Welcome to the Online Clann Tartan Newsletter for March 2005

Board Minutes Staff & Board Directory Guilds
Calendar of Events Maps Event Maps and Notification
Announcements  Captain's Corner Articles


Still looking for thoughts on Why We Do What We Do

—and what will make it more fun for you.

What are you looking for in Clann? What can we do better? What are we doing well? Please let us know—we all want this to be a fun, fulfilling experience for everyone.

Send info to Mary McKinley at the previously posted info—snail mail:
Mary McKinley
1363 Jefferson Ave
St Paul, MN 55105-2410


Clann's monthly drill will be held on the third Saturday of the month at Bossen Field by Lievtenant Eric and Hellen's home (5732 Bossen Terrace Apt#2), unless there is a scheduled Clann Event that weekend.
The time is NOON.
For directions, Lievtenant Eric can be contacted at: 612-726-6364 or eric@celticfringe.net


Submissions for the Newsletter!
Items you can submit include research articles, character sketches, and other items pertaining to living history and Scottish Culture. Email your items in either plain text, or MS Word format to newsletter@clanntartan.org or snail mail to our postal address.
Items must be received by the 15th of each month to be considered for inclusion for the upcoming months issue. Mailed submissions will not be returned unless requested. All pertinent submissions will be considered as space permits. All research articles must reference at least three sources. Submissions are NOT edited for spelling or grammar, but may be broken in multiple parts.

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Announcements  Captain's Corner Articles

Board Minutes

Minutes of Clann Tartan Board Meeting

January 3, 2005

In attendance: (Board) Mary McKinley, Herb Lindorff, Diana Steben,

Bruce Yoder, Glenn McDavid, Rob Portinga.

(Staff) Maeve Kane, Marty Byers, Julie Yoder, Rob Johnson

(Members) David Vavreck



The minutes from the December Board meeting were approved.



Reservations have been made for Molly Quinn's for dinner after the Jan.

15 Muster. We will be paying for the Big Island visitors.


Insurance. David Vavreck has found some information. He is looking

into Group Insurance with other Reenactors.




TREASURER: We have about $5800 in the bank after allowing for the

cushion of $2000. Our Fiscal year is 4/1--3/31.

Right now we are only getting paid for Ramble and the three October


Currently we are showing about $900 in unclassified expenses. We need

to reconstruct the details. Rob Portinga will look into it.

Eric and Hellen Ferguson need to buy more gunpowder. They are looking

for a suitable supplier.

SECRETARY: No report, but Mary said that Maeve's article in the

Newsletter has been very well received.

QUARTERMASTER: Nothing new since last month. The plan for trailer

repair in April is still on track. Note about the garage: The owner is

storing a bike there. We need to be careful about it.

CAMP REP: No report.

COMPANY REP: No report.

DANCE GUILD: Recruiting new members.

SWORD GUILD: Trying to arrange for practise at Corcoran.

HISTORIC SITE: No much happening in the Winter. Planning work weekend

schedule for 2005.

MUSIC/DRUM GUILD: Need blank CD's for recording. Diana will donate.

FIBER GUILD: To also include costuming, and to have stuff for new

members. It was noted the SCA gets a discount at S.R. Harris. Would be

nice if we did too.

COMMUNICATIONS COMMITTEE: The web site is not up-to-date, e.g., still

showing the old location for Board Meetings. Rob Portinga told the

meeting that the Calendar can now be updated by Board and Staff, and

provided the password. It also has notification features, and the Web

site also has a message board.

The web site has 750 MB storage and costs $115/year.

The Dance Guild notice in Scottish News in Minnesota should mention that

dance is free and open to all.

A new roster is to be mailed with the February Newsletter. Right

now there is still some missing membership information.


Muster (1/15), followed by Dinner.

Parades. No new information, but we are not expecting any until closer

to the events.

Historic Faire (2/12-13), Albert Lea. Indoors, at the Mall.

