamps went out for the last time

A "leerie" at work in Park Circus, Glasgow, in 1955. � CSG CIC Glasgow Museums Collection.
A "leerie" at work in Park Circus, Glasgow, in 1955. � CSG CIC Glasgow Museums Collection.
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The lamplighters - or leeries - were a familiar sight on the streets of Glasgow as they dashed from lamp to lamp before dusk with their long ladders and lighting poles.

The leeries kept the street lamps burning for more than 150 years with the last flame being snuffed out just 46 years ago this month.

It was a night of “nostalgia tinged with sadness” when the last remaining street lamp in the city, in North Portland Street, was ceremoniously lit on September 1, 1971, by Lord Provost Sir Donald Liddle.

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Looking on were the 12 long serving leeries of Glasgow’s lighting department - who had clocked up 356 years of service between them

“It was a nostalgic occasion tinged with sadness,” one newspaper reported at the time

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Despite the sentiment, the report also welcomed the progress of the city lighting department.

It added: “No one would want to return to the days of the gas lamps which, placed at lengthy intervals in city streets, merely cast a shadow and gave rise to the cry frequently heard many years ago: ‘Tis dark as pitch, tis dark as pitch’.”

While the gas street lights went out in 1971, the leeries still attended 12,664 gas lights in the city’s stairwells and closes.

By then, the lamplighters took the more formal title of “public lighting maintenance engineers” with staff also looking after almost 150,000 electric stair lamps.

“The leeries of course had their problems, particularly with unruly boys who used to taunt them, knowing that the lamp lighter, burdened with this ladder and pole, could not chase them,” the report, in the Glasgow Herald, said.

It added: “A favourite game in many Glasgow streets was to wait for the lamplighter to light the lamps in one street then shin up the lampposts and blow the lights out, telling the leerie from a safe distance what had happened.”

Street lighting was first introduced in Glasgow in 1780 although the whole system consisted of only nine oil lamps between the Tron Steeple and Stockwell Street in the heart of the wealthy merchants area.

By 1815, the number of lamps had risen to 1,274.

The general practice in those days, for those who could afford it, was to have a servant carrying an oil lamp to light the way when out walking.

The first street gas lamp was installed in the Trongate in 1818 with police recommending that all oil lamps should be converted to gas the following year

From 1893, electric lights started to become the norm.

The demise of gas lighting in Glasgow created an unexpected demand for the distinctive lamps, with orders coming in from homesick Scots and collectors of the city’s relics from around the world.