Xàbia : Facts and Anecdotes. Did you know… that the streets of Xàbia were totally dark at night until the mid 19th C. ?
Barcelona was the first city in Spain to get street lighting in 1841 and Madrid, Valencia and Cadiz not long after. Alicante followed in 1861. Not all streets, but the major ones were illuminated with lampposts - gas or kerosene - except on nights of full moon !
We do not know the exact year when Xàbia got its street lights, but it seems to have been one of the first in the region. We know for sure that the more important streets and squares were already lit in 1859 (with oil street lamps) because the Municipal Archives have a document in which the Ayuntamiento stipulates fines for parents of children who throw stones and break the glass of the street lamps….. apparently a new kiddies´ game !
We read in the Xàbia municipal ordinances of 1887 that by that year all streets were illuminated for five hours per night in the winter months and four hours on summer nights.
The 20th C. heralded a new form of lighting : electricity. In 1902 Xàbia signed a contract with the Count of Orgaz, owner of a company generating electricity from the waterfalls of the river Algar in Callosa d´en Sarrià, in which the company committed to provide daily energy „ from ten minutes before sundown until ten minutes before sunrise „ for public and private spaces. Private homes paid according to the number and strength of light bulbs : 1,75 pesetas a month for each five watts bulb ; 3,25 ptas a month for a 10 watts bulb, and 1 centimo per night and bulb that was over 10 watts. Later the luxury version of 40 watts arrived !!
Most houses contracted just one bulb, with sockets in 2 rooms ( which were invariably the kitchen and dining room ) so that the same bulb could be transferred between the rooms according to need. The rest of the house was in darkness and people still used candles or one of the many portable sources of light (paraffin or oil lamps). In addition, the oil hanging-lamp at the centre of the house was still very much in use, especially since there were frequent electricity cuts.
It only cost 0,50 centimos to contract electricity, so it became customary to unregister in the summer months so as not to pay the minimum fee. There was much poverty in Xàbia in those days. Joaquin Armell, owner of the 99-year old household and gifts shop in the Calle Mayor, tells us how his grandfather was employed by the company and was responsible for collecting the electricity fees from private clients every 15th of the month. Some needy families could not really always afford the 1,75 ptas, so he would advise them to pay any small amount so as not to have their electricity cut. Unfortunately, today the electricity companies do not give their clients that option …..
Only a few establishments could afford an electricity meter. The first buildings with a meter were the Ayuntamiento and Telegraph Office, Guardia Civil, agricultural Syndicate, five bakeries, two cinema houses and a few wealthy private homes.
Electricity came to the houses in the countryside only in the 1940s. Here oil and kerosene lamps were still the main source of light even into the 1950s.
For us in the 2020s a life without electricity is virtually unimaginable. For not only does it give us light, it makes for all kinds of amenities that promote an easier life. In fact every aspect of society today depends on it. Of course, whether that is a good thing or not is open to debate…..
Source : "La LLum Elèctrica a Xàbia" by Antoni Espinos