Rush lights the poor mans candle.....?
What are rush lights is a frequent question that I get asked so here's a simple explanation. They were quite simply a method of lighting that pre- dates the candle and in all probability would have died out in the early 1700's if it hadn't been for a very unpopular candle tax placed on candle wax in 1709,taxes were as unpopular 300 years ago as they are now!!!! Rush lights were exempt from this tax, this meant they were continued to be used by a large number of householders because the tax made candles too expensive for many. Rush lights were devices for holding the rush which had previously been dipped in animal fat before being lighting it. The outer skin of the rushes would be stripped off and then the pith dipped in melted animal fat usually. The rushes were then allowed to harden before burning them. Rushes were burnt at an angle of about 45 degrees held by an iron clip/jaw if the rush was held too vertically it had a dimmer flame and too horizontally it would burn too quickly. They must have smelt really bad. Rushes could be lit at both ends to extra light which is where the saying 'burning the candle at both ends' comes from. A rush of approximately 6 inches would burn for about 20 minutes. There are many variations of rush lights which are usually iron, some were fitted on to a wooden base which in itself can vary from a piece of drift wood, painted or beautifully turned from yew wood,others were on a tripod iron base. Many have candle sockets, the iron work can be plain or twisted, counter weights and the jaw vary as well.They can be table standing or less commonly floor standing. Scotland have their own variant of rushlight called a Peerman but that's another story........... They are difficult to find particularly with their correct wooden base but have fun looking. Although rushlights were described as the poor mans candle today times have changed these rushlights can be hundreds if not thousands of pounds.