Blaker Family of Sussex - Reminiscences


Flint and Steel.

TO the younger part of the present generation, now that Bryant and Mays' matches with their instantaneous combustion are so cheap and in such common use that a number are fre-quently used in lighting a pipe or cigar, it must seem difficult of belief that sixty years ago the lighting of a fire or candle was by no means an easy and sometimes a difficult and tedious matter, occasionally taking up a considerable time, varying from a few minutes to nearly or quite half an hour. In those days a light could only be obtained by means of the flint and steel and tinder. The tinder consisted of linen rag, which had been ignited and allowed to burn till it was of a dark brown colour, when the flame was extinguished. It was kept in a round metal box about four or five inches in diameter and an inch and a half in depth. This box was closed by a round piece of lead about a quarter of an inch thick, with a button on the top to lift it in and out. This fitted into the box and by its weight kept the tinder compressed. The flint was an ordinary flint, broken in such a way as to present one or more sharp edges. The steel, which consisted of very hard metal, was shaped almost exactly like the capital letter "U" and was perhaps three inches in length. It was held firmly in the left hand by the smaller limb, directly over the tinder, which had been previously arranged in the tinder-box in such a way as to present as many free edges as possible. The edge of the larger limb was then struck sharply in a downward direction with the flint, and generally, after a varying number of attempts, the tinder would become ignited and a smouldering line of fire gradually extending would appear. To this a match was applied and so a flame obtained. Matches for this purpose were made by gypsies and brought round by them to the various houses and sold at the door. They consisted of a very thin piece of deal, perhaps half an inch wide, and six inches long, cut into a diamond-shaped point at each end and coated with brimstone. The brimstone was melted in an iron spoon and into it the end of the match was dipped. It required considerable practice and skill to cause the spark to fall on the tinder and ignite it, and I recollect well, when quite a child, coming down early in the morning of a damp cold day with one of the servants and seeing her light the fire. Owing to the damp, I suppose, the tinder would not ignite, and it seemed for a long time as if, in spite of all her efforts, she would never succeed. In some large houses, where there were large fireplaces with iron backs and brand-irons (generally made in the Sussex iron-works), logs were burned and these at night were covered over with the wood ashes which allowed very slow combustion to go on, and so a fire was kept up continuously. It was a frequent custom to keep in the fender a pair of short tongs, for the purpose of taking up a small coal from the fire, and lighting a pipe or a match.

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