Voices in the Coalshed: Not Worth the Candle
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Voices in the Coalshed: Not Worth the Candle

Are YOU  “ Not worth the candle ?”

Have you heard the old saying “not worth the candle?”

It has come to mean that someone or something is not worth the necessary effort, cost, or trouble.

Might its origins be a reference to the plight of the trapper whose job was to sit for up to twelve hours-without even a candle- opening and shutting the wooden, ventilation door in coal mines.  He/She were clearly “not worth the candle!”

In the novel, “A Candle in the Dark” by Robert Swindells, Trapper Joe replies to Jimmy that he has, “No candle. Candles cost money.”


A Candle in the Dark” by Robert Swindells


Candles, as a source of light, have been used for over 5,000 years! Candles whether in the mines or miners’ cottages were once something taken for granted.

Miners bought candles by the bundle for use down the mine. They were often attached (with a lump of mud) to the front of the corve (tub/basket) as they loaded or moved the coal. We are told that underground it was “a darkness so palpable that it felt like solid matter. “(A Candle in the Dark)

In the illustration, miners’ children are seen using candles on the corves and, so that he could see to hew the coal, their father would fix a candle to nearby rocky ledges.  Sometimes they were fastened to the miner’s headwear- but this rarely worked when the miner was hammering into the rock face.

If you enjoy historical settings and mysterious events, delve into “A Candle in the Dark.” as it vividly describes underground life in Victorian Times. It’s a good summer read either before or after your children’s visit to the National Mining Museum, where you will find a reconstruction of Victorian working conditions in our Victorian Gallery.

Planning a school visit next year? We offer Victorian history days to support the primary curriculum. Learning – On Site Workshop – History Themed Day with Sam/Sally (ncm.org.uk)

This Voices in the Coalshed post was researched and written by volunteer Lesley. If you would like to join Voices in the Coal Shed, please get in touch with voicesinthecoalshed@gmail.com