Some of the items referred to below can be seen in the Mini-Museum at the Pembrokeshire Candle Centre



Oil lamps fashioned after the Roman and Biblical types have been used in Britain since Saxon times and continued in use until the nineteenth century. The most common forms were the hanging ``double-valve'' lamps referred to as ``crusie lamps'' in Scotland, ``chill'' lamps in Cornwall and ``cresset'' lamps in the Channel Islands. These lamps always had the oil and wick in an upper container, with the burning wick located in a spout or notch in the rim. Some oil always siphoned over the lip while the lamp was burning, and this was caught in an identical container underneath. Some Scottish crusie lamps had several spots and several wicks burning simultaneously, to increase the light output. Such lamps were not intended for carrying about, because of the risk of spilling the oil.

During the 1700's large numbers of closed oil lamps were produced. Many of them had hinged lids, long spouts and carrying handles, and they were used instead of candle lanterns in communities where fish oil was abundant. This oil was derived from the livers of cod, hake, herring and other fish; it burned with an offensive smell and gave off remarkably little light.


Candleholders are among the most basic of household items, and they come in a great variety of types. They range from the primitive and strictly functional iron candle holders made by blacksmiths in a few minutes to the elaborate decorated chandeliers that graced the stately homes and palaces of eighteenth- century Britain. Candlesticks and chambersticks were used at all social levels, but hanging candelabra, wall brackets or sconces, and candlesticks made of silver, porcelain or glass were confined to the rich. Candleholders make wonderful collectors, items since they come in many shapes and sizes and are still relatively inexpensive compared with other antiques.

Cressets and Prickets. In the great halls of the Middle Ages artificial illumination was provided by candles or torches. Candles were often impaled on iron spikes while torches were held in wrought-iron cages or ``cressets''. Suspended candle beams, wall ``prickets'', candle staffs and candle standards were all common by the sixteenth century; and gradually the wrought iron workers and blacksmiths began to produce table prickets, candle-sticks and hanging candle pendants that looked more like those we are familiar with today. Gradually these items came into common use in humble homesteads as well as in the great halls.

Pendants and Standards. During the eighteenth century the imposition of candle tax pushed candles up the social scale, leaving the poorer people to illuminate their homes as best they could with rushlights. But increasing affluence meant that the use of candles increased overall, and there were many developments in candleholder design and manufacture. Particularly fine pendants came into common use, many of them having pot-hook type adjustments on them to enable the candle or candles to be raised or lowered by three feet or more. Standards mounted on wooden bases or iron legs were also made in great numbers, being the eighteenth-century equivalent of the modern electric standard lamp.

Room Lights, Brackets and Sconces. Many different wrought iron items were used for lighting work-rooms and living quarters. Some of these were combined candleholders and rushlight holders. Some were designed to be hooked over beams or wooden slats; others had spikes which could be hammered into wooden walls; others were designed to beheld up with nails or spikes. Candle brackets were often left in place, with extending or telescopic arms used to swing the lighted candle out into the centre of the room. Sconces, often with elaborate back-plates, were also fixed to walls. Some of them held several lighted candles at a time, and when polished brass or bronze came into use the backplate also acted as a reflector to increase the level of illumination.


During the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries special candlesticks were made for use in offices, and for reading and writing in the home. They were designed to reflect or magnify the flame in order to increase the light intensity. The first candle lamps were simple affairs with a shade supported above and around the candle flame by a vertical rod. Some models allowed both shade and candle-holder to be moved up and down by sliding brackets on the same rod. After 1830 candle lamps with the candle contained inside a hollow stem or column became popular. The candle tip was kept in position at the top of the column as it burned by a spring at the candle base. Some of the later candle lamps had etched glass shades and devices for increasing the oxygen supply to the candle flame. However, glass shades were constantly being coated with soot and they were difficult to clean. With the introduction of paraffin lamps in the late 1850's candle lamps very quickly went out of fashion.


Tallow candles were particularly liable to an effect called ``guttering''. This was largely due to the very low melting-point of tallow (33 degrees) which caused excess fat around the candle flame to melt and run down the side of the candle. This could only be prevented through the use of a large, thick wick which absorbed all the fat as it melted. However, not all of this wick could be absorbed in the flame, and as the wick lengthened at the candle tip it gathered unburnt carbon which dimmed the flame and gave off smoke and fumes. It was necessary, therefore, to trim the wick at intervals with specially adapted scissors or ``snuffers''. From the seventeenth century onwards such snuffers became important domestic items, with many manufacturers producing weird and wonderful patented designs. ``Douters'', not to be confused with snuffers, were used to extinguish the flame by nipping the wick between two flat surfaces.