Ramble. Nothing new, but we usually do not learn much until nearly the

last minute.

Tartan Day.

Garage Work Weekends--2nd and 3rd weekends in April.

Scottish Fair (7/9). The site will be somewhat rearranged from 2004.

Maeve is looking into other possibilities for shows, including

Festival of Nations

Cancer Hospice

Children's Hospital

High School/College -- History, drama, and dance classes.


Honor Guard for Weddings.

Watson Harvestfest (August 13)

Senior Citizens' homes

Most of these would be gratis. The listings in Powderhorn News may

suggest other opportunities.

Marty suggested that we offer 17th century immersion weekends for High

School (over age 18) and College Students. These could also be offered

to members of other reenactment groups who wanted to visit our period,

and to the local Scottish community. We would charge $50 per student per

weekend. A certain minimum attendance would be required for each event.

There would also be a maximum due largely to logistic constraints, e.g.

tents. We would provide clothing and food. We will need to investigate

insurance and suitable sites. Participants would be required to sign

waivers, although the actual legal protection they provide is doubtful.

We need to work out more details before we can get an insurance quote.

Marty, David, and Bruce will form an Immersion Weekend Committee to

investigate this. If found to be workable, they will present a proposal

to the membership at the February Meeting.

There was some discussion about getting information to members,

especially new members. We could list reenactment resources in the

Newsletter. The library should be publicized more. The new member

packet should be redone.

Marty suggested that the newsletter have a Q&A section, sort of an

advice column. David Vavreck will do this ("Baethan at the Moon").

ROAD TRIP: Per a membership vote in 1995 Clann should untake a big

trip to a re-enactment event outside our area every other year,

including 2005. David has investigated several possibilities, but most

are either too early in the year, or conflict with other events. The

exception would be a return to Stralsund--same event as in 2003. It was

moved/seconded/passed that David propose this to the membership at the

February Meeting.

BOARD ELECTIONS: The current VP, Quartermaster, and Secretary are

willing to run again. The Company rep position is open. Mary will send

out ballots.


The HCF would like to get new cans for hauling water. Also $50 for

canvas to store the trooper tents, and $40 for cleaning supplies.

The present estimated total looks like $440.

The Company would like to get 3 new pikes, and more gunpowder--the

current supply is not adequate for the upcoming year. The total company

budget would be $430.

Income would come from 4 shows (Big Island, Winona, Mankato, and

Ramble), totalling roughly $3750. About $720 can be expected from

membership dues.

This appears to be quite inadequate--Corporate expenses would take

almost all of it. However, the budgeted auto fuel figure appears to be

excessive. A more realistic (lower) figure, based on an estimate of

actual 2004 numbers, gives a less dire, though hardly cheering, picture.

There was some general discussion of the mileage reimbursement for

members, including the possibility of members deducting it from their

income tax, as opposed to a direct reimbursement. Appropriate

documentation would be required.

The Captain, HCF, and Treasurer were directed to get their formal budget

and financial reports to the Board by January 10.

Maeve presented a proposal to the Board for Clann to license some of her

artwork. This looks very attractive, but the financial and legal terms

must be examined closely.

Meeting adjourned.

Board Minutes Staff & Board Directory Guilds
Calendar of Events Maps Event Maps and Notification
Announcements  Captain's Corner Articles

Board & Staff

If you need to contact someone associated with Clann Tartan, here is where you find out how. If you are unsure who to contact, you can always email us at: info@clanntartan.org

Board Members

President Mary McKinley 651-699-6853 mairi2@juno.com
Vice President Bruce Yoder 651-698-8375 bruceyoder@juno.com
Secretary Glenn McDavid 651-490-1842 gmcdavid@comcast.net
Treasurer Rob Portinga 651-253-4506 rob@portinga.org
Quarter Master Herb Lindorff 612-827-4440 deeptinker@hotmail.com
Camp Rep. Diana Steben 612-728-1189 Rillaspins@aol.com
Company Rep. Brenda Bartel 651-335-5097 socks142@aol.com


