Spar Ornament Manufacture in 19th Century England: A Lost Industry.

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Location: Leicestershiremap
Surnames/tags: occupations bauble_making Leicestershire
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So what was spar ornament manufacture, also known as bauble making (or sometimes petrifactioning)?

Basically, it was the manufacture of chiefly decorative (hence the use of the term bauble) but sometimes also useful objects for the mantlepiece, such as stanhope viewers, spill holders, boxes, vases and candlesticks from "spar" (another name for alabaster stone), which were either carved or turned and sometimes embellished. These were essentially holiday souvenirs, destined for the fashionable resort towns of the time. This was a very seasonal trade and finished stock had to be stockpiled for later transport, to meet seasonal demands.

It was a cottage industry, often done in the home or backyard workshops, involving the family. The head male would do the carving or turning of stone on a lathe, wives would do the gluing of pieces together, waxing and polishing, or painting of items made from plainer stone to make them more desirable and give them a better value. Sometimes older children would also assist. The baubles were then packed into crates and dispatched by rail to their seaside destinations. It was usual in the summer season for the proprietor of the business (or one of his trusted employees) to take a barrow of baubles to a seaside resort and sell them to visitors from a pitch on the promenade.

This was quite a niche English industry centred around small areas of Leicestershire and Derbyshire which was being done in Matlock Bath, Derbyshire in the late 1820's. [1] Spar ornament manufacture was first mentioned as an industry in the British Magazine and Monthly Register for 1836, on p.121. The earliest known reference to a bauble-maker in Leicestershire occurs in the Loughborough Directory of 1841, with Thomas Spink listed as one on Pleasant Row in the town. The Leicestershire industry however mainly centred around Whitwick, Swannington, Thringstone, Griffydam and Coleorton having possibly originally started at Pegg's Green (a hamlet of Thringstone). The stone for this industry came from Chellaston in Derbyshire (a distance of about 12 miles), where it had been quarried since medieval times.

One has to wonder why such an industry sprang up where it did. Maybe days out in Matlock Bath gave someone in Leicestershire the idea of what to do with locally quarried stone? Locally however, only Mount Saint Bernards Abbey were selling spar souvenirs to it's summer visitors, the rest of the wares mostly went outside of the county to fashionable resorts, and some outside of the country, even as far away as Niagra Falls.

As an industry, it was at it's peak during the second half of the nineteenth century but it's popularity was relatively short-lived, as competition from cheaper German imports was to be the death knell on the spar ornament making industry by the turn of the 20th century. In Kelly's Directory for 1900 only three "Spar Ornament Manufacturers" are listed. None are mentioned in the next edition of 1908. [2]

See also: Space:List_of_Spar_Manufacturers


Below is a list of reading and other interesting links on the subject:
  • A Lost Leicestershire Industry by J.A. Daniell (pdf) [2]
  • Lynne About Loughborough Blogspot - Sunday, 5th January 2014 [3]
  • A Bauble Maker, A Colour Maker and Me – A Cake Decorator, 10th May 2017 by Lindy Smith [4]
  • Blue Plaque at Bauble Yard - Main Street - Thringstone, Leicestershire [5]
  • London Labour and the London Poor Vol 1, containing an account of London barrowmen selling spar ornaments. [6]
  1. Glover's Directory of Derbyshire (taken in 1827-9), page 85 [1]

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