Turnip Power – or how to save money with a vegetable!

Yes, a tiny diversion from my current theme of important albeit largely forgotten women but I’m sure you’ll agree, in our age of environmental concerns this topic is also of relevance today.

Nostell Priory near Wakefield. National Trust

There is a cheap bio-fuel which burns brightly, doesn’t smell and doesn’t cost the earth.  The name of this magical elixir?  Colza Oil.

Never heard of it?

Neither had I until I visited National Trust owned Nostell Priory near Wakefield, a splendid pile built by the Winn family who, like all aristocracy , were so concerned with penny preservation  that they installed the latest technology in 1819 in their salons – lamps blazing from oil extracted from locally grown turnip seed, similar, I guess, to rapeseed oil.

Turnip-oil lamps were invented by Frenchman Aimé Argand in the 1790s and, for a short while, powered French lighthouses as well as, also briefly, American lighthouses (from the 1850s). Unhappily, the oil is so viscous (making it difficult to rise up a wick) and too difficult for the Americans to source (presumably they didn’t go in much for turnips) that they stopped using it.

Nostell Priory has several beautiful examples of colza oil lamps including ceiling candelabra.

The vogue was not to last in the UK either.  Patented in 1850, paraffin was far cheaper and less viscous so quickly supplanted colza oil to become a popular lamp fuel for less affluent households.

When our gas runs out through government mismanagement, global politics and environmental catastrophe, you now know what to do.

Grow turnips.

the humble turnip

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