Captain Marty Byers 651.483.1173 mjlbyers@msn.com
Lieutenant Eric Ferguson 612.726.6364 eric@celticfringe.net
Head Campfollower Rob Johnson 612.702.4274  roguerpj@mn.rr.com
Assistant Head Campfollower Julie Yoder 651.698.8375 julieyoder@juno.com
Goodwife Judy Byers 651.483.1173 mjlbyers@msn.com
Goodwife Maeve Kane 952.461.4666  

Board Minutes Staff & Board Directory Guilds
Calendar of Events Maps Event Maps and Notification
Announcements  Captain's Corner Articles


Sword Guild:

I am now taking names of MEMBERS, who are interested in learning the period correct way to wield the blades we would have used. The methods will be totally Scottish and /or common to the Scottish Island.

But, first I need your name, mailing address, phone number and what type of sword you are interested in...and, do you have such a sword. When I have this information, we will set up a date and time to get together for our first exercise.

I hope to use some of what we learn in a skit or two during the coming years. The more blades we have to be used correctly the better we will be for the public.

So, get me this information soon and let's get started.

Marty L. Byers


Drummers continue to meet at 11 am the third Saturday of each month at Eric and Hellen's, followed by Regimental Drill at Noon. The Regiment owns two drums, but drummers are requested to get their own drumsticks.

A note for soldiers - according to the articles of war, it is a crime punishable by death not to learn the drum calls. Be forewarned.

We have set up a yahoo group for the Corps at http://launch.groups.yahoo.com/group/clannfifeanddrum/ so we can communicate without clogging up non corps folks' e-mail.

Again, drummers will work primarily on period military music for the time being.

All are welcome - no experience neccessary.

Anyone interested in joining up contact Clann's Music Chair at:

David Vavreck


1st & 3rd Wednesdays
One Grenoble Ave, Inver Grove Heights, MN 55076

The community center for Skyline Village, on the east side of Concord St. at 75th St in Inver Grove Heights. About 2.5 miles south of I494

2nd & 4th Tuesdays
Saint Christopher's Episcopal Church, 2300 N Hamline Ave. in St. Paul.

It is at the northeast corner of Highway 36 and Hamline Avenue (Hamline is between Snelling and Lexington). The church is actually encircled by the highway entrance ramp.
The Dance Guild gathers weekly from 7PM-9PM to learn and practice historic Scottish country dances.
For more information call:

Mary at 651-699-6853 or Julie at 651-698-8375

It's a great place to meet people !

Other Guilds

Want to learn about wool spinning, weaving, or dying? Diana Steben (651-489-2881) Kali Pederson (651-730-5437 ) and Sandy Borrmann (651-489-2881) organize the Fiber Guild.

Clann Tartan has our own historic site near Duluth MN. Dun Gowan is an ongoing project, which is the site of Gaffneyis Annual Tactical in July. We are finishing the fort and beginning the construction of a village this year. Contact David Vavreck at 612-378-1973 or baethan1630@yahoo.com for further information, or to volunteer to help.

Board Minutes Staff & Board Directory Guilds
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Announcements  Captain's Corner Articles

Captains Corner


Board Minutes Staff & Board Directory Guilds
Calendar of Events Maps Event Maps and Notification
Announcements  Captain's Corner Articles


Charactor Sketch Maeve's Charactor, "Will'm Keane"

I never believed cousin Haimish about the standing stones on Conc A’Bhodaich, although everyone else did. I suppose it was easier than believing Da ran out on us.

Bodach and Cailleach, the Old Man and the Hag, are up on Cnoc A’Bhodaich near Achmore House a million miles from everywhere. What the MacDonalds always wanted with the island, I don’t know. Couple of farms, some scraggly woods, that’s all the Ilse of Geay was in my childhood and probably still is. I haven’t been back there since to know. Most interesting thing on that island was the standing stones and the old ruined church. Kilchattan.

