Calcium carbide is used in carbide lamps, in which water drips on the carbide and the acetylene formed is ignited. These lamps were usable but dangerous in coal mines, where the presence of the flammable gas methane made them a serious hazard. The presence of flammable gases in coal mines led to the miner safety lamp. However, carbide lamps were used extensively in slate, copper and tin mines, but most have now been replaced by electric lamps. Carbide lamps are still used for mining in some less wealthy countries, such as in the silver mines near Potosi, Bolivia. Carbide lamps are also still used by some cavers exploring caves and other underground areas, though they are increasingly being replaced in this use by LED lights. They were also used extensively as headlights in early automobiles, motorcycles and bicycles, although in this application they are also obsolete, having been replaced entirely by electric lamps.
It is still used in the Netherlands for a traditional custom called Carbidschieten (Shooting Carbide). To create an explosion, carbide and water are put in a milk churn with a lid. Ignition is usually done with a torch. Some villages in the Netherlands fire multiple milk churns in a row as a New Year's Eve tradition. The tradition comes from an old pagan religious practice intended to chase off spirits.
In Cookham they were brought back into use during the war as batteries were hard to get a hold of for bicycle lamps. Mr Greenslade's Bicycle Shop next to the "New Inn." (Now called the Swan Uppers."), use to keep a good stock in for the village to use in small cardboard cylinders, which he sold for six pence. Not only for bicycle lamps! We boys found other uses, which I will relate to the reader in another blog.