Hand-Made Candles Add Sparkle To The Occasion
Jane Hammond is a chandler.
“That’s the official name of my job,” she laughs, “but I always call myself a ‘candlemaker’, it’s easier to understand.”
I’ve come to White Rose Candles, housed in a converted watermill in Wensley, the village that gave its name to - the now well-known Wensleydale - near Leyburn. It’s a unique establishment where candles are still produced entirely by hand, for sale in the shop.
I find Jane hard at work on a special assignment – especially tall candles, red and white in colour, for Ripon Cathedral. “We make their Advent Candles in winter and a Paschal candle for Easter.”
Not surprisingly the term ‘chandler’, used in this context, had grown pretty much out of usage because the demand for candles is not a fraction of what it was in pre-gas and electric days. She believes herself to be one of the very last to make them by hand. “I don’t know anybody who does them like we do,” she says thoughtfully.
“In the old days the poor would have had candles made of tallow - animal fat - and the rich could have afforded the much more pleasant beeswax candles. We use both a hundred percent beeswax or refined paraffin wax, but not in the same candle, of course. Beeswax is still expensive and it has to be cleaned so thoroughly, but it has a lovely smell.”
Both types of wax produce a clean, efficient burning candle, when made correctly. “To get a candle not to drip, smoke, drown itself and to have a beautiful flame is an art and not as simple as people might imagine,” Jane says with feeling. “Candles on a dinner table can be so romantic, but not so if they leave nasty blobs of wax on your best tablecloth! ”
“Here at White Rose Candles, we’ve spent many years testing and re-testing all our candles, both pillar, dinner table and perfumed, and we’re still learning.”
The business she now runs jointly with Sandra Hewitt was established in 1971 by Mick and Jennie White, both of whom are still involved, but not so much in the day-to-day running of the business.
Neatly stacked on shelves are candles in all ranges of colours and sizes, ranging from half an inch to four inches in diameter and lengths from a couple of inches to sixteen inches. “We can make a candle in any length, up to a point. The Easter candle for Ripon, for instance, is 56 inches. If someone wants a candle to specific height or diameter, we will do our best to oblige.”
Most candles are of the traditional pillar-shape but in recent years years rather more quirky ones have appeared, shaped like sheep, Christmas pillar boxes, snowballs or beeswax hedgehogs. “Our perfumed candles are very popular,” Jane says, handing me one to examine. “These have to be tested many times to get the burning of them just right, but once perfected they emit a lovely scent which will last right down to the bottom of the candle.”
A five-inch perfume candle will burn for 80 hours and they come both in a pure essential oil range or a perfume blend. The former come in ‘spiced orange’, ‘lemon mist’, ‘cedar’, ‘lavender’ and ‘frankincense’.
One of the most popular this year, apparently, is ‘Tranquillity’, a blend of essential oils. “With the year we’ve had it’s not surprising that people need a little tranquillity in their lives,” Sandra quips.
“Rose, Honeysuckle, Jasmine and Raspberry Prosecco are a sample of our perfume blends, ” Jane adds.
I’m interested to see how they’re made and Jane takes me over to a row of tall metal tubes that are as tall as the chandler herself. “For our tallest candles we have to run a wick right through the tube and it can be very tricky to get this wick, which is made of plaited cotton, to stay nice and straight. We will pour hot melted wax into the tubes, topping them up from time to time, as the wax contracts as it sets. When set, we will have one very long rod of wax. For shorter candles we will cut the rod down to size, drill a hole through them and then ‘wick’ them, sealing in the wick with melted wax from a syringe.” Jane pauses for breath. “Other candles are made using moulds that Mick has made, or, in the case of the beeswax figures, moulds we have bought”.
The smaller amounts of wax can be melted over their giant steam bath, which acts as a bain-marie. “It is very important to be careful and not let the wax get too hot,” Jane warns, “the steam bath will keep the wax at an even temperature of about 80C. If the wax was melted directly over a flame the wax could catch fire.”
Once the candle is made the hand-decorating can begin and Sandra is equally passionate about her part in the process. She shows me the many colourful varieties and the patterns which can be achieved, using wax appliques and a process called ‘frosting’. This is where melted wax is allowed to cool slightly then aerated with a kitchen whisk. The subsequent froth - or frosting - is used to decorate the surface of a candle.
“Our hollow-burning balls are great fun to make,” says Sandra, “we float oil-soluble dyes on water and turn the ball candles through it, so it picks up layers of colour. No two candles turn out the same: even we don’t know what sort of pattern we’ll get. Hollow-burning means the special wax used will burn down the centre of the candle, so the light shines out through the walls, ideal to light up the different colours of the paints.”
The dinner table candles are made using a Victorian design, which Mick made, where the wick is threaded between teeth on a frame and the frames are then dipped into a hot melted wax in a drum. The frame is dipped to just over the depth of the candle required. Each time the frames are dipped the candle picks up a layer of wax, getting slightly thicker each time. “Gravity does the rest and we just keep dipping until we get the diameter of candle we want,” Sandra explains.
When they have finished one set of candles the frames are inverted and the process is repeated, so the finished result is a pair of candles. “Our hand-dipped dinner candles are solid colour all the way through and, because we dye the wax ourselves, we have been known to colour match any colour requested. However, somebody would have to want a lot of candles as a complete set of six frames can make well over 300 candles at a time.”
I ask Sandra and Jane how the business has been affected this year and they explain that the only way they could sell anything during the lockdowns was to establish an online shop. This they did with the expert help of Jane’s daughter, Emily. “Having been flooded in 2019 we told ourselves that 2020 could only get better, but that was obviously wishful thinking,” Sandra says, ruefully. “2021 will be our 50th year in business and we plan to celebrate: hopefully we can raise a glass of something bubbly to each other, even if we still have to stand two meters apart.”
“I’ll drink to that,” says Jane.
For further details and to buy online visit: whiterosecandles.com