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.
Look closely and you’ll be able to spot a horn-like metal object, protruding from the railings.
Here’s a close-up…
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…
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.
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.
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.
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?
This has puzzled me too Kelly! I think probably the snuffers are for putting out the households own link lights (used by their own servants) most of the time.
Or maybe they put them out to save their ‘torch’ burning out ??
Yep, that seems very plausible Andy!
“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.
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Chapter 30. This impies to me that snuffers are a type of food. Anybody know?
Mrs Terri A Caylor
I just love these posts, I look forward to receiving them always. So interesting, I learn something new every week. Thank you so much
Ah thank you Terri! So pleased to hear that 🙂
I realize I’m late to comment on this but just came across it. The snuffers found outside grand houses were not for the use of Link-Boys they were for extinguishing the ‘flambeaux’ carried by footmen who would run ahead of private Sedan chairs to light the way.