Last weekend I was involved in organising an event to celebrate the 40th birthday of the Somerset Vernacular Building Research Group (SVBRG). The main picture is of the wonderful birthday cake. It was based on a manor farmhouse in South Cadbury, Somerset.

The SVBRG was started in November 1979. It has produced over 750 house surveys and published 14 village surveys. It is operated by volunteers and has created an important legacy of research work.

The birthday event involved talks that included: vernacular buildings in Wiltshire, the tantalising question of the purpose of taper burn marks, the declining cost of light, a history of the SVBRG and paintings in Somerset vernacular houses.

The event made me think about how precious light was in the vernacular houses before electricity. Just to heat and light an early home required a significant amount of effort on behalf of the occupiers. In the medieval and early-modern vernacular houses, wood needed to be chopped and seasoned, and candles & tapers needed to be prepared from tallow. Beeswax candles were expensive. Darkness was something our ancestors were used to and candles were used sparingly.

The taper burn marks was an interesting subject. They tend to occur at shoulder height – whether standing or kneeling (obviously this will vary slightly as people are different heights). It also required 15 minutes of burning at a particular angle to get the burn mark depth. It is suggested they may have been a blessing on the home.

I look forward to the 50th birthday!