I think that’s about all the Gallic I remember anymore. Gr. Mere was always adament that we speak King’s English at home. She had big plans for us boys. She told us all there stories about the MacDonalds raping and burning, and she wanted us to have friends from off the island if they ever came back.

Matthias, my oldest brother from Mother’s first marriage, was Gr. Mere’s answer to that. She beat the accent out of him and got him married to some pretty young thing from the mainland.

But me, Mother’s younger son from her second marriage, I was Gr. Mere’s special project. She wanted me to be a man of letters.

Calvinism was Gr. Mere’s thing. She’d converted when old Knox went through, and was bound and determined that I was going to be her contribution to the church. Da and her had some mighty rows over that one.

I sometimes think that one of the reasons Mother and Da got on so well was because they were both still papist, because Da was adament that I should be a weaver like him and his Da had been.

Well, they both got their way, sort of. Mornings Gr. Mere taught me my letters and even bought me a Bible of my own. Afternoons, Da did what work he could get on the island, and I’d prentice with him. Then whatever time I could get, Haimish and I went out to Kilchattan or the standing stones.

Those were the times Haimish told me the stories about Bodcah and Cailleach. He got such a beating from Gr. Mere when I woke up with night terrors from those stories. We must have been eight then. Haimish was sore with me for a few days after that, but he got forgotten by his brothers the same as I did, and we were back out at Kilchattan faster than you could say Cailleach.

Haimish and I were almost 16 the summer Mother got pregnant again. It was a bad summer, and not just because it was supposed to have been the last summer I spent at home before leaving for the seminary. Milk curdled as soon as the cows had been milked, the crops spoiled in the field, and Reverend MacDougal railed against the sacrifices that had been showing up around the standing stones.

Haimish and I slept out at the ruins of Kilchattan the night Da left, trying not to talk about our pretty cousins.

Mother cried something terrible when we got back home the next morning, for she’d thought Haimish and I had been killed in the night like Da.

The bad crops and the bad milk stopped when Da was "killed," though there wasn’t ever a body found. Haimish said it was because Bodach and Cailleach had eaten him and thrown his bones into the sea, but I think he just picked up and left. That’s what Gr. Mere said, and for once, I think she was right. She said that all Da had left Mother was his loom and me, because after he disappeared, all kinds of debts came out of the woodwork and we had to move in with Gr. Mere just to eat. Mother and I were so poor that I couldn’t go to seminary school, and had to bring in what money I could with weaving.

Mother died in child birth later that summer, and the baby died soon after her, though Matthias’ pretty wife tried to keep it alive, and we buried them together. I left Geay with Da’s loom later that night and made my way through Kintyre until I heard about Gaffneyis. I’m hoping to join as a drummer, but I’m hoping to make a living as a weaver if I’m not learned enough to drum. If I drum, I could save up enough money to attend a university or send my boys to one, when I find a good woman, which doesn’t seem likely given all that I’ve seen with the regiment so far.

Signed and dated Anno Domini 1640

Please don’t "Fire at" Will’m Keane


Baethan at the Moon

At the request of the Board of Directors, this new monthly column will address members' questions about, well, anything related to what we in Gaffneyis Regiment do. What is event X like? Are thingamajigs period? How do you make a whatzahoozits? Where do you get a fribber-frabber? Members are requested to send questions about anything pertinent to Baethan (David Vavreck) who can be reached at 612-378-1973, baethan1630@yahoo.com, or 1036 24th Avenue SE, Mpls. MN 55414

New members ask "Where do I get patterns?"

Happily, we have quite a few of them in the Clann Library, which resides at the Ferguson household near the airport. You merely need to call up Eric or Hellen at 612-726-6364 to arrange a visit to our library.

