The Museum of Used Candles – Frisby-on-the-Wreake

This museum in England has been collecting the used candles of the rich and famous for 20 years. The proprietor, Anne Wickham, started the museum in 1994 after a Women’s Institute meeting where she found that all her fellow members found it difficult to throw away their used candles as they were like dear, old friends.

Anne decided to keep those candles and to turn them into a tableau, which she entitled “Growing Old” drawing parallels between the ageing of the WI members and the way the wax had melted and formed wrinkles on the surface of the candles.

The similarity between old candles and people of mature years seemed obvious and soon Anne was receiving used candles from Women’s Institutes around the country. The candles soon outgrew her husband’s garden shed and so the WI in Frisby-on-the-Wreake decided to open a museum in the community centre dedicated to used candles.

Aware of the cult of celebrity that was beginning to pervade popular culture, Anne wrote to famous women who might have used candles they no longer required. The thinking was that people would come to see candles donated by famous people for the opposite reason to visiting Madame Tussauds in London.

The Queen sent a candle that had been used once at Windsor Castle for a state reception for the President of Zambia. The candle contained teeth marks made by a naughty corgi that had sneaked into the banquet when no one was watching. Lady Diana, Princess of Wales, sent a candle that had been blown by the wind, but was eventually extinguished by her tears once she realised her marriage to Prince Charles was over.

Mother Teresa sent a candle with the word ‘Care’ carved into the side. A large white candle, with the top third sliced neatly off, was an anonymous donation, though the accompanying note “Bill, this is what will happen to you if you dip your wick in her again”, seems to indicate who the donor was.

Margaret Thatcher provided a number of candles. There was a candle depicting a broken cricket bat given to her by Geoffrey Howe, which she never used. The former PM also provided a display piece entitled ‘1979-1983-1987’ that comprised three large blue candles standing erect above three red candles that had almost completely melted away.

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