Friday, 27 June 2008

Cottage Economy – rush lights

(Click on photo to enlarge).

The thin "needles" behind the Foxglove are the Common Rush (just in case you were imaging a bullrush being used).

I have a feeling we may have power cuts this winter – either through strikes or through the ageing power stations, over which the Government chooses to bury its head in the sand. I have always had a stock of candles in, as did my mother and I have stocked up on matches too, as we need these to light the wood burner.

In the past, cottage folk often relied on rush lights. The little rush light holders, probably made by the village blacksmith and now desirable antiques, fetch a figure which most cottagers would never have earned even in their entire lifetime.

The time for making rush lights was the autumn, when the rush had achieved full growth, but before the outer casing had become tough. Here in Wales, this was normally around the time of the full harvest moon. Cottagers might traipse some distance to find the best rushes to cut, which were then gathered and tied into large sheaves. The rushes were allowed to wither and dry for a time, before being peeled and trimmed to about a foot in length. As children, in Hampshire, we instinctively did this ourselves, using our thumbnail to split the rush and then removing the sponge-like stem.

The rush lights would be made during the family’s “leisure” time, and in Breconshire, some families would have special get-togethers to pabwyra (peel rushes), and there was an old tune, Hyd y frwynen (lit. ‘the length of the rush’) they would sing whilst thus employed. The peeled rushes would be tied in small bundles until there was sufficient number to prepare them as lights, by dipping them into molten wax and placed on a cool slate slab to harden. I have heard of them being dipped in sheep fat, which must have resulted in a very smoky and pungent atmosphere when burned. A rush candle would burn for some 20 minutes and it was not uncommon, in this time before clocks, to set the hour for bed on a winter’s night after the burning of a certain number of candles.

(Notes taken from "The Customs and Traditions of Wales" by Trefor M Owen).


Roses and Lilacs said...

Good morning. I love coming to your site. I often learn a little history and always enjoy your wonderful photos.
The rockery is interesting. The moss on the stones is a nice addition.

Your area is very scenic and historic. Fascinating to be surrounded by buildings of that age (we have nothing in the States approaching it).

Mam said...

Very interesting. I don't think I've seen a rushlight holder. I'm going to Google them. Still looking at Dorset. Do they also have the power problems there?

Mam said...

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Mam said...

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Bovey Belle said...

Nancy - I think there will be problems on and off countrywide. Once this Govt. is out of office, things may change - sensible decisions made etc, but probably a good idea to lay in a stock of candles and matches!!!

I'll google that link now - thanks . . .

Bovey Belle said...

Marnie - I'm glad you enjoy it. I have always been one to take pleasure from small things (generally because we can't afford the big ones and couldn't do the foreign holidays "everyone" else had - I cared for my mum for many years and had small children and a tight budget.

The little bits and pieces of history fascinate me and our countryside is a rich palimpsest of untold stories, unknown tales. Every abandoned cottage, every much-changed farmstead has a story to tell.