Patterns that we have include:

A bunch by Kass McGann. Hers are the only commercially available patterns we have found that are actually based upon surviving garments, rather than upon interpretations of paintings, woodcuts, and the like.

Mens' 1630s Breeches, all sizes. (which we call "britches")

Mens' 1630s Doublet, large and medium

Mens' 1630s Cassock and Cape, all sizes

Mens' and Womens' Shirt and Shift, multi-sized (which we call "sarks")

Mens and Womens Collars and Cuffs, multi-sized

Womens' 1630s Bodice and Petticote, all sizes

Womens' 1600-1660s Caps, all sizes

All of the above patterns operate under a licensing agreement we have with Kass. Each family is allowed one free use of each pattern. Every time after that, you must remit 25% of the purchase price to our Treasurer, who will periodically cut a check to Kass. In other words, if you are going to make several garments from one pattern, it would make sense to buy your own copy.

If you make a garment for sale, 100% of pattern price should be remitted for each garment.

Although this might sound like a little bit of a hassle, this is a very liberal license. Kass is kind.

She has more patterns available at her website http://www.reconstructinghistory.com/, and she also provides a patterns discussion list there free of charge.

Our own Maeve Kane's directions for knitting a Monmouth Cap, a Smeerenburg Cap (Swedish Monmouth Cap), a Welsh Wig, the Gunnister Man's cap, and Scoggers and Hoggers are available in the Library or on her website at http://www.freewebs.com/spun_measured_and_cut/Knitting.html. Be warned that her site is under construction.

There is also a copy of the oldest instructions in English (1655) for a pair of knit hose. The instructions end before reaching the toe, but describe making the clock and turning the heel quite nicely (see Rutt).

David Vavreck's pattern for a man's Nightcap is available, and his pattern for a Montero Cap soon will be.

We have a chemise pattern by our own Cindy Lanphear.

There is also a greycoat pattern by former member James Kuehl (sizes 36 – 46), but it is to be used with caution; check with Jamie Zaugg or David Vavreck before using this one. The pattern needs to be altered in order to be accurate.

The Library also has archaeological reports which include photos and scale drawings on the Quintfall Man's clothing (a late 17th century Scotsman wearing mid 17th c. sewn bonnet, cut hose, coats, and britches – see Orr), the Gunnister Man's clothing (ditto, except he had two knitted caps instead of a sewn bonnet – see Henshall and Maxwell), the Arnish Moor Man's clothing (ca. 1700, which also includes a wool shirt - see Bennett) and also a multitude of other surviving Scottish garments (see Henshall)

There are instructions on how to make a pair of Pampooties (simple homemade peasant footwear).

In your Manual, there are also instructions on how to make a pair of Brogues (Scottish shoes).

Also, we have patterns for a Cockade, Gaffneyis Own Badge (in neither case are members allowed to wear these two items until they have mustered at 2nd and 4th level respectively), sporran (pouch), targe (Scottish shield), and dirk.

If it is worth doing, it is worth doing right. Have fun!



The Gunnister Man Find Cap

by Maeve Kane

I haven't made this hat yet, but these are the directions I've drafted for when I have to time to start.  These directions are drafted from the Scottish Antiquarian's Society's description of the Gunnister Man find, a man found in a bog with most of his clothing left as well as several wooden items.  He's dated to about 1680, based on the coins found in his pockets.

Yarn: a fingering to sportweight wool that felts well.

Ten American size three double pointed needles.

Guage: 9 sts and 12 rows to the inch.  This is after felting.  I think the pre-felting guage should be somewhere around 6 sts and 9 rows to the inch, but I'm not sure.

Cast on 216 sts.

Row 1:  *k2tog, k1, YO, k1, repeat from * around.
Rows 2-4: K sts around
Work rows 1-4 five times.
P 1 row.
K in sts for another 3-5 inches, depending on how wide the wearer's palm is.

