Dioramas of Spitalfields at The Bell
As soon as Glyn Roberts, landlord of The Bell in Petticoat Lane, wrote to say he had discovered some neglected old models of Spitalfields in the cellar, I hurried over to take a look. Once upon a time, these beautiful dioramas enjoyed pride of place in the barroom but when Glyn bought the pub three years ago they had been consigned to oblivion.
Although hefty and dusty and in need of a little repair, nevertheless these models are skilfully made and full of intriguing detail, and deserve to be seen. And Glyn wishes to give them to a new home, yet he cannot find a museum or public collection that will accept them, so he asked me to pass the word around in case anyone knows of somewhere that can take the Spitalfields dioramas.
I am always curious to learn more of this corner of Spitalfields closest to the City that gives up its history less readily than some other parts, but where the market dates from the twelfth century – much older than that on the northern side of the parish which was not granted its charter until the seventeenth century. The Bell, topped off by a grotesque brick relief of a bell with a human face and newly adorned with panels of six thousand bottle tops made by Robson Cezar, King of the Bottletops, has always fascinated me. Once the only pub in Petticoat Lane, it can be dated back to 1842 and may be much earlier since a Black Bell Alley stood upon this site in the eighteenth century.
In the cellar of The Bell, Glyn dragged the dioramas out for me to examine, one by one, starting with the largest. There are four models – three square boxes and one long box, depicting Petticoat Lane Market and The Bell around a hundred years ago. In the market diorama, stalls line up along Middlesex St selling books and rolls of cloth and provisions, while a priest and a policemen lecture a group of children outside the pub. In total, more than thirty individually modelled and painted clay figures are strategically arranged to convey the human drama of the market. By contrast, the square boxes are less panoramic in ambition, one portrays the barroom of The Bell, one the cellar of The Bell and another shows a drayman with his wagon outside the Truman Brewery in Brick Lane, with a steam train crossing the railway bridge in the background.
A discreet plate on each diorama reveals the maker as Howard Kerslake’s model studio of Southend, a professional model maker’s pedigree that explains the sophisticated false perspectives and clever details such as the elaborate lamp outside The Bell – and the stuffed fish, the jar of pickled onions and the lettered mirror in the barroom – and the easy accomplishment of ambitious subjects such as the drayman’s cart with two horses in Brick Lane.
So here they are, four Spitalfields dioramas for your delight! Who can give them a home?
Click this picture to enlarge the diorama of Petticoat Lane
At the Truman Brewery Brick Lane, looking north.
The barroom of The Bell
The cellar of The Bell.
Glyn Roberts, landlord of The Bell.
The Bell in the 1930s.
You may like to read these other Petticoat Lane stories
and see Robson Cezar’s bottle top pictures on the exterior of The Bell.