Lesley Andrews

During the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries a popular pastime among the mining population of Northern England was the construction of spar boxes. These were used to decorate their homes, and also to sell to make some extra money. Spar boxes were made up of various crystals (spar is the old name for a crystalline mineral) which were collected by the miners working in the lead and iron mines of the north Pennines and Lakeland areas.

My first encounter with spar boxes in 2002 was a surprise, since by then I was a professional mineralogist from Scotland with a Cumbrian mother, and I had never heard of this fascinating use for crystals! I was visiting the old Killhope Mine Museum in Weardale and in their small site museum I found one large spar box and also a display of six spar boxes and columns.

Killhope Lead Mine

A typical spar box on display in 2002

Various columns and pyramids

Spar boxes were produced in a number of shapes and sizes. These included wood-framed glass cases - from those small enough to hang on the wall to large cupboards – some were constructed as columns or pyramids and later enclosed within a glass tank or dome.

Common minerals used in spar boxes were green and purple fluorite, quartz, specularite, aragonite, dolomite, pyrite and galena. In the larger boxes entire mineral-bearing vugs or cavities taken from the mine could be displayed.


Specularite and quartz from Cumbria

Aragonite cluster

Children learning how to make spar boxes.

References: http://www.thingsmagazine.net/text/t17/sparboxes.htm

Thank you also to Emma Stewart from Killhope Mine Museum (www.killhope.org.uk)

Photos were Lesley’s, unless otherwise noted.