The lights that shone bright in the Blackout

poster-blackout-bike

The complexity of visibility without being too visible. Image from The National Archives.

The great lyricist Mike Jones once described Charlie Chaplin and the movie stars that formed United Artists – later persecuted by the McCarthyite anti-Communist purges – as ‘…the stars that shone bright in the Blackout, like the beams of the Usherettes’. It’s hard to imagine now, but as reader and commentator David Oakley pointed out here recently, the Blackout was stringently and ruthlessly enforced, and when applied, was very black indeed.

On the continuing theme of wartime Brownhills, air raids and the social upheaval that went with all that, I dug into the newspaper archives for examples of people fined for breaking the lights-out rules. This is one report of thirty-five offenders, from one week, as pointed out by Peter Cutler in the same thread. There were such reports with similar numbers every week, as authorities sought to drive the safety message home. Here, I’ve just included the offences from Brownhills, but the full article can be read below.

In other articles, people are summonsed for lighting cigarettes, using the wrong vehicle and bicycle lamps and the like. We really were living in a state of constant monitoring.

There’s also, of course, a dark humour here too; it’s hard not to feel the exasperation of the man smoking his pipe, and I think most of us recognise the behaviour of the man apparently showing off. This really is a little time capsule of a lost world.

Please, if you’ve anything to add, comment here or mail me: BrownhillsBob at Googlemail dot com. Cheers.

Dscn1357

There were special bike lights, designed for use in the blackout. In the hundreds of reports of fines for blackout offences recorded in the Petty Session reports, often people displaying a non-blackout bicycle lights were fined alongside folk displaying no light at all. Odd times! Image from Practical Machinist forum.

THIRTY-FIVE BLACK-OUT OFFENDERS

IN BROWNHILLS, CHASETOWN, CHASE TERRACE, BONEY HAY, AND HAMMERWICH

Lights Displayed After Air-raid Warning

OFFENDERS REMINDED ‘WE ARE AT WAR’

ATTENDED TO THE MATTER

For an offence at 11.20 p.m. on June 6th, Mary Bird, of 24, Second Avenue, Brownhills, was ordered to pay £1.

P.C. Wakefield stated that he was at the rear of houses in Second Avenue when he saw a bright light coming from one of the houses. He eventually traced the light to the back window of where defendant lived, and saw that It had no curtains up to it. When told of the offence defendant replied: ‘I will get it ione now.’

BABY AWAKE

In a case against William Foster, of 50, Second Avenue, Brownhills, P.C. Wakefield informed the Bench that at 11.35 p.m. on June 6th he saw a light coming from a bedroom window. There was no black-out material up to the window, and only a flimsy curtain. He knocked the door, and when defendant came out he was told of the offence, to which he replied that he did not know the light was on.

Defendant said the baby had woke up, and his daughter had to get it a drink.

A fine of £1 was imposed.

BROKEN CURTAINS

Herbert Orgill, of 26, Fourth Avenue, Brownhills, was charged with an offence at midnight on June 6th, and it was stated by P.C. Wakefield that a light was coming from the bathroom window, which had no black-out material, with the exception of the sides, top and bottom. When the offence was pointed out to defendant he said he did not know the light was on.

Mrs. Orgill said the curtains had broken, and her husband coming home from work did not know about it.

In this case the fine was 15s.

DEFENDANT’S MISAPPREHENSION

When Jack Stokes, of 131, Great Charles Street, Brownhills, was similarly charged for an offence at 1225 a.m. on June 7th. P.C. Wakefield stated that he was in Poplar Avenue when he saw a light coming from an upstairs window of defendant’s house. There was no black-out material up to the window. Witness knocked at the door, and when defendant came downstairs he said he did not think the light was shining through.

Fined 15s.

0005

I know this was a very serious business, but I do feel a tinge of amusement at the poor chap smoking his pipe. From the Lichfield Mercury, Friday 12th July, 1940. Click for a larger version.

A FLIMSY CURTAIN

Stated to have only had a flimsy curtain up to the window, Edward Thomas Haywood, of 42 Lichfield Road, Brownhills, had to pay 10s. for a similar offence.

P.C. Wakefield stated that at 11 p.m. on June 8th he saw a light, which he traced to defendant’s address. There was only a flimsy curtain up to the window, and when told of the offence defendant replied: ‘I have only just come in,’ which, witness added, was correct.

