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Tallow-Candls-art - 10/1/17


"Tallow Candles" by Lord John Marshall atte Forde‎.


NOTE: See also the files: Talow-Candles-art, Candle-Making-art, candles-msg, candlesticks-msg, lamps-msg, lighting-msg, Med-Lighting-art, Oil-Lamps-art, Rushlights-art.





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Thank you,

Mark S. Harris...AKA:..Stefan li Rous

stefan at florilegium.org



Tallow Candles

by Lord John Marshall atte Forde‎


In the Middle Ages, interiors were lit with candles, lamps and sometimes torches. Candles were made of either animal fat or beeswax.  It is believed that the Romans developed the wick candle, although earlier forms date back nearly 3000 years.

Recently a friend of mine told me that Hendricks Farm, http://www.hendricksfarmsanddairy.com/,  a local supplier of meat and dairy products, had lard from Berkshire pigs for sale.  I was highly interested in this, but when I contacted Mr. Hendricks, he was out of the lard; however, he informed me that they had tallow.

Not only did they have tallow, but it was tallow from a Devon bull from the "heritage herd at Monticello"[1].  Devon cows are "one of the oldest beef breeds in existence today. In fact some authorities consider the Devon's origin to be prehistoric, the assumption being that the breed descended directly from Bos lonqifrons, the smaller type of aboriginal cattle in Britain. "[2]

The tallow was rendered from the kidney fat of the animal, supposed to be the best source of quality tallow.

I quickly snapped up several pounds of this and proceeded to attempt to make candles.

Wicks were fabricated from linen thread, a total of 12 strands, twisted in groups of 4 and then braided.

The tallow was melted and the wicks were dipped repeatedly in the tallow, which built up slowly on the wicks.  I found that as the tallow cooled and the wax started to crystallize it would build up rapidly on the wicks.

After I built up a sufficient amount of wax, I allowed the candles to harden and then trimmed and smoothed the sides.

I also made several tea light style candles by pouring tallow into shallow glass bowls with a four strand wick suspended in them.

I did not find that the candles produced a large amount of smoke, despite what I read saying this would happen.  It does appear to be important to keep the wicks trimmed short when burning the candle.

From Plat's Delights for Ladies, 1609:

39. A Delicate Candle for a Ladies Table.

Cause your duch Candles to bee dipped in Virgin wax, so as their last coat may bee meerly wax:  and by this meanes you may carry them in your hand without melting, and the sent of the tallow will not break thorow to giue offence:  but if you would haue them to resemble yellow wax-candles, then first let the tallow be coloured with Turmerick boyled therein, and strained:  and after your Candles haue beene dipped therein to a sufficient greatnesse, let them take their last coat from yellow wax: this may be done in a great round Cane of tinplate, hauing a bottome, and being somewhat deeper than the length of your candles:  and as the waxe spendeth, you may still supply it with more.

From this we can see that tallow candles were prone to melt onto the hand when carried and that the appearance of beeswax candles, which Plat appears to think of as more desirable can be achieved by dying the candles.

Pictured below is an extant tallow candle found in a mine in England:


"Candle, 1450-1700 (Ref:X.A234.2004.2.0)


A tallow candle used by miners to light their work. Several were found in the mine workings at Coleorton, including one unused early 16th century example in perfect condition.

Tallow candles were made from the rendered fat of cattle or sheep.


Candles were usually safe to use in medieval mines because they were not deep enough to be badly affected by 'firedamp' or other explosive mine gases. However, explosions were not altogether unheard of in medieval mining."[3]


[1]    I have been unable to locate any more information on this herd at this time.

[2]    http://www.ansi.okstate.edu/breeds/cattle/devon/

[3]     Leicestershire Heritage Services Website - http://museums.leics.gov.uk/collections-on-line/GetObjectAction.do?objectKey=274149



Copyright 2017 by Joe Fling. <jfling at gmail.com>. Permission is granted for republication in SCA-related publications, provided the author is credited.  Addresses change, but a reasonable attempt should be made to ensure that the author is notified of the publication and if possible receives a copy.


If this article is reprinted in a publication, please place a notice in the publication that you found this article in the Florilegium. I would also appreciate an email to myself, so that I can track which articles are being reprinted. Thanks. -Stefan.


<the end>

Formatting copyright © Mark S. Harris (THLord Stefan li Rous).
All other copyrights are property of the original article and message authors.

Comments to the Editor: stefan at florilegium.org