Message on a melting bottle
The connection between Victorian glass bottles and candles may not be obvious, but to the Askew brothers, it is a burning one.
They use the antique bottles to make moulds for the beeswax candle business they launched in late 2016.
The design idea came to George Askew, when he combined his hobby of candle-making with his interest in all things antique.
“I have always been drawn to Victorian bottles,” says Mr Askew. “Many have a beautiful shape, with attractive images and lettering. Finding a new use for an historical item also appealed to me – and they have the perfect proportions for candle-making.
He regularly trawls antique shops, including frequent trips to Barnard Castle, to source new and unusual examples.
“Our candles produce a beautiful golden flame and their light will illuminate the lettering. Because they are made entirely from beeswax it is a pure, clean burn, with none of the parabens released into the atmosphere like many alternative products. The average beeswax candle will burn for about 80 hours which is much longer than many other candles of equal size,” he adds.
He is proud to be linked to a business that encourages bee-keeping, and Askews Beeswax Candles uses up to 500 tonnes of wax each year, sourcing the material solely from within the UK. The current supplier is based in south-west England, where the climate means they are generally more productive.
“We are sometimes asked whether bees are made homeless, when their wax is harvested,” he says. “But in fact, large-scale bee-keepers move their bees frequently to access nectar. They also provide hives, so the wax that is produced is in excess of the bees’ requirements.
“Bees are one of the very few creatures that produce material for their homes from their own bodies and they also use the wax to make combs to store honey. The colour of the wax depends on the bees’ diet and the ambient temperature and so our candles are not uniform in colour, which we feel makes them more distinctive.”
The brothers developed their own bottle moulds to produce the candles.
“They are made of a kitchen grade silicone and it was a long process of trial and error, before we arrived at the correct technique,” says Mr Askew.
“The wax is heated using electric soup warmers, which keep it from exceeding the required temperature. A combination of 100 per cent organic cotton and paper is used for the wick which has to be of an exact specification to ensure that it is self-trimming.”
The brothers have clearly-defined roles within the business. All have full-time jobs and create the candles in their spare time in a former stable block in the family garden.
George, 28, has the most involvement, while supporting his income with employment as a carer for a local person who needs assistance with tasks like shopping and housework. Meanwhile, Joe, 31, and Tom, 34, have a separate business, also run from home, making and selling music amplifiers.
The brothers sell through social media and online, with candles being bought by customers from all over the world. They also attend events and craft fairs, as well as supplying a number of shops in the region.
The search for old bottles, however, continues.
“When it comes to finding bottles, we need examples which are little used, because repeated use tends to wear away the lettering around the centre. That is why poison bottles are so desirable, because hopefully they will have been standing on a shelf for most of their life.
“I have been making my own candles for many years and have always been attracted to bottles. It was only recently that my thoughts started to turn towards finding a way of making them more functional. I have been hunting for new bottles from the York area to make candle moulds, but so far without success; I would love to hear from any reader who owns one,” he says.
l More information can be found at askewscandles.co.uk