THIS year the long, dark winter nights have been brightened and it is all thanks to the efforts of a team of volunteers and enthusiasts bringing Malvern’s iconic gas lamps into the 21st century.
The group, collectively known as the Gasketeers, were formed through Transition Malvern Hills and now number in the region of 12 regular members.
To date, they have fitted more than 60 lamps with high-tech modifications in order to burn in a brighter and more fuel-efficient manner, with a further 40 yet to come.
The lamp at the top of the 99 steps, off St Ann’s Road, was the first to be modernised in December 2010, with the serious work starting in earnest in last May.
Brian Harper, a member of the lighting group, said that within 10 or 15 minutes of starting their task they “realised we were looking at what was a disaster” as the lamps had been set to burn for 24 hours a day and nobody had looked at them seriously since at least the 1970s.
“We are bringing gaslight into the 21st century and it’s taken a great deal of research and development.
“Having spent 40 years trying to figure out what to do it would be ludicrous to do things with great haste. Each one has become a restoration project.
“We seem to have become part of David Cameron’s Big Society, taking real action rather than just talking about it. It has been a very fast learning curve.”
The decision to improve the lamps, which are said to have inspired CS Lewis use of the lamp in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, came after Malvern Hills District Council announced it would no longer pay half the cost of running and maintaining the lamps in 2010.
In February 2011 MHDC agreed to give grants totalling £90,000, so local councils could carry out the improvement works, with Malvern Town Council owning 20 gas lamps, Malvern Wells 48, West Malvern 25 and MHDC 23.
Mr Harper estimates their work has seen an 80 per cent reduction in the amount of gas used, while the light produced is 10 times brighter and the levels of light pollution have been lowered dramatically.
“It’s nice to see the figures I predicted are what we are seeing in practice,” he said.
Once removed from their posts, the lamp heads are sent off to the West Midlands to be chemically stripped of decades of paint and accumulated dirt and grime.
Though much of the hard work has taken place in Mr Harper’s West Malvern workshop. He feels they have saved the council thousands of pounds by carrying out their own research and repairs, while removing the need for consultancy fees.
To do this, members of the group, along with town council employees Charles Porter and Grahame Gibbins, have been trained to carry out the specialist work via a core gas safety training course at Worcester College of Technology – the first of its kind.
Before their task is complete, the Gasketeers have various plans to spread gaslight to other areas of the town, including in car parks on the Malvern Hills and other local landmarks.
“Our mission is to get gaslight everywhere, as it matches the human eye.
“We do want to move over to using biomethane, which will allow us to be treated as zero carbon, meaning they will out perform any other lighting in Britain.”
You certainly get the impression that the Gasketeers will continue the march of the light brigade.