Living in Regency London – Lighting the House

Today, I have have dealt with three power outages in my area, and with each, I have privately cursed how dark is my home without the power of electricity. I have had to go without lights, TV, the internet, phone service, etc., and this modern-day “deprivation” has set me to thinking about the days of the Regency era when the almighty CANDLE ruled the home.

Until the Victorian Era, candles, lanterns, and rush-lights served as the principal means of lighting the Georgian styled home, and like every other aspect of Regency life, the use of the these sources of light adhered to their own “hierarchy” of use.

At the top of the Candle Hierarchy was the beeswax candle. These candles were more expensive than the others and could be left unattended for longer periods than could tallow or rush lights. However, they did melt faster than tallow candles. Wax candles were used by the very rich to prove their superiority to others. Wax candles were used in chandeliers because they burned themselves out rather than having to be snuffed out by the servants.Candles

IMG_3004-e1272244558721-200x300Tallow candles, usually made from mutton fat, were the main source of light in middle class homes and the lower gentry. They left behind a most annoying odor and did not burn evenly. Generally, the flame had to be snuffed out to prevent the charred wick falling into the tallow. If this happened, a “gutter” formed and melted wax would flow over everything. The tallow candle offered poor lighting and did not last for long.



Rush-lights were used by the poor. Rush-lights were made by dipping the stripped pith of common rushes into hot animal fat, often bacon fat. Rushes are commonly 2 feet long. They were held in place by a stand with a clip, and they usually burned out in an hour or so. The poor sometimes chose to burn tallow candles, but they were not economical. Eleven rushes would cost a family a farthing.rushlight2

It was commonplace to have only two candlesticks in each room. In some homes, wall sconces with mirrors behind them increased the lights. These sconces were typically mounted on the chimney-breast.

Unlike the homes on the Continent, most homes in Georgian London were slow to accept oil burning lamps. Ami Argand of Geneva demonstrated his improved lamp in 1783 to the French Academy of Sciences. Unfortunately for Argand, the French Academy did not take well to the experiment. So, Argand brought his invention to London. Argand lamps using Colza oil were used in some wealthier London homes, but they were very expensive and were “plagued” by the cumbersome need to mount the oil reservoir above the level of the burner. This mounted reservoir blocked off the light from one side of the lamp. After 1798, a pump was available to force the oil upwards.

Candles were more economical and remained the main source of light until the mid-19th Century.

About reginajeffers

Regina Jeffers is the award-winning author of Austenesque, Regency and contemporary novels.
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10 Responses to Living in Regency London – Lighting the House

  1. carolcork says:

    I enjoyed your post Regina! It makes me realise how lucky we are to live in the 21st century in a lot of respects!

  2. Thank you for posting this! Such things are interesting and important to know!

  3. The power goes out here for no decernable reason and with great regularity. For years I alwasy had one room lit by nothing but candles and oil lamps. I still have them. Reading a Kindle by candle light is an experience not to be missed.

  4. kwithey says:

    Growing up in NH meant keeping oil lamps and flashlights handy. Ice storms would knock out power lines for days. I actually just got rid of my oil lamp during the last move. Perhpas that wasn’t a good idea.

  5. Pingback: History A’la Carte 1-31-13 « Maria Grace

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