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On a Wick & a Prayer

On a Wick & a Prayer

As places go‭, ‬Tissington is a picture-perfect crowd-pleaser‭. ‬From the minute you pass the towering lodge gates and meander along the lime tree lined avenue‭, ‬there’s a sense you have discovered a magical village that time forgot‭. ‬

Tissington’s popularity‭ (‬as many as 35,000‭ ‬visitors during well dressing week‭) ‬explains why a village with around 120‭ ‬inhabitants has a butcher‭, ‬some bakers‭ (‬producing cracking cakes for Tissington Hall’s tearooms‭) ‬and a nationally renowned candle-maker‭.  ‬Follow your nose to the former village forge and Annie Maudling‭, ‬founder of‭ ‬On a Wick and Prayer‭, ‬offers the warmest of Tissington welcomes‭. ‬In my case‭ – ‬a hug‭, ‬a mug of coffee and the chance to warm cold hands over a pot of melted wax on the brazier‭. ‬

This enthusiastic greeting is far more than I deserve because‭ ‬‮–‬‭ ‬after promising to stay in touch‭ ‬‮–‬‭ ‬it’s been 20-years since I last visited On a Wick and a Prayer‭. ‬Back then‭, ‬Annie had just moved her candle-making from the kitchen‭ ‬stove at Yew Tree cottage‭ (‬every inch as gorgeous as it sounds‭) ‬to a converted pigsty in the garden‭.‬

“I’ve been very busy‭,‬”‭ ‬she laughs when I ask for a‭ ‬‘quick’‭ ‬catch-up‭. ‬“It’s 22‭ ‬years since I started making candles with my daughter’s unwanted kit and a grotty pan which I could never use again as it made the gravy taste of lavender‭.‬”

There has been a craze for candles which evoke a favourite smell as opposed to a parfumier’s scent.

I wonder what happened to the pigsty‭. ‬“We needed more space so‭, ‬with the blessing of my landlord Sir Richard FitzHerbert‭, ‬we moved into the old blacksmith’s forge next-door to the cottage‭,‬”‭ ‬Annie says‭. ‬“We hand-pour around a thousand candles per day‭ ‬‮–‬‭ ‬sometimes more‭ – ‬and I have ten part-time members of staff‭. ‬My husband Ed even‭ ‬asked to join the team as he said it‭ ‬‘looked like fun’‭. ‬It works well‭, ‬as long as he does what he’s told‭.‬”

Annie says the turning point for her company came about after a chance meeting at a trade show‭.‬

“Someone came to our stall and explained the National Trust shops were looking to stock more local products and asked if I would‭ ‬be interested‭,‬”‭ ‬Annie‭ (‬54‭), ‬recalls‭. ‬“It was a case of‭ ‬‘Er‭, ‬give me half a second to think about it’‭ ‬before saying yes‭. ‬It proved a massive leap forward‭. ‬Before I knew it‭, ‬we were supplying candles to 60‭ ‬shops throughout the country‭.‬”‭ ‬In 2005‭, ‬with orders coming in thick and fast‭, ‬Annie took on another unit in nearby Ashbourne‭. ‬Within a matter of two years‭ ‬‮–‬‭ ‬they’d outgrown it‭. ‬“I have a friend whose husband worked from a base in Dovedale‭. ‬He was moving to larger premises and she asked if I’d be interested in his unit‭,‬”‭ ‬Annie says‭.‬

“It was perfect‭ ‬‮–‬‭ ‬offering four times the space‭. ‬I’d finally found a place big enough to make custom candles for other businesses‭ (‬including some top London hotels‭), ‬store the packaging and do the product photography‭. ‬It also allowed me to achieve a life-long dream of buying a kiln and making a range of pottery called Dovedale Ceramics‭.‬”‭ ‬

As Annie and I chat‭, ‬there is a steady stream of people visiting the small but perfectly fragranced shop which is on the side of‭ ‬her workshop‭. ‬Even though most visitors are there by chance‭ – ‬hikers‭, ‬cyclists‭, ‬tourists‭ ‬‮–‬‭ ‬they all leave with a candle‭, ‬or two‭.‬

“The workshop is really popular‭. ‬We often have people who come in‭ ‬‮–‬‭ ‬smell a few candles‭ ‬‮–‬‭ ‬and because they are out walking or cycling say they’ll come again with the car and fill their boot‭. ‬I’m pleased to say most do‭,‬”‭ ‬she says‭. ‬“We did a survey recently and asked our customers‭ ‬‘why us‭?‬’‭ ‬I was expecting a variety of answers but 95‭ ‬per cent said they loved our fragrances‭. ‬I remember when I first started I was so desperate to please I’d find myself obliging all requests to make anything from Parma violet to roasted mushroom scented candles‭. ‬Then I learned to have faith in my own fragrances as each one can take weeks‭ ‬‮–‬‭ ‬even years‭ ‬‮–‬‭ ‬to perfect‭.‬”

Annie agrees there has been a craze for candles which evoke a favourite smell as opposed to a parfumier’s scent‭. ‬Annie’s own collection includes Starched Linen‭, ‬Vine Tomato and the best-selling Hot Toddy‭.‬

