Tissington candlemakers On a Wick and a Prayer
PUBLISHED: 09:59 06 December 2019 | UPDATED: 09:59 06 December 2019
Catherine Roth visits the Tissington candle making company as they prepare for Christmas
Annie Maudling, founder of 'On a Wick and a Prayer', literally began her candle making business at home on the kitchen table. When her candles, however, began spilling out into the dining room she realised she needed to find a larger space to pursue her business. Twenty-two years later Annie now has candle making workshops in Tissington and Ilam where she and her team of nine produce over 20 different shapes and sizes of candles, scented with 40 different fragrances.
Candle production takes place all year round but it's the Christmas season that is by far the busiest. Around three-quarters of the year's candles are purchased from the beginning of October to December yet Christmas finds its way into Annie's shop in Tissington from the beginning of August. This, she explains, is less to do with selling festive stock in the summer, but more about giving people the opportunity to experience the scents. Annie says, 'Even if people aren't buying that day but ordering online, they need to sniff our candles and experience the wonderful bursts of fragrance - I always say Bill Gates has let me down by not coming up with scratch and sniff on computers yet!' she laughs.
Look beyond the shop counter and visitors can see the workshop where the candles are made. It is here that the wax is melted before the required amount of dye is added. The fragrance is only added at the last minute, just before the molten wax is poured into moulds. Annie says, 'Put the fragrance in too soon and you get a very faint smell. By making the candles the way we do, they smell the same from top to bottom.'
Prior to pouring wax into the moulds, the wicks are placed. This, Annie explains, is the most important part of the candle making process. 'For a thin candle you need a thin wick with fewer threads, and the more threads you use, the wider the candle can be made. The type of wick can also change depending on the colour and fragrance.'
Annie has always loved candles but it wasn't until a holiday to Ireland in 1997 with her husband Ed and their two young children that she was inspired to make her own. She says, 'We stayed 500 yards from a candle shop, which was actually a house that had been turned into a candle making workshop so the owner ended up building another house to live in! I've always had an obsession with candles. For me a candle is about the softness and warmth it gives to the home - my kids would have candlelit breakfasts and there would be candles in the evening and at bath time.'
Arriving back home Annie found her daughter's candle making kit and began to teach herself. She was soon buying supplies in bulk whilst researching the market to discover the secret to perfectly scented candles that burned well. Annie says, 'At the time I was just experimenting in my kitchen with wax and moulds. Everything is self-taught, it's all trial and error. I'm a bit stubborn and I always say that if it doesn't work the first time, I will make it work! I'd give my candles away to friends and relatives and ask them if they liked the smell and how they burned. I wanted to develop good quality candles without being outrageously expensive.' And so it was that On a Wick and a Prayer was born. Her first sales were at a school Christmas fair, which was such a success that in the new year she hung a 'Candle Workshop' sign in her garden and it wasn't long before her first customers began to arrive.
By now Annie had outgrown her kitchen and, as her business continued to expand, she sought larger premises until she ended up with a large workshop, which she still occupies, in the old forge adjacent to her garden. She also acquired premises in Ilam where up to an additional 1,000 candles can be made each day. As well as candles, On a Wick and a Prayer also produces wax bars for oil burners, reed diffusers that became a bestselling item for the National Trust, as well as decorating and firing a range of functional ceramics including lamps, mugs, candlesticks and soap dispensers produced as Dovedale Ceramics, which references where Annie's kilns are. Annie also makes hurricane lanterns, which she supplies to the Royal Horticultural Society's shops, amongst others. These lanterns use a specialist blend of wax to produce a translucent look before being hand-decorated with fabric. Placing a tea light in the wax shell illuminates the lantern giving the illusion of a candle.
This year Annie has launched an exciting new festive fragrance, pouring the scents of Frankincense and Myrrh into candles that bring back fond memories of her childhood. She says, 'We were churchgoers - my father later became a vicar when he was 60 - and I remember the smells and bells, the myrrh and incense from my childhood. At the beginning of this year I got the fragrance just right. It's really rich and Christmassy!' Another festive favourite is Christmas Spice - also called Hot Toddy. Customers liked the candle so much they wanted to burn it all year round! Annie says, 'It's mulled wine but warmer and softer with apples, oranges, lemons and spice and comes in the two traditional Christmas colours of ivory and red.'
Her Nordic Spruce candle was inspired by holidays to Norway. Annie and Ed first visited the country to celebrate their 25th wedding anniversary and fell in love with the wildness of the place with its stunning mountain landscapes. Annie says, 'We spent four weeks travelling up through Sweden to Norway and it was magical. I like the idea of having daylight all day long. We used the work van as our home and cooked out of the back of the awning. It was an adventure as well as a holiday for us.' She adds, 'However, at the northern tip of Norway in wintertime you only get an hour's light. People there get through such a lot of candles but they're not bothered about the scent as it's the light they want.' However, for Annie, it was the scent she was looking for. On average, it usually takes her around six months to perfect a new fragrance but creating the scent for her Nordic Spruce candle took six years until it was just right.
Back in Tissington, Annie runs workshops for those wanting to make their own candles and has also created the Eazi Candle Kit so people can have a go at home. Annie wanted to create a kit that didn't require a lot of additional equipment. The challenge though was how to do it. Then Ed had a eureka moment when he saw Annie putting a bottle of milk in the fridge. Annie says, 'People buy a fully recyclable plastic bottle from us that is filled with wax, as well as selecting their dyes, fragrances, wicks and containers. They then stand the bottle in simmering water for 25 minutes until the wax has melted.'
When Annie isn't running her business she's more than likely to be found mucking out her 150 rare breed chickens or taking them to shows. Annie says, 'It's really great to have been able to start a business from home and develop it in such a beautiful village.' It perhaps comes as no surprise therefore that Annie is currently working on a Peak District candle. She says, 'This will be a layered candle with green, grey, the purple of heather, and the blue of water and sky. It will probably be unscented because to me the Peak District is very much about the light.'
The Candle Making Workshop closes for two weeks at Christmas. Annie says, 'The burners are put to sleep and we don't talk about work. It's very much family time and I'll have a few favourite candles I burn and some chill out time.'
Despite the success of On a Wick and a Prayer, Annie insists she's not out to conquer the world with her candles. 'As long as I keep a roof over our heads, am happy and healthy and have a lovely team working around me, that's what matters!' she smiles.