The Valentines Gas Lamp

The custom of sending Valentines or love tokens extends way back in history, linked to both pagan and Christian customs of fertility for which selection and pairing are a necessary requirement. The Valentine Lamp links this custom with the restoration and adaptation of an old lighting column recovered by Reg Ling during the repaving of Catherine Hill in Frome, during 1992. Having rescued the column from a skip, Reg decided to combine the romance of gaslight, the history of the column and the physical act of posting, to create the Valentine Gas lamp. 

Latest News

5th June 2016
Exciting news!
The Lantern head is now fully restored and back on the column, with grateful thanks to Caroline and Rob Simpson for assisting Reg Ling in fitting and testing. All that now remains is for the posting box  to complete renovation - the box is currently in Newcastle and Reg is on the case with the GPO to get the work completed and the box returned. 
Meantime the lantern head is under wraps, and the hide is still in place - but there is definitely [gas] light at the end of the restoration tunnel!
Rob realised the lamp head is much higher than it looks from solid ground!
Under wraps for now! Just need the postbox...
21st February 2016
Many thanks to all who came last weekend to support the lighting ceremony on St. Valentine's day, Sunday 14th February. With the lamp still under restoration - though nearing completion - once again the "flaming heart" made an appearance and was lit by Reg Ling with the original lamplighters pole.
As usual, the ceremony kicked off at 5.30 with a loud bang, as a large rocket sailed upwards and exploded in the sky, alerting the faithful that the ceremony was about to start. Mulled wine was enjoyed as the crowd gathered in the evening glow, and the children brought along their lanterns and received their gifts of fruit - many thanks to both Sainsburys and Tesco for their kind donations, which were much appreciated.
At 6pm the Town Crier appeared and the ceremony began, with the assistance of Dave Twist the "engineer" (suitably hard-hatted) turning on the gas, and Reg setting hearts aflame all round by the magical combination of petrol and propane!
Reg then reminded the crowd - and all of us! - to keep love alight in our hearts this year, by repeating the dedication of the site, ably supported by the Town Crier, and a glass of mulled wine: 
"Let the lighting of this lamp today, the 14th February, dedicate this site forever to St. Valentine, patron and protector of all who find love, regardless of race, creed or gender." 

There was then a chance to sneak a peak at the newly restored column within the hide, with its colourful painted roses, tulips and pansies; Reg has also been working hard on completing the work on the lantern head, which with a newly supplied controller from Sugg, is nearly ready; this just leaves the posting box to complete, so here's hoping the soft glow of gaslight will once again light up this corner of Somerset before too long.

20th March 2015
Last week saw the arrival back at the site of the fully restored valentine's bench - with grateful thanks to Rob and Pete Simpson and Mike Jameson for the heavy lifting. Enjoy!
14th February 2015
With the lamp still under restoration, this year's annual lamp lighting ceremony took place as usual but was a little different. Instead of lighting the lamp using the original lamp lighters pole, Reg Ling instead lit up a smouldering gas-fed heart, but it took the efforts of a young couple tugging on pink and blue heart strings to make the heart burst forth into flames. 
And if that wasn't enough, Dave Twist - who played "gas engineer" for the ceremony - seized his chance to propose under the heart to his sweetheart Sue Bloomer...and she said yes! Mulled wine hardly necessary in such heart-warming company.
Congratulations to the competition winners for the best lantern - the adult prize was won by Tracey, and the children's prize by Freia, both from Frome, well done to both.
Many thanks to all who came along, especially to Mike Bishop the town crier for making the dedication. We raised over £100 towards the restoration - and special thanks to Sainsburys and Tesco for donations of wine, and Tesco for donating the fruit for the children. Also to Mole Valley, Funhouse and Simon Heal for their kind support.
7th February 2015 - Press Release!

Valentine Gas Lamp Lighting Ceremony – Light your romantic lanterns!

