MANY older readers will remember the long queues for petrol that began at the end of November 1973.

Some were reported as stretching for half-a-mile and in general motorists were patient and understanding – but not all, as the St Helens Reporter described at the time: "Greedy motorists who tour the St Helens pumps on the big petrol scrounge were on the road to self-destruction, say angry garage owners.

Tired and harassed after a week of forecourt frustration, they've hit [out] at the petrol sharks who have shamed the town.

Stories of drivers throwing tantrums and demanding more than their fair share are filtering from the filling stations. Some motorists have even posed as doctors to get more petrol."

The energy and fuel crisis that had begun with the Yom Kippur War and greatly exacerbated by a miners' work to rule came close to bringing the country to its knees.

The government had brought in emergency legislation, which, amongst other measures, included a ban on display lighting.

That placed a question mark over whether St Helens Council's Christmas trees and other illuminations could be lit up.

But every crisis needs a hero and it was Edward Silcock who came to the town's rescue!

St Helens Star: Fairground boss Edward Silcock was the man who lit up St Helens Christmas illuminations in 1973Fairground boss Edward Silcock was the man who lit up St Helens Christmas illuminations in 1973 (Image: Stephen Wainwright)

For fifty years the 78-year-old fairground operator had spent his winter living in a caravan at Thatto Heath and he offered the Corporation his generator and the bulbs that illuminated his roundabouts.

"I wanted to help because St. Helens has been good to me," explained Mr Silcock. "We've been having our fairs in the town since 1909 and always received a fair deal from the council. Now we can do them a good turn since we are not using our equipment at present."

In response, the Borough Engineer, Peter James, said: "It's a generous gesture and will certainly help to brighten the area because street lighting is to be cut."

Power cuts were also introduced to reduce the electricity demand and the first hit St Helens at 7:30am on December 17 1973. They were limited at first and normally only lasted three hours – but things were going to get far worse. Earlier in the week the government had ordered commercial premises to only use electricity on three specified consecutive days in each week.

St Helens Star:  A story from the St Helens Star in December 13, 1973 A story from the St Helens Star in December 13, 1973 (Image: St Helens Star)

That drastic order would not start until January 1 1974 and businesses were also banned from working longer hours on their permitted days. The 3-day week was only a fortnight away and even television was being forced to shut down at 10:30pm to save electricity.

On December 18 the St Helens Newspaper reported how the town's shops were preparing for retailing in the dark in January. Sheila Darwin was pessimistic about the prospect of lost business at her Duke Street records shop, saying: "It's going to lose us a lot of trade. I'm not keen on the idea of working without light because of the possibility of shoplifting. Business dwindles considerably because people can't browse, and some are scared of going into a darkened shop."

Kenneth Vaughan, the manager of Clinkard's shoe shop in Bridge Street, said: "Ours is a very dark shop, so we'll have to restrict service to where it's lightest, and close when it gets dark. With the aid of candles and torches we'll get through. I'm allowing the girls to work in slacks instead of dresses because there will be no heating."

Tyrer's also hoped to be able to keep their doors open through the blackout by focusing their retail activities on parts of their store that benefited from natural light or could be lit by gas. John Tyrer said: "We've got gaslight for the ground floor which we bought during the last crisis."

But Dixons Worldwide Travel of Baldwin Street poked a bit of fun at the power crisis with this ad: "Travel by Candlelight – The lamp in the window burns for you. Creep into our darkened cave and book your next year's sunshine holiday to dispel your winter gloom".

In the final part of this series Stephen Wainwright will discuss the 3-day week, power cuts and the big increase in benefit claims as workers' wages were reduced.

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