NORTH Portland Street, in Glasgow, was the setting, one evening in September 1971, for a little piece of city history.

Watched by 12 long-serving employees of the lighting department – their collective service amounted to all of 356 years – Lord Provost Sir Donald Liddle lit, for the last time, the only remaining street gas lamp in Glasgow.

It was a nostalgic occasion tinged with sadness.

“The conversion of the last gas lamp to electricity is, of course, another instance of progress by the lighting department”, Charles Gillies wrote in these pages.

“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’.

“Nevertheless, the complete change from gas to electricity also means that the once-familiar figure of the lamplighter with his ladder on his shoulder and his lighting pole will no longer be seen lighting street lamps”.

There were, as it turned out, still lamplighters who attended nightly to the 12,664 gas lights on stairs, as well as the 145,434 electric stair lamps. They were no longer lamplighters, or ‘leeries’; now, they were known as ‘public lighting maintenance engineers.

Gillies’s own recollection of the leeries was that they always appeared to be so small in stature that their ability to carry both a ladder and a pole was a source of wonder.

“Small or not, the public, by and large, had a warm place in its heart for them perhaps because their efforts brought light to dark city streets.

“ ... The leeries of course had their problems, particularly with unruly boys who used to taunt them, knowing that the lamplighter, burdened with his ladder and pole, could not chase them.

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

Read more: Herald Diary