STOCKPORT maths master Andrew Hazlehurst was a boy when he wagged off school to see the Lights – behind the scenes.
He lived in Glossop and persuaded his grandmother to take him to the annual open day at the Rigby Road Illuminations depot.
“It just blew my mind,” Andrew, now 39, recalls. “It was better than seeing the Lights on the Cliffs because you could reach out and touch them.”
He began a correspondence with his hero, Illuminations director Arthur Elliott. “I’d ask questions, he’d reply, then in 1987 I got the opportunity to look through the archives.”
He’s since become the archivist of Lightworks, and written and co-written specialist books on the Lights.
The Rigby Road depot was a “treasure trove” for a social historian. Features told their own story, of an earlier royal jubilee, or the tribute produced for a new king who abdicated before it was displayed, or the artwork for a pensive Charles and Diana years later.
Andrew recalls a “warren” of rooms, some walled off by old Lights panels. Running water came in through leaks in the roof. A cottage stood at its heart, unofficial base of the archives for some time, drawings stashed in drawers, an old field phone on the desk used by engineers to communicate along the line.
Andrew adds: “The depot had been the council stables and there were still water troughs and metal hoops on walls. If they wanted to create an annexe they would use tableau sheets nailed to a wooden frame. We rescued the panels and have them in the Lightworks.
“There lots of moulds. They would be used over and over again, to rattle off a display on the cheap. Many were a lost in the fire after the depot closed and before it was demolished.”
Andrew first saw the archives in the offices, later acquired by another department.
“All the technical drawing boards were in there, slide rules, designs, kept safe for years but then half the offices were taken off the Lights staff and they had to find another room – it’s lucky it was locked because there were so many leaks in that building.
“You couldn’t go through the archives in the way you can now, there were just a couple of dim light bulbs up there.
“Today they are in two large rooms at Lightworks, with an open classroom. There’s a good storage facility, drawers with pictures in, boxes of slides.
“Some of it hasn’t been touched since the move and few people have the knowledge to archive effectively. I go in on my holidays and sort through it. There’s also a limited collection of artefacts, some old street lamp heads, rotating drums, souvenir guides – the earliest from 1925, nothing from 1912.
“There’s a fine line between junk and historical so pretty interesting stuff was binned over the years.”
Andrew’s attended every Lights open day. “They were the highlight of my calendar until they stopped them. It was surreal, girls in leotards there for Queen of the Lights. I was quite fond of the old place.”
A dad himself he takes eight year old Holly to the Lights every year. Her favourites are? “The Teddy Bear’s Picnic and Egyptian mummy,” she says. “I missed playing with the bears last time as they were fenced off. We park our car, have our tea, then look at the big Lights. I’d like more things for children to play with, action things and Lego are my favourites.”
As for her dads’s favourites?
“I grew up in the 1970s and I wish I’d seen the 1960s when cost wasn’t an issue. I liked Bird Cage Walk in 1978, and the Festive Follies Christmas theme same year – eventually sold to Manchester. I’d go there shopping every Christmas and my mum would go to M&S and I’d persuade my dad to stand outside watching the Lights.
“I liked the Three Little Pigs in 1983, the LampLighters in 1989 – and the Aliens were fantastic, a classic of modern times, the best ones stayed at Gynn rundabout until the late 90s.
“Rocket tram has been my favourite for years. It was at such an angle when you went inside. The windows got steamed up so quickly you had to keep wiping it with your sleeve!
“The Fibre Optics Man was great too – I used to wonder if he was real when I saw him on the Cliffs. Then one year I saw him in his garden shed there – with the kettle on!”