HeckmondLight taps into the West Yorkshire community’s history of breathtaking illuminations

PICS: Mark Bickerdike
PICS: Mark Bickerdike
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They were a community centrepiece which some suggest inspired the illuminations of a more famous seaside town.

The spectacle of the Blackpool illuminations need very little introduction.

They are admired by hundreds of thousands of visitors to the seaside resort across the Pennines every year.

However, legend has it that a quiet corner of West Yorkshire provided a bright spark of inspiration for the dazzling display.

The traditional lighting of the gas lamps across Heckmondwike were a spectacle to behold in the nineteenth century.

And the tradition of lighting up the town, one which dates back to the 1860s, was re-ignited this weekend during a celebration of art installations, flaming gas jets and lanterns.

Around 3,000 people attended HeckmondLight on Saturday night, with a giant momentum wheel marking the countdown to the festive switch-on at Green Park.

Simon Thirkill, community producer of HeckmondLight and chairman of the Heckmondwike Community Alliance, said: “I am massively proud of what we achieved as a town and how the community has become an integral part of this annual event.

“Students from The Brian Jackson College and Kirklees College, as well as school pupils created their personal take on Heckmondwike’s illuminating heritage and the future.

“It has perfectly paid tribute to our tradition of illuminating the town, which started with fire, using gas light back in the 1860s, long before that other town we don’t mention.

“Electric lights followed and today we see its natural progression into projection led and new digital technology.

“It is a massive community effort supported by Creative Scene, with people of the town planning, developing and commissioning artists for the events, organising the market and learning new skills to ensure that there is a bright future for such events here.”

There were family activities, as well as a street market and fun fair, all organised by the Heckmondwike Community Alliance with support from Creative Scene, which uses Arts Council England to create openly accessible cultural events.

The momentum wheel once again took centre stage after being created by Yorkshire artists Andy Plant and Chris Squire. Children from Heckmondwike Primary School produced their own interpretations of the town’s historic illuminations with a gallery of “mini-Heckmondlights” showing the things they love about the town.

A Twisting Lan-Turns feature was also made by sculptor Bryan Tweddle, Batley artist Donna Ramsden and members of the Heckmondwike Community Centre.

External Combustion, which lit up the park last year with its performers’ blazing gas jets, was back with its Crown of Flames.

Nancy Barrett, the director of Creative Scene, was delighted to see the crowds on a cold November night. She said the town of Heckmondwike is “updating a 100-plus year tradition with new commissions from artists”.

In Lancashire, visitors first marvelled at the Blackpool Illuminations in 1879 when just eight arc lamps, referred to as “artificial sunshine”, graced its promenade.

Since then, it has grown to boast more than one million lamps along its seafront.

And some of the stars which have appeared at its switch-on events include actor George Formby, racing horse Red Rum and Kermit the Frog.

Creative Scene is a programme for West Yorkshire based in north Kirklees, funded by Arts Council England.

Led by a consortium of the Lawrence Batley Theatre, Kirklees Council and the Batley Festival, it aims to produce a “lasting change” in the way people take part in, make and experience art and culture.

The project has secured funding up until December 2020 and anticipates further funding beyond then linked to its long-term vision that “creates a permanent change in the cultural ecology of North Kirklees”.

Since 2014 it has welcomed more than 100,000 people living in the area, which includes Batley and Dewsbury, to more than 150 events.