FIFTY years ago the people of St Helens were nervously looking forward to Christmas, concerned as to what would follow.

That was because of the fuel and power crisis, which from January 1st 1974 was set to plunge the country into a three-day week.

The Yom Kippur War in the Middle East during October 1973 had created an oil shortage and led to huge price hikes. St Helens then had its own Transport Department and towards the end of October it reported a "massive" increase in what it had to pay for fuel and warned passengers to expect bus fares to rise.

Things worsened when the miners banned overtime and started working to rule with their goal of halving production. The country then had a very high dependency on coal for its energy needs and so the government brought in emergency legislation to curtail demand.

The first electricity restrictions were imposed on November 14 1973 and included the banning of illuminated advertising and floodlights. As a result Saints' game against Dewsbury scheduled for the evening of the 16th had to be rescheduled for the following Sunday afternoon.

The legislation also required commercial premises to turn down their thermostats. That led to people staying away from cinemas in droves, as they feared they would be freezing in their seats. As a result, Alan Peel, the manager of the Capitol Cinema, told the St Helens Reporter: "Takings are down in cinemas all over the country. Patrons imagine that the power crisis means that they'll be shivering in their seats watching the films. It's not true here in St.

Helens though. Both the Capitol and the Savoy have cosy, warm oil central heating. The power crisis isn't affecting us at all."

On November 20 it was reported that garages in St Helens were imposing a two-gallon limit on sales of petrol in cans to deter hoarding. But it was still early days in the crisis and drivers were still allowed to have as much petrol as they wanted in their tanks – but that did not last for long.

By the end of November garages were limiting sales to regular customers and some petrol stations were introducing rationing. Broughtons of Knowsley Road said: "Some motorists have been greedy and kept tanks full. We are now rationing everybody to two gallons and closing on Sundays to preserve stocks."

Lorries using diesel were also experiencing difficulties. Michael O’Hara, the owner of Carr Mill Services, said: "We're asking lorry drivers, how much [diesel] oil they need to get home, and then giving them just that amount. Our supplies of diesel fuel are very low.

"It's getting desperate."

St Helens Star: A St Helens Reporter article from November 30, 1973A St Helens Reporter article from November 30, 1973 (Image: Stephen Wainwright)

Motorists were also asked to take special care in St Helens over that weekend, as the Corporation was switching off some street lights to save electricity.

Then on November 29 St Helens' post offices began issuing petrol rationing coupons. The motor fuel coupon books – to give them their official title – were distributed on that day to drivers with surnames beginning A and B with the dole out due to end on December 12 for names beginning W to Z.

Tom Ashton of Haresfinch Post Office reported that the first day had easily been his busiest of the year and a regional Post Office spokesman said: "There has been a big rush in St. Helens, in the lunch hour especially. You would be better off leaving your wife to collect the coupons."

St Helens Star: Petrol rationing coupons were distributed from November 29, 1973 but were never neededPetrol rationing coupons were distributed from November 29, 1973 but were never needed (Image: Stephen Wainwright)

In the event they were not needed as Britain's own North Sea oil stocks boosted supplies and petrol rationing by the government was never introduced.

Next week Stephen Wainwright will describe the lengthy petrol queues, the first power cuts, preparations for the 3-day week and how Silcocks saved the day by lighting up St Helens' Christmas illuminations.

Stephen Wainwright's new book The Hidden History Of St Helens Vol 3 is available from the St Helens Book Stop and the World of Glass. Also online with free delivery from eBay and Amazon. Price £12. Vols 1 and 2 are also still available.