Search

I'm sure you look extremely attractive, it's just too dark in here to be sure...


Candle-light makes everyone look good. That dimmed, half light casts a hushed, beautifying spell . But just how much light can a candle shed? One of the questions I address in the Ladies' Guide is how dark was it when people were eating?


It's hard to know exactly ( the phrase 'as long as a piece of candle wick' springs to mind'). Different types of candles produced different amounts and types of light.


Since the Middle Ages candle-makers (known as chandlers) were making candles using tallow, a fatty substance from cows or sheep. The advantage of this material, was that cows and sheep were in great abundance, particularly in Ireland. In fact, the Irish word for road, 'Bóhar' translates as 'the path of the cow'. The disadvantage was that tallow - both production and use - resulted in an extremely unpleasant smell. Bees wax produced a more refined candle, but was much more expensive, and only the extremely rich could afford bees wax lighting.


The growth of the whaling industry resulted in the use of spermaceti . This substance is an oil that comes from the cavity of a whale's head. It creates an extremely bright light and does not smell. Result!


However, candle light is still relatively dark. About 80 watts, most of which energy is created as heat rather than light.


So, those clever eighteenth century lads and lassies had clever ways to make the most of candle-light. Reflection and refraction were the name of the game.

Placing one's candles in front of a mirror, doubled the light. Gilding the frame of the mirror helped the light bounce about. Use of crystal glassware - in particular cut crystal - further increased refraction. Silver cutlery did the same.


In the 18th century, diamonds were the jewel of choice. Diamonds, originally found only in India, were an expensive luxury and handed down through families. However in 1725, deposits were discovered South America and suddenly diamonds were available to all - even the middle-classes. Sets of jewellery became popular with matching ear rings and necklaces de rigeour. Further refraction of light could be created by wearing clothes woven or embroidered with gold and silver threads. You'd certainly cut a dash wearing a golden dress, but it can make for a very heavy gown.


With a bit of luck, your grimaces of discomfort as you lug yourself and your dress around, won't be noticed in the darkness of the room.

18 views