Begin decreasing for the crown as follows:
k2tog, k6, ssk, k44, k2tog, k6, ssk, k44, k2tog, k6, ssk, k44, k2tog, k6, ssk, k44.
K 1 row.
k2tog, k6, ssk, k43, k2tog, k6, ssk, k43, k2tog, k6, ssk, k43, k2tog, k6, ssk, k43.
K 1 row.
Continue in this pattern until 12 sts remain.  Pull the yarn through the remaining sts and pull closed.

Felt well to size and clip felting close along the patterned brim to expose the pattern and flip this brim up.


Smeernberg Cap

This cap is based on a Swedish 17th century burial find, and would be good for someone working for Gustav Adolf. 

Yarn: 1 skein Brown Sheep Co.'s Lamb's Pride Bulky for the main color.  I've used grey, white and natural brown.  My inclination is to stick with natural colors.  You will also need about 50 yards of a similar weight of yarn in a complimentary or contrasting color.

Five size 8 American double pointed knitting needles.

Gauge: 3 sts and 5 rows per inch

Cast on 65 sts or more, as for Monmouth cap.  Begin by knitting in sts for 2 rows with your main color, but know that the purl side will be the side that shows.  At the end of the second row, cut the main color and knit in sts for two rows.  Continue like this until you have 12 rows, alternating color every two rows.  End on an contrasting color row, then knit one row in main color.  I suppose any kind of colored pattern would be acceptable, but the extant cap I saw had this pattern.

            The inside of the cap. (left)               The visible side of the cap. (right)

Place the 65 stitches onto a holder and pick up the same number of stitches on the knit side of the brim, just above where you cast on.  Knit 13 rows, with the purl side of this flap facing the knit side of the flap with the colored stripes.  I usually use the contrasting color on the inside, but that's personal preference.  Taking stitches from the holder one at a time, knit the two flaps together.

Knit five rows in sts.  Decrease for the crown as follows:

Row 1:  *k2tog, k12, repeat from * around.
Row 2:  Knit in sts.
Row 3:  *k2tog, k11, repeat from * around. 
Row 4:  Knit in sts.

Continue, reducing the number of sts between k2togs until about 20 sts remain.

At that point, k2tog in every row, ommiting the rows like Rows 2 and 4 above.

Weave in ends.


16th and 17th Century Lighting, part one

David Vavreck

There were various forms of lighting available to the common people in this period. This two-part article examines both interior and exterior lighting, primarily that of the lower class majority. Lighting information apart from lanterns is covered below; the section on lanterns will follow next month.

The most common light source in the home was that of the cook fire which was generally kept burning at all times. In most of western Europe, the hearth fire was fueled by wood. In Scotland and Ireland, however, peat was commonly used. About two weeks of work in the summer would provide enough peat blocks for the year, which surely compares favorably to how many hours we work per year to pay our light and heat bills.

In addition, there were several other forms of supplemental lighting that were common in the home – rushlights, cruises, and betty lamps, and particularly in Scotland, fir candles.

Rushlights were very commonly used throughout western Europe. Rushes were gathered and dried. Generally, the outer layer was stripped down to the pithy core. The rushes would then be dipped in fat, tallow, or "salet oyle" (i.e. olive oil - Caspell p 171). Allowed to harden up, they would either be put in a pincer-like device with a counter weight (a "rush nips") or stood up in a container designed to prevent a fire starting. A split stick could also be used to hold the burning rush. Sometimes, a rushlight would have a candle holder as a counterweight for use on special occasions such as a visit from somebody important. Rushes were burned at an angle; they burn too quickly if horizontal, but tend to be smoky and go out if vertical. They are likely the origin of the expression "burning the candle at both ends". A "good rush", 2' 4 1/2", burned for 57 minutes (Robins p 14). They do not put put a lot of light, but they have the advantage over candles that they were potentially free. A few hours gathering the rushes, and a few days processing them after they dried, and saving fat at slaughter time or the drippings from your cook fire were all that were required. In fact, one could make a little spare change by providing rushlights to others.

