These days it is run by Jane Hammond and Sandra Hewitt who are partners in the business with the founders, Jennie and Mick White. (L-R: Mick and Jennie White, Jane Hammond and Sandra Hewitt)
“I can’t believe that a pair of dozy hippies have run a small business for so long, ” laughed Jennie. For she and her husband were hippies who dropped out of university and went in search of an alternative lifestyle.
They started candle-making in a cellar in their home in Pudsey in 1971. It began when they were offered quarter of a ton of paraffin wax “at a good price”. They had never made candles or run a business before.
At lot depended upon Mick having a scientific background and being an inventor. “He’s amazing. He invents and makes things, anything from scrap,” said Jennie.
And Jane and Sandra have found him just as helpful. They described him as brilliant and said he had saved the company a lot of money thanks to his ability to create the equipment required.
“Mick will always come if we ask him to help with something,” Jane added. Jane, who lives in Wensley, began working at White Rose Candles in 2008 and it was Mick who taught her how to make candles.
But much has changed since the days when Jennie could happily create candles using dried flowers and essential oils.
Jane explained: “Years ago you could just blend your own oils together and Jennie made some marvellous scented candles with essential oils but we are not allowed to do that anymore without getting special labels done and sending data sheets off, and somebody else has got to produce the information for us to put on the label, which you then send to the printer. So it’s a very expensive way of doing things now.
“You are constantly keeping up with the different rules and regulations to make sure any ideas you have are okay.”
Now they use fragrance oils instead and have to ensure their labels list every ingredient. They also had to stop making candles that looked like cupcakes because, according to Trading Standards, they looked too much like food and a piece might be bitten off and choke a child.
There is still plenty of creativity, however. “Sandra is incredibly creative. We tend to have our own areas of expertise and we work really well together,” Jane said.
One of Sandra’s specialities is painting Dales’ scenes on candles which she began several years ago to mark Yorkshire Day.
The last few years have been tough. First the business was flooded in 2019 and they lost about 80 per cent of their stock. Then there was the lockdown due to Covid-19 last year.
The pandemic also put a stop for a while to their regular orders from churches and two cathedrals for advent and Christmas candles.
Another major problem was that Jane and Sandra could not work so physically close to each other, and once they could open the doors to customers they had to ensure there were never too many inside the shop at once. This means both have to be on duty on the four days the shop is open (Wednesday to Saturdays each week) as monitoring the situation and selling would be too much for one person.
And that came after surviving lockdown. They are very grateful to Jane’s daughter, Emily, who built a website for them at a reasonable price so that they could advertise their candles throughout the country. “It was a godsend. We did really well with that during lockdown,” said Jane.
Sandra, who lives in Leyburn, added: “It was surprising. We didn’t really advertise it. We had it on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. We tried to keep up with that sort of thing. That’s how people find you now.”
Very different to the way that Jennie and Mick advertised their candles in magazines and at country shows. Sandra commented that they wouldn’t have time now to go to country shows and Jane added that they couldn’t afford the cost of renting a stand or the insurance these days what with all the regulations about risk assessment.
They still make candles and sell them at the watermill in Wensley leased to the business by the Bolton Estate.
The Whites were invited to look at the mill around 1978 when they were searching for premises in a rural area.
Jennie said: “It was very, very derelict. Two trees were growing out of it, the floor boards had rotted, and there was no gas, water or electricity, or windows. We were given three years rent free to repair it. But it was an enormous step of faith. We came in February and Wensley was carpeted in snowdrops.
“We could never have run the business if the Bolton Estate had been greedy. They have charged modest rents and just let us get on with it. In many ways we owe a lot to the Bolton Estate.”
For Sandra and Jane it has become a way of life. Jane described how she can get an idea of a new product at bedtime, make a note on her iPad, send it to Sandra next morning, and they would be working on it before they got together at the mill.
Jane said: “I like being able to see something from the very beginning to the very end rather than being just part of [a production line]. Sometimes you see it right from the original concept through to it going on the shelf and somebody buying something that you thought of – it’s really satisfying.”