Haddington Candlemaker's lintel, 1599

Haddington Candlemakers

The candlemakers of Haddington

The lintel from Candleriggs is one of the Treasures of the John Gray Centre. It had been salvaged years ago from a doorway of a demolished house (the site has been redeveloped), once the property of a Haddington candlemaker – hence the name Candleriggs. It is now installed as a permanent feature of the museum.

Haddington Candlemaker's lintel, 1599

Haddington Candlemaker’s lintel, 1599

Haddington Candlemakers were an important trade, but never numerically strong enough to form an Incorporation of their own. As in other small burghs they were required to affiliate to a ‘like’ craft – the Skinners or the Fleshers. The processes involved in all these trades kept them out of the main part of the burgh: for hygiene, for fire risk and for the simple stench they generated! As early as 1536 ordinances were being passed to ‘keep them at a distance’. Candleriggs was at the bottom of Dunbar Road near Bothwell Castle, which stood on the green area to the left as you walk into town – this certainly fits the bill. It would then have had a good supply of water, easy access for cart loads of wood (or coal) and the smelly tallow was well clear and downwind (most of the time) from the High Street area. That it was also downstream was a bonus (that wasn’t really considered then: effluent just went where it would).

But what else can we say about our surviving fragment? Well, now the detective work begins.

If you look closely at our lintel you can see a candle dipper, initials, and the date 1599 carved into the stone. The initials read IT and ID. However, masons of the 16th century used I for J as well. So we’re looking for a married couple, where he is IT or JT and she is ID or JD. In common with other trades, Haddington Candlemakers were close-knit. Father followed son and incomers married into the trade (often starting their own dynasties) so we can afford a bit of leeway around the dates, at least to begin with.

We have checked OPRs, Burgh minutes, Deeds, Sasines, Testaments, Burgess Records, Retours, monumental inscriptions, histories etc. We went right though our collections. Nothing definite has been turned up, however we think the theory that follows is very possible and we don’t think it can be far from the truth! The trouble is that this far back it’s difficult to find out much about ordinary Haddington folk.

The most obvious candidate for the man is a John or James Thompson. That’s not an arbitrary choice: it is a common local name. Several burgesses of these names are mentioned in the Haddington Burgh Minutes around the right time. One family of Thompsons lived at Gourlaybank. Another of the name was a mason, however he would not have used the candlemakers’ symbol; others were fleshers – and a son might have been apprenticed candlemaker.  And there are several more candidates in the sources, for whom no trade is given.

What we did find was that a ‘James Thompson candlemaker, Haddington,’ is listed in the Testaments (Wills) for 21st April 1623. This is very likely to be our man. At the same time we also noticed a Johne Dudgeon who was a candle maker listed in the testaments of 1597 and there is at the same period a Patrick Dudgeon, burgess listed in the Burgh Minutes, but his trade is never given. Could either have had a daughter who married James Thompson?

In fact, it is very possible this could have been a dynastic marriage between the Thomson and Dudgeon candle making families. To marry into a burgess family gave rights to become a burgess without payment. But there we’ll have to leave it – for now.

We’ll keep our eyes open – almost certainly another snippet or two will turn up – either in support of our theory or perhaps making us think again! Perhaps you have that piece of information that would give us a certain answer? Let us know!

2 thoughts on “Haddington Candlemakers”

  1. Aaron Allen says:

    There is an article on Scottish candle and oil production and consumption in the journal ‘Review of Scottish Culture’, volume 23 – might be of interest if you want to know more about early modern candles and candlemakers…

    1. HanitaR says:

      Thanks for the info Aaron.

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