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Edinburgh's Newest Candlemakers: How It's Made

6th Jun 2024
Edinburgh's Newest Candlemakers: How It's Made

How are fish, candles and recycling connected? It might seem unlikely, but they all relate to Edinburgh’s underground vaults. 


Edinburgh's Underground

In the dark of Edinburgh’s Blair Street Underground Vaults, there were no windows to throw open. Most rooms didn’t have fireplaces. It was the 1800s, so how did those working in workshops see? 

The answer: fish oil. Burning fish oil. 

A photo from National Museums Scotland of seven iron crusie lamps.

© National Museums Scotland, ref: H.MGE 62.2

A crusie oil lamp was a common light source in the 18th and 19th centuries. And yes, they smelled as you'd expect. Nothing quite like being stuck in a small space with a lamp that smells like an old fishery, right?


How are the vaults lit now? 

Fortunately, you can now visit the vaults without coming out smelling like low tide. 

Nowadays, we light them with candles. You can experience the Blair Street Underground Vaults like you would have in the 18th century. But it comes without the unpleasant smell. 

A tall room in the Blair Street Underground Vaults, lit by lots of candles.

These pillar candles do come with the inevitability of waste, though. Wax stubs are always left behind once the wick has burned down. So, how can we, as a company, limit this waste?


Reduce, Reuse, Recycle 

Mercat Green Team member, Johnny, explains how we turn this extra wax into something new. 

In the past, 'the wax was collected and sent off to a company who melted it down to create new candles.’  

But, he explains, this process was costly. Now, there is a new system: doing it ourselves! 

Candle stumps are collected and melted down in a vat before being poured into moulds. The result? Mercat’s own upcycled candles.

Two candles shaped like skulls and a pillar candle labelled ‘Recycled Vaults Candle’ sit on a ledge in the Edinburgh underground vaults, being lit by another candle.

It took some trial and error, but eventually Mercat became its own production centre. 

‘It saves money for us, and it gives the customer a chance to take some of the vaults back with them. It’s a little souvenir from the haunted vaults.’


We’re dedicated to protecting the environment and promoting ethical ways to explore Edinburgh. When you book a tour with us, you’re supporting these initiatives. Read more about our green promises here

Visit us at 28 Blair Street, EH1 1QR to buy a candle for yourself (or a loved one) and book a tour while you’re at it!  

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