National Spar Box Collection To Show Off Mining Heritage At Killhope

By David Prudames | 15 August 2003
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Shows a photograph of a brown wood spar box, containing glittering minerals of various colours.

Photo: ornate spar boxes were created by lead miners to show off glittering North Pennines minerals.

Killhope, the North of England Lead Mining Museum, is to celebrate a North Pennine tradition with a permanent display of its newly-amassed National Collection of miner's spar boxes.

Thanks to a £50,000 grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund, work has already begun on a permanent new home for the museum's 15-strong collection of hugely ornate mineral creations.

Built by miners to show off fluorspar crystals and other minerals unearthed during lead mining, the glittering folk art of spar boxes is a tradition unique to the North Pennines.

"There was tremendous interest in a temporary exhibition of around 40 spar boxes which we held two years ago," explained Museum Manager, Ian Forbes.

Shows a photograph of a child fitting a miner's lamp onto their hard hat.

Photo: Killhope offers a real taste of what it was like working underground at the height of the North East's industrial prowess.

"Following on from that, we were able, with the help of HLF, to buy a number of spar boxes from a private collection. We have now received further funding from HLF to put these and our own collection on permanent display."

Work on the collection's new home will continue throughout the winter and is scheduled for completion in time to open to the public in April next year.

"It will be the largest display of spar boxes anywhere in the country and one we can rightly call a national collection," added Ian Forbes.

Referred to by museum staff as, the "ultimate spar box", one particular creation by a miner called Joseph Egglestone is to take pride of place in the new display.

Shows a photograph of a spar box.

Photo: thanks to the £50,000 grant, Killhope's 15 strong National Collection of spar boxes will go on permanent display at the museum from April next year.

Made in 1904, Mr Egglestone's construction stands at a mighty seven feet tall and is described as "astonishingly ornate".

The new permanent display will perfectly complement Killhope's collection of lead miner's 'diamonds', which have been on show since last year.

"These elaborate creations give us a special insight into the pride and personalities of the men who worked in the North East's lead mining industry," said Keith Bartlett, HLF Regional Manager for the North East.

"Our grant will help ensure that these spar boxes, a unique part of the UK's mining heritage, will be preserved as a tribute to the craftsmanship of Durham's miners."

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