Godalming Museum, ref: B980.29.2


This rushlight holder dates from Tudor times. It is made from iron and set into a conical wooden base for stability. Rushlights were made from the stems of rushes soaked in animal fat and then dried. Candles burned more cleanly and produced a stronger light, but were more expensive. The holder shown here offers both means of lighting, as it also has a candle holder.

Gertrude Jekyll records that, up until the mid-1800s, rushes for lights were collected by women and children during the summer, when the plants were at their tallest. The outer part (or rind) of the rush stem was peeled, leaving only a small strip to add strength to the inner part (or pith), which was to be burnt. Maintaining the light, when burning, was often the job of the children in the household, as Jekyll recorded,

"About an inch and a half at a time was pulled up above the jaw of the holder. A rush-light fifteen inches long would burn in about half-an-hour. The frequent shifting was the work of a child. It was a greasy job, not suited to the fingers of the mother at her needle-work. 'Mend the light' or 'mend the rush' was the signal for the child to put up a new length."


 a rushlight in use

 Godalming Museum, ref: B980.29



Jekyll, G. Old West Surrey (Longmans:London, 1904)
Available for reference in Godalming Museum's Local Studies library



Return to Home and Household or the Collections index