August 1st 2020 is Lammas Day – and on this day, two hundred and fifty years ago, St Andrew’s Church in West Deeping was presented with the magnificent brass chandelier or candelabrum which hangs above the centre aisle of the nave.
With two tiers, each with twelve branches, the chandelier measures about 48 inches/ 122 cms across and 40 inches/ 101 cms in height.
It was commissioned in 1770, when farmer Robert White tenant to Charles Bertie of Uffington, donated £31 to Richard Figg for the benefit of the church, to show his gratitude for being allowed to leave crops standing in the fields for 24 days after Lammas. August 1st was the date of the festival of the First Fruits, when the grain harvest began. It was the start of the period during which villagers would normally have been allowed to graze their livestock in the fields once the crops were harvested.
(Read more about Robert White’s candelabrum and similar ones in the local area, the origins of Lammas, Charles Bertie, Robert White and Richard Figg.)
Despite restrictions on access to the church during the COVID-19 pandemic, the church is open for private prayer so you can still view the chandelier – but from a distance! You might wonder why it has what looks like a shower cap over the top and cardboard saucers on each of the candle holders – they are to protect the brass from bat droppings.
But once the church is fully in use again and the bats have gone into hibernation, it will look even more splendid than before the lockdown – due to several tins of Brasso, many hours of polishing and the efforts of Allan Crowson, former churchwarden for 36 years and resident in the village since 1972.
He writes: “It has been the practice in the past to polish the candelabrum before the Easter and Christmas celebrations. This has been particularly important after the summer months, when the resident bat population is very active!
With a view to celebrating the 250th year of our candelabrum this year, I decided to give it a thorough clean. I commenced the task at the end of February, intending to have it completed for Easter Sunday, 12th April. But with the Covid19 lockdown and closure of church buildings I was able to spend more time on it. To achieve this, I removed the branches in pairs and cleaned them at home and then finally took down the main structure and cleaned it on the church floor.
On close inspection I could see the extent of the corrosion and pitting, mostly on upward facing surfaces, particularly on the saucers under the candle holders. There was also a small amount of damage. Two of the branches had been broken off and repaired, (probably many generations ago), some of the saucers were slightly bent and there is a dent in the orb that bears the inscription relating to the gift.
Each branch, including the saucer and candle holder took at least one and a half hours to clean to a standard that I considered to be acceptable. I achieved this by immersing the saucers in vinegar, melting the candle wax with boiling water and vigorously rubbing the surfaces with washing-up sponges soaked with Brasso and then polishing with a soft cloth.
There are twelve upper branches and twelve lower branches. Each is stamped with a number from 1 to 12, near the inner end of the branch. The square end fits vertically into a square hole in the hub, which is stamped with the same number. Due to variations in size each one must be matched with its own number. It may be because some of the stamped numbers on the branches had been hidden by dirt that an alternative numbering system using filed notches was introduced. I suggest that this has caused some confusion when reassembling after cleaning sessions, as three of the branches had been filed to make them fit into different holes. By adding solder where brass had been removed, I have been able to return each to its original position. The stamped number was missing from one of the repaired branches, but by process of elimination I was able to return it to its original position. I also improved the edges of the saucers that were bent. The dent in the orb remains as evidence of its long history.
I completed it on 4th May. Hopefully, it will glow with lighted candles this Christmas.
Allan Crowson. 13.07.2020