“I try to avoid trends and‭, ‬even when I’m developing something new‭, ‬I ask if it fits in with our story‭,‬”‭ ‬she says‭. ‬“For instance‭, ‬I’ve fallen in love with Norway and spent six years perfecting a blend which brought to mind the smell of a‭ ‬‘Nordic Forest’‭ ‬as opposed to a toilet cleaner‭.‬”

Annie is unperturbed if people don’t like the scent‭ (‬known in the trade as the throw‭) ‬of a certain candle‭. ‬

“Two girls came in the other day and one loved a candle but the other said‭ ‬‘Ew‭ ‬‮–‬‭ ‬no’‭,‬”‭ ‬she laughs‭. ‬“We’ve all got a very different sense of smell‭. ‬I test my fragrances on the ten members of staff and we’re all experienced enough to know when something is right‭. ‬The rest is down the to personal taste‭.‬”

One trend Annie is happy to embrace is that of recycling‭; ‬“We tried launching a refillable eco candle‭ ‬‮–‬‭ ‬made from the bottom of wine bottles‭ – ‬15‭ ‬years ago‭.  ‬It was just too far ahead of‭ ‬its time‭,‬”‭ ‬she recalls‭. ‬

“I know a lot of my customers have cupboards full of spent candle containers they’d like to reuse‭. ‬We do offer a popular refill service but I wanted to help those who’d prefer to make their own candles‭.‬”

Annie wrestled with the idea of how to make candle-making accessible to all‭; ‬doing away with the need for moulds‭, ‬thermometer and jugs‭.  ‬As usual‭, ‬divine inspiration struck‭. ‬“One night I went out to buy a pint of milk‭. ‬The next morning‭, ‬I woke up and had a light bulb moment‭ ‬‮–‬‭ ‬put the wax in the bottle‭.‬‭ ‬Milk bottles are one of the most re-cyclable of all plastics‭, ‬they can withstand heat and it’s a ready-made pourer for melted wax‭,‬”‭ ‬she explains‭.‬

“We previewed the idea at a craft show last November and it was really well received‭. ‬We had lots of questions and our response was‭ ‬‘It’s easy’‭. ‬That’s how Eazi Candle was born‭. ‬We went to more craft shows and the response was amazing and I was invited to talk about making candles on Create and Craft TV‭.‬”

Since that initial screen debut‭, ‬Annie has been asked back many times and even has two TV personas‭ ‬‮–‬‭ ‬‘Annie Candle’‭ ‬and‭ ‬‘Mrs Eazi’‭. ‬

“Appearing on TV doesn’t faze me at all as candles are my passion and I don’t have to think about what to say‭,‬”‭ ‬she says‭. ‬“In fact‭, ‬at trade shows my staff sometimes tell me to tone down the passion and just point to the candles and say‭ ‬‘How many do you want‭?‬’‭.‬”

To prove they really are idiot-proof‭; ‬Annie sends me off with everything I need to refill one of my own empty candle containers‭ ‬‭(‬I also have a cupboard full‭) ‬and even provides a scent blend to emulate the smell of the former candle‭; ‬namely‭ ‬‘Frosty Morning’‭. ‬

“There’s nothing I enjoy more than bringing a candle back to life‭,‬”‭ ‬Annie smiles‭. ‬“A couple of Christmases ago a friend asked for help with a‭ ‬£300‭ ‬designer candle given to her by her son as it had‭ ‬‘stopped working’‭. ‬She’d lost the wick in a tunnel of wax‭. ‬I scooped it out‭, ‬filtered the impurities out‭, ‬added some new wicks and‭, ‬two years on‭, ‬it’s still going‭.‬”

As for the future‭, ‬Annie has promised to work on creating a better work-life balance after having a dramatic wake-up call‭. ‬

“October to December is always a busy time for candle-makers‭. ‬About six years ago‭, ‬we’d had an especially crazy run-up to Christmas before dashing off to stay with some friends in Leicestershire for New Year‭,‬”‭ ‬Annie says‭. ‬“We decided to catch-up with other friends but‭, ‬on the way over‭, ‬we had a car accident on a bend which nearly killed us‭. ‬Ed cracked eleven ribs and punctured his lung and we had to close the workshop‭. ‬I think the universe was telling us both to slow down‭. ‬These days we run the business rather than let the business run us‭.‬”

Since then‭, ‬the couple stop work at 5.30pm and‭, ‬every year‭, ‬they cram Ed’s fishing gear into their trusty Belingo-turned-camper-van and head off to Norway for a few weeks‭.‬

“Once there‭, ‬we switch off completely‭.  ‬We go to bed when we’re tired and eat when we’re hungry‭. ‬It’s a much simpler way of life‭,‬”‭ ‬Annie smiles‭. ‬“Running my own business is not easy at times‭, ‬particularly when I walk out of my own home and it’s there on the door-step‭. ‬Travelling all the way to the remote parts of Norway is the easiest way to get a proper break‭. ‬It’s the one place on earth where I can forget about everything‭ ‬‮–‬‭ ‬it’s bliss‭.‬”

Visit on a Wick and a Prayer at‭            ‬The Candle Workshop‭, ‬The Avenue‭, ‬Tissington DE6‭ ‬1RA or visit the on-line shop onawick‭.‬co.uk


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