TREATED MATTER AS JOKE

John Henry Cooper, of 18, First Avenue, Brownhills, was the next defendant, and in his case P.C. Wakefield stated that at 1120 p.m. on June 8th he saw a bright light coming from a downstairs and an upstairs window. When witness knocked at the door defendant came out in an aggressive attitude. When told that he would be reported he said: ‘I have only just put the — thing on.’ Defendant’s manner, said witness, was very insulting, and he treated the matter as a joke. Later the same evening the top light came on again. There was a crowd of people on the corner, and witness thought that defendant was trying to make himself big.

Defendant said he had trouble on In the house between his son and daughter, and that was what made him vexed. His son wanted to play cards downstairs.

The fine was 30s.

‘BLAMED THE CHILDREN’

‘The children have pulled the blind down,’ was the excuse offered by Horace James Orgill, of 49, Seeds Lane, Brownhills, when he was spoken to regarding a light shining from his house at 11.5 p.m. on June 10th.

Res. Constable Carter said he was in High Street when he saw a light com¬ing from the back of defendant’s house. When he knocked on the door defendant made the remark stated.

A fine of £1 was imposed.

A similar excuse was offered by Walter Coates, of 150, High Street, Brownhills, but in this case the fine was only 10s.

HEARD POLICEMAN’S KNOCK

Leonard Birch, of 20, Fourth Avenue, Brownhills, was summoned for an offence at 11.50p.m. on June 2nd.

P.C. Wakefield said he saw a bright light coming from a downstairs window. He knocked at the door, and the light went out. He again knocked, but received no reply, whilst about two minutes later a light came on upstairs. Witness knocked again, and made known his identity, but got no reply. When seen later, defendant said ‘I heard you knock, and put the light out’

Fined £1.

KNEW HIS NAME

In a case against Thomas Pember, of 26, Second Avenue, Brownhills, P.C. Wakefield stated that at 12.15 a.m. on June 28rd he saw a very bright light coming from an upstairs window. The windows were wide open, and no curtains were drawn at all. It was like that for about three minutes. When he knocked on the door he saw defendant, who said: ‘You seem to know the name. The missus has just gone to bed.’

Defendant had to pay £1.

UK-Road-Safety-Poster-WWII-Blackout-1

Those classic wartime posters bore a really important message. Image from Visualnews.

SON TO BLAME

When Lily Anderson, of 5, First Avenue, Brownhills, was summoned for a like offence, P.C. Wakefield said that at 12.30 a.m. on June 23rd he saw e bright light from two downstairs windows from a house which he eventually traced as being that of defendant’s. The windows had no black-out material at all. When he knocked at the door the light went out, and he had to wait five minutes before defendant pushed her head out of an upstairs window, and said ‘My son has only just gone to bed. I am sorry it has happened.’

Defendant was fined £1.

HUSBAND IN RED

Describing an offence against Arthur Johnson, of 137, Great Charles Street, Brownhills, P.c. Wakefield stated that a light was coming from an upstairs win¬dow, to which no black-out was drawn. When told of the offence Mrs. Johnson said: ‘ My husband is in bed. We have had the paper hangers in.’ When seen later defendant said: ‘It was a mistake, as owing to renovations going on we could not find the black-out.’

Fined £1.

SEEN 500 YARDS AWAY

Showing a bright light which P.C. Carter said could be seen 500 yards away, Alfred Harrison, of 4, Wallace Road, Brownhills. was fined £1. When the offence was pointed out to defendant he said: ‘ I did not think you could see through it.’

LIGHTING HIS PIPE

In a case against Ernest Frank Bagnall, of 178, Lichfield Road, Brownhills, P.C. Lawrence said at 12.50 a.m. on June 29th he saw a light shining, and pointed this out to defendant, who said: ‘I only lit my pipe. Get on with your damn reporting.’ At 1.20 a.m. witness again saw a light in the lower window, and on that occasion defendant was interviewed by Special Constable Ball, to whom he said: ‘I only lit my pipe. Get on with your reporting. I have been watching you all night.’ At the time of the occurrence witness said an air raid was In progress, and the curtains of the windows were not drawn.

Defendant was fined £2.

