Higgling around Swannington

Alabaster

Alabaster "baubles" made by local families from material brought to the area by returning higglers.

For more than eight centuries coal and sandstone were extracted in the village for local use and for sale to a wide area around.

The village was separated from its major market by the ridge of Charnwood Forest and so coal was transported as much as 30 miles away along well used pack horse routes situated on much more level country around the southern edge of the ridge. Trains of pack horses, owned and driven by higglers, followed these tracks to cross the River Soar at Aylestone and enter Leicester from the south west. The pack horses had a large wicker basket on each side, attached to a wooden frame with a platform on top.

There were many local families involved in higgling well into the 19th century: the Walker, Edwards, Else, Frear, Rose, Clifford and Bakewell families higgled coal; the Cooper, Berkin, Thorpe, Spinks and Halfpenny families higgled pots and the Tugby, Hall,and Handford families higgled whetstones and baubles, made locally from Derbyshire spar. The cost of higgling added much to the price of the product in the market place, for instance at the start of the 17th century coal bought by higglers at the pit in Swannington at 1/7d. a load was sold in Leicester for 10/-. The higglers had a reputation for cruelty to their animals perhaps reflected by comments of observers like Throsby, who remarked that the animals moved "with panniers not only loaded to the brim but heaped so high that the coal formed large heaps on the creatures backs so that they staggered along with legs bending under them." Not all higglers were cruel. William Bakewell, of Peggs Green, was reputed to use donkeys, which having carried their loads, were allowed to to rest at the Aqueduct before returning to their stabling.

He was one of the last of the local higglers. Another higgler, a Mr. Walker, used blind donkeys, which he had saved from slaughter, to pull his coal carts and guided them by means of a whip stock to which was tied a long single strand of hair with which he touched them. They were said always to follow directly behind the lead donkey.