Sunday, 5 January 2014


Baubles, bawbles or spar ornaments!

Hopefully, by the time you read this all your festive food and drink will have been devoured, your Christmas presents used, worn and read! But more importantly you will have taken down your Christmas tree and your Christmas cards, and packed away your Christmas decorations.

Talking of Christmas decorations … When I was researching for last week’s blog post (which was going to be a "Who was ..." but mysteriously morphed into something else), I chanced upon a very interesting article that appeared in the Leicestershire Archaeological and Historical Society’s Transactions of 1962-3. It was on the subject of “bawbles” [sic.], specifically, baubles that were made in Leicestershire, and referred to as spar ornaments. Here's a summary of the article, with a few extra additions from my own research.

Spar ornaments were made from alabaster (whether that was the gypsum type or the calcite type I’m not sure, but presumably the latter, as the gypsum type would be too soft?) Apparently, this alabaster was supplied from Chellaston in Derbyshire, and delivered particularly to the Whitwick / Swannington / Thringstone / Coleorton area of what is now North West Leicestershire. The alabaster would be made into an ornament by a local man, ornaments like candlesticks, watch stands, pots, bowls, grottos and ink wells. These ornaments were popular as souvenirs in coastal towns and seaside resorts, so the makers from Leicestershire would often travel to the coast to sell their wares. Other ornaments were sold to the local monastery as mementos, whilst still others were sent abroad, particularly to the US where they were very popular.

The heyday of the local spar manufacturing industry seems to have been around 1836-1900; the industry in the UK struggled around the turn of the century, as imports, particularly from Germany, became available more cheaply than ornaments could be produced in this country.

Those people active in the business in North West Leicestershire and Nottinghamshire included:

  • Joseph Ashton – active around 1870 – 1900 – Whitwick
  • James Peters and James Peters jnr. – active around 1846 - 1909 – Whitwick
  • George Peters (son of James and brother of James jnr.) - active around 1871 - 1891 - Griffydam 
  • John Tugby – active around 1846-1863 – Whitwick
  • Leonard Palmer – active around 1861 - 1900 – appears on the 1861, 1871, 1881 and 1891 censuses as a spar manufacturer in Griffydam
  • John Goodacre – active around 1890-1900 – Zouch
  • Charles Platts - active around 1861 - 1900 - appears on the 1861, 1871 and 1881 census as firstly a plasterer, then as a spar manufacturer, and on the 1901 census as a retired bauble maker, Griffydam 
  • Oliver Farnsworth - active around 1881 - appears on the 1881 census as a spar manufacturer, Griffydam

You may be wondering what this has to do with Loughborough. Well …  although the Whitwick area was the main focus for such work, there were also a few spar ornament manufacturers in Loughborough itself. They included:

  • Thomas Spinks who was active around 1841-1846 and is listed in the 1841 Pigot’s Directory as a “spar ornament manufacturer” based on Pleasant Row.
  • Thomas Brook was active around 1849, being listed in the Post Office Directory of 1849 as working on Woodgate.
  • John Cunningham was first mentioned in the Post Office Directory of 1849 as a “spar manufacturer” based in Mill Street. In White’s Directory of 1863 he is listed as a “spar ornament manufacturer” working in Churchgate. In White’s Directory of 1877 John Cunningham is working at 7 Warner’s Lane, Churchgate, and is listed as a “spa ornament maker”.
  • Henry Moore appears on the 1851 census as a “maker of plaster ornaments” and is lodging, with his wife, in Wheatsheaf Yard, presumably the yard of the Wheatsheaf pub on Ward’s End, now the Orange Tree.
  • William Polkey is listed on the 1851 census as living on Fennell Street and being a “spar turner’s apprentice”.
A suggestion of another spar ornament maker who was either born in Loughborough and had moved away, or who was working in Loughborough has yet to be verified, but he is:

  • William Ford of Loughborough, spar ornament maker, listed on the 1841 census (although I have not been able to find the entry).

Other areas of the country were also involved in the manufacture of spar ornaments, but these are more often focused on material other than alabaster, so for example, Blue John is often called Derbyshire Spar, but it’s a semi-precious mineral, a form of fluorite has bands of blue, purple and yellow in it, and numerous products - ornaments and jewellery, for example - have been made from it. Much of the fashioning of Derbyshire Spar took place in areas like Matlock.

So, the British industry of spar making in Leicestershire ceased to be profitable at the beginning of the twentieth century and the craft thus died out.


  1. The interesting thing for me is that the Blue John baubles were made by a John Platt for a period of time near Chatsworth ......maybe Charles Platts of Griffydam was a relative?

    1. Hi Artypie! There may well be a connection between John and Charles, although I haven't been able to track anything down - there are simply too many John Platts to check through!! Thanks for reading the blog. Lynne

  2. My great great grandfather was James Peters. Very interesting article as I am researching my family tree.

  3. Hi Shani! How lovely to hear that one of the spar ornament makers was your great great grandfather! Have you contacted Whitwick Historical Society - ? Good luck with your family tree and thanks for reading the blog. Lynne


If you have found this post interesting or have any questions about any of the information in it do please leave a comment below. I might not be able to answer immediately, but I will reply as soon as possible. Thanks for reading the blog.