The following devices all use wicks, which were made of rushes, twisted hemp, flax, or scraps of rag. Cotton wicks seem not to have come about until the mid 18th c and plaited wicks (which are self-snuffing) were not invented until 1825 (Robins p 20). If the wick was longer than about a 1/4', it was snuffed - snuff in this usage means to trim, not to extinguish; a too-long wick burned inefficiently, making more smoke and less light. In a study done in 1838, it was shown that an untrimmed candle burned twice as fast, but only created 1/7th the light of a properly trimmed candle (Robins p 10). Trimming was necessary several times per hour. The implement used to trim the wick, a candle snuffer, was a scissors-like device with a box attached to a blade to catch the trimming;. What are commonly called candle snuffers now were called in our period a "dousing cone", or "douter" - a contraction of to "do out" (Random House Dictionary).

Cruises are an open (i.e. not lidded) fat or oil-burning lamp usually made of iron or pottery. Any drippings from cooking would do - mutton and fish oil were preferred - though the purer the better. Whale or seal oil where also used. Often square shaped, there were lips at the corners upon which wicks were placed. The heat from a lit wick would start to melt the fat, which would then be drawn up the wick and burned. Because the fat is drawn up the wick more quickly than it burns, cruises often had a slightly larger pan hanging directly below in order to catch drippings, preventing fire or at least a mess.

Tin betty lamp. Photo by author.

Betty Lamps are a closed (lidded) oil-burning lamp. Often made of tin, a wick was fed through a spout. A pickwick was periodically used to clear off carbonization from the end of the wick, or to adjust the wick's height. The development by the Basques of industrial scale whaling from the early 16th century was largely as a result of the demand for whale oil for such lamps.

Fir Candles, made of a long thin splinter of fir, were commonly used in Scotland. Indicative of the class which used them, a fir candle holder was known in Scots English as a "puirman" (i.e. poor man - Robins p 13).

None of these produced all that much light, and could be a bit on the sooty side. And none of them hold up much to a breeze. But these are what common folk used in their houses.

The cresset or torchière was common for outdoor use, as well as for illuminating large interiors such as castles. A wrought iron cage was attached to a pole or wall. If the torch was intended to be carried - like the one we often set up in the midst of camp - the cage often pivoted to prevent the contents spilling. The fuel that was used was generally pine knots - the whole knot, not a slice of one from a board. Due to their grain and that they are so very resinous, they burned brightly for a long time. Other fuels include grease, pitch, rope soaked in oil, and the like.

And then there are candles, along with their associated candlesticks and lanterns.

Firstly, a couple things should be said about candles in our period:

Candles could be made of tallow or beeswax.

Wax candles are superior in brightness, lack of odor and soot, and they also burn much longer than tallow (an 8" wax candle 1" thick should burn about six hours, as opposed to a similar sized tallow candles lasting an hour at best). Because it took an entire honeycomb's worth of beeswax to make a single 4" candle, however, they were very expensive. Throughout the Middle Ages, wax candles were petty much only used by the Church for celebration of Mass. Priests, Monks, Nuns, etc. still used rush lights to satisfy their normal lighting needs. By our period, however, nobles, gentry, and particularly successful merchants sometimes used wax candles, at least when there was company to show off that they could afford to be so extravagant; commoners, however, still did not (the fact that the wealthy used wax candles rather than tallow prevented untold damage from centuries of soot to surviving works of art, clothing, etc.).

Incidentally, beeswax was usually bleached in our period (and still is for Catholic liturgical candles), so wax candles were nearly white, not the golden color one usually finds today. A surviving 10th century wax candle from a Christian Viking grave at Mammen, Denmark is still nearly white after being buried for a millennium (Fitzhugh and Ward, pp 76, 79).

