Safe from gas

Apparently, Uncle Pat had begun his working life with the local gasworks and had then gained a job as a fitter with the Gas Board, converting homes to natural gas. It was a project that seemed to take a long time, for he moved to live in Ashburton in south Devon for some years to work in the conversion of homes there.

Uncle Pat’s work seemed always to be a ‘good thing’, the word ‘conversion’ suggested that there was a mission being undertaken.

The home farm was lit by gas in the 1940s. My mother recalls a moment from the early years of the Second World War. A younger sister had climbed over the side of the cot in which she had been placed to sleep and had fallen. Mercifully, the fall was onto an adjacent bed and she was unhurt, but the fall had shaken the house so much that the light from the delicate gas mantles had been extinguished and my grandmother had thought that a bomb had fallen nearby.

Restoring the light to the house had been a simple matter of relighting the mantles, but the people who lived in our community were pleased when electric lights were fitted in every house. It was more than about convenience. There was always a sense of fear about gas, a sense that something that brought life could also bring danger – and even death

The danger of gas produced in our local town, at the gasworks in Langport where Uncle Pat had begun his careeer, was well-known to anyone who lived in our area. There had been a mother and son living in a house on the village green in Long Sutton who had died following a gas leak. The most troubling thing about the incident had been that the family did not even have a gas supply to their house. The leak had been from a pipe that had passed by in the street outside.

To a boy who found the stories of gas leaks worrying, it seemed that the best option of all was to be in a house which had no gas supply of any sort. It certainly seemed best to live in a house which was near no gas main. When we moved to High Ham in 1967, a village three miles from the nearest gas main, there was a sense of relief. Uncle Pat would not have to come to protect us.

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