At home we didn't have any really old things, family heirlooms of any kind. Except for this one thing. A rush light holder. I used to play with it, it would feature in games alongside my stuffed animals as a kind of little old man. This little rush light holder isn't the one I know. It's exactly the same though, knocked up by some village smith, three legs, the flat pincers to hold the rush.
The actual light was made from the centre of those rushes, the ones that grow on moors or boggy ground with a little fuzz of brown near the top. I looked it up and apparently it's called the soft rush. I'd never heard it's name before. If you cut or split them you'll notice the inside is white and spongy, like polystyrene. People would cut the rushes , leave them to dry out a little then remove the skin and dip it into mutton or pig fat. Instant candle. I can remember my grandmother showing me how it was done. She had a special knife, it had a name. Sometimes I can't imagine that this is true. That my Mum lived in a house with no running water let alone electricity. On Wikipedia it states, this candles were still in use in parts of Wales into the middle of the twentieth century so it must be true.
These little cards have helped me out with a story more than once. And I get the same feeling looking at them as I do walking round the Tower of London. It's an instant and vibrant connection that makes me feel part of something bigger.
Fascinating, Catherine! I didn't realise rushlights were used so recently! Have you ever been tempted to try to use the holder?
Lovely. Thank you.
Really nice post Catherine- the cards are beautiful (and sad!).Thanks, Elaine
These are the kind of objects that spark an interest in history.
But have you used the rush light? Your account of how they were made helped me understand what occasional literary mentions of "dipping rushlight" were all about.
These personal links are so moving. Have you got one of those old family bibles too? I've ended up with two or three - all Anns and Marys and Thomases and Williams. Sometimes - very sadly - a child being given the same name as one who died. And using the pages to practise their handwriting too
Hello all, have been on the road all day, many thanks for your comments. My Mum has shown me how it works, and one day I will definitely give it a go. But have you tried getting the green off the rushes? It is bloody hard my grandmother obviously had the knack. Yes Frances we have a bible, and everyone is John or Mary or William or Robert or Catherine.
Even though I have no rushlight holder (and in fact I don't think I ever saw even a picture of one before reading your post!) I have tried getting the green off the rushes, and it's not too hard to do it for lengths of a few inches - you slit carefully down one side and peel the green back like turning a sock inside out. But I wonder what sort of lengths they actually used?
My Nain could do the whole length in seconds. The trick is to leave a tiny strip of green all the length to keep it more solid until you dip it. But it is v v v hard. She just had the knack.
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