In the days before gaslight and electricity, one of the cheapest forms of lighting was rushlights, held in special iron holders. Each region had its own style: could Caernarvonshire’s rushlight holders be back in production soon?
Long before electricity or even gaslight were common forms of lighting in the homes of everyday folk, the rushlight was a cheap way to light rooms.
Less expensive than candles, rushlights were made by coating the dried inner core of the rush plant in grease or fat. These lights were then held – typically at a 45-degree angle, for the most amount of light – in a rushlight holder made of iron.
And this is where the story gets interesting, as far as Caernarfon is concerned.
Different regions tended to produce their own unique style of rushlight holder. These holders were made by blacksmiths and varied in design from one place to the next.
Several different styles of rushlight holder have been associated with the Caernarvonshire area.
One style had a tripod base with arrow-shaped feet. The stem and arm were twisted bars of iron which had a rolled socket. The jaws of the clip holding the light were rectangular with a medium rivet, and the holder stood at around 9 inches high.
Another style had a varnished walnut or fruitwood base, a fast twistwork stem, part twistwork arm and pointed jaws, and stood at over 13 inches high.
In other towns and regions, styles could include circular wooden bases, rectangular decorated slate bases, coiled counterweights and varying amounts of decoration.
After disappearing from common use for many years, could the Caernarvonshire rushlight holder be about to make a comeback – albeit as a decorative, rather than a practical, item?
Perhaps so. A local man, Elfyn Owen, is hoping to spearhead a revival with the help of Brunswick Ironworks at Gefail yr Ynys, Slate Quay, Caernarfon.
Mr Owen’s father and grandfather were blacksmiths at Llanwddyn and although he’s not a smith himself, he has a lifelong passion for the craft.
After conducting a lot of research into the history and styles of rushlight holders and discovering that Caernarvonshire’s pieces had very distinctive designs, Mr Owen now hopes that these unusual pieces can be brought back into production, with a view to offering them for sale as unique souvenirs.
Discussions are currently underway, so although we don’t know for certain when, or even if, the rushlight holders will go into production any time soon, we recommend watching this space!
Image by Small Bug [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons