Beeswax dating candle
Candlelight was used for most ordinary activities throughout the Victorian period, from dining and playing cards to cooking, particularly in areas where there was no gas, until finally eclipsed by electric light.
Photographs of interiors taken by the architectural photographer H Bedford Lemere between 18 (reproduced in The Opulent Eye - see Recommended Reading) show that in the 1890s fashionable hotels and homes were still being lit by candlelight and oil lamps.
The shade is probably silk (Detroit Institute of Arts, USA/Bridgeman Art Library: Founders Society purchase and Dexter M Ferry Jr fund) During the 63 years of Queen Victoria's reign, from 1837 to 1901, life in ordinary houses was transformed by a succession of technological developments which we now take for granted: flushing toilets, plumbed-in baths and showers, regular postal deliveries and light fittings capable of illuminating whole rooms at a time.
Oil had been burnt in lamps at least since the Palaeolithic age, and the cheapest light fittings used in Victorian homes had changed little since then, with a simple wick protruding from a small container of whale oil or vegetable oil.Tallow candles made from animal fat in moulds were the cheapest but they burnt with a smoky flame which produced progressively less and less light - and they stank.Spermaceti wax, made from whale oil, was harder than either beeswax or tallow and was least likely to soften in hot weather.This in itself was a revolutionary idea, but its inventor, Aimé Argand also discovered that by placing a tube or 'chimney' over the flame, the hot gases from the flame rose rapidly creating a draught and drawing air in from below.Fanned by a draught from both inside and outside the circular wick, the poor spluttering flame of early lamps was transformed into a bright, efficient light source (see illustration).
Improvements in the design of the wicks shortly before the Victorian period commenced had eliminated guttering, and the plaited wicks introduced in the 1820s curled out of the flame as they burnt, eliminating the need for constant trimming which plagued earlier candles.