Saturday 1 June 2019

Putting Humpty Together Again

Supplies for restoring a castle are not, unfortunately, to be found at your neighbourhood DIY superstore. Sometimes bespoke items have to be manufactured, such as a recent set of steel roof brackets which will no doubt feature as a future blog item. Sometimes, one has to bite the bullet and buy an antique item from a dealer. Before the cash register digits blur in front of your eyes, I should point out that sometimes there is another way.

Around a fortnight ago, I found out some old sheds were being cleared and I was invited to see if there was anything I could use. To most people the contents of the sheds would be period junk that they had absolutely no use for. To me, there was a chance of hitting gold ...

As I wandered around, I found a pile of old door facings that looked to be, more or less, identical to those at Balintore.  When I got back to the castle I put a sample length of the found door facings on top of a bespoke door facing I had made some time ago - see the photograph. They are identical in width and profile, but the direct copy of the Balintore original at the bottom is just a few millimetres thicker. This is the type of difference that simply won't be noticed. The result is that I can recycle the whole bundle of wood in the shed - hurrah!

door facings: one on the top was found in a shed; the one underneath is a copy of a Balintore original.

Also in the shed was a wooden crate of large old lamp chimneys with a few oil lamp components on top. I have been looking for large glass chimneys for years!!!!!!

Let me explain.

Glass chimneys and glass shades of old lamps are extremely fragile - almost as vulnerable as Humpty Dumpty. :-) The result is that most second hand oil lamps for sale are missing both. I have a couple of antique oil lamps, which are the two on the left below. My favourite has a blush cranberry milk glass font with gadrooning and textured Art Nouveau honeysuckle detailing. It is my favourite as I found it in an antique shop for £20 and knew this was around a quarter of the market price. My friend Andrew hates it with a vengeance and calls it the "brain" lamp. Decency prevents me telling you what my slater said of it. Anyhow, the other oil lamp with a clear glass font on top of a fluted brass column, was no doubt a similar bargain.

before: my non-functioning oil lamps

In an attempt to get these working again I bought a box of glass chimneys at an auction for a fiver. All the chimneys turned out to be too small.  :-( Finally, I decided to just buy an oil lamp with funnel and shade to get something up and running. I knew the lamp was a 1980's reproduction, but no matter, and I drove the 30 miles or so to pick up the eBay item, to ensure the shade and chimney stayed intact. This is the brass lamp on the right.

The brass lamp has given good service at the castle. We would use this as the only source of light to recreate the full Victorian experience of being at the castle. Using an oil lamp instead of an electric light, totally changes the ambiance. It is much dimmer and warmer in colour, and draws people together as you have to huddle round the lamp to see what you are doing.

Then earlier this year, when I was away, some visitors must have knocked over my one working oil lamp, smashing both shade and chimney. They did not tell me about this and I came back to the castle to find all the bits lying on the floor. :-( This is one thing I really hate: people breaking your possessions and not telling you. It's not like I am going to charge people money, because accidents do happen, but it does mean I have to go into inquisition mode and ask "Who broke this?" which is never a nice thing to have to ask, or be asked i.e. there is insult on all sides added to the injury.

Anyhow, given all three of my oil lamps were missing bits and in consequence were not working, the box of oil lamp bits was like gold. Today I managed to get all three oil lamps back into working order again! The brass oil lamp could still benefit from a shade - there were only two suitable shades in the box - but the lack of a shade does not stop it working. The actual flame of an oil lamp is sufficiently bright, that it is somewhat uncomfortable to look at directly. The replacement chimney in the centre is 3" in diameter, and the other replacement chimneys are 2.5". The box held 3", 2.5", 2" and 1.5" chimneys, so clearly they came in gradations of half-an-inch.

after: all oil lamps back in working order due to shed find
A bit of plastic (or so I thought) fell out the box. How did that bit of modern rubbish get in there?, I wondered and was going to throw this out. Before doing so, I realised the clear material was not plastic but mica, and that the item was something to clip onto the funnel to either prevent sooting or reduce the fire risk. The mystery item is modelled by the brain lamp below - who knew? 

mica attachment for oil lamp chimney

The rather moving aspect is that the chimneys were wrapped in pages from an edition of the "Town and Country" magazine dated 9th August 1950. This is a whole lifetime ago: 69 years. So whoever packed the funnels so carefully is likely to be dead. Unpacking the box, and unwrapping those shades felt like a very sacred connection to the nameless packer. I am very grateful to that person, who recognised the value of these items and the fact that they might one day in the future be re-used. They were not wrong.


  1. A lifetime ago? Wait, am I dead? 1950 was actually 69 years ago, phew. The moulding looks a lot like picture rail.

  2. Thanks John for arithmetic correction - have updated blog accordingly. :-) 69 is pretty close to the biblical three score and ten, so if the person packed the box at age 30 then it is likely they are no longer with us. Yes, the molding is similar to picture rail. The picture rails at Balintore are actually metal bars, and these will probably clean up well.