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Life on the Homefront

Stratford in the dark

Rebekah Owens
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On the night of January 31st, 1916, a zeppelin air raid on the Black Country prompted Stratford-upon-Avon Town Council to action. At a meeting in the Town Hall on February 8th, Mayor Archibald Flower expressed his concern that Stratford itself might be a target with its “priceless historic buildings”. He proposed that the Light Restriction Order be enforced. Although the Order had been in place as part of the Defence of the Realm Act since 1915, the local authority had no powers to impose it. This time, argued Mayor Flower, given the proximity of the zeppelin raids, the Order should now be enforced.

The proposal was passed. The fourteen street lamps still burning in the borough were extinguished. Chief Constable Superintendent Lee officially requested that shopkeepers close at 6pm, instead of 7, 8, or even 9pm; householders should ensure that their blinds were “closely drawn”. The Vicar, William Melville, held Sunday evening services earlier in the afternoon to avoid the necessity of using “full electric light”.  Advertisements for products to help people cope with the lighting restrictions were quick to appear in the pages of the Stratford Herald.

But it was not a popular decision.

A meeting summoned by the Mayor and Deputy Mayor Fred Winter, show the matter of light restriction in the town to have been a hotly contested one. As reported in the Stratford Herald of 18th February, the traders in the town had flatly refused to close early. Why, complained a jeweller, to much applause, were the private householders not being made to obey the order, why pick on the shopkeepers? Accusations flew. The butchers were the worst offenders, said one trader. And come to think of it, what about that skylight on the roof of the Post Office in Sheep Street? And while we are on the subject of skylights, Councillor, what about that skylight on your premises in the High Street?

The proposal to close the businesses at 6pm was defeated. As was the proposal to close at 6.30pm.

In the end, the Councillors gave up.  A public notice appeared in the Herald showing that shops were to close at either 7, 8 or 9pm. In other words, no change.

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