The famous Valentine Gas Lamp in Frome, Somerset is one of the town's most romantic landmarks - set around  heart-shaped cobblestones with a 'love seat' nearby under the glow of the gas lamp, looking down the historic cobbled street of Catherine Hill.   
The annual Valentine Gas Lamp Lighting Ceremony has been celebrated for the past 22 years and, this year, the event promises something different - a unique 'twist' to the ceremony  - devised by Reg Ling, the lamp's renovator. 
Please join us to celebrate Valentine's night on Saturday 14th February 2015.  Bring your romantic Valentine lanterns, decorated however you wish.  There will be prizes for the best childrens' and adults' lanterns.  
Come rain or shine, at 5.30pm a firework will be let off summoning lantern-goers to the site in Catherine Hill. A crowd will gather to await the arrival of the lamplighter dressed in period costume.  He will be carrying a traditional lamplighter's pole and will conduct the lighting ceremony which starts at 6pm.  There will be mulled wi
ne for adults and fresh fruit for the children.   
Painstaking restoration work on the Valentine Gas Lamp  still continues and donations to the project are warmly welcomed – we are relying on voluntary contributions to complete the restoration. 
We look forward to seeing you there!  
17th October 2014
At last the insurance is in place, so work has started in earnest. To reduce costs and timescales, Reg has started on the lantern head restoration and just the glazed part of the lantern head is at Suggs; it should take 4-6 weeks for the burner assembly to be replaced and to fit the new electronic valve. Meanwhile the top of the lantern is being attended to - the finial, reflector, ogee and top are being cleaned, polished and will have a protective coating applied. The frog has been stripped down and powder coated, and the ladder bar has been stripped, repainted and is with the gilder to reapply the golden tip and feathers. 
A canopy has been fitted to the shield so that it will possible to start stripping and repainting the column. A new gas feed has been fitted inside the column, and is ready for testing when the lantern head returns. Royal Mail have completed the restoration of the posting box, which is currently in Cardiff, and we are hopeful that we will get a picture of it soon. 
And finally, the bench has been temporarily replaced, and the ends of the original bench stripped and repainted. The replacement seat timbers have been cut and drilled, and are being given a protective finish before the bench is reassembled.
3rd August 2014
Royal Mail have agreed to restore the posting box, many thanks to Mark Wythe who we are liaising with over the work to be done. Now we are just waiting for insurance to be effected so that work can start on the column.
1st August 2014
Many thanks to the staff and pupils of local schools who have kindly produced artwork to decorate the shield - St Louis RC Primary school, Nunney First School, St Johns Primary, Mells C of E Primary school and Hayesdown First school. Also to local artist Stina Parris, for some street art also decorating the Shield.
11th June 2014
Suggs Ltd have looked at the lantern and think it's possible to recondition it, so we are awaiting a price from them to do this, fingers-crossed. Meantime, the shield is on site! Reg is arranging with local schools for the children to supply some artwork to decorate it whilst restoration in in progress.
27th May 2014
The wooden shield has been constructed and is ready to go on site. We will be able to display info about the restoration project and where we are up to on site. Reg is waiting for Suggs Ltd - the lamp makers - to provide a quote for the lamp head itself - this will probably cost several thousand pounds, the most expensive part of the restoration. 
18th May 2014
Reply to Beverly's letter in the Frome Standard - here - saying restoration is in progress and donations welcome! We now have enough funds to buy materials for the wooden shield and to start work on the column.
8th May 2014

Letter published in the Frome Standard from Beverly Jones, wondering where the posting box has gone! "I walk past it [the lamp] every day, it gives me great pleasure and I often use the postbox. The Valentine's lamp is a wonderful thing that is unique to Frome." Beverly also kindly offers a donation towards the restoration, good timing as the Friends now have a bank account set up, and all contributions gratefully received - cheques made payable to Friends of the Valentine Gas Lamp can be sent to the Friends of the Valentine Gas Lamp c/o Reg Ling, 82 Forest Road, FROME, BA11 2TQ. 

29th March 2014

After many calls, and as reported in the local press, the Royal Mail has come up trumps and has this week started the restoration of the posting box. The box has been removed and this week Reg Ling will be meeting with local management to get repairs underway - welding up of a long-standing crack, and re-painting.

