Bright Sparke - the story of the Great Fire of Wellingborough in miniature

Bright Sparke - the story of the Great Fire of Wellingborough in miniature


A miniature portrait of a Northamptonshire woman who played a key role in saving All Hallows Church during the Great Fire of Wellingborough in 1738 sold for £682, inclusive of charges, in our Antiques & Collectors auction on January 16th

‘Hannah Sparke of Wellingborough’ by miniature artist Thomas Hull ignited bidders to more than double its guide price of £200 - £300. 

The picture was sold to a private collector from Northamptonshire, meaning that it will now return to its home county after a number of years spent as part of a collection elsewhere in the UK.  

The Great Fire of Wellingborough was started by a stray spark from a dyer’s shop in hot, windy conditions on July 28th, 1738. Mrs Sparke, who lived near All Hallows Church, instructed her servants to douse the advancing flames in malt liquors and to throw beer-soaked blankets on her roof to stem the fire’s spread.

Although the inferno resulted in the destruction of over 1000 buildings, leaving Wellingborough in ashes, these quick-thinking actions are believed to have saved All Hallows Church and the Wellingborough residents sheltering inside. 

 “We’re delighted to achieve such a great result for this unique item from this little-known but fascinating story from our local history,” comments Gildings director, Will Gilding. “Everyone has heard of the Great Fire of London, but not many know the story of the Great Fire of Wellingborough, which was every bit as devastating to the town’s inhabitants, and would have been even more so, if it wasn’t for the bravery and resourcefulness of Hannah Sparke and her servants.”

Aged 60 at the time of the fire, Hannah Sparke added to her legendary status in Northamptonshire history by living until the nearly unheard-of age of 106. The miniature portrait, measuring 4.7cm x 4cm and painted on an ivory panel in the traditional oval shape that was popular in the 18th century, depicts her at this stage of life.  

“It’s always special when items with a link to local history come up for auction, so we’re really looking forward to seeing what our upcoming series of valuation days will uncover.” adds Will Gilding. “And of course, in this instance, it’s fantastic to see that this week’s auction is bringing this portrait back to Northamptonshire to a new owner, who will treasure it for years to come.”

The striking image of Mrs Sparke in her bonnet and cloak became familiar far beyond Wellingborough when it inspired the famous London-based 18th century Italian engraver Francesco Bartolozzi to make a print of her around 1800. Copies of this print are kept in the British Museum, the Royal Collection Trust and the Yale Center for British Art in Connecticut, USA.

The lot can be seen in greater detail here: