A Beacon would burn on Halliwell Dean


Though these may not have been the actual words, there was no mistaking the "fierce greeting" in the policeman’s voice, as he stopped me with the palm of his hand a few inches from my face, at the Knowsley Street and St. George’s Road junction, where he was on point duty. I stopped with both legs straddled over the crossbar of my ancient ‘dreadnought’ bike, with its 28 x 1¾ wheels, ‘sit up and beg’ handlebars and roller brakes. I was only 14, on my first ever bike, and trembling with fright. I awaited his next question, "and now young man, where’s your light?"

I looked down to my oil lamp below the handlebars, and now thoroughly scared, saw it was out. "Please Sir," I replied, "It must have blown out in the wind." There was disbelief in his voice as he said "Well, let’s see then." He opened the lamp glass, poked a finger inside and withdrew it immediately with an "Ouch" as the still hot lamp burnt him. I had to stifle a smile as he said. "I believe you this time, but light it straight away, and never let me catch you again without a light". He watched as I produced a match to light the wick, which immediately burned merrily, and with relief I pedalled away, the warning still ringing in my ears.

Such little episodes were common in my first cycling days (1930 onwards) and woe betide the cyclist caught without a light during darkness. It would result in a summons and an appearance at court, and a fine of usually 5/- plus the disgrace of your offence being mentioned in the Bolton Evening News.

How times have changed, with a blind eye turned to scores of cyclists who ride without lights and riding on the pavement (also then an offence carrying a summons and a fine).

There came 1932 and the purchase of my first ever new bicycle, and the beginning of a love affair with cycling, which is still as strong as ever in these advancing veteran years of mine. At that time too, I bought the weekly magazine "CYCLING" (price 2d), and most weeks there was a delightful sketch by the ‘King’ of cycling artists. His name was Patterson, and his sketches portrayed to perfection, the joys and delights of the countryside of England. Keen touring cyclists eagerly looked forward to the magic of his pen, luring them to follow his wheels to the scenes of beauty he depicted. Even today…his sketches are sought after items, and I treasure the two originals that I have and which were presented to me many years ago.

Now there was a week, shortly after acquiring my new bike, that a sketch appeared showing a lonely moorland road in gathering darkness. Two cyclists are seen lighting their lamps their readiness for their night ride, and its caption was "LIGHTING UP TIME".

How I drooled over that sketch, looking at it time and time again. It did something to me, and in mind’s eye I could picture myself taking part in the little scene. The curving moorland Patterson had depicted was similar to the moorland on the road over Hordern Stoops leading from Belmont to Rivington; and I knew I would not be content until I too, like the cyclists depicted, would stop and light my lamp just as they had.

In those early years of the 1930’s, times were bad. We had little money, and cycle oil lamps were the cheapest means of lighting. Though the first battery lamps were around, the favourite cycle lamps were acetylene or carbide. I vowed I had to have one, and weeks and weeks of saving from my pocket money eventually rewarded me with one, the price was 6/6d (33p), and it would be goodbye to my old oil lamp that had resulted in the burnt finger of the policeman. I can laugh at the episode now.

Now I could re-enact the "Lighting Up Time" scene Patterson had so admirably portrayed. It was mid autumn, and one evening as I arrived home from work, I vowed that this would be the night I would achieve my little ambition. I recall it was not quite dusk, as I wheeled my bike from its shed in Back America Row and pedalled up Halliwell Road, dipping down to Smithills Dean. How well my acetylene lamp looked on its bracket below the handlebars and I was as happy as the proverbial king. I began the slow ride up Smithills Dean (I could ride it then). I thrilled to the turning at the top of the Dean to Scout Road, passing the Bryan Hey Reservoir, and then the lovely swoop down to Belmont Road.

This was the cycling life I loved, very little traffic then, the scents of autumn around, the bike running sweetly and with not a care in my early teenage years. I swept down to the stone setts of the hill to Belmont village, and then I turned by the Black Dog Inn, and the moorland road to Hordern Stoops and Rivington was before me.

The autumn dusk was now cloaking the moorlands and the road was absolutely deserted. Passing the ‘Blue Lagoon’ reservoir, I began to walk, and nearing the summit I decided that this would be the spot of my "Lighting Up Time" Patterson had depicted. I opened the glass of the lamp, and turned the water valve on that controlled the drops to change the carbide to gas. I sniffed at the burner to see if the gas was coming through, and lighting a match there was a plop as the gas ignited to flood the road with a lovely broad beam of light. I was the happiest of cycling boys, a lovely acetylene cycle lamp, the contours of the curving moorlands all around silhouetted against the autumn sky, and it was all mine.

I gave a silent "Thank You" to Patterson and then I was sweeping down to Rivington and relishing every moment of my ride through Horwich and the climb to my homeward road. I passed the Blundell Arms and loved the freewheel down to Bob’s Smithy, my lamp beaming the road so lovely. Indeed, instead of going back to Halliwell via Doffocker and New Church Road, I turned at Bob’s Smithy towards Walker Fold. This was a night to be savoured, and I was determined to live it to the full.

Thrilling was the swoop down Walker Fold to Colliers Row and not a soul around to see my exuberance and joy of my cycle acetylene lamp. At the junction of Halliwell Dean and Scout Road, I sat down fur a few minutes, the bike by my side resting on the seat, the beam from the lamp so lovely, as I realised that the "magic" of this ride would soon be ending when I would reach Halliwell Road.

Now, there may be several of my readers unfamiliar how a cycle acetylene lamp worked. There was the upper body which contained water, under that was the light chamber with a burner and a pipe linked to the lower chamber which contained the carbide. A control valve on top enabled drops of water to drip onto the carbide to produce acetylene gas which when lighted gave a lovely beam reflected by the lamp reflector itself.

After resting on the fingerpost seat, I began the descent of Halliwell Dean which, in those days, was paved with large "setts" for horse traffic. Down, down, and down I freewheeled, the bike bouncing over the rough surface. Now I have mentioned the burner of the lamp of which there were two types, a ‘screw in’ one and a ‘push in’ one. Mine was the ‘push in’ type. Speeding swiftly as I was and due to the vibration, there came a decided "plop" as the burner had jumped out of its pipe, and immediately the front of the bike and lamp was enveloped in flames, as burning gas was pouring out of it.

This was the night a "Beacon would burn on Halliwell Dean". I hurriedly dismounted, in disbelief at it all. The glass shattered and the autumn evening breeze fanned the flames alarmingly. No amount of blowing would quell the blaze and I took off my cap to try to push it into the lamp to douse the display. Frantically I managed to take the lamp from its bracket and throw it onto the road. I was almost in tears, as I looked at it, so sorrowful and shattered. My lovely lamp and all those weeks of saving for it, as for Patterson, I was saying some unkind words about him. Disconsolate I continued homewards, riding without light, and ready to dismount if any policeman should appear. It was the saddest of boys who reached home that night, knowing the events of the evening would always be with me.

These days, as ‘lighting up’ time approaches, I switch on the dynamo, which with a gentle purr lights the road magnificently. Modern "halogen" bulbs in the lamps perform perfectly, and I also have a "back up" rear light with three ‘L. E. .D. s’, (Light Emitting Diodes). It is all high tech. I have a handlebar computer, ‘indexed’ gears and the most efficient of brakes. It is all a far cry from those early days. But! I still have a soft spot for the acetylene lighting of old. It recaptures nostalgia for those golden days of cycling, when life was at a much leisurely pace and the wonderful friendship and comradeship of the open road prevailed. Besides, I still love Patterson and the collection of his sketches recalling it all.

By Albert Winstanley