Candle Burn Marks

We always assumed our burn marks on our oak beam in the front room where some sort of accident by a drunken farm hand, or a stone mason too tipsy to make it to the stairs; we even considered them to be electrical because the beam was covered for so long and had electric wiring running half its length (but not on the part that has been burnt). We had to clean it by hand as the blue Victorian paint fell away in sheets we found the oak and then the scorch marks. So, who did this and why?

home, witchcraft, candle marks, life on pig row

It appears that the few burn marks on our beam clustered near the fire are nothing to do with falling coals and everything to do with witchcraft. You see, these burn marks couldn't have been made by what we know as a modern candle, even those that preceded, tallow, wouldn't have produced these flames marks.


life on pig row, candle marks

These marks are normally made by rush lights - a single rush candle created by soaking the dried pith of the rush plant in fat or grease - this gave little light but were cheap in comparison to wax or even tallow candles. These types of candle marks date back to the sixteenth century. We always thought, due to the old ridge line in the attic (there's even a bricked up window up there) and finding the original ceiling beams in the walls in Andrew's office, that downstairs was a lot older than upstairs. As in, very old, as in documents of this area describing the old toll road as having only single story thatched dwellings in this area. Looking at the old ridge line, this house was once only one floor and an attic. We even found the old stairs when doing the front room, and they were stone.

life on pig row, dating a house

So, why do these candle marks? It's all about witchcraft and the 1600s were awash with fear of witches. These candle marks are found right up to the middle of the eighteenth century and are part of the group known as apotropaic markings. Now we know we have a few V and Ms (Virgin Mary) around the place in the front room but that could be the markings of a carpenter or someone much later wanting to give age to the place. Yes, we thought that the candle marks could be this too but rushes fell out of favour and it would be hard to reproduce one and then cover it up with blue Victorian paint. Yet, the V and Ms coupled with candle marks, shows this was an attempt to ward off evil, to prevent fires - which were associated with the devil and if your roof is thatch then you know that fear is very real. This lintel runs through the fire breast and openings such as this meant the devil or a witch could get in. It raises the question, how old is Pig Row?


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