Snuffers and Link-boys

Have you ever spotted these conical features around London? You could easily dismiss them as pure decoration but they’re actually a clue to a lost piece of London’s history.

Snuffers and Link-boys

Look closely and you’ll be able to spot a horn-like metal object, protruding from the railings.

Here’s a close-up…

Snuffers and Link-boys

It’s one of London’s many ‘snuffers’, dotted around wealthy parts of 18th Century London (I found this one in Cavendish Square).

What’s a Snuffer?

Well, to answer that question, you need to know about Link-boys. Cast your imagination back to the days before London had street lights…

Snuffers and Link-boys

Link-boys would be hired for a small fee to walk in front of you holding a flaming torch, usually ahead of your sedan chair*, to light your way on London’s dark (and often dangerous) streets.

*a private cushioned box held up by poles and hefty men which was the favourite mode of transport for those that could afford it.

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There are references to Link-boys as far back as Shakespeare;

 

Thou hast saved me a thousand marks in links and torches, walking with thee in the night betwixt tavern and tavern. – Falstaff in Henry IV, part I, Act III, Scene 3

 

Also Samuel Pepys often mentions using them in his diary and they pop up in Charles Dickens novels too.

Snuffers and Link-Boys

Above is a rather romantic view of Cupid as a link-boy by Joshua Reynolds, painted 1773. In contrast to this, from contemporary reports, lots of the link-boys seem to have been run by criminal gangs who would lead clients into dark corners where waiting cronies would rob them. Not quite as angelic then!

Assuming you eventually got to your destination safely, link-boys or your companions wielding flaming torches could easily snuff out their lights at your doorstop snuffers. This was handy if they didn’t want to waste their wax or tallow on their way home.

So keep an eye out for snuffers on Georgian Townhouses, usually found in Mayfair and Bloomsbury.

More London Inspiration

5 Comments

  • Kelly Maguire

    Reply

    But why would they snuff out their lights? Wouldn’t they go on looking for another person to escort home by the light of their torches?

    February 16, 2017 at 6:20 am
  • Andy Rogers

    Reply

    Or maybe they put them out to save their ‘torch’ burning out ??

    May 14, 2017 at 8:34 am
  • Barry Severn

    Reply

    “There were oysters at the top, sausages at the bottom, a pair of snuffers in the centre, and baked potatoes wherever it was most convenient to put them.”

    Excerpt From: Dickens, Charles. “Nicholas Nickleby.” iBooks.
    This material may be protected by copyright.

    Chapter 30. This impies to me that snuffers are a type of food. Anybody know?

    February 14, 2020 at 4:00 am

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