26 March 2011

Mystery Object No. 2 - the Solution

This week we asked you to guess what people in the 1700s would have used this object for:

Rushlight and candle holder, 1700-1800 (c) Geffrye Museum, London
Thankyou to everyone who guessed - those who went for anything along the lines of candle holder were closest, and 'space flute' was the furthest out!

It’s actually called a rushlight holder: the part which looks a bit like a pincer holds a strip of a plant called a ‘rush’ (shown in the picture) which had been dipped in fat (usually the drips from cooking meat) and was then lit like a candle wick.

This one can hold candles too, but rushlights were cheaper and easier to make. Most people in the 1700s would have had to use tallow candles, which were expensive, messy and didn’t smell very good. Rushlights were not very bright, but at least they didn’t make as much mess or smoke as candles.

Light from a rush would last about 20 minutes, but if you wanted a bit more you could light both ends. This meant that the rush wouldn’t last as long. This is where the saying ‘burning the candle at both ends’ comes from!

Rumour has it if you had a visitor you didn’t like very much, you could light both ends so the light would burn out sooner and they would have to leave – sneaky!

You can see this object on display in the Geffrye Museum of the Home, or find more information about it online.

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