Towards the end of the seventeenth century candlestick makers began to make a clear distinction between table candlesticks and those that were designed to be carried around. These latter came to be known as ``chambersticks'', and they are always associated in our minds with Wee Willie Winkie. Usually they had a squat stem set in a wide pan with a ring handle, but some had long flat handles and looked like miniature frying pans. The wide pan of the average chamberstick served a dual purpose, collecting wax drips due to ``swealing'' (burning away through a draught) and also holding accessories such as spare candles and tinder-boxes. Most chambersticks were made of brass, but in the nineteenth century they were made to many different designs by craftsmen working in earthenware, pressed glass, enamelled iron and tinned iron. The metal chambersticks were often sold complete with conical extinguishers and snuffers.


Socketed candlesticks (with a socket rather than a spike for holding the candle) were introduced to Britain in the fourteenth century from Persia and Egypt, where their use had been fairly general for centuries. The design was first adopted for widespread use in churches, and by the year 1400 many of the features of modern metal candlesticks had appeared. The trumpet-shaped base was necessary for stability; the tall stem was needed for ease of handling; and the saucer-shaped socket rim was vital to collect the wax drips from the burning candle. Some of the older candlesticks (especially those intended for tallow candles which were notorious for ``guttering'') has wide drip pans halfway down the stem. The majority of candlesticks were made of the base metals brass, iron and pewter. In the 1500's and 1600's pewter candle-sticks were very popular, being manufactured in London and in many provincial centres.

Brass candlesticks began to appear in large numbers after 1702, and within a few decades Birmingham became the centre of candle-stick manufacture. Each manufacturer had his own design, with unique combination of ``knops'' and ``waists'' on the stem and with other ornamentation for example on the base. Many of the brass candlesticks made in Britain in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries were very beautiful, with exquisitely judged proportions. Some candlesticks had slides inserted inside the stem in order to help in the ejection of used candle stumps, and others had sliding ``lifts'' which could be operated by a lever on the outside of the stem.

Sheet iron candlesticks were widely made following the removal of the candle tax in 1831; they were protected from rust by the techniques of tin-plating developed in the early 1700,s. Simple tin-plated candlesticks became the equivalent of the ``plastic throw-aways'' of today; they were mass-produced, extremely plain, and even flimsy in construction. They were cheap enough to be bought and used by everybody.


Lanterns have been in use for many centuries,for without them it is virtually impossible to use candle-light in wet and windy conditions. We know that hanging lanterns, wall lanterns and hand lanterns have been in use continuously in Britain at least since the time of the Norman Conquest. Hand lanterns were by far the most common. The early medieval ones were made of bronze, with ornamental openings and sometimes with gemstones for transmitting the candlelight to the outside world. The most enduring type of hand lantern, used over many centuries, comprised a cylinder of sheet iron with panels of thin translucent horn, a raised ventilating cowl or chimney, and a side-mounted carrying handle. Some lanterns had carrying handles fixed to the ventilating cowl. In the 1600,s ``roundles'' or blobs of glass were set into the lantern sides to provide illumination; this glass was easier to obtain from translucent horn, and it was a waste material from the early window-making industry.

Hand-lanterns were made in great numbers in the period 1700-1900, especially following the introduction of mass-production processes. They were made of brass, tinned iron, japanned iron, tin and other materials. The Candle lanterns intended for wall mounting or for wagons or carriages became quite elaborate, and even more exotic lanterns were made for hanging in the draughty areas of the stately homes of Britain. At the other end of the scale the poorer people used very crude hand lanterns which looked rather like cat's food tins with the tops removed, with holes or slits cut in the sides, and with a side-opening door and carrying handle added.

Lanterns have remained in use well into the present century. In some areas as recently as the 1940,s farmers continued to use horn lanterns; they were completely safe in barns, haysheds and cowsheds since the horn would not break even if the lantern was dropped or kicked over.One other design which has endured is the square tin lantern with a flat solid base and top-mounted carrying handle. This lantern is light, stable and provides good all-round light, and the metal surfaces are often brightly painted and covered with elaborate and traditional motifs.



Brass chamberstick with a slider for adjustment and a conical extinguisher.


A charming -- and very sentimental -- pair of china candlesticks, probably used in a living room or bedroom.