If you have ever been inside an ancient medieval or Tudor house the chances are that you may have noticed deep scorch or burn marks on parts of the building, most obviously on the beam above a fireplace. Known today as ‘taper burn marks’, these scorches were for a long time believed to be the result of accidents with unguarded candles, or simply the work of children playing with fire. However, in recent decades it has been suggested that such marks were very deliberately made, and actually had a ritual function.
Recent studies have shown that these markings turn up all over the timbers of many early houses, and often in places where there is little chance of a candle having been left alone - or even able to get to. These include roof timbers, wall plates and hidden beneath the floor. Experiments have also shown that, to create the very distinctive tear-drop shaped mark, a taper or candle has to be applied to the timbers at a very specific angle. The markings are also to be found in churches as well, most often on the inside of the main door.
The current thinking is that many, if not all, of these marks were applied to the timbers during the period of construction, and some before the timbers were even put in place. The idea behind their creation, it is believed, was to guard the building against lightning - and more specifically fire. It can, in some respects, be thought of as inoculating the building - literally ‘fighting fire with fire’.