Lighting a Candle to Mum
To mark this Mother’s Day, I felt the best way to remember my Mum was to hand this space over to her. Twenty years ago I asked her to write some memories of her early life and the following extract is taken from her own words.
Until I was fourteen years old, although by then we had electric light in the home, I still went to bed by candlelight. My mother thought it was cheaper, so electric light was used only downstairs and then sparingly with low watt bulbs which made reading or needlework difficult. To this day I ‘put out’ the light in one room before going into another. It was thought very wasteful to have more than one room with a light on.
The house we lived in until I was about ten years old had gas lights. The gas-pipe came down from the ceiling. A delicate gauze-like ‘mantle’ was lit with a proper paper ‘spill’ lit from the fire. A glass globe shade spread the light around the room and two chains enabled the gas to be ‘put up’ or ‘down’. Usually ours was ‘down’ unless reading or writing demanded a brighter light. And then one sat at the kitchen table directly beneath to obtain the best possible light. The ‘front’ room had a similar light but was only used at Christmas. The back-kitchen had a light on an arm on the wall but was never used. For evening chores – washing up and the like – the door of the kitchen we lived in was left open and jobs were done in the gloom. This also applied to bathing in the zinc bath on Friday evenings. It was bitterly cold in the back-kitchen and sitting in the bath in the gloom the mice would run out from the pantry – which was the cupboard under the stairs – and the odd black beetle.
Ready for bed, a tin candlestick holding the candle, I had strict instructions to get straight into bed and blow the candle out. I never did! I used to play at making shadows on the faded wallpaper. And best of all making ‘warts’ on my hand. I sat in bed, took the candlestick on my lap and tipped it slightly until the melted wax ran in hot blobs over the back of my hand where they set, looking – to me at any rate – like proper warts. Once cooled and set I would pick them all off one by one. Then my Mother’s voice – angry as usual – shouting up the stairs that if she had to come up to make sure the candle was out ‘there would be hell to pay’. A quick puff and it was out before her foot was on the stair. I often wonder if she ever thought of the hazard of sending a small child to bed with the naked flame of a candle. At that time I would have been about seven years old.
When we moved to a new house, when I was nine or ten, there was electric light in each room and probably a power point , although no electrical equipment. Even the iron was a gas one. It was not until the Second World War when I was fourteen and my Father died in The Royal Navy and we had to take in ‘war-workers’ to make ends meet, that we finally gave up candles to go to bed by. The bathroom had electric light but up until then we bathed with a candle standing on the floor.
I still keep a stock of candles in a jug – just in case. J.K.
I too switch off the light before leaving a room and keep a stock of candles.
I will be lighting one this evening in loving memory.
Joyce Kathleen Pells nee Davis 1925 – 2004