14th February 2014
The annual lamp lighting ceremony went ahead despite near gale force winds during the day and torrential rain during the event. Reg, lighting the lamp for the 22nd time at the age of 82, was ably assisted by Dave Twist, and visitors came from as far away as Spain to see the ceremony. The event was covered by local radio, and the small but determined crowd brought all the warmth that was needed to the occasion, although the mulled wine definitely helped!

The Dedication

The site received dedication and blessing by the Mayor and Frome Council of Churches Chairman on 14th February 1993 during the lamplighting ceremony and a plaque at the site records the dedication:

"Let the lighting of this lamp today, the 14th Feb. 1993 dedicate this site forever to St. Valentine, patron and protector of all who find love, regardless of race, creed or gender."

The lighting of the lamp - by hand with a restored  lamplighters pole - and re-dedication of the site each and every year since 1993 on February 14th - reflects Reg's continuing "love affair" with the lamp.

A Brief Guide to the Artwork - by its creator Reg Ling

The Site

The lamp is set in a heart-shaped cobbled "bead" - blue granite to the left, and red to the right, for boy and girl respectively. There are 19 of each, 2 sets, just a coincidence that the lamp column was salvaged in 1992. The lamp sits exactly 1 metre from the bottom of the cobbled bead, and the aspect of the heart is set south at the head - symbolising warmth and life. The seat furniture and bollards are painted British standard green and the bench seat is decorated with Tudor Roses - black is entirely avoided on the site. 

The Column

The column base is painted Green to match the earlier green found during stripping off the old paint. The green symbolises Mother Earth as a supporter of life. The bright yellow plate matches the oldest colour of paint found under the green, so placing the oldest on the newest.

Moving upwards there are tulips, both red and yellow, retaining their leaves to depict growth from the ground, on a white background symbolising purity.

The small ringed section confines Tudor "wild" roses, again on a white setting, to show the conflict between the freedom of love and restriction to a single love. Theses roses are also reproduced on the bench seat.

The "mushroom " feature is a positive bright blue, the first time gender appears on the lamp. The mushroom has mystery in the sudden growth without apparent seed, much revered in past ages. Love has similar attributes, arriving "out of the blue" and "overnight" to take us by surprise. As we reach the post box, painted in the historical red with white lettering and gold "GR", two matching "arms" embrace the column in a permanent show of attraction. Look closely and see the female gender reflected pink on the column, boy and girl now joined in love. 

Continuing up the column, the white background remains, roses are now added, showing tight buds and leaves which spiral upwards in a gentle whirlwind to the small band of gold. Note that there are a few thorns, care is needed to harvest the bloom of love. The band of gold represents commitment, a change of mood, and the process of pairing now begins in earnest.

 The small cube and opposite finials are in blood-red (colour linked with the post box), having hearts of gold set back to back, displaying generosity and mutual support. The cube is fed by the column painted pink below and blue above, to represent the joining of bloodlines resulting from success in fertility. The two cast hearts, their outer faces left unfinished, are the only parts added to the original column features.

The Lamp Head

The lantern is made in copper, gas lit for of nostalgia, softness and gentle colour. The head sits on a six legged "frog" made to fit the old spigot on the column, and also carries a unique ladder bar. Yellow was chosen for this "new" part, matching the base plate and taking up the yellow glow of the gaslight. 

Just below the lantern there is a second gas valve with heart shaped operating lever (matching the two hearts on the column) and chains - vertical when on, and turned to the west when shut off. This is used in the annual lighting ceremony, made in brass and is designed to be removable.

The Ladder Bar

As a working part of the lamp, the shaft repeats the green found on the column base but in place of the usual folded ladder-stay ends, Cupid's arrow takes a due East aspect, symbol of hope, brightness and birth; gold tipped for richness and certainty, with matching gold feathers for surety. 

So there you have it and I hope you like some of the features. Pause a moment as you pass by, in mind if not in body, and may love, peace and prosperity be your close companions in life.

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© Brenda Simpson