Leman St, in a model universe
Walking home down Leman Street this week, I noticed a shop under the railway arch that had never caught my eye before and, intrigued by the sign Model Shop, I went inside. Here was the largest, most comprehensive selection of miniature things I have ever seen in my life.
But the adventure was only just beginning, because then I met Zyg Jarzembowski, the enthusiastic goateed proprietor, who kindly offered me a tour of the workshops. And so, like Charlie following in Willie Wonka’s footsteps, I set out with anticipation into the secret cavernous spaces beneath the railway arches that contain Britain’s largest manufacturer of all model things. This is where the parts for Philip Pullman’s Golden Compass came from and where James Bond’s passport was printed too.
In a maze of windowless workshops, bright-eyed enthusiasts explained their specialities to me. I was captivated by John, the tree man, who gestured nonchalantly to some shelves where they keep a permanent stock of at least 350,000 miniature trees and then showed me his colour chart for customers to select their preferred tone of foliage. I noticed “Foster green” on the chart – developed for our most distinguished architect, who gets all his trees custom-made here. In the tree department (below), there was a predominance of palms, reflecting the high level of activity by British architects on projects for the Middle East. In fact, they showed me the mould labelled “Foster arabs” for making the people to accompany these models.
London is a city of multiple hidden worlds, it is one of the qualities that characterises our metropolis and makes it so endlessly fascinating. Yet whenever I discover another of these microcosms, I am always surprised at its existence. If by chance it had not caught my eye that day, I should never have discovered this astounding miniature universe under the railway arch.
I was completely intoxicated by the commitment of Zyg and his staff of perfectionists. So that as I continued my walk home up Leman Street, I dreamt of commissioning a model of Spitalfields with every detail exact.
I think I may be going back to Model Shop one day.