Candles made from spermaceti (a waxy substance rendered from sperm whale oil) came about in the later 18th century. This led to the development of vast whaling fleets, and is why so many species of whale are still endangered species. The measure of brightness called candle-power is based on the light produced by spermaceti candles (Robins p 20).

Paraffin Candles were not invented until 1850. Although originally derived from coal or oil shale, paraffin is now a petroleum byproduct, being derived from crude oil. Paraffin's lack of accuracy for our period, coupled with its fundamentally evil (Big Oil) nature, should be sufficient to dissuade us from using them, if their drippiness alone isn't enough.

The reason, incidentally, that paraffin candles drip so much more than wax candles is due to chemistry; paraffin has a considerably lower melting point than wax, so it melts more quickly than it burns.

The bulk of the people, however, used tallow candles if they used candles at all. Estimates for the monied classes range from an optimistic 5% down to a fraction of 1% of the population as a whole. In other words, nearly every one else was poor, and did not use wax candles. When paraffin candles came about in the 19th century they replaced tallow, not wax.

Any cooking fat could be rendered into tallow; mutton was most popular, followed by cattle. Hog fat was generally avoided. The purer the tallow, the less soot and smoke but the more time-consuming to make, or expensive to buy. Contrary to popular belief, properly rendered tallow candles are nearly odorless. Due to their being devoid of protein, they also do not go rancid.

Domestically, candle-making was primarily a winter activity, as livestock was generally slaughtered around Martinmas (November 11) due to lack of fodder for over-wintering. Either that, or tallow candles were made for you in your own home with your own saved drippings by an itinerant tallow chandler (tallow chandlers and wax chandlers had separate guilds, and were prevented from producing each other's product).

Candles, especially tallow ones, were kept in a wooden or metal box hung on the wall in order to protect them from vermin and to prevent the candles bending over from heat. Sir Hugh Plat recommended giving tallow candles a final coat of wax in order to lessen this wilting, as well as to improve the aroma (pp 83 - 84).

Spiral candle. Photo by author.

It seems that the spiral (or so-called courting) candle, where an iron mechanism allows for adjusting the candle's height, was likely invented to prevent tallow candles wilting (Caspell p 158). I have found no documentation to suggest that there is anything to the "courting candle" story (it is often repeated that these spiral candles were turned upwards or downwards by a parent to indicate how long a daughter's suitor was welcome in the home).

Colonial Americans learned how to make bayberry candles, but it was such a labor-intensive process that they, too, were only used by the wealthy, or for special occasions (such as Christmas) - and only in America, where bayberries naturally occur.

That said, apart from candlesticks (iron, wood, or pottery for the masses, pottery, pewter or brass for the merchant class, and brass or silver for the rich), candles were also, of course, used in lanterns. An examination of these useful devices follows next month.


Caspell, John. Making Fire & Light in the home pre-1820. Antique Collectors' Club, Woodbridge, Suffolk, England 1987

Fitzhugh, William W. and Ward, Elisabeth I., eds. Vikings: the North Atlantic Saga. Smithsonian Institution Press, Washington, 2000

Plat, Sir Hugh. Delightes for Ladies. Reprint of 1627 edition by Trovillion Private Press, Herrin, IL 1939

Random House Dictionary of the English Language, second edition, unabridged. Random House, New York, 1987

Robins, F. W. Story of the Lamp (and the Candle). Oxford University Press, London 1939


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March 2005

Night at the Pub
7PM @ Molly Quinn's
in Minneapolis 

April 2005

At the State Capitol in St. Paul
Also Dance night  
Night at the Pub
7PM @ Molly Quinn's
in Minneapolis 

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Map to Inver Grove Heights location- Dance Map to St. Paul location St. Christopher's- Dance
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Bruce and Julie Yoder's Home
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Corcoran Park, Minneapolis

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Event Maps and Notification

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