Lighting The Way – A Brief History of Chandlery

19 April 18
candles in history

Quick, think of an essential skill. A truly vital job, something society can’t do without. We’d be willing to bet you’re probably thinking of an electrician, plumber or architect. It’s very unlikely that you instantly thought of ‘chandler’ as an essential job – but for much of history, it very much was! From the humblest of rural cottages to the grandest of palatial fortresses, everyone relied on candles (and the people who made them) to continue living life after dark. For hundreds of years, the job was almost unrecognisable from today’s process of creating our own luxury scented candles!

Tallow Fuelled Candles For Centuries

As we’ve touched on above, chandlery wasn’t always as enjoyable or fulfilling as many of its practitioners find it today. For most of human history, candles were mostly made from tallow fat. In other words, waste material from meat! This meant that historic chandlers would generally have to have a strong stomach, in order to deal with everything that entailed. (Thankfully, times have changed a lot since then!) For easy access to tallow fat, most chandleries would be situated next to tanneries and abattoirs. Because of this, most of the upper classes naturally found this line of work distasteful, and chandlery was seen as a very low-class trade.

As you can imagine, the handmade scented candles of history didn’t share quite the same meaning as they do today, either! Remember, it was essentially fat, which meant candles gave off a particularly unpleasant smell – a far cry from the beautiful scents of our own handmade candles like Joy or Eden.

candles in religion

Chandleries in Scotland had a slightly nicer time of things, making their candles from fir trees. Beeswax was another option, as candles made from beeswax burned purely and cleanly, with none of the horrible smell. But it took a dizzying amount of beeswax to make a single 4” candle, which meant it was very expensive. For that reason – as well as a symbolic significance – it was mostly used in churches.

The Gradual Evolution Chandlery

Thankfully, the usage of tallow declined towards the end of the 17th century. A few alternative materials were even found, like whale blubber. (Oh. We were hoping for something nicer.) Then in the late 19th century, gas lighting arrived, replaced itself by electricity just a few decades later. As a result, most commercial chandlers were basically made redundant, forced to move into other trades.

Nowadays, there are a couple of meanings for the term. Apart from specialist candle makers like us, chandlery is used to refer to portside supermarkets for sailors. They’ve been there for centuries – for a lot of history, chandlers supplied sailors with candles for their ongoing voyages. Naturally, these chandlers branched out into other sailing goods and supplies too, and now to the boating and nautical community, a chandler is a one-stop shop for everything they might need at sea. For many, the fact that these traders once dealt solely in candles is just half-remembered historical trivia!

melt candles

And then, of course, there’s us! Compared to the vast commercial trade it once was, most modern independent chandlers are skilled specialists, who take great pride in beautiful, individual creations. Angel and Nocturne are amongst the most popular options amongst our customers at the moment – but maybe you’ve got your own favourites! Feel free to take a look through our full range of luxury scented candles, or take a trip to our little shop on the farm – we promise we’re nowhere near an abattoir!