From documents held in the church archives comes information about the 1932 Candle Auction, as a then resident of Aldermaston, Admiral Parry, wrote an article which he sent to H J Westbrook for his research into the subject of Candle Auctions.
On 6th May 1933 the Warrington Guardian printed H J Westbrook’s article, that had within it, near verbatim, Admiral Parry’s description of the 1932 Aldermaston Candle Auction.
It all started with a letter from Warrington, Lancs to Aldermaston …
16 July 1932 – Letter from H.J. Westbrook to the Vicar of aldermaston
Candle Auction – 1932 Letter
16th July 1932
Revd & Dear Sir,
“Letting by Lighted Candle”
I understand that by an Ancient Custom in your Parish a field known as “Church Acre” is let every three years according to the following custom viz :- A Candle is lighted and a pin is inserted in the Candle. Biddings are then taken and the last bidder when the pin drops out is declared the Tenant.
Could you kindly tell me if this custom is still observed? When the last auction was held? What was the last bid?
I should be much obliged to you for any information and particularly which you may be so kind as to lend me.
I enclose a stamped addressed envelope for reply.
12 December 1932 – Admiral Parry’s Hand-written Article
Write-up on Candle Auctions c1932
The Candle Auction
“The ‘Candle Auction’ will be held on Monday December 12th at 7 p.m. in the Parish Hall.”
Such was the brief announcement in the Parish Magazine concerning a very old custom, which it is believed is only kept up in three places in England and in each case it is concerned with the letting of land.
In the case here referred to the following extract from the Official Report of Endowed Charities will explain the above announcement.
“Church Acre – By the Award of 1815, there was allotted to the Churchwardens of Aldermaston, in compensation for their lands, grounds and rights of common, a plot of land in Church Meadow containing 2a.1r.33p. No trusts were declared by the Award nor is it known what land was previously held by the Churchwardens, but presumably, the above title indicated that they had held land of about one acre. The land is let periodically by ‘Candle Auction’ for terms of three years. The net rent, after the cost of fencing is defrayed, is applied to Church purposes.”
On the 12th December therefore I was present at the Parish Hall to witness the proceedings.
At one end of the Hall was a small table in the centre of which in solitary grandeur was an enamelled candlestick containing THE Candle – I thought how much more appropriate an antique brass candlestick would have been. – Seated around the table, in a wide circle, was an assemblage of about a dozen, comprising the leading “citizens” of the village, and including the probable bidders. The Vicar was in the Chair officiating as “Auctioneer” and he explained that he had been at some pains to procure a “tallow” candle which he understood was essential for the proper conduct of the Auction; in fact it had entailed a special journey of 9 miles to the nearest Market town and a lengthy search before that ordinary but almost obsolete domestic article could be obtained.
The Lady from “The Court” solemnly inserted a large-headed scarf pin into the candle at a distance of 1 inch from the top, (I believe an antique gold tie or scarf pin is more correct but apparently this was not forthcoming!) The Vicar then read out the before mentioned Extract from the Report, lighted the candle and declared the Auction open, starting the bidding himself with 20/- per annum rent.
Leisurely the bids rose to 40/-, after which silence, since the candle had still a good quarter of an hour to burn before endangering the stability of the pin.
In order somewhat to enliven the proceedings detached discussions took place as to the shooting and fishing rights, these appeared to be negligible, although the plot is bounded on one side by a stream – tributary of a fairly well known trout stream.
One of the assembly remarked caustically that the plot reminded him of a famous property, which, if memory serves me aright, was described by its owner the late Dan Leno as having a stream at the bottom of the garden – at any rate in the summer – but in the winter the garden was at the bottom of the stream.
Meanwhile the flame was steadily approaching the pin and bidding was resumed, rising by steps of 5/-, and very cautiously, 75/- was reached just as the candle level reached the pin.
To what heights the bidding might have reached will never be known as, although the pin is expected to, and usually does wobble and give some indication of impending collapse, in this case during the momentary silence following the 75/- bid the pin literally ‘crashed’ suddenly into the basin of the candlestick thus bearing out the old saying “You could have heard a pin drop”, which saying is slated to have originated from these self same Candle Auctions.
Nothing remained but for the Vicar to declare the Auction over, enter the name and bid of the new tenant and then carefully to stow away the precious candle for future occasions, fearing no doubt that, with the present rapid advance of civilisation, in 3 years time the essential tallow candle might itself be a thing of the past and unobtainable.
Not a particularly exciting proceeding but distinctly interesting in view of its antiquity and present rarity.
6th May 1933 – Warrington Guardian