DURING AIR RAID

In a similar case against Frederick John Read, of 21, Woodbine Terrace, Brownhills, P.C. Carter said at 1120 p.m. on June 29th he saw a bright light from defendant’s bedroom window. He knocked at the door, and asked defendant to put the light out, which he did at once. When seen next day he said: ‘ I pulled the wrong blind, and thought it was the black-out.’ At the time of the occurrence the air raid syren was blowing.

Defendant said he was out with the A.R.P. men in the streets three minutes later, and the light was only on for a minute.

Fined 10s.

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8 Responses to The lights that shone bright in the Blackout

  1. Mike10613 says:

    Hi Bob,

    There would be no bright lights these days with energy saving bloody light bulbs. Even the politicians are dim in the 21st century… They bombed our chip shop. I wonder if someone left a light on? 🙂

  2. Clive says:

    Nice one, very intresting in deed. Light on during an air raid, not a good idea.
    “Put that light out”

    • David Oakley says:

      My comments to a recent post concerning local air-raids, included a brief reference to the blackout situation in the war. I am grateful to Bob for extending this issue to a full post as a little more enlightenment on those bygone days could be of some help to current blog readers.
      It was reported that many offenders to the black out regulations, came from the ‘Avenue’ housing estate, and there may be a reason for this. Ogley Square was adjacent to this housing development, and it is highly likely that many families were rehoused in the Avenue estate from the slum clearance programme carried out in Ogley Square. Councils even then, had some idea of a ‘neighbourhood’ programme and were very reluctant to remove rehoused families very far from their own, original homes. Local ties were very strong and some were removed “kicking and squealing” from the squalor of slum dwellings to decent accommodation nearby.
      At that time, decent window curtains were a low priority for these erstwhile slum dwellers, and the practice was maintained even after the move. Many were charged for having no curtains or inadequate curtains. Before the war, a stroll through some of the poorer areas of the district would reveal many uncurtained windows, some showing a lighted candle on the table when the occupier had failed to supply a penny for the gas or electric meters. Nearly all had prepayment meters then. Others would have bits of old curtain stretched across nails to ensure a little privacy. Some would have newspapers tacked across the lower part of the window. The old Walsall Observer with its huge pages
      was a popular choice.
      Blackout curtain material was readily available at draper’s shops, but was quite pricey, with no subsidy, even for the poorest. Air raid wardens were reasonably tolerant before they reported you, and would often issue a warning before taking further action. The fines were quite stiff, a £1 fine would represent about 25% of a weekly income. Yes, the ‘avenues’ were something of a problem, but this was more due to a traditional way of life, than a blatant disregard for the contingencies of wartime Britain.

      • Hi David

        To be fair, I think it was just the place the copper was patrolling that period. Later reports show other areas in a similar light (pardon the pun). I hadn’t noticed the preponderance until you drew it to my attention.

        I know that someone commenting here (can’t recall who) has in the past found a report of an ARP warden grumbling about a light in an air-raid shelter somewhere in Shire Oak, if I remember rightly

        I came upon quite a diverse report from 1941 but haven’t been able to locate it since (such is the way of the archive)

        Cheers

        Bob

  3. Pedro says:

    Blackout Accidents

    Stanley Josiah “Stan” Ogden was the husband of Hilda and owner of 13 Coronation Street from 1964 to 1984.

    Born in 1919 in Weatherfield, lorry driver Stan met cleaner Hilda Crabtree when she fell over him during a wartime blackout in 1943. They married in December of that year.

    http://coronationstreet.wikia.com/wiki/Stan_Ogden

  4. Pedro says:

    And in Aston Manor…

    “My parents didn’t know about this and one night there was a loud knock on the front door. The head of local patrol officers told my parents that for several nights strange darting lights had been seen coming from our landing window and were going straight up into the sky. The officer wanted to know what was going on. It some time before it was realized that Grandfather was the culprit….almost accused of signalling to the German aeroplanes that came over frequently. All was sorted out and a blackout curtain was hastily made for the landing window!!”

    http://www.astonbrook-through-astonmanor.co.uk/homefront.html

  5. David Evans says:

    HI Bob
    The Air Raid Wardens in their “W” helmets..I believe each road or street had its own Warden, usually a resident . I wonder if readers have relatives who performed this task during the war? Perhaps helmets, and whistles and gasmasks still exist as family heirlooms.
    David

  6. Pingback: Explosive stuff | BrownhillsBob's Brownhills Blog

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