Saturday, 26 February 2011


Well I'm laid up for awhile with the weather, and one thing and another no doubt it'll pick up the second week in March as I've then three hospital appointments two days apart I bet it's cracking flags then ! but to keep the Blog flowing I'll dig into the diary archives
I usually make a batch of Rushlights each year and August is a good month for collecting so parked at the top of Thursden Valley on the Colne to Hebden Bridge road
looking over Robin wood house ruin to where I'm going
left the van at the end of the oil prospecting track SD 91501 33808 and walked along it with views of Cludders Slack (great name) to my right
came upon the rushes from last year but although it was rather boggy, (check the stick no effort to push in and no bottom), they were not as big as I remembered them from last year
Teddy used some hand crafted Damascus steel Bushcraft scissors to cut a clump (O.K. £1.25 for three pair in home bargains) with the Dove stone at the left hand end of the skyline rocks
On the way back stopped to photograph and share "Zen and the art of dry stone walling" at Coldwell reservoir look to the end of the wall over the road
miles of cut stone all the way around the reservoir
courses remain level
a different hollow from above (check the trees)
I think this puts the Tate modern and Turner art prizes to shame.back home and lit the garden chimera and opened a Cider to process the rushes
before filling with water and putting on a grid and weight to soak for a week
metal bashing turned a piece of 1/8" mild steel into a "Grisset" which is the traditional boat shaped pan for melting the grease in the ashes of the fire, though my idea is to put a couple of night lights under it.The best mix so far is Tallow and Beeswax pull the rushes through and hang up to drip dry.
The rushes I gathered had been in a plastic storage bin with a metal grid and a granite egg keeping them under water for 9 days.So after tea I set too and peeled them.  Leaving a thin strip of green to hold the pith together.Took just over 3 hours :-
Here's the Rushlight holder and a glass of rush spills bleaching and drying in the sun
We've had a couple of nights with them and the fire as only light source and found them fine at 45* and a couple of inches was good for 5 minutes on the coffee table between our chairs and you could read no problem even more so as it burnt shorter then both ends were lit. I've cut a tin full at 6" just for this.I'm dipping them in the bird hide at the back of my shed as I had a brew stove set up in there but it makes it hard to photograph as it's only about 4ft wide, Here's a photo of one burning in the kitchen I put my finger over the flash to cut some of it down.The Nips have a spring fitted just as an experiment but I found it tended to crush the Rushlight and wasn't needed to hold it at 45* so I took it off .No noticeable smell when burning either
Rather than leaving out in the dew and drying in the sun I tied the last bunch up in a bundle and left them on the stove over night. No problems they dried and dipped fine.Lots of very small air bubbles coming out of the pith when a hand full dropped in the "Grisset" as the tallow/wax was soaked up
The Selbourne letters are on line at the Guttenburg project --here's an extract ( I bought the paper back 2nd hand on the Settle Tuesday market for a bed time read)

"To The Honourable Daines Barrington Selborne, Nov. 1, 1775.
Dear Sir,

Hic ... taedae pingues, hic plurimus ignis
Semper, et assidua postes fuligine nigri.

I shall make no apology for troubling you with the detail of a very
simple piece of domestic Economy, being satisfied that you think
nothing beneath your attention that tends to utility: the matter
alluded to is the use of rushes instead of candles, which I am well
aware prevails in many districts besides this; but as I know there
are countries also where it does not obtain, and as I have
considered the subject with some degree of exactness, I shall
proceed in my humble story, and leave you to judge of the

The proper species of rush for this purpose seems to be the juncus
effusus, or common soft rush, which is to be found in most moist
pastures, by the sides of streams, and under hedges. These rushes
are in best condition in the height of summer; but may be gathered,
so as to serve the purpose well, quite on to autumn. It would be
needless to add that the largest and longest are best. Decayed
labourers, women, and children, make it their business to procure
and prepare them. As soon as they are cut they must be flung into
water, and kept there; for otherwise they will dry and shrink, and
the peel will not run. At first a person would find it no easy matter
to divest a rush of its peel or rind, so as to leave one regular,
narrow, even rib from top to bottom that may support the pith: but
this, like other feats, soon becomes familiar even to children; and
we have seen an old woman, stone-blind, performing this business
with great dispatch, and seldom failing to strip them with the nicest
regularity. When these junci are thus far prepared, they must lie out
on the grass to be bleached, and take the dew for some nights, and
afterwards be dried in the sun.

Some address is required in dipping these rushes in the scalding fat
or grease; but this knack also is to be attained by practice. The
careful wife of an industrious Hampshire labourer obtains all her
fat for nothing; for she saves the scumrnings of her bacon-pot for
this use; and, if the grease abounds with salt, she causes the salt to
precipitate to the bottom, by setting the scummings in a warm
oven. Where hogs are not much in use, and especially by the sea-
side, the coarser animal oils will come very cheap. A pound of
common grease may be procured for four pence; and about six
pounds of grease will dip a pound of rushes; and one pound of
rushes may be bought for one shilling: so that a pound of rushes,
medicated and ready for use, will cost three shillings. If men that
keep bees will mix a little wax with the grease, it will give it a
consistency, and render it more cleanly, and make the rushes burn
longer: mutton-suet would have the same effect.

A good rush, which measured in length two feet four inches and an
half, being minuted, burnt only three minutes short of an hour: and
a rush still of greater length has been known to burn one hour and a

These rushes give a good clear light. Watch-lights (coated with
tallow), it is true, shed a dismal one, 'darkness visible'; but then the
wicks of those have two ribs of the rind, or peel, to support the
pith, while the wick of the dipped rush has but one. The two ribs
are intended to impede the progress of the flame, and make the
candle last.

In a pound of dry rushes, avoirdupois, which I caused to be
weighed and numbered, we found upwards of one thousand six
hundred individuals. Now suppose each of these burns, one with
another, only half an hour, then a poor man will purchase eight
hundred hours of light, a time exceeding thirty-three entire days,
for three shillings. According to this account each rush, before
dipping, costs 1/33 of a farthing, and 1/11 afterwards. Thus a poor
family will enjoy 5&1/2 hours of comfortable light for a farthing.
An experienced old housekeeper assures me that one pound and a
half of rushes completely supplies his family the year round, since
working people burn no candle in the long days, because they rise
and go to bed by daylight.

Little farmers use rushes much in the short days, both morning and
evening in the dairy and kitchen; but the very poor, who are always
the worst economists, and therefore must continue very poor, buy
an halfpenny candle every evening, which, in their blowing open
rooms, does not burn much more than two hours. Thus have they
only two hours' light for their money instead of eleven.
here's another link
Between 1313 – 1433 there was at the selling price - a 22 times multiple difference in the price of wax against that of tallow (say 11 old shillings to 6 old pence for a pound of candles).
In 1468 if tallow candle makers bought a pound of tallow for ½ penny he should sell it for 1 penny allowing ¼ penny for the wick and ¼ penny for his time.
Whereas wax chandlers (candle makers) sold candles for 2 shillings a pound (24 old pence) having paid 6 pence for the wax.
2 3
So wax candles not only cost more but sell for a far higher margin. This can perhaps only be the result of supply and demand.
Wax candles were used by the Church – the notion being – ‘bees came direct from paradise’.
Wax is the wax of bees.
Tallow is the rendering (boiling/heating) down of animal fat (oxen, deer, sheep) from the slaughter house. Tallow splutters gives off black smoke and is not kind to the eyes and nose. Being far cheaper and hence in greater demand and also used for soap - Russia for example supplied prodigious quantities in the late 1400s. Whereas Venice supplied (due to its trading network) untreated bees wax and beeswax candles to Europe.
Rushlights – the common soft rush found in moist pastures and under damp hedgerows by the sides of streams are best in the height of summer. Cut and soak them in water, eventually peel and produce a series of narrow strips from top to bottom, leave out on dewy nights and sun dry. Tallow is first scalded and strips dipped into it and into the remains of fat in the bacon pan (evidently a lot of that fat). 6 pounds of fat were used to a pound of rushes. A little added beeswax or ‘mutton suet’ made it cleaner to handle.
A holder different from a candlestick was needed – namely a scissor like iron grip holder arising from a block of wood.
Candle wicks were at best coarse cords of cotton (known as ‘cotton rovings’ – often imported from Turkey). Four or more skeins (lengths) are wound off cut to length doubled or twisted to leave a loop at one end. Candle wicks could be a problem if they charred as they burnt down leaving a black smouldering tail as this would give off a lot of unpleasant black smoke; hence small wick cutters were often available to trim the wick.

Maybe it shows that I'm easily amused but I just thought I'd share
cheers all Danny


  1. Worra load of juncus (did you see what I did there...?) It seems to me that there is a lot more juncus about recently. Not sure why..... except to say that very few people use rushes nowadays, maybe...

  2